Al Plastino, co-creator of both Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes, died yesterday at the age of 91 of prostate cancer, in the midst of a battle to regain the rights to some of his original art so that it could be donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential library.
Plastino had been the only person alive who drew Superman comics professionally before about 1967. He started in 1948. His earliest known comic book work was in 1941 for a little-known company called Dynamic Comics. After serving in World War II, he freelanced in and out of comics until connecting in ’48 with DC, where he worked until the early seventies. For most of that time, he was the second-string Superman artist. Wayne Boring was the main artist through the fifties, followed by Curt Swan. Plastino drew the stories they didn’t have time to do The stories they didn’t have time to do were done by Plastino. He drew some memorable stories for the Superman line of comics, including the first stories of Supergirl and also of The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Imagine the mayhem Supergirl would have caused had the story editors allowed her to function as a superhero – she had all of Superman’s powers, was about adult sized, and cute as a button. It was a different era, though, and being female relegated her to the role of sidekick at best – and this might have been a good thing. She was spared the pedantic Superman-always-wins story lines and got to deal with real human problems instead, but with the twist of having superpowers to help her along, or get her into even deeper trouble. This made her actually more interesting a character than Superman himself sometimes, and ensured her popularity.
Plastino was perhaps proudest of a Superman story he wrote and drew to promote President John F. Kennedy’s national fitness program, in which Superman worked with JFK, and even trusted him with his secret identity. It was due to come out in November of 1963, but its publication was delayed due to Kennedy’s assassination. Eventually it was run in tribute to the fallen President, and Plastino was later told by DC that his original art for the piece had been donated to the JFK Presidential Library. The art turned up fifty years later, much to Plastino’s surprise up for auction from a private collection. He sought to force Heritage Auctions to disclose the identity of the seller so that it might be returned, or donated as was originally claimed.
The controversy surrounding the auction caused Heritage to postpone the auction indefinitely.
The contribution to the Superman mythology is so great that it is difficult to overstate it. He will be missed by all, and remembered.
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