The 5 most ridiculous appearances by sports stars in a comic book
Marketing was a lot more difficult before the internet came along. Back in the dark ages, these guys would really have to think about how best to promote their biggest stars.
Every now and again, someone would say: "What if we put (insert name of sporting superstar here) in a comic book!"
The rest is history. Here are the 5 most ridiculous appearances by sports stars in a comic book.
5. Sir Charles Barkley and the Referee Murders - Hamilton Comics
Basketball legend Charles Barkley has always had a penchant for getting himself in trouble, both on and off the court. Yet, if you thought that Barkley's recent trouble with the police was ridiculous, it had nothing on the fictional antics of our hero in Sir Charles Barkley and the Referee Murders.
Barkley is on the wrong end of a bad call by a referee, who is murdered shortly after the game. No one thinks too much of this, but after the exact same thing happens on two more occasions, fingers start to point at Sir Charles.
As the chief suspect in the murder case, Sir Charles has no choice but to conduct his own murder investigation. He's soon clad in a canary yellow trenchcoat and hat, sniffing around for clues. Before long, Barkley's following two shady looking sports fans, who lead him right into the heart of the mystery.
Sir Charles busts into a hotel room, where he finds Pickering, the third referee, enjoying the comforts of a couple of hookers and some recreational drugs. The two sports fans were drug dealers, feeding Pickering's filthy habit. It turns out that Pickering had the other two referees whacked by Eloy (the chief drug dealer), as they were close to discovering that he liked snorting cocaine and then figured he'd better just pretend that he'd been murdered as well.
It turns out that Eloy lost out on a basketball scholarship because of a broken leg and is therefore very bitter. So bitter, that he decides to take Charles at gunpoint and force him to play basketball.
Obviously Charles wins. He is after all one of the greatest players of all time, going one on one with a coked-up drug dealer, holding a revolver. Having been beaten, bitter old Eloy goes to shoot Sir Charles, but as the above panel shows, no mere bullet is a match for a ball thrown from the hand of Charles Barkley.
4. Spider-Man and the Dallas Cowboys: Dallas in Danger - Marvel
In this comic book from 1983, several Dallas Cowboys stars were called away from their training duties to meet a young fan, Mark Mudge. Mark is confined to a wheelchair, following a spot of ill-advised heroism, but naturally his father Stanley has adapted the wheelchair with an anti-gravity device, so that it can fly.
So where's Spidey in all of this, I hear you say. Well, despite it not seeming of particular interest to a New York-based newspaper, a certain J.Jonah Jameson and photographer Peter Parker, have flown out to Dallas to cover the event. Clever.
As we all know from our years of being immersed in popular culture, where there's an anti-gravity device welded to a wheelchair, there's going to be trouble. Sure enough, the Circus of Crime, lead by the Ringmaster, turn up and kidnap Mark.
The Ringmaster demands that Mark gives him the anti-gravity device, which turns out to not actually be attached to the chair, but is instead in the possession of Stanley. The Ringmaster addresses a packed stadium via the giant TV screens and threatens to hurt Mark if Stanley doesn't hand over the device, before using his hypnotic hat to mesmerise everyone in the stadium.
Having woken from their collective trance, the Dallas Cowboys are in no mood for negotiations and set upon the Circus of Crime. In the melee, the device ends up in the hand of J.Jonah Jameson, who begins to float away, towards a waiting Ringmaster in a helicopter.
Spider-Man swings towards them in hot pursuit, but mistaking him for a member of the Circus of Crime, two of the Cowboys grab onto his legs and are taken along for the ride. This is either really stupid of them, or an ingenious method of involving some Dallas Cowboys in the big finale.
Having rescued Jameson and forced the helicopter to land, Spider-Man swings the Cowboys towards the Ringmaster and his pilot, who they land upon. The Circus of Crime are then arrested, the football game gets to go ahead and most importantly of all, the kid gets to make use of his flying wheelchair. Thanks Spidey.
3. Batman/Cal Ripken Jr - DC Comics
The plot involved a rather emaciated-looking Ripken being honoured in Gotham City, to celebrate his entrance into the Hall of Fame. As a former 'Oriole', Ripken soon attracts the attention of another kind of bird, in the form of the Penguin. Despite the weakness of his motivation, the Penguin kidnaps Ripken, along with a young fan.
