Remember that time Superman fought Muhammad Ali, Hitler and the KKK?
Superman is back on our screens this week battling Batman and Lex Luthor. In the good old days, he had much more interesting foes
The wraparound cover for DC’s extraordinary Superman v Muhammad Ali from 1978
This week, everyone’s favourite Big Blue Boy Scout is taking on the Dark Knight in Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The key plot-points of this battle appear to have been lifted from Frank Miller’s seminal work on Dark Knight Returns, but should Hollywood execs fancy exploring Superman’s 78-year roster of opponents for a few follow-up bouts, they have quite a few options at their disposal.
Starting out, it would be remiss to omit one Superman foe from the political world, obscure Austrian statesman Adolf Hitler, who Superman hoists by his hair on the cover of July 1942’s Superman #17.
But if that seems too far-fetched, why not attack fascism closer to home by resuming his noted battles with the KKK? In 1946, author and activist Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Klan, later leaking the group’s rituals and practices to the writers of the wildly popular Superman radio serial, who then featured them as antagonists.
By mocking the group, he successfully trivialised the organisation to a huge audience, denting its recruitment for years to come, thereby allowing Superman to claim rights to having successfully fought real-life fascism in the process.
When discussing great adversaries, however, we must consider the greatest himself, as featured in the truly extraordinary Superman v Muhammad Ali. 1978 was a more stunt-happy age and having decided that Superman should fight Ali, DC merely worked backwards to contrive the following plot; Rat’Lar, leader of an alien race named The Scrubb, challenges “Earth’s mightiest” to a boxing match.
A dispute for the nomination then ensues between our two titular heroes. The fight to decide is broadcast galaxy-wide, and the issue’s wraparound cover even showcases 70+ famous faces in the crowd, incongruously branched off into such rarefied strata as “show-biz personalities”, “DC heroes” and, sexiest of all, “Warner Communications Executives”. Yes, dear reader, this is the Superman comic that boasts The Beatles, Woody Allen, and Time-Warner CFO Bert Wasserman among its big name cover-stars.
But, since this current vogue for gritty realism most likely rules out such wacky stunts, we reckon there’s only one brooding antagonist that really fits the bill; Superboy’s May 1965 cover foe, Super-Moby Dick of Space. He may well be the giant, winged, space-faring, carnivorous whale that Earth deserves, if not the one it needs, right now.