More than 35 years ago, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali helped immortalize the famed sports personality in print, featuring art and story by Neal Adams from a plot by Dennis O'Neil. The story, which featured an alien race forcing Superman to fight Muhammad Ali, was sold worldwide and has become a collectible classic, particularly with the boxer's recent death.
Now Adams is returning to the concept of that story, but in a new way — this time featuring Harley Quinn fighting Superman. Written by married collaborators (and recognized Harley experts) Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, Harley's Little Black Book #5 will feature the Man of Steel being enticed by an alien race to fight none other than Harley Quinn.
Following up on our discussion with Adams about the upcoming finale of his Superman: The Coming of the Supermen series, Newsarama talked with the writer/artist about his return to the Ali/Superman fight, the opportunity to draw Harley, and what comes next — including Kamandi.
Newsarama: Neal, we talked the other day about how you suspected people thought you were switching from Batman to Superman so you could get out of the dark night and into the light of day. With your next project, you're back in Batman's world, but definitely not in a dark corner of it. How did you get involved in this project and why?
Neal Adams: You know, it was presented to me as, simply, "how would you like to do a Harley issue?" Because we're back and forth — me and DC Comics and editorial up there — about "Are you going to do Deadman next? Because Neal, you know, after all, we pay you so much money, you have to do something that makes money."
And I say, "OK." What'll that be? Well… will it be the next Superman thing? Will it be Deadman?
"Well, how'd you like to do a Harley story?"
"Hey! Let's do a Harley story!"
And then it turns out that the creators of Harley, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, were doing a take-off of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, but make it Harley and Superman. And do the same type of story.
I thought that would be great!
Nrama: The timing, though! With Muhammad Ali dying.
Adams: Yes. At the time we released the original book, we celebrated Ali's being with us and so much attention was paid to the book. And now, we're in the midst of this sad and terrible news, but guess what? We're going to do a take-off on the book. And we're going to do it with all good humor and fun and pleasantness.
But it's going to be a take-off on that story.
Nrama: Looking back at the time period of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, what do you remember being the reception? It's a classic now, but the environment was very different then. Yet it sold very well, didn't it?
Adams: It sold in all the free countries of the world when it came out. It wasn't just a book that came out in America and we celebrated Ali and Superman. In fact, in America, we had such a negative response, in some ways, to Ali that the people were split on whether they liked him or they didn't like him. But overseas, in all the other free countries of the world, they printed their own version of that book. And they celebrated the possibility that America was finally becoming liberal enough to do such a thing. And they thought that was great.
I would have to say maybe we weren't quite there at that time, but I would say that we're there now.
Ali and that book, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, brought forward America's attitude to that book that the point that that now becomes applicable to American society.
I think we kind of saw into the future there, Julie Schwartz and Denny O'Neil when he got a chance to do some of the work on it, and myself, when I got to finish it.
So I'm very proud of that book.
Nrama: So you're returning to it, in a way, with the Harley story?
Adams: Yeah, I think that's why I'm doing. They were probably like, if we're doing a take-off of it, we'll get Neal to do it.
And it's fun. I'm getting my son to help me with some of the inking, so it's even more fun.
Nrama: You've also got the DC Challenge coming up, with Kamandi? Have you started on that?
Adams: Yes! We're doing Kamandi. I'm doing an issue of Kamandi. I'm doing the second book of Kamandi. It's another Jack Kirby project.
Nrama: Like the characters who appear in Superman: The Coming of the Supermen.
Anything else in the pipeline?
Adams: Yes, but I can't tell you. It's kind of a toss-up between three projects. So I can't tell you exactly what it will be.