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Meta-Messages – Spider-Man Makes Fun of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali

In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today, we take a look at Marv Wolfman poking fun at DC Comics’ Superman vs. Muhammad Ali in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man…


DC’s Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic was a big hit when it came out in the spring of 1978, but DC was hurt a bit by delays on the comic. The book was delayed from the fall of 1977 to the spring of 1978 and a result, when the book was released Muhammad Ali was no longer the Heavyweight Champion of the world, having been dethroned by Leon Spinks (man, the 1970s sure had some amazing boxers).

In August of 1978, Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard and Mike Esposito poked a very small amount of fun at DC Comics and their then-relatively new Publisher Jenette Kahn in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #186 (in the issue, Spider-Man was cleared of all outstanding charges by the police and as a result, was now being treated like a celebrity)…


As far as Meta-Messages go, this was extremely lighthearted, as obviously Wolfman bore no malice towards Kahn. As you can see, Kahn comes off quite well in the piece.

Amusingly enough, just a few weeks after this issue came out, Spinks lost to Ali in a re-match of their February 1978 bout.

If YOU have a suggestion for a future edition of Meta-Messages, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com.



(tie) 1. Archie Meets The Punisher

(tie) 1. Barkley vs. Godzilla

(tie) 1. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali

Of course, looking back now if they had used whoever the champ was at the time that came out, I think it would actually be much more dated. Few fighters from that era have as much name recognition as Ali.

And of course the free rights to the Electric Company is a reference to Spidey Super Stories in that show (and the insert in the Electric Company mag, and Marvel’s own Spidey Super Stories comic!)

Superman vs. Ali is such a fun comic. And the Neal Adams art is out of this world.

“it’s for my little Timmy, he’ll be 35 next week”!!!!!


interesting love how spider man cracks sorry by the time that thing hit the stands the champ would be some one new plus also marv even has spider man mention how the electric company used him.

I’ve never read Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. So how, exactly, did that story work, anyway? Yeah, I know, Ali was probably one of the toughest human beings around back in the mid-1970s. But Superman is, y’know, Superman. The guy juggles skyscrapers without breaking a sweat. How would a boxing match between the two of them be in any way an actual contest with an uncertain outcome? I’m just asking.

It would be like pitting Jesse Owns against The Flash. One was the real-life Fastest Man Alive and the other taps into a fictional “Speed Force” that enables him to run at the freaking speed of light, or something.

I don’t know that a writer could get away with something like that these days…Is something like that possible? Or is something like that an Easter egg…

@Ben Herman —

Supes gets depowered temporarily.

Boy … the past really is another country.

Can you even imagine a comic in which Diane Nelson comes up to Spidey, she pitches him on a movie, Spidey shoots her down with a mild dig at the track record of WB with superhero flicks AND THEN asks her for a date? It would break the Internet for at least three different reasons.

Little ref to the Hulk TV show, too.

I wonder the song by The Flaming Lips “The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How To Be In Love” by The Flaming Lips was inspired by this page? The song was all about the Superman/Ali fight but if Spider-Man was in the fight instead of Superman.

I believe the little old lady is actually the Chameleon. He has technology that allows Spiderman to see him as the Chameleon, but everyone else sees the disguise. When Spiderman attacks him, the crowd sees Spiderman beating up somebody’s grandmother.

Don’t forget the reference to the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man TV show–in which, indeed, he wore a belt–too! :)

Chameleon, by the way, was using one of the worst costumes ever at this point in time…

Holy shit, right?

This is not the chameleon, but the Kaleidoscope man!!!

That’s certainly an outfit for someone whose power is blending in.

I don’t get the “curds and whey” reference

I don’t get the “curds and whey” reference

It’s a reference to the nursery rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet.”

That’s where the term (which they use a lot in Spider-Man comics) “Along came a spider” came from, as well.

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Ben Herman- the fight was staged on a planet with a red sun.

Neal Adams considers the “Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali” comic one of the greatest of all time. I know this because he told me so. :)

I don’t think ANY comic book superhero,ever seen such a degree of being diminished in power, to recieve such a great beating as supes did in that book.They had to please the champ and his fans.Thought it was a sucky story then,and still do.

Grant Morrison once picked “Supes vs. Ali” as his standout Superman story. I read it recently and was amazed at how much fun it was – back in the day when a story of that length promised and delivered something of an epic. Ali was written with such a strong, clear voice – it’s what every comic writer should be going for with every character, basically.

This ‘furschlugginer’ what Spidey uses here got me.
I am currently reading Essential Marvel Team-up 3 and Claremont uses this as a funny remark by Spidey almost in every issue at least once. I though it was strictly a Claremontism. Now I stand corrected. Marv Wolfman also used it.
I have to re-read these Wolfman Spidey issues in my Essential collection. This is a totally undervalued run, which was sadly cut short and destroyed by later writers (even more sadly, by the great Denny O’Neil and a little bit, by the even better Roger Stern).

David:”Don’t forget the reference to the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man TV show–in which, indeed, he wore a belt–too!”

Yeah, the slam against the Spidey tv show was pretty plain. Note, too, the reference to carrying the web shooters in his nose (on the show, the web-shooters were were reduced to one device that was worn on the outside of the glove). There’s also the ref to making “changes in your life,” which probably refers to the show’s unbelievably bone-headed decision to dump the Uncle Ben part of Spidey’s origin.

“Chew on that, Meatball!”

There were a ton of great heavyweight boxers in the 1970’s. Leon Spinks was not one of them.


March 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm

So Spider-Man wanted to give the ‘ol webshooter to DC’s Publisher at one time.

Post crisis Ali`s continuity was ruined…..

Spidey’s dissing the TV idea makes me think of the 70’s Spider-Man show…in which he DID wear a very obvious utility belt and visible web shooters (on his wrists though, not in his nose).

Spidey later agreed to sell his name for a Japanese tv show, and that was a MUCH better idea!

I recall reading in Back Issue Magazine #44 that the Spider-Man live action series made in Japan had a Spider-Mobile. Instead of a dune buggy like the one that Spideer-Man got saddled with in the comics, though, this was more like a race car. Still a silly idea, but much cooler looking.

donovan williams

June 1, 2014 at 9:56 am

One other cute little bow to tie the whole thing up nice…in the original wraparound cover posted above there are dozens of celebrity cameos including notable personalities and characters. Directly to the left of the ringpost behind Ali, about four people over next to the cast of Welcome Back Kotter and above Donnie and Marie Osmond, sits a very familiar brown-haired face enjoying the fight. So Spidey not only razzed the fight, he was AT the fight. lol. Wonder if the Bugle got pictures.

Uh…. “fershlugginer”…?

I suspect Spider-Man’s dig at comic book production schedules was more of a slam at Marvel’s frequent encounters with the Dreaded Deadline Doom

Marvel certainly was never shy about using self-deprecating humor, but this was a pretty blatant reference to the delay in the release of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.

Wow, was Jenette Kahn really that pretty?

donovan: Do you mean the brown-haired guy directly above Cher and Donny Osmond? According to the directory on the inside cover, that’s supposedly Kenneth S. Rosen, a Warner Communications executive. Sadly, Rosen had suffered a severe head injury in a horse-riding accident a year earlier in 1977, leaving him “totally and permanently disabled.” I remember looking it up because I thought that brown-haired guy was Warren Beatty.

(The bowtie-wearing brown-haired guy right next to the post in that same row is Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen in the George Reeves Superman show.)

Isn’t Janette Khan herself again on the Superman x Ali cover right above a guy I believe to be Martin Luther King? The woman depicted show more than a passing resemblance to the one in the Spidey story.

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