Life can be random. It can be capricious. And sometimes it’s just not fair.
Today, we’re going to talk about one of the instances where it’s so unfair it’s downright cruel.
When I was a kid reading comics, I always read the credit boxes to see who was writing and drawing the comics. But one of the first times I ever made the connection in my head that “hey, all my favorite comics seem to be written by the same guy” came with my recognition of the name Bill Mantlo.
Bill Mantlo was never a superstar at Marvel, but he could probably be best described as the company’s utility infielder; throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Mantlo worked on just about every comic Marvel produced, with lengthy or notable runs on books like MARVEL TEAM-UP, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (where he created the characters Cloak & Dagger), INCREDIBLE HULK and ALPHA FLIGHT. However, Mantlo’s best work was on the two series which he for all intents and purposes created, MICRONAUTS and ROM. MICRONAUTS allowed Mantlo to engage in some large-scale storytelling, creating all the worlds and races of the Microverse amid an epic, mythological-tinged storyline, while ROM, at least at the start, was more of a 1950s style “aliens invading Earth” pastiche, with the added twist that the invading alien turned out to be the hero, while the humans he slaughtered were secretly the disguised alien threat.
Mantlo also created Rocket Raccoon for Marvel, appearing first in an issue of MARVEL PREVIEW and a guest-shot in INCREDIBLE HULK before graduating to his own miniseries (drawn by HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola, of all people) in 1985.
Rocket Raccoon has been back on the pop-culture radar in a big way lately, what with a flurry of comics appearances in preparation for the character’s big-screen debut in next year’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY feature film. And it’s been seeing Rocket Raccoon all over the place that’s got me thinking about Bill Mantlo again, about how much I loved his comics, and how unfair life can be.
Bill Mantlo worked steadily at Marvel throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and at the same time attended law school. In 1987, Mantlo left comics for a career in law full-time, taking a position as a Legal Aid Society public defender in The Bronx. Tragedy struck in 1992, when Mantlo was hit by a car while rollerblading. Mantlo suffered serious and irreparable brain injuries in the crash, and is still today confined to a healthcare facility, requiring full-time daily care. Bill’s brother Michael Mantlo talked about Bill’s situation a couple years back:
First off, I send out a big THANK YOU to everyone that has helped support Bill over these past 19 years (!). Every donation, no matter how big or small, and every card or letter is greatly appreciated. Bill’s condition remains the same (he suffers severe cognitive impairments, anger, and depression), and these factors keep him very much isolated from “the outside world.” Aside from my visits, and the kindness of my beautiful wife and some of the attendants at the nursing home/rehabilitation facility he resides in, his contact with other human beings is virtually non-existent. But the support and encouragement of fans, and industry professionals like yourself, helps to bring a little ray of sunlight into his dark and dreary days. When I (or my wife) engage Bill in conversation, his spirit emerges and is as strong and pure as it ever was! So, once again, I can’t thank ALL of you enough!! I strongly believe in the power of practicing random acts of kindness, and with that belief I hope that ALL of your kindnesses will be returned to you many, many times over!
Cards, letters or donations to Bill Mantlo can be sent to:
26364 East Pintail Road
Long Neck, DE 19966
Please make out any checks to “Michael Mantlo” — Bill’s legal guardian.
You can also donate directly toward Bill’s care through PayPal. My fellow comics writer Greg Pak recently posted a direct link that will allow you to donate to the Bill Mantlo Support Fund, which you can visit by clicking here.
If you’re like me and you grew up reading Bill Mantlo’s work, or you’re just excited to see Rocket Raccoon on the big screen, please consider giving a little back and helping take care of Bill. Based on how much I loved ROM and THE MICRONAUTS, whatever I give him, it’s not enough.