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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #212

It happens to be my birthday today (please, no, don’t send me your firstborn), and so to be completely indulgent, I will take a break from my vendetta against Wal-Mart and continue Bill Week with a look at my favorite Bill of them all, a brilliant writer who gave us a ridiculous amount of good comics. (Archive!)

7/31/07

212. Bill Mantlo

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Bill Mantlo is my hero. The man wrote a tremendous amount of comics in a relatively short timespan (over 500 issues in 15 years, or somesuch feat), and wrote them pretty darn well. The Hulk Library provides us with the most complete list of series that Mr. Mantlo wrote for:

Alpha Flight, Amazing Adventures, Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing Tales, The Avengers, Battlestar Galactica, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Cloak & Dagger, Daredevil, Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, The Defenders, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Hero for Hire, Heroes For Hope Starring the X-Men, Howard the Duck, The Human Fly, The Incredible Hulk, Invasion, Iron Man, Jack of Hearts, The Mighty Thor, Ka-Zar, Marvel Age, Marvel Chillers, Marvel Fanfare, Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions, Marvel Tales (Marvel Tales Starring Spider-man), Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Treasury Edition, Marvel Two-In-One, Micronauts, Rawhide Kid, Rocket Raccoon, ROM, Sectaurs, Spectacular Spider-Man (Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man), Spider-Man and Daredevil, Strange Tales (2nd series), Super-Villain Team-Up, Swords of the Swashbucklers, Tales of Suspense (Captain America/Captain America and the Falcon/Steve Rogers: Captain America), Team America, Transformers, The Vision and The Scarlet Witch (the entire miniseries), Web of Spider-Man, Werewolf by Night, What If…, X-Men, and X-men and the Micronauts.

Jeezum crow, that’s a mighty ton of comics. And you know what? I’d bet they were all really good reads. Bill Mantlo came to Marvel in the ’70s and quickly became a powerhouse at the company, writing pretty much every title they had at one point or another. He penned some brilliant runs; I’ll talk about some of my favorites.

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Any piece on Bill Mantlo has to mention his Hulk run. If it weren’t for Peter David, we’d be calling it the definitive Hulk run. As it is, it remains the definitive run on the Savage Hulk incarnation, taking the angry behemoth and making him an incredibly (some pun intended) interesting character filled with a lot of heart and emotion. He wrote the Hulk as a hero and he wrote him as a monster. It was a huge action/adventure romp that was pretty unbeatable at the time, especially with the terrific Sal Buscema artwork. Mantlo also wrote #312 during this run; that issue would reveal Bruce Banner’s troubled childhood, his awful father Brian, and the roots of the Hulk. Peter David and Ang Lee picked this up and ran with it.

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My favorite aspect of Mr. Mantlo’s writing, though, has to be his ability to take what would otherwise be a really lame character or series and turn it into something amazing. Two series he penned were licensed books, based on toys– ROM Spaceknight and the Micronauts. Instead of an excuse for a quick buck, these series became marvelous epics, thanks to Mantlo. Micronauts is beloved by many, many fans. And we know that ROM is one of my all-time favorite series.

ROM, as I’ve discussed before, gave us a compelling protagonist, a fleshed-out background, a terrifying race of villains, a snazzy supporting cast, and a truly epic narrative filled with great stories. The silver Spaceknight of Galador is a lovely, noble, fleshed-out hero who got a complete character arc, as all 75 issues of his series were written by Mantlo. It was one big story, in the end, drawn by greats like Sal Buscema and Steve Ditko, and it was fantastic. It was a ’50s sci-fi thriller and a ’70s space opera and a bunch of other stuff as well. I think it’s one of the best things Marvel was putting out at the time– maybe one of the best things Marvel’s ever put out.

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As for other lamers-turned-cool, we had the Human Fly, a bizarre based-on-a-real-life-daredevil series that sounds kitschy and ridiculous, but was pretty exciting. Mantlo could do no wrong.

Bill Mantlo also co-created Rocket Raccoon, a fascinatingly fun and weird character, and filled his mini-series with grand adventure and mad ideas. Another, more famous creation of Mantlo’s would be the crime-fighting duo of Cloak and Dagger, which commented on drug use and presented a cool interracial superhero couple. I’m really surprised that more hasn’t been done with them. They’re pretty cool.

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During the ’80s, Bill was also putting himself through law school, and quit comics when he passed the bar exam. He was living a new dream then, working as a lawyer, serving as a public defender in New York City. However, in 1992, disaster struck as Bill was hit by a car while rollerblading. He suffered severe head trauma, which left him with permanent brain injuries. His brother Michael currently cares for him.