The Penguin takes Ripken and the kid back to his lair and imprisons them in a cage. Batman is of course hot on their trail and deals with the Penguin, while Ripken and the young fan escape from their cage, in a way that I still fully don't understand, despite having looked at the comic several times. It involved bubble gum.
2. Godkilla vs. Barkley - Dark Horse Comics
Charles Barkley makes his second appearance on this list, in a spin-off comic from a Nike commercial, in which he took on Godzilla. While Barkley fighting Godzilla worked pretty well as a commercial (a medium in which all that matters is that what's on screen, looks cool), the writers of this comic had their work cut out in coming up with a plausible plot device that would see Sir Charles battling it out with a 300 foot tall, fire-breathing monster.
A young fan of Barkley's (why do all these comics feature young fans?) is turned away by a security guard, after he tries to meet Sir Charles at a beach-based photoshoot.
The disappointed kid is given a magical coin by his grandfather. This comes in handy, when seconds later Godzilla appears out of the water. The kid realises that Charles is the only man who can tackle the giant lizard and tries to convince him to use the magic coin to grow to similar proportions.
After a long, drawn out section where Barkley resists the urge to use the magic coin, the writers eventually use up enough panels and Charles grows to the size of a skyscraper. By this time Godzilla is destroying the whole city, but Barkley has a cunning plan.
Sir Charles explains that Godzilla is a big basketball fan (what?) and leads the monster off for a spot of one-on-one. Barkley beats Godzilla, with the same sort of ease that saw him victorious against the coked-up drug dealer. Charles explains to Godzilla that he needs to practise if he's going to make it in basketball (as well as somehow shrink so he will fit inside an arena) and leaves the monster to practice his slam-dunks. Godzilla is somehow by this stage, wearing Nike trainers.
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali - DC Comics
Muhammad Ali always had an inflated opinion about himself. So despite having lost in fights to Ken Norton and Smokin' Joe Frazier, he still figured that he could beat Superman in the ring (though he'd probably concede that a points win would be most likely).
Superman had bumped into Ali, when the heavyweight champ was teaching some local kids some basketball moves. Ah, these sporting superstars... When will they realise that mixing with kids, always ends up with them getting involved in some villainous plot?
While Supes and Ali are hanging out, Rat'Lar, an alien overlord of a race called the Scrubbs (just like the sitcom, only much funnier) appears and challenges Earth's champion to a fight. Should the Earth champion lose, the Scrubbs will invade the planet.
Superman offers to fight on behalf on Earth, but Ali argues that at best, Superman is the WBC's number ranked contender. If he wants to fight the aliens, he's going to have to beat Ali first.
It's decided that Ali and Superman will fight on the alien planet, which to make things fair, circles a red sun that robs Superman of his powers. The winner will face the Scrubb champion, Hun'Ya.
Robbed of his power and probably struggling with the fact that he had to box whilst wearing a cape, Superman is knocked out by Ali. While Ali prepares for his inter-galactic showdown with Hun'Ya, Superman disguises himself as Ali's trainer Bundini Brown. He steals into the Scrubb command ship and sabotages their space armada.
Ali predicts an eighth round knockout of the Scrubb, but takes a beating in the early rounds at the hands of the preposterously strong alien. However, just like in the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali gets a second wind and as he predicted, knocks out the Scrubb champion in round eight.
Having seen Superman destroy his invasion fleet, Rat'Lar goes back on his word and gives orders for the earth to be invaded by the backup fleet. At this point the defeated Hun-ya beats up the Rat'Lar and makes himself the new Scrubb leader. In retrospect he probably wishes that he just did that in the first place, rather than having to take a whipping from Muhammad Ali.
Ali reportedly only consented to being in the comic, if at some point he could discover Superman's secret identity. So the book finishes with Ali smugly telling Superman that he's worked out that he's really Clark Kent. Superman somehow resists the temptation to retort: "Yeah, well I heard your real name is Cassius Clay".
Ironically, by the time the comic was published, Ali had lost his title to Leon Spinks. This prompted those mischievous folk at Marvel to feature the following exchange in Spider-Man:
WOMAN: Hi there, Spidey. I represent this comic book company and I've got the most wonderful idea. Picture this... you against the heavyweight champion. Spider-Man Vs. Leon Spinks.
SPIDEY: You've gotta be kidding. Lady I've heard about you people and your publishing schedules! By the time you got that fershlugginer mag on the newsstands, someone else could be champ.
You've got to love Spider-Man. Satire and yiddish, all in the same sentence.