Superman comes to the JFK Library

More than 50 years after a prominent comic book artist created artwork and a story line about Superman and President Kennedy partnering in a national physical fitness campaign, the drawings are finally being displayed at their new home, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

“Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” was created in late 1963 by Al Plastino, in collaboration with the president himself. When Kennedy was assassinated, DC Comics tabled the comic. It was eventually published at President Lyndon Johnson’s request, since physical fitness had been so important to Kennedy. Plastino meant for his 10 hand-drawn black-and-white storyboards to be donated to the JFK Library and was upset when he learned last fall that the art was being auctioned off in New York. DC Comics stepped in and bought the storyboards and donated them to the library in honor of Plastino, who died in December at 92.

The never-displayed original artwork opens to the public Thursday and will be shown in the Library’s museum through May 31. The comic book is reminiscent of first lady Michelle Obama’s using pop culture in her campaign for fitness. In it, JFK asks Superman to help get America’s kids into physical shape.

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“Our forefathers were hardy folks, because they walked to school, chopped trees, tilled the soil,” the president tells the Man of Steel. “But modern inventions like the auto and the tractor have made our youth ‘soft.’ We must show our youngsters that everyone has to keep fit, not just sports heroes!” Superman agrees and vows: “I’ll do all I can to help close this ‘muscle gap!” And he whips the softies into shape.

Tom Putnam, director of the museum, said the exhibit shows how important fitness was to JFK, and how he used the social media and popular culture of the time to get his message out. “It’s the notion of getting the country moving again, of a youthful, vibrant president wanting to encourage more vigor among American youth,” says Putnam. “He teamed up with Superman, who was incredibly popular with young people. It’s just fun, too, with the two of them in the Oval Office.”