A Tribute to the of

You may recall my mention of the series "Justice" with the stunning artwork of Alex Ross.  I'd purchased the run for the two long years it took to get through it and while the storyline was kind of uninspired (JLA picked off one by one while the super villains convince the populace that the metahumans are the real threat to mankind, blah, blah, blah, been done before…), Alex's depictions were superb and the timeframe had a decidedly Silver Age feel to it, as his work often does.  Well, in issue #4, Superman gets blindsided by Bizarro and then there's a piling on as Solomon Grundy shows up, then The Parasite and finally Metallo to overwhelm the Man of Steel.  Metallo's appearance reminded me that I had a couple of copies of his debut (although he wasn't the first character in the DC Universe to bear the name; Superboy #49 dated July, 1956 presents the Boy of Steel's encounter with a Kryptonian robot named Metallo) and it seems like a good time to present it here.  It was actually the first story in an issue I've visited once before--Action Comics #252 from May of 1959.  We already looked at the introduction of Supergirl and if you missed it, check out the archives. For the purposes of this review I referenced the first reprinting of "The Menace of Metallo!" contained in the pages of Supeman #217, the 64 page GIANT (G-60) June-July issue for 1969. The tale was scripted by Robert Bernstein, a name unfamiliar to me; pencils and inks by Al Plastino and editing by Mort Weisinger.

The first few panels of the story introduce us to John Corben, a reporter who is driving down a dark mountain road, listening to the radio show, "Crime File," where the criminal is being brought to justice due to his error in leaving his fingerprints on the murder weapon.  Corben gloats to himself that he has committed the perfect crime by successfully murdering the only man who could finger him as a thief and embezzler, but unlike the fictitious felon on the radio program, Corben remembered to clean the weapon and leave the scene looking like a suicide.  Moments later, he loses control of his automobile and slides off the road.  Shortly behind the scene of the accident, Professor Vale and his housekeeper, Edith arrive in another car and pull Corben from beneath the overturned car.  Edith suggests transporting him to the hospital, but the Professor says the only hope is to operate at once, so they transport the injured man to Vale's laboratory.  The Professor muses that Corben's heart has a fatal wound and that he'll replace it with a mechanical model and add metal tubing for his circulatory system.

After a period of days, Corben revives from his coma and remarks that he feels perfect, thanking Vale for his help.  The Professor cautions him to hold off on his gratitude until he knows the full extent of what has transpired.  Removing the blanket, he reveals a new, all-metal body.  "You've still got a human brain!  But the rest of you has been rebuilt with a special metallic armor plate…unmeltable and shatterproof!  Your new body is indestructible!"  Vale then uses a fluoroscope (that seems to function remarkably like an X-ray) to show the metallic skeleton beneath Corben's rubber-plastic skin.  The Professor continues to point out Corben's new features, noting that he is more or less a human robot with a mechanical heart powered in a "fuse box" with one of the two elements that can keep his synthetic heart and thereby himself alive.  Vale removes the small capsule of Uranium and the metallic man feels weak and dizzy.  Quickly replacing the capsule, the Professor elaborates that each Uranium capsule lasts but a day and must be replaced.  Corben queries him about the other element that he can rely on for power, but before the answer is given, an abrupt landslide traps them in the house with a wall of boulders.  The strain of the event gives Vale a stroke and he loses consciousness.

Corben decides to try the side door and is amazed when it comes off in his hand.  He then realizes that his new metal body has nearly unlimited strength and he promptly breaks through the stone barrier.

The next day finds John Corben applying and being hired by Perry White of the Daily Planet as their newest reporter.  As he shakes hands with Clark Kent, our disguised Superman notes the remarkable strength in that hand.  Perry instructs Lois Lane to show John to his desk and the smoothie wastes no time in putting the moves on the lady reporter, but she swiftly rebuffs him.

A little later, Corben slips away, feeling weakened again.  He pops open the panel on his chest and notes that his Uranium capsule is nearly exhausted.  He has a spare, but only one.

Meanwhile, a story comes over the teletype about an atomic submarine, seeking to set a submersion record is in trouble as their air system has broken down.  Clark slips away and does his patented stockroom identity switch before flying swiftly to the Arctic sea.  Prior to his own submersion, the Man of Steel inhales plenty of fresh air that he gently exhales through the sea valve system to aid the sailors.