If you’d like to send a letter wishing Bill well or telling him how much you’ve loved his work, send an e-mail to his brother Mike at mkm5854 at aol dot com and he’ll pass it on to Bill. Anything that can bring a smile to Bill Mantlo’s face during this difficult time is worth doing.

Together with Mike Mantlo, David Yurkovich put together an astonishing and stirring tribute to the endlessly imaginative Bill Mantlo with his book “Mantlo: A Life in Comics,” which you can read about and purchase at this website. The cover can be seen at the top of this post.

For further great tributes to Bill Mantlo and his work, visit the Hulk Library and the Howling Curmudgeons.

I propose that “Mantlo!” become as much of a sound effect as “Aparo!” should be. All in favor?

29 Comments

Happy Birthday!

Didn’t Hatcher do a Fridays piece with David Yurkovich? Did you read that one?

Ian Astheimer

July 31, 2007 at 6:57 pm

Dude! Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday, Bill!

Actually, I would say that a lot has been done with Cloak and Dagger, it’s just that none of it ever stuck or had any major impact. But there was a time when every new Marvel book had to have a cameo by Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, or Cloak and Dagger.

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 31, 2007 at 7:28 pm

A-men to the Micronauts!

So you’re a year older now, happy b-day to yah! :-)

Rohan Williams

July 31, 2007 at 7:58 pm

Happy Birthday, Bill! I’ve got a bunch of Mantlo stuff sitting around that I’ve never gotten around to reading… I should probably change that, right?

I’m pissed that so many in the industry were dismissive or showed contempt towards Bill, who could out-write the heck out of most of them , then and now.

Funny that ROM was such a huge part of the Marvel Universe for so many years and it wasn’t forced and shoe-horned in like so many big events.

Wow. So much I didn’t know about Bill Mantlo. I’m sorry to hear about his accident; I have a friend who was hit by a car and suffered permanent brain damage, so I know a bit about it. Thanks for this tribute to Mantlo!

(And happy birthweek, Bill Reed! Keep celebrating!)

Happy birthday, Bill.

Loved Cloak. Like Apodaca said, he and Dagger turned up all over the Marvel Universe back in the day.

Happy birthday! It’s my baby’s special day as well.

Just ordered a copy of the tribute book. Can’t wait to read it, a lot of my fondest Marvel memories from the 1980s were of Bill’s work.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

July 31, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Happy B’day Bill!

I’m pissed that so many in the industry were dismissive or showed contempt towards Bill, who could out-write the heck out of most of them , then and now.

Why did they show him contempt?

Wasn’t his Hulk run as sophisticated as their Aquaman run?

Cool – today is my girlfriend’s birthday too.

-M

I’m not sure how to say this without being a dick. So I’m being a dick.

It’s because from what I’ve seen (and I haven’t read THAT much of his stuff) the best of his work was quite good – But the worst of his stuff was really pretty bad.

(Track down the Captain Universe trade paperback and Essential Marvel Two-In-One for some representative examples of each.)

And happy birthday!

Happy birthday,Bill.
Always a good excuse to buy oneself a graphic novel or Essentials volume, birthdays.

Wow, sad to hear about Bill Mantlo. I did grow to like his work, although I remember in the early mid-70s when he first started at Marvel he was a fill-in issue specialist, so whenever I’d see “written by Bill Mantlo” on an opening page of Iron Man or Killraven I’d cringe. He wrote some pretty lame fill-ins.

He won me over with his Spectacular Spider-man run. Some of my favorite non-Ditko Spider moments ever. And Micronauts was a comic of rare and splendid beauty, one of my favorite sci-fi series ever (for the first twelve issues, at least).

The rumor I remember about Mantlo was that along with his extensive fill-in work, he did the scripting for all those Marvel Hostess Twinkie pages. True?

Don’t forget Alpha Flight. Bill’s run on that title is probably my favourite work of his. He did phenomenal work paired with some amazing artists (Mike Mignola, Dave Ross, June Brigman and some bloke called Jim Lee). A true classic.

It is right and proper Bill Mantlo gets honoured here. He wrote so much of my early Marvel intake and as Bill R says loads of it is very very good. You want to read Rom.

Black Lutefisk

August 1, 2007 at 5:55 am

Happy birthday, Bill! Thanks for a genuinely great blog.

I’m just grateful to hear that he actually came out of the coma; I didn’t recall hearing this bit of news, and was under the impression that he was in a persistent vegetative state. Obviously, it’s still sad that he suffered permanent damage, but still, even a small gift is still a gift in a sad situation.

