That Time Superman Refereed a Prison Boxing Match

 Adventures of Superman #526
“Title Bout”
Writer: Karl Kessel
Penciler: Rodolfo DaMaggio
Inker: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Albert Tobias De Guzman
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Editors: Mike Carlson, K.C. Carlson, Mike McAvennie and Chris Duffy
Cover by: Stuart Immonen
Released: June 27, 1995

I discovered the existence of this issue while working on a column about The Suicide Squad movie for my day job as a mild-mannered reporter. I barely knew anything about Bloodsport, much less that there had been more than one, much less that the second one was a white supremacist who took on the original in a prison boxing match refereed by the Man of Steel himself.

This is exactly the sort of absurd, only-in-comics scenario I had to read for myself. And it seemed like a possible spiritual sequel to Suicide Squad (Vol. 1) #4, featuring the racist vigilante William Hell.

The Adventures of Superman issue became the latest target in my exploration of back-issue boxes at local comic shops, and lo and behold, on Friday, I found it.

The story opens with the warden at Stryker's Island explaining to Superman that he only set up the fight in an effort to head off the violence about to erupt between second Bloodsport Alex Trent and his pals in the Aryan Brotherhood and the original Bloodsport, Bobby DuBois. A recent transfer to the prison, DuBois is a Black man consumed with guilt over his brother's death in Vietnam while he dodged the draft (and who did, in his first appearance, shoot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet, just like his movie counterpart).

Superman has reluctantly agreed to referee the fight, and stops DuBois from hitting Trent before the first bell as the latter keeps hurling racial epithets at the former. Once the fight starts, they trade a few vicious blows before Trent activates the believed-to-be-disabled device that allows him to teleport weapons into his hands.

Chaos erupts as Trent opens fire on prison guards and blasts Superman out of the ring before being disarmed by DuBois. DuBois had been the sympathetic favorite by default, but his murder of a guard with the stolen gun underscores he's just as dangerous as his racist scumbag counterpart.

As Superman tries to get the growing riot under control, Trent starts arming his Aryan allies. Superman arrives to settle them down, as Trent chases after DuBois.

DuBois gets the upper hand and has Trent dead to rights, but Supes swoops in and saves his life – because that's what Superman does. DuBois finally makes it outside, only to be fatally shot by guards before he can complete his escape.

The issue wraps with the Aryan Brotherhood apparently killing Trent for only surviving the encounter with DuBois because the “alien” saved him.

So this was not the lighthearted romp you might expect from a comic dealing with murderers and racists. I appreciate that and the fact that Kessel acknowledged the deaths of the guards in dialogue, rather than making them cannon fodder.

This was post-death and return of Superman, which was my first extended foray into DC comics. I didn't return for any significant amount of time until Grant Morrison's JLA, so I don't know if this fit more at the time, but some of Superman's dialogue surprised me. At the start of the fight, he warns the combatants that, at the first sign of trouble, “someone goes out of here on a stretcher.” Before he chases after the dueling Bloodsports, he subdues some inmates while saying “lucky I'm holding back or you punks'd need more than aspiring in the morning.” Seems a little harsh for the big blue Boy Scout.

Overall, the issue works as a unique standalone, while advancing the stories of the day. Interspersed with the action at the prison are scenes of Lois Lane and Cat Grant meeting up and discussing Cat's struggles with the boss she accused of sexual harassment. And a serial killer Lois has written about escapes in the chaos of the jailhouse melee, no doubt setting up another tale.

Like the aforementioned Suicide Squad story, this issue plays the serious subject matter straight despite the absurdity of the setup and the comic book trappings. It doesn't reach the heights of the prior story on either level, but it's a good read nevertheless.