Switching scenes again, we see John Corben breaking into Metropolis' research laboratory to gain access to more Uranium.  He is disappointed to discover just a small amount, so he continues his looting, visiting any location that may have the precious element, including the hospital, science institute and military testing facilities.  Corben revels in his all but invincible status, thinking to himself that even if he were discovered, bullets would bounce off his metal body.

The next day, the news give a name to this new menace when it is announced that only an indestructible robot could have committed the series of thefts and he is dubbed Metallo, the metal man.

Later in the afternoon, a radio broadcast alerts Clark Kent that a stunt is about to take place at Niagara Falls.  It seems Sherry Blair, a star of the screen, is purposely going over the falls in a barrel with the expectation that she'll be rescued by Superman.  Feigning a sour stomach, Kent excuses himself from the news room, thinking to himself that he hopes Lois exercises caution as she's currently at work on an expose of the underworld that has put a contract out on her.

Arriving at Niagara Falls, the Man of Tomorrow does indeed rescue Miss Blair, but does so in a clandestine way so that it appears she merely took a lucky bounce from a rock that sent her to the shore.  Shaken by the fact that Superman didn't show up, she vows not to pull the stunt again.  The concealed hero, satisfied that she's learned her lesson, departs.

Back at the Daily Planet, Lois and John Corben are leaving the building and John is inviting her to lunch when the mobsters happen by and open fire on Miss Lane with their Tommy guns.  They manage to merely hit Corben and the slugs bounce off, convincing Lois that John is Superman in disguise.

A little later, and somewhat implausibly, they go to a Chinese restaurant for lunch.  I say implausible, because Corben's suit is now sporting some bullet holes, and by the way, how does a guy with a metallic body eat Chinese or anything else for that matter?  Where's Weisinger when you need him?  John notes a nearby radio broadcast announcing that due to the recent rash of thefts, all local supplies or Uranium are being secured at Fort Taber.  Lois remarks that her fortune cookie reveals that "Neither faint heart nor false heart e'er won a fair maid."  Corben, meanwhile, is plotting how to get to the Uranium at Fort Taber.

That afternoon, he begins his nefarious plan by shaving off his mustache and donning a Superman costume in order to infiltrate the Fort.  Once he arrives, as expected, he receives VIP treatment and only enhances his credibility by lifting a disabled truck back onto the hydraulic lift.

A short while later, when he's alone, Metallo breaks into the Uranium storage area, but before he can get away with the life-giving element, the real Superman arrives.  Corben tries to divert our hero by throwing a bronze deer at him, but it barely slows Superman down as he simultaneously uses his super breath to blow the Uranium from the getaway car.  Another mighty puff sends Metallo's car into a state police station, but Superman has to abruptly depart as he noted a desperate emergency that requires his attention.

While the Man of Steel goes on his mission of mercy, Metallo escapes and makes his way back to Professor Vale's laboratory to learn once and for all what the other element is that will keep his mechanical heart functioning.  The recovering Professor reveals that it is Kryptonite and that it will last forever.  He just happens to have a sample on hand, too.  Triumphantly, Metallo takes the Green Kryptonite and devises a foolproof trap for Superman.

That night finds Corben in the basement beneath the Metropolis exhibit hall.  Disguised again as Superman, Metallo places some of the deadly Kryptonite between some overhead pipes so that when our hero arrives to arrange the trophies for his souvenir show for charity, he'll be exposed.  A few short minutes later, Superman does arrive and begins to succumb to the radiation from the Kryptonite.  Metallo helps himself to a sample of Kryptonite from the trophy pile and leaves the Man of Tomorrow to his fate.  He swiftly replaces the Uranium with the Kryptonite and plans to look up Lois Lane.

Back in the basement, a severely weakened Superman, unable to blow the Green K away, tries a desperate gambit.  Focusing his X-ray vision on the Kryptonite and concentrating mightily for six solid minutes, he at last succeeds and melts the lethal material.  It is the first time he's successfully destroyed Kryptonite.

Back at Lois' apartment, Metallo has arrived, but his disguise doesn't conceal him for long as his phony uniform tears on the doorknob.  Before he can do any harm, however, the metal man collapses.  Superman arrives in that selfsame moment and notes that Corben had done himself in by taking a fake sample of Kryptonite, so the faux element gave him nothing but heart failure.  Lois notes the irony to herself when she remembers the fortune that was fulfilled:  "Neither faint heart nor false heart e'er won a fair maid!"

