Simpsons Joke Origins: Radioactive Man defeats Jesse Owens

In Season 8’s “The Canine Mutiny,” Bart attempts to use “Santos L. Halper’s” credit card to purchase a pricy Radioactive Man hardcover collection at the Android’s Dungeon. Comic Book Guy points out that the collection contains a story in which Radioactive Man travels back in time to defeat Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic games.


I don’t know if I just never noticed this joke before rewatching this episode the other day, or if I just didn’t understand the two references. In case you grew up under a rock (as I did), I am here to explain it to you.

First of all, this is a clear reference to Dennis O’Neil’s 1978 DC comic book Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which I just learned about from my partner recently.


In this comic, Superman and Muhammad Ali duke it out to determine the superior boxer, with the winner sparring against an alien fighter. This is supposed to placate a maniacal alien leader and prevent him from invading earth. Superman and Ali box on a planet with a red sun, which negates Superman’s superpowers. Spoiler alert: Superman loses bigtime.

The second part of the joke is just knowing who Jesse Owens is and why defeating him is not a very heroic act on Radioactive Man’s part. Sadly, for most of my life, I didn’t have any idea who Jesse Owens was. I learned from The Book Thief,  Markus Zusak’s 2006 novel that takes place during the holocaust and contains a young German boy who idolizes Owens. Owens was an African-American athlete who stuck it to Adolf Hitler by winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, thereby ruining Hitler’s goal of showcasing Aryan supremacy via physical fitness–USA! USA! USA!

Thanks, Radioactive Man. The earth is safe from Hitler feeling bad…but for how long?

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