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