In a final ironic twist, a police inspector at HQ tells Superman that they were preparing to arrest Corben for murder, who had indeed cleaned off the murder weapon, but had neglected to similarly sanitize the cartridges he'd loaded it with.  So much for "the perfect crime."  The story then ends.

It turns out Metallo wasn't a goner after all in this story and believe it or not a Clark Kent Metallo showed up in the pages of Action a few years later.  Issue #312, to be precise and as luck would have it, I have a copy waiting in the wings for a future review.

One other feature of the Justice series was a segment in the back of each issue detailing the background of the heroes and villains introduced, courtesy of "Bruce Wayne's private files in the Batcomputer."  Under Metallo, it said this:  "It is a mistake to merely refer to Metallo as a mechanical being or robot.  Cyborg is perhaps a better word.  Metallo still has the brain of John Corben.  Corben was in a terrible accident, one that a scientist, anxious to experiment on human possibility beyond what the law would allow, took advantage of Corben's brain was transplanted into a cybernetic body fueled by uranium.  Perhaps the loss of his body was too much for him.  Or maybe he was also inclined toward crime.  Under the name Metallo, Corben became a criminal."

"But it is not Corben's robotic strength that is a threat to Superman.  In time, Corben found a better source of energy than uranium.  At the heart of this robot criminal is a piece of Kryptonite, the only mineral capable of killing the last Kryptonian."

I enjoyed the origin story of Metallo, even though it struck me that there were some things in common with another familiar story, that of Cliff Steele, alias Robotman of The Doom Patrol.  Since Metallo came first he gets a bit more credit as a new creation, though of course the original Robotman precedes him.  I'm unfamiliar, however, with that Robotman's origin.

I'll rate this tale with an 8 on the 10-point scale.  Good action and intrigue and the introduction of a villain who wouldn't die, at least permanently.

This story introduced a new villain and a new heroine and both were designed and drawn for the first time by Al Plastino.  Time now to finish up the interview he so graciously provided to me:

Prof:  Did you have a favorite person who was a scripter for you who was easier to work with?

AP:  Jack Schiff was the early editor at Superman.  I don't know if he's still alive.  He was very nice.  And Jack Adler was the colorist.  I got along with him all right.  And Harris I think his name was.  He used to color, too and he was the one who went to bat for us to get our name on it and the royalty.  He fought for it for the artists.  I get royalties for the early work I did and the reprints.  They make money on those reprints; my God do they make money.  I get a full list of the sales they make and what they pay for pencils and inks.  That's why I make so much because I get paid for pencil and inks.

Prof:  You were the one man show.

AP:  Yeah, in fact I had to correct them a few times.  They'd say, "Oh, no, you didn't pencil it."  I said, "What do you mean, I didn't pencil it?"  Here's what happened.  The girls, when I worked for Ray Van Buren, who did beautiful women, beautiful women with pen and ink, by working with him, melded into making my drawing of women.  So the women didn't look different in Superman for awhile there, toward the end and they thought Reuben Moreira was drawing them.  I said, "Are you crazy?  I'm drawing my own stuff."  I worked for Ray Van Buren who did beautiful work.  The guy was an illustrator one time and I worked with him for quite awhile.  So I got to look at his way of drawing women and it was great.  I learned a lot from him.  I learned a lot from everybody, I think.  Ernie Bushmiller's stuff, Little Nancy was the toughest strip to draw.  The toughest.

Prof:  Really?  Why is that?

AP:  Because he was a real German draftsman.  And every line meant something.  He drew simply, but clean, crisp lines of a certain thickness.  No less, no more.  No brush.  In fact, I had to use a fountain pen for his stuff.

Prof:  Oh.

AP:  I used to dip it in the ink and I got a consistent line with the fountain pen.  It didn't spread.  It held its consistency.

Prof:  Oh that's a very different way to work.

AP:  Oh, my God it was tough to do, believe me.  When they finally gave this other guy the strip in California it lasted less than a year.  He murdered it.  He murdered the strip.  And eventually just dropped out.  They said I was too old to continue.  I think I was 65 then.  Too old.  Why, you bunch of boobs.

Prof:  (Chuckle.)  Yeah, I don't know how they can put an age on talent.