MANTLO!

The benefit magazine is excellent and well worth getting. I’d have been happy just donating to Bill’s care but the mag is genuinely very well put together. Buy it!

Funky Green said:

Why did they show him contempt?

Wasn’t his Hulk run as sophisticated as their Aquaman run?

From the Aquaman comment, it would seem you’re referring to Peter David. He’s never shown contempt for Mantlo. I believe from reading old CBG columns they were friends (or at least work friends). Peter also has always been very clear that he based his Hulk stuff (the Grey, the MPD) on stuff that Mantlo had set up.

I suppose you could be referring to Erik Larson who did both Hulk and Aquaman, but I’m not aware of his attitudes towards Mantlo one way or another.

I would imagine in a world where the big name comic writers are trying to be cutting edge by doing political allegory or killing off as many characters that they can, someone like Mantlo who just told good solid stories, might be thought of less than he should.

Jeff Albertson

August 1, 2007 at 3:04 pm

Mantlo did the “good solid stories,” but he also stretched himself and did stories that reached beyond simple entertainment. His Hulk 312 story is an example of that, as are some of his Cloak and Dagger stories. He was pretty under-rated considering he basically constructed 2 of Marvel’s two longest running licensed series from not much more than the visuals.

I wish that the Mantlo book had addressed the “warts” of his career, like the Hulk story that had a lot of similarities to Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier.” Regardless, though, it is well worth the price for anyone interested in his life and in marvel int he 1970s and 1980s.

Flush it all away

August 1, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Happy birthday!!

I didn’t know about Mantlo’s injury…what a shame. I’ll have to pick up a copy of A Life in Comics.

Comcis 101 has a great series on ROM and the Mantlo goodness shines through.

I hope he knows he is a reason comics are good!

Hi Bill and happy (belated) birthday!

Thanks for posting this story about Bill and for sharing your personal recollections. I had been wanting to produce a tribute book for Bill Mantlo for a long time, so it is nice to know that those who have read it are walking away with a greater knowledge of the tremendous volume of work he produced.

I’m also pleased that your post has gotten so many responses. It shows that even though Mantlo has been out of the comics scene for more than 2 decades, he is hardly forgotten. And while I humbly disagree with some of the comments left by a few posters (Captain Universe by Mantlo and Ditko was incredible; c’mon, it’s Mantlo and Ditko!) I realize that individual tastes are, well, individual, and not everyone is going to like everything a writer or artist produces.

If nothing else, I hope that the Bill Mantlo tribute magazine will 1. introduce Bill’s work to a new audience, 2. provide a bit more information about Bill’s passion for our industry to those not in the know, and 3. inspire others to share their memories about Bill as you have done here.

Also, perhaps it was not clear in the magazine, but all of the quotations from Bill are from archived sources and these all occurred prior to Bill’s accident. Bill can no longer answer questions about his career due to the massive injuries that have left him cognitively impaired. If there are certain “warts” (to use Mike Albertson’s term) about Bill’s career that remain unanswered it is because I was unable to locate published interviews with Bill on the topics (meaning that there probably WERE no published interviews available on these topics, as I tracked down everything I could find while researching this project). I did try to get Harlan to participate in the project because I was also curious about the “Soldier” story that was published in Incredible Hulk; however, Harlan phoned and politely declined to participate. Fortunately, many of Bill’s industry colleagues were more than willing to offer their thoughts and share their memories.

There was certainly contempt toward Bill, particularly toward the end of his career, but I think the contempt was from the management. As for Bill’s writing, anyone producing the high volume of work Bill was doing at his peak is sure to have some stories turn out better than others. It’s easy to criticize a person’s work 20+ years after the fact, but to those of us Marvel fans who were children of the ’70s, I think there will always be a warm feeling for Bill and the memories his stories invoke.

Best-
david

Happy Birthday, Bill…

Along with my best wishes to you on your birthday, let me personally THANK YOU for helping the “MANTLO: A Life In Comics” benefit book reach an ever-growing audience!

Just like you, Bill Mantlo was MY hero, in every sens of the word. Growing up, and being “attached at the hip” to Bill was an experience that will influence my life forever. He was, truly, an AMAZING PERSON!

I’m not sure who it was that “showed him contempt”, but my recollections of Bill’s “tough years” at Marvel reveal only one true villain…without mentioning names, I can tell you that Bill came through as the straight SHOOTER in all the arguments that arose, and was respected and supported by the majority of his peers.

