On Bill Mantlo, Rocket Raccoon and Guardians of the Galaxy

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When the trailer for August’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie hit a week ago—and when the GotG toys were unveiled at Toy Fair last weekend—something that has been pretty clear to diehard comics fans was obvious from the gitgo:

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Rocket Raccoon is going to be huge.

While the character was a bit of a punchline in the Marvel U for many years, given Disney’s proven ability to market cute animals, and the evident (if the crowd at Toy Fair was any indication) excitement over a cute animal with a ray gun, Rocket’s future success is all but guaranteed.

And along with the talk of the trailer, how fresh it looks, and how much fun seeing Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot, the talking tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) interacting should be, there was mention of Bill Mantlo, the co-creator, with Keith Giffen, of the character.

This Bill Mantlo.

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Although a prolific writer in Marvel’s Bronze Age—also known by nostalgics for a revelatory run on Rom Spaceknight and many other things—Mantlo left comics in 1987 after passing the bar exam, and worked as a public defender. On July 17, 1992 Mantlo’s life changed forever when he was hit by a car while rollerblading. He suffered irreversible brain damage which has left him institutionalized ever since. He was just 41 at the time of the accident, the father of two children.

The story by itself is a terrible, tragic one with no need of embellishment. Writer Bill Coffin dug into Mantlo’s life since then in this heartbreaking piece for a site that covers health and insurance issues—it will come as a surprise to few that our health care and insurance industries are pretty messed up, and when it comes to the care of the long-term disabled, even more so. It has been a horrible struggle for the Mantlo family.

In recent days, many have compared the excitement over Rocket Raccoon to Mantlo’s situation—and it’s a grim, depressing fact that no matter how many copies of comics starring Rocket Raccoon are sold, Mantlo will receive no royalties, because that’s the way the comics industry worked most of the time until the 80s and 90, and even now corporations aren’t required to share their profits—which can be BILLIONS OF DOLLARS—with the people who made those profits possible.

A call has gone out to donate to Mantlo’s care — perhaps the cost of a ticket to see Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think that’s an awesome idea.

When all this first started going around, my idea was to write an editorial shaming Disney, the studio behind Guardians of the Galaxy, for not doing something for Mantlo — perhaps a benefit screening of the film. Such a move would be all good PR and the money would be barely an eyelash of the money they have made from the Marvel characters, all of them created by men and women who were just making comic books for a page rate.

Such a thing is pretty unlikely, given Disney/Marvel’s very active legal actions to prevent those creators from getting ANY ownership of those characters. Simon, Kirby, Wolfman, Gerber…the list goes on and on of people who were defeated in court battles, or settled without setting precedents.

It’s shitty.

HOWEVER, while pointing out the shitty things corporations do, it’s also important to get all the facts. In a letter to Comics Bulletin, and several other comics sites, Mantlo’s guardian, his brother Mike has set the record straight on some easily misunderstood matters.

David, while I applaud your concern for Bill, and our family, I think you may have either misconstrued the facts or fallen victim to relying on false/spotty information. The Mantlo family is not, and was not, put into financial ruin by the tragedy that befell Bill. Yes, I agree that the shabby treatment by his insurance carrier at the time was disgraceful, but in reality he received an incredible amount of coverage (over $2 MILLION in less than 3 years), and like virtually every other policyholder in this country, he was able to obtain continued care (to this day) through Medicaid coverage. And, again because you are not privy to private contractual terms, you are way off base with accusations that Marvel has not compensated Bill adequately. Please don’t join in the spreading of false rumors. And above all else, anytime anyone (you included) wants to know anything about matters concerning Bill Mantlo, you really should consider contacting ME first, as I am his Legal Guardian (and brother, to boot)! Folks, on behalf of Bill I urge everyone to SUPPORT the “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” film, and help it have TREMENDOUS SUCCESS. That will benefit Bill Mantlo more than anyone could ever imagine. Supporting the Hero Initiative is equally as worthy a cause, and of course, the Bill Mantlo Support Fund accessible through the Greg Pak “PAKBUZZ” site is always grateful and appreciative of any, and all donations. THANKS…..and GO ROCKET RACCOON!!!!!!!!!!! –Michael Mantlo


I’m guessing what Mike Mantlo is referring to here—”you are way off base with accusations that Marvel has not compensated Bill adequately”—is a recentish, but quiet, program that Marvel has to compensate creators for the use of their characters in movies. While it’s unlikely that the details of this will be made public, evidently, Marvel is AT LEAST PARTIALLY doing the right thing.

I’d like to think that Jim Starlin’s continued collaboration with Marvel, including working on the character he created, Thanos, is a sign that he has been treated fairly. I sure hope so.

To sum up, it SEEMS that Bill Mantlo has received some compensation from Marvel, and, at least his family isn’t destitute over this thanks to an insurance payment and the Medicaid safety net.

So is everything hunky dory?

No, not at all.

I still urge people to donate to Mantlo’s care—Greg Pak explains how here—and I STILL think Disney should do a benefit for