AP:  Yeah, well see at United Features, 65 and you're out.  Not the artists, but the people that work on staff.  After 65, boom!  Out.  No matter how much talent you've got.  But anyway it worked out all right.  I wasn't too concerned about it after it happened.  I decided to quit and said "Let me retire, I think I've had about everything."

Prof:  So how many years altogether were you in the business?

AP:  Let's see, my God.  I started in '47.  I ended in '81.

Prof:  That's a good, long run.

AP:  That's a long run.  Even younger than that.  I mean I was in high school when I got my first job.  There was a magazine called "Youth Today," in high school.  We'd get it once a month and they had a contest.  If you win, you get $50.00 and they put your drawing on the cover.  So I won that twice.  Then I won second prize, third time.  So Mr. Cooden, I'll never forget his name, the art director, he says, "Look, Al, we'd like to hire you because we can't afford to keep giving you prizes."

Prof:  (Laughter.)

AP:  You know the format was like The Reader's Digest.

Prof:  Oh, yes.

AP:  That's what I was doing for him.  So I would read the copy and make some sketches and show him and he would approve them or disapprove them, but most of the time he approved them and I would ink them.  I read the article in the paper.  Chesler said, "Black and white artist wanted."  So I said, "Let me go and see this."  It was comics.  And he said, "Hey, kid.  Throw that stuff away.  You work for me.  Make money."  He always had a cigar in his mouth.  When I went to him I think I was about 18 years old.  I was also copying paintings in the Metropolitan when I was a kid of 13 or 14.  A Renoir I did, right there they'd set you up and you could paint from the original.  Then I got a few commissions.  I did a couple of Rembrandt's, Sargent's.  You name it, I did it.

Prof:  You've always been interested in art, obviously.

AP:  Since I was a kid as far back as I can remember.  And I was encouraged by my brother, my oldest brother, who was a good artist and I used to watch him as a kid, drawing.  I'd also watch him making model airplanes, which got me interested in it.  So I had a pretty active life.  (chuckle.)

Prof:  I guess so.  Did you ever think you'd be able to make a living at it?

AP:  No.  My Dad was the one who encouraged me.  In fact, he's in Who's Who of Italian Americans who made it.  He was THE hatter of Manhattan.  He made all the hats for all the president's.  He made La Guardia's hats when La Guardia was Mayor of New York.  He made the Governor's hats.  He made LBJ's and the last hats he made were for President Kennedy and his wife.  Then my dad went into hunt caps, so he made him a top hat, a felt hat and a riding hat and he gave his wife, Jacqueline a top hat and a riding hat for jumping horses.  And then Kennedy never wore a hat, right?  And the hat business took a nose dive.  It went right down the tubes. The hat business just died.  He never wore a hat.  Truman wore a hat, LBJ wore a hat.  Everybody wore hats, but he didn't wear a hat.  In fact they say if he had a hat on in that car, he might be alive today.

Prof:  I hadn't heard that before.

AP:  When you're aiming at something and you've got a little distraction…his head was large.  That's why he didn't wear a hat.  I thought he looked good in the felt hat.  So my father was THE hatter.  Luckily he went into the equestrian hats and he survived and my brother survived with it and now my nephew runs the company.  My dad lived to be 96.

Prof:  Ah, so you've got some good genes.

AP:  Yeah, my grandfather died in his sleep at 98 I think it was.  My aunts were in their 90's.  (chuckle)  Great genes I guess.  Golf.  I'm an avid golfer.  I love golf.  I used to play with Jackie Gleason at Shawnee.  I met Gleason because his group would come out following our group, the cartoonist's and I got to know him real well.  I played with him for six years at Shawnee.

Prof:  Oh, fantastic.

AP:  Ah, it doesn't mean anything.  He was a nice guy.  I liked him.  He was an all right guy.

Prof:  It had to be pretty fun.

AP:  Well, he was a pretty serious guy when it came to golf.  I don't know why I'm rambling on, you're bringing back memories.

Prof:  I don't mind at all.  I'm enjoying every minute.

AP:  My Dad would drop me off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I'd go Saturday and he'd pick me up at night.  And then I tried working in the factory and I was burning the candle at both ends and he said, "Look.  Go back to art school."  "I'm not sure I can make a living at it."  "If you keep up, you'll do fine."  And that's what kept me away from the business.  My two brothers went into the business.  I stayed with the art.

