Bill Mantlo: Triumph and Tragedy!
While some of you may be familiar of writer Bill Mantlo as the creator of Rocket Raccoon, there is more to this unsung Comics legend. Mantlo was an accomplished writer since the early years at Marvel during the seventies from a brief stint as co-writer and writer of Deathlok the Demolisher, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and other Marvel projects However, his signature claim to fame was introducing Marvel to the first comic based on an action figure toyline. In 1978, Mantlo's son received a Christmas present from his grandmother which she mistakenly referred to the toys as "Megoloids" well close, Micronauts a space themed toyline from Japanese toy manufacturer Takara was localized to America by Mego and became a successful product long before Kenner's Star Wars. Mantlo studied the toys with fascination to the extent of pitching a concept to then Marvel's Editor and Chief Jim Shooter. A comic book loosely based on Mego's toy line, and by the definition of "loosely," I mean Mantlo adding his own ideas of worldbuilding from the ground up since the toys had no background or concept whatsoever.
"Space Glider seemed to suggest a Reed Richards nobility, an aspect of command, of dignity. Acroyear, faceless, his armor gleaming, a fantastic sword clenched in his coldly metallic hand, seemed to hearken back to a warrior Mr. Spock. For some reason Galactic Warrior seemed insect-like — I can almost hear clicks and whistles and strange scraping interjected into his speech. But Time Traveler — there was a mystery there, glimmerings of cosmic vastness, intimations of knowledge and space and time all having been broken down and reassembled to produce something entirely new, unexplainable, different."
Released in 1978, the Micronauts comic was an instant success thanks to both Bill Mantlo's writing and Michael Golden's amazing pencilworks, embellished by Joe Rubinstein which breathed life into the toys. Ironically the comics not only outlasted the toys, but Mego as well.
Among the writer's many compelling stories from the Space fantasy comic, there was one that stood out and it was included in the Micronauts first annual which was told akin to a twilight zone anthology with the first segment called “Timestream” being the absolute best. Commander Arcturus Rann, arrives on a planet where its xenophobic inhabitants are in cryogenic stasis to prevent aging as their society deemed any imperfection, can lead to extermination to sustain their "Utopian " populace. This story's meta can be comparable to the Nazi doctrine ala Übermensch. When Hitler had dreams of creating the perfect race.
During the year in which Micronauts debuted, Mantlo also known as "Boisterous Bill", had won an Eagle Award for his brilliant work on the comic, which was comparable to the space opera escapism of Star Wars and elements of Jack Kirby’s New Gods saga. He continued his winning streak within another licensed toy-based property- ROM the Spaceknight which also became a cult like hit and became an inspiration for Robocop's design.
Mantlo's Micronauts and ROM not only proved that licensed toy properties can exist beyond the confines of their products but paved the way for other toy turned comics such as Hasbro's Transformers and especially G.I. Joe!
Bill Mantlo had other successes thanks to The Incredible Hulk, which had some very memorable stories one featured Bruce Banner's abuse from his alcoholic father that played a major explanation behind his alter ego's rage. Mantlo's Hulk introduced his now most iconic creation, Rocket Raccoon who eventually would be part of the Guardians of the Galaxy line up.
Mantlo is also credited for Co-creating the White Tiger who was the first Hispanic Superhero and Cloak and Dagger, which the latter is far-fetched when you factor in the concept of having the powers of teleportation via "street drugs?" Anyway, frustrated with Marvel, Mantlo passed a bar exam and began working as a Legal Aid Society public defender. One of his last notable works was DC Comics' "Invasion!" Miniseries.
On July 17th, 1992, Mantlo was involved in a hit and run accident while rollerblading. Bill, unfortunately, was not wearing a helmet, and was placed in a coma for two weeks with a serious head injury, that affected both speech and movement. He was then placed within a living assisted center with full-time care. His brother and caretaker Michael raised funds to help pay his medical bills and other expenses. Marvel Studios, to their credit, offered a compensation package deal that would have Mantlo taken care of for the remainder of his life, when negotiating the rights for the use of Rocket Raccoon.
Sadly, Michael died in 2020, and the driver who was responsible for Mantlo's injuries, has not been apprehended as of this writing.