In an issue drawn by Superman vs. Muhammad Ali artist Neal Adams, Superman once again gets laid out by a non-powered person…but this time, it only takes Harley Quinn one (sucker) punch.
Harley’s Little Black Book plays like a spiritual successor to last year’s Bat-Mite or All-Star Section Eight, wherein the zany title character interacts with a new, seemingly random DC superhero every issue, and hijinks ensue (usually annoying or embarrassing the heroes involved).
The whole issue is a tribute to Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, albeit without ever saying the name out loud. Here’s the solicitation text:
(Mumble-mumble) years ago, the alien race known as the Scrubb forced Superman into a boxing match for the ages, against Earth’s greatest heavyweight champion, (mumble-mumble)! Now, (mumble-mumble) years later, the Scrubb have returned…but with said champion unavailable, the Scrubb have chosen the next-best thing: Harley Quinn! This can’t end well for anyone involved. Featuring unbelievable art by the legendary Neal Adams, it’s a tribute to one of the greatest Superman stories of the 1970s, in Harley Quinn’s own particular, ah, idiom!
Within the text of the issue (which is dedicated to Ali and features an apology/special thanks to Superman vs. Muhammad Ali writer Denny O’Neil), Superman doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the previous adventure, although he does imply that he’s been through all of this before. Still, it doesn’t stop essentially the same setup from happening: Superman has to fight Harley Quinn — but without his powers — to “win” the right to battle the Scrubb champion.
Before they’re taken up on the ship, they’re given a 24-hour period to prepare…during which time Superman takes Harley to the Fortress of Solitude, where he has an artifact that can rob him of his powers. As soon as he uses it, she cold-cocks him and sends him sprawling to the Fortress floor.
As with all of the Harley’s Little Black Book stories, it’s hard to tell just how canonical the tale would ever be: Superman wears his Rebirth costume (check) and goes to the Fotress of Solitude introduced in Superman: Lois and Clark (check), but uses the Silver Age “giant key” to enter (and apparently has a giant-sized welcome mat to hide it under, to boot).
There’s much more to the story, of course, including a clever bastardization of the original comic that goes well beyond just aping the premise. It’s certainly worth a look, especially as 2016 winds down and everyone starts reflecting on those we lost — including Ali.
Harley’s Little Black Book #6 is available in stores today. You can get a copy from your local comic shop or pre-order a digital copy on ComiXology.