Prof:  Did you know any of the other creators very well?  Jerry Siegel, for instance?

AP:  Jerry?  I think I met him once at Shawnee for the cartoonist's golf outings.  I met a lot of guys there.  Gus Edson, The Gump's.  These guys were characters.  You talk about characters.  (Chuckle.)  They were half-bombed half the time.  Yet they could do their work!  Otto Soglow did The Little King and the guy I never liked, even though he was the greatest artist, Hal Foster.  He was so obnoxious.  The guy was a great artist, I mean great and I looked up to him.  I met him at Shawnee.  Big, tall guy.  And he knew he was great and he boasted about it.  And I said to myself, "You're not supposed to do that, are you?"  But he was a great artist.  My God, when he did Tarzan, oh, God that was gorgeous work.  Gorgeous.

Prof:  Yeah, it seems like he and Milt Caniff were the ones that inspired everybody.

AP:  Milt, now there was a nice guy.  Milt was a great man.  I met him just twice.  Just before he died I think I met him at the castle in Connecticut.  The cartoonist's castle.  They show all the work there.  Some of my work is there.  And I met him there.  I think he was about 91 then.  He was a great guy.  He was such a pleasant man to talk to.  There were some good guys.  Nice people.  Pleasant.  Answered questions nicely.  Wouldn't think you were a jerk, you know.  'Cause I always thought I was a jerk.  "How do you do that?  Well, what time do you do it?"  You know crazy questions that I used to think about.

By the way, I still do recreations for cancer funds.  I just came from an outing yesterday and I did Superman and Luthor in an action scene and they auctioned it.  I don't know what they got for it. Another one I did is Tiger Woods. That one got $1,100.00.  I got Superman lifting a tremendous boulder, tremendous boulder.  So, Tiger Woods and his caddy are coming over the horizon where the ball is and the caddy says, "Superman!"

Prof:  Wonderful.

AP:  Most of it went for Jerry's Kids for Muscular Dystrophy research and some of it goes to churches and I don't get a dime.  It's all donated.

Prof:  Good for you.

AP:  I've been doing that for over 20 years.

Prof:  Do you do commission work that you sell?

AP:  Yes.  I make covers for different people and commissioned them, but you know what happens?  There's always something that's not in the original.  Like a fold.  These guys count the folds!  One guy says, "Al, you've only got three folds.  The original has four folds."  I said, "Hey!  (laughter.)  What do you want me to do?  It's still my work.  I'm trying to copy it as best as I can for you."  What?  Are you guys kidding me?  Another guy said to me, "Al.  Something is wrong with Superman."  I said, "What is it?"  He said, "One hand has nails and the other hand doesn't have the long nails."  It's a cover of him on a different planet, and he's got a beard, and his nails got long.

Prof:  Okay, like an exile thing.

AP:  Yeah, you only see one finger, but, "I don't see the long nail."  I said, (chuckle) "Hey, fella, do me a favor."  (Laughter.)  So I stopped doing that.  I said I'm not doing that, to heck with it.  I got paid well, but it's a lot of work.  You gotta get the lettering right, you've gotta color it.

Prof:  Right, all that stuff you're not used to doing.

AP:  And then I never send frames with them.  I wouldn't do that.  I sent them matted.  And so I did a nice job.  In fact I have some of them here, because before I send them out I make a copy of it.  There's a machine at the library and I make a copy of it in color, so I've got copies of all my stuff.  Just in case it gets lost.  (chuckle.)  That's happened, too.

Prof:  That would be heart-breaking.

AP:  Does Jack Binder sound familiar to you?

Prof:  I think so.  I wonder why?

AP:  He worked for Chesler.  And he said, "Hey, kid!  You want to help me out with these…"  He was doing pulp magazines and he let me lay out a whole page in pencil, and then ink it and he'd give me $5.00.  And it was a big deal; he'd give me $5.00.  "You learn anything, kid?"  I said, "Yeah, I'm learning."  Which I didn't mind.  I enjoyed it because I was anxious to do anything.  When you're young, you'll do anything.

Prof:  Sure and you're kind of in an apprentice status.

