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Al Plastino, 'Superman' illustrator from Shirley, dies at 91

Al Plastino, of Shirley, is well known for

Al Plastino, of Shirley, is well known for his illustrations of comic icon Batman. (July 17, 2012) Credit: Nancy Borowick

Al Plastino, one of the signature artists of DC Comics' Superman for 20 years, died Monday after suffering from prostate cancer and Guillain-Barré syndrome. The longtime resident of Shirley was 91.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, MaryAnn Plastino-Charles, and by Dale Cendali, an attorney representing the family's efforts to reclaim the art for Plastino's best-known story, "Superman's Mission for President Kennedy." Long thought to reside at Harvard University's Kennedy Library, the artwork recently appeared in an auction catalog.

"Al was one of the trio of great Superman artists who handled the character in the years when this was by far the most successful of the superheroes," says comic historian and former DC Comics president Paul Levitz.

While contemporaries Curt Swan and Wayne Boring were likewise pivotal figures in defining Superman's look, Plastino was behind many firsts. In "Adventure Comics" No. 247 (April 1958), he and writer Otto Binder created the Legion of Super-Heroes, a teen-hero team that eventually became a bestselling franchise. The two created Supergirl in "Action Comics" No. 252 (May 1959), and also Braniac, one of Superman's most enduring antagonists.

Born Dec. 21, 1921, at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Plastino attended the School of Industrial Art, now the High School of Art and Design. He broke into comics in 1941 but soon was drafted into the Army, where he did aeronautical drawings for the Pentagon and Grumman Aerospace. After World War II he began his long freelance association with DC.

His Kennedy story, produced in late 1963, had been set to appear in "Superman" No. 168, scheduled to go on sale in February 1964. Following the president's assassination, the 10-page story was delayed for two months, appearing in No. 170 with a newly drawn Plastino opening page showing a spectral JFK watching over Superman.

Plastino was also a prolific comic-strip artist, drawing "Batman and Robin" from 1968 to 1972 among others. A fine artist as well, he donated a painting of Revolutionary War hero William C. Hobart to the John S. Hobart Elementary School in Shirley in 1981.

"He was an old-world, classic, honest guy," his daughter said. "He was very creative and a loving dad, very devoted."

Plastino is also survived by his wife of 55 years, AnnMarie Plastino; three other children, Fred Plastino, Janice Iapaolo and Arlene Podlesny; and six grandchildren. A wake will be held Friday at Wesche Funeral Home in Center Moriches. The funeral will be private.

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