We stay through the credits of the Marvel films for the stingers at the end, but somewhere in that endless scroll of names are the men and women who worked in the Marvel bullpen decades ago creating the characters that are breaking box office records today. One of those men is Bill Mantlo who, with artist Keith Giffen, created a talking raccoon as a throwaway Beatles gag (a sci-fi outlaw version of the character from the song “Rocky Raccoon”). Cut to 38 years later and Rocket Raccoon is headlining Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that opened better than the most recent Spider-Man sequel.
Mantlo was prolific throughout the late ’70s and into the 1980s, probably best known for elevating licensed comics to an art form with Micronauts and ROM. He beat Alan Moore’s Watchmen to the punch with a running subplot about the sexual fetishization of superheroes in the pages of The Spectacular Spider-Man and introduced Bruce Banner’s lasting daddy issues to The Incredible Hulk (which, in turn, informed the Ang Lee film). There’s pretty much no classic Marvel character Mantlo hasn’t written at some point. He sidelined comic writing as the ’90s approached to focus his energies on becoming a public defender in the Bronx.
Though Rocket Raccoon made his first appearance in one of Marvel’s adult fantasy magazines (Marvel Preview #7), he wasn’t brought into the Marvel universe proper until Incredible Hulk #271 in 1982. His appearance was polarizing, with many finding the raccoon far too silly to interact with a “serious” character like the Hulk, but Marvel seemed to side with the fans who loved him. Mantlo paired with Mike Mignola (Hellboy) in 1985 to produce a four-issue miniseries spotlighting the character and his world. Rocket made only a handful of appearances in the Marvel universe from that point until the 2007 “Annihilation” crossover event that Marvel used to dust off its cosmic characters. From there, he joined the Guardians and it’s been a short, fast trip to becoming an all-time fan favorite.
Mantlo’s life was changed forever in 1992 when he was struck by a vehicle in a hit-and-run accident. He was comatose for a time and the trauma to his head from the accident was so severe that he was unable to return to his life as a writer or public defender. Mantlo now lives in an assisted-living facility, with his brother Michael reporting back to comic fandom with updates on Bill’s progress. This week, Michael shared some great news on Bill’s facebook page:
*****WHAT AN INCREDIBLE DAY FOR BILL MANTLO*****! Marvel hooked Bill up with a PRIVATE VIEWING of “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, and my wife Liz and my beloved cousin Jean assisted Bill throughout, enabling him to sit back, relax and relish in the AWESOMENESS of what is going to be, in my humble opinion, Marvel’s GREATEST AND MOST SUCCESSFUL FILM EVER! Bill thoroughly enjoyed it, giving it his HIGHEST COMPLIMENT (the BIG “THUMB’S UP!”), and when the credits rolled, his face was locked into the HUGEST SMILE I HAVE EVER SEEN HIM WEAR (along with one or two tears of joy)! This was the GREATEST DAY OF THE LAST 22 YEARS for me, our family, and most importantly, BILL MANTLO!
It’s a small gesture from Marvel, but a joyful one. It’s certainly a rare display of humanity for any movie studio to make, and one would hope that Bill would also receive some financial compensation to assist the Mantlo family with his care.
If not, that’s where we can come in. TeeSpring.com has put their “Help Bill Mantlo” raccoon-inspired T-shirt back up for sale for a limited time on its website. Seven dollars from each tee goes directly to the care of Bill Mantlo. There’s also a link on its page to donate directly, without the purchase of the tee. Bill’s case is a special one, but unfortunately many of comics’ work-for-hire creators struggle without good health insurance or retirement (while many of their creations reap millions for the companies, like Marvel or DC, who license them). The Hero Initiative exists to assist these creators in need and any amount helps. When their creations are making literal billions of dollars that the creators will never see, it’s the least we can do as fans to say thank you.
Thank you, Bill Mantlo, for Rocket Raccon. Summer of 2014 wouldn’t have been the same without either of you.
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