AP:  Yeah, and his brother's still alive.  He does writing for Superman.  I'm trying to remember his first name.  Otto.  Otto Binder.  He's a nice guy.  But the thing that got me is they try to take advantage of you, right?  And I was still a little uppity in those days, so I did a story for him, a six-page story, and he had a reputation that he was very tough on paying.  So I went to his apartment and I took him the story.  He says, "Very nice, Al, I like it.  I'll see you later in the office and I'll pay you."  I said, "No, no, no, no.  You pay me now."  "What do you mean now?"  "Now."  One thing led to another and this is a true story.  I went into the corner of the room and I held the six pages open in a tearing position.  I said, "If you don't pay me now I'm going to tear these."  "Oh, no, no, no, no, don't tear the pages!"  They were paying $9.00 a page.  (chuckle.)

Prof:  You got your point across.

AP:  Oh, I was going to do it, too.  He said, "Okay, okay."  I'd heard he had a bad reputation and one time I got paid 10 cents on the dollar.  The company I worked for, a couple of guys, went broke.  So I learned my lesson.  No more.  I want the money now.  So, I got it.  

Prof:  No kidding.  You didn't need any broken promises.

AP:  We became good friends.  He said, "Al, I don't know."  I said, "Look.  I've heard stories; I witnessed some of this stuff myself personally.  People, who are going to pay you later, sometimes don't pay you."  What are you supposed to do?  Get a gun and shoot 'em?  I don't want to shoot anybody.  (Laughter.)

Prof:  And you can't eat a promise, either.

AP:  Right.  So that's the end of my stories now.  You got enough material there?

Prof:  You were very generous.

AP:  But I did meet a lot of nice people, believe it or not.

Prof:  Who were your favorites?

AP:  Other than the editors I already mentioned I dealt with the other guys.  I tolerated them.  Nobody got along with Mort.  Nobody.  Everybody had something to say about him, but I put it in print.  (Laughter.)  He's gone now, but it was a cut-throat business in those days.  Cut-throat.  Here was the approach they'd take:  "Hey, Al."  This is Mort.  "Hey, Al, you know there's a guy here wants to do Superman for $20.00 less than you get."  My answer was, "Give it to him."  And that was the end of that conversation.  They always kept trying to keep you below them.  I don't care what it was.  "You're below me."  But I'd tell them, "I'm above you.  I'm the artist.  You're an editor."  I made that clear.  In a nice way.  I wasn't always belligerent, but they got to me sometimes.  They really got to me.

Prof:  Well, you can only take so much of that after awhile.

AP:  I'm of Italian descent, and proud of it!

Prof:  Yes.

AP:  First generation.  And Jackie used to call me…  I don't know if I should say it.  You know the word.  He'd say, "The little skinny G can sure play golf!"

Prof:  Oh, yeah, yeah.

AP:  And I didn't mind.  I got a kick out of it.  He said this little skinny guy can hit a ball.  See they started Jackie Gleason with woods, all woods.  I don't know if you play golf.  You've got to have woods and irons.

Prof:  Right.

AP:  And Ed Sullivan talked them into all woods and Fred Waring.  So we got to this one hole, quick story, we got to this one hole, a par 3.  So I take a 7 iron, bang it on the green and it was all water around this green.  All water surrounding the green at Shawnee.  So he gets up with his woods and knocks one in the water.  He knocks two in the water.  He knocks one over.  He's going crazy.  So he picks up the bag, a leather bag.  In those days $300.00 a pop, today probably much more.  A big leather bag, he throws everything in the water.  He said, "If I can't play and hit the ball like Al, I'm not gonna play this game any more."  Jackie Gleason and I became good friends and played golf together for the next six years.  Getting back to my story about Boltinoff in the art room…  We were all in the art room.  I don't know if Neal was there.  A lot of guys were there.  We'd come in with our artwork and we'd talk and maybe we'd have corrections to do.  Murray Boltinoff comes out of his office and yells, "Hey, you!"  To me, he says, "You, you, you!  What the hell is your name?  Come with me!"  Well, I put the pencil down, and I excused myself with the guys, I went into his office, closed the door and got him by the collar, and I said, "You obnoxious, insecure, nasty person!  If you ever yell at me again I'll… You call me Mr. Plastino or else!  I wouldn't work with you on Superboy if I had to starve to death!"  So when Ellsworth heard the commotion, Ellsworth came in and he said, "Al, what are you doing?  Come on; come on, what's happening?"  I said, "I'm not working with this…"  You know what I said.  "I'm not working with him.  And I refuse to work, I'm gonna quit."  "No, no, no, no, Al, don't quit.  Work with me.  You want to draw Batman?"  I said, "Yeah, I'll do Batman."  And that's how I got the assignment.

AP:  And the two guys that were responsible for my having a lot of articles done were two fellas, one from England, named Jim Kealy and one from Tennessee, named Eddy Zeno.

Prof:  Tennessee.

AP:  Yeah, the names are on the article.  And they were very good to me.  Very good.  They bought some of my work in the beginning and now I just send them stuff.  Every time I've got something new I send it to them.  And they were really nice, they sound like you, a nice guy.  You sound like a nice guy.

Prof:  Oh, thank you.  I do my best, Al.  I've been having so much fun talking to the old creators this year and everyone has been very, very kind.  Just like yourself.

AP:  I know someday, the articles I've been interviewed for; I'm on tape, on cable, cable out here.  They showed my work and how I do it.  I did Batman demonstrations; I did some talking to this man.  I don't get paid.  Nobody pays me anything, but it's nice to have for my grandchildren some day to look at.  "Grandpa was a pretty big guy."  And I'm a pretty good looking guy, you know.  (chuckle.)

Prof:  Yeah, I saw that drawing of you.  Did you do that drawing of yourself?

AP:   Yeah, oh sure.  I draw portraits of myself.  That I worked from a photograph.  You know, when you're a kid, there's nobody around, right?  (chuckle)  So you look in the mirror and say, "Ah, what the hell?  I'll draw myself."  Hands, you know, and there's a mirror in front of my desk.  A big mirror.  And you want to get an expression on a face; you look in the mirror, and draw.

Prof:  Sure.  You've got to have a model.

AP:  With a hand, you put your hand in the mirror, toward the mirror, and you handle a gun, or a guy going like this, it's there, right in front of you.  The action is right in front of you.  So I believe in that.  Anyway, that's it.

Prof:  Were there any characters that you really didn't like drawing?

AP: [Krypto the] Superdog.  (Laughter.)  I can't see a dog flying through the air with a cape.  I never did Supercat, though.  And a dog is tough to draw, you know, even though I owned a couple of dogs at one time.  Flying.  You know, it's crazy, what do you do with that?

Prof:  You're right.  You bring up an excellent point.  That's an unnatural position.

AP:  The dog's flying.  (Laughter.)  It's like a dog jumping.  Four legs, all apart.  It's all right.  One time I had to draw him in multiple action scenes.  That takes time.

Prof:  That had to be just maddening after awhile.

AP:  Yeah, but I enjoyed everything.  I still paint.  I exhibit at the galleries.  Watercolors.  Oils.  I sold one of my wife sleeping in a chair.  It's called "Noon nap."  Oh, she's gorgeous, my wife.  When she was 18, I was 35.

Prof:  Well, a good looking guy like you, why not?  (chuckle.)

AP:  And her sister is Millie Perkins, the actress that played in "The Diary of Anne Frank," by George Stevens, who directed the movie.  She was a fashion model, and picked for the part from 10,000 girls.  This stuff, just one thing leads to another as I talk.  (chuckle.)  But my wife is still a beautiful woman and I was doing Love Story covers when I met her and I was living with my sister in Jersey, in Fairlawn, and I was going to New York on a date and I stopped for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, just enough for the road.  When I walked in I saw this beautiful young girl and her girlfriend and two guys sitting at a table and I was looking at her and I was doing Leading Love Stories covers.  If I saw a pretty girl, I would ask her to pose.  I would take a photograph of her, naturally.  Anyway, I was going back out to the car and I caught her eye again.  I said, "Al, if you don't go back in there and speak to that girl, you'll never see her again."  So I went back in again.  Being a shy guy, you know.  (chuckle.)  I went back in again and told her my story, and the two guys didn't say a word.  When I tell you who the two guys were, you're gonna drop.  And she says, "You'll have to ask my mother."  And I says, "Fine, I'll call Mrs. Perkins any time."  The two guys at the table were Tom Lasorda and Rob Pomenowski, the pitcher.  They weren't anything then, they were young guys.

Prof:  Oh, holy cow.