But, the past is, well, the past, and crying over spilled milk doesn’t accomplish anything positive. So, to focus on the positive, thank you once more for helping to get the word out about “MANTLO: A Life In Comics”. ~ALL~ of the profits realized from the sale of this book are going directly to Bill’s care, and to help improve the quality of his life in whatever ways they can be improved (even if it’s something as simple as buying him his favorite meal in place of the Nursing Home fare).

The book can be purchased directly at David Yurkovich’s SLEEPINGGIANTCREATIONS.COM website, or through MY auctions on eBay (look under Seller ID: mickeysccc). If anyone wants to go the eBay route, I’m throwing in a randomly selected original comic that BILL MANTLO wrote during the 70’s-80’s, to sweeten the deal just a bit, and to show my appreciation for the support.

THANK YOU, and have a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

–Mike Mantlo

While researching this project, the impression I got from Bill’s colleagues was that he was genuinely liked. However, I think that certain managers in the Marvel heirarchy regarded Bill with contempt–not that they “despised” Bill but that there was, perhaps, disrespect for someone of Bill’s talents. To have the CLOAK AND DAGGER series stripped from Bill because he was dissatisfied with (and requested a new) artist for the series, is, in my opinion disrespectful since, without Bill there would have been no C&D series.

Regarding Mantlo, in October 2000 former Marvel EIC Jim Shooter told CBR’s Michael Thomas that “I used to tell people, don’t create anything…[but] the way [Bill] saw it, he could make himself more valuable creating characters.” I find this statement utterly perplexing, since without new characters, there would be no Marvel Universe. If Stan, Jack, and those who pioneered the Marvel Age of Comics had decided to stop creating new characters after issue 10 of FANTASTIC FOUR, well, they’d have run out of story ideas rather quickly. In that same interview, Shooter stated that Bill insisted that he wanted to write a “story where Spider-Man fathers an illegitimate child and I said, no…These just aren’t our characters and we can’t just mess around with them like that.” The problem I have with this argument is that comic book companies ALWAYS “mess around” with their characters (eg, Death of Superman, Elektra, Captain America, etc). There were plenty of X-MEN products being licensed when Shooter decreed that Jean Grey be killed off in the notorious issue 137. Spider-Man, arguably Marvel’s most licensed character, underwent a radical costume change in Shooter’s SECRET WARS. If these are not examples of “mess[ing] around with properties, then I don’t know what are. But as Mike says, the past is the past.

On a more upbeat note, I posted a press release on the SGC site regarding the proceeds of the book, as a check was sent to Mike this week. I’ll also be sending the announcement to the various online sites that cover comic-related news stories. Meanwhile, anyone interested in reading the press release should click HERE.

I would also suggest that anyone wishing to purchase this magazine to order it directly from Mike Mantlo via e-bay. My schedule is very tight at the moment so it may take me up to several weeks to process an order. You’ll also get a free bonus comic if you order from Mike, which only sweetens the deal in my opinion. Simply click HERE to see Mike’s e-bay auctions which, of course, includes the benefit project.

Best-
David

I believe Shooter’s point, David, is that he did not think Marvel creators should create new characters because they would not own their creations, so Shooter was attempting, in his own manner, to look out for the creators.

Shooter’s insinuation is that Bill figured, if no one else was creating new characters, that he’d be seen as more valuable if he DID create new characters, even knowing that he would not own them, or have any control over them (which, as you note, is exactly what happened to him with regards to Cloak and Dagger).

Bill Mantlo is the reason why I got into comics, and certainly what made me want to write comics. His work on Cloak & Dagger holds up after all these years as a beautifully layered and dramatic series about people on the margins of society. I’m proud to be a supporter of “MANTLO: A Life In Comics.” What Yurkovich has done with this tribute is amazing, and I hope this will only further encourage Mantlo-fans to continue their support.

One question still remain unanswered: did anybody saw the Butch Guice pencils for The Derangers, the second never-to-be released Mantlo epic series?

About the Mantlo/Shooter riot, I remember that somebody (it was published in the Comics journal I think) reported that Shooter, at this time, told his editors to force the writers to use the already existing heroes/vilains of the Mavel Universe instead of creating new ones, beacuse it was just in the middle of the Gerber (and others) era where creators would asked for royalties/control on the characters they created. This person then told that he felt that, as soon as he told this to Bill Mantlo, this one didn’t stop creating new characters, quite the opposite and that it angered Shooter.

I don’t think it was mentionned somewhere in A life about comics, but Bill wrote some interesting articles about old foreign comics in the Comics Journal (from Angola…) until he parted ways with the Comics Journal (if they are to be believed (…), it had something to do about a harsh critique about his work on ROM).

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