AP:  Yeah, yeah, how about that for a story?  And they didn't say a word.  Not a word.  Rob Pomenowski was a big guy.  He was the pitcher for the Dodgers and Lasorda was a short, stocky guy, but he was a young kid.  A young guy.  We were all young.  I was 35; they must have been 18 or 19.  What could they have been?  Anyway, so a week later I call her mother.  A gorgeous woman, beautiful woman, and she said "Okay, Mr. Plastino."  I said, "Call me Al."  She said, "Okay, Al."  Or Alfred, call me Alfred.  And she said "I trust you."  I said, "Mrs. Perkins, believe me, she'll be fine."  So I took a photograph of her, and we started dating.  We dated for a year.  And I've still got the cover I did.  I've got her and I've got me in a Lieutenant's outfit, kissing.  We're kissing.  What the hell, I might as well put myself in it, right?  (chuckle.)

Prof:  You bet.

AP:  And it was the only cover accepted in watercolor!  Because in those days, pulp covers were cheap reproductions, and if you did it in oil, which I did, you've got to exaggerate the colors.  A yellow's got to be YELLOW!  A red's got to be BRIGHT RED!  And different colors have to be exaggerated.  That's why those paintings never amounted to anything 'cause they were over done color-wise.  So when it came to the reproduction, it would come out great.

Prof:  But then the original didn't look good.

AP:  Right.  'Cause the process was very, very poor.  So when I did mine on watercolor on a board, the guy says, "Gee, I don't know if we can do a watercolor."  I says, "Well, let me test it."  So he calls me up, he says, "Great, Al, it turned out great."  I said, "Good."  And it was all speculation.  Believe it or not I got $150.00 for a cover.  That's way back, though.

Prof:  Not a bad fee at all.

AP:  Yeah, well, at that time it sounded good.  As I'm talking, I'm thinking of other things I did.  I don't want to talk any more.

You know, another thing.  One more thing.

Prof:  Please.

AP:  I don't go to conventions any more.  I was there one time at the hotel near the Madison Square Garden.  They set you, blah, blah, blah, so it was supposed to be a 3-day thing.  So the first day I'm there, I'm sitting at a desk and guys come up to me for my autograph.  So I'm signing them.  Drawing a little picture.  But I'm not getting any money.  I didn't think I was supposed to get any money.  There's a guy next to me getting $25.00 a shot.  So I says, "Hey, what the hell's going on here?"  He says, "Aren't you getting paid?"  I said, "No.  They seem like nice kids."  In fact, we never signed our work in those days, remember?"

Prof:  Right.

AP:  So I said to this one kid, "How do you know it's my work?"  "Oh, we know your work, Mr. Plastino.  The way you draw folds.  The way you draw this or that."  They go by the way you draw things.  I said, "But we never signed it."  We used to sneak in our initials once in awhile.  On the covers I'd sneak my initials in some corner there.  But I said, "What am I doing here?  I'm not gonna stay here."  So I got up and went home.  And they called me up and said, "Mr. Plastino, where the hell are you?"  I said, "I'm home."  And I told them the story.  They said, "Well, why didn't you ask?"  "I'm gonna ask for money?  What am I, a beggar?"  If it's a thing that's supposed to be done, have a sign:  "All autographs and illustrations, $25.00."  Or whatever.  So I said, "I'm not going any more."  They call me up from time to time, "Oh, come on."  No, no, no, no, no.  They've got that big one going in San Diego.  I said, "No, I'm not coming.  I'm not gonna go."  "Why, Mr. Plastino?  We'll pay your fare."  What the hell does that mean?  You're paying my plane?  What about the room and food?  No, I just don't do those any more.

Al still has pretty good market value as evidenced by this recently auctioned Action Comics #354 (September, 1967 issue) page that went for nearly $1,700.00!

It was a genuine pleasure to make Al's acquaintance and to learn about his long run in both the Golden and Silver Ages of DC, not to mention his copious work in the daily comic strips to include Batman, Ferd'nand, Abbie 'n Slats and even an unpublished run on Peanuts.  Al has had a major impact on the genre and is a great guy to talk with in the bargain.  I hope I was able to convey some of his gregarious nature.

Join us again, readers, for a new review and interview in about two weeks, right at this very URL.  We'll keep delivering the goods and always welcome your comments, questions and feedback.  Shoot me a line anytime at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Remember that my previous interviews with creators from the Golden and Silver Age are available in the Special Features section just below for your reading pleasure.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2007 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edited by Al Plastino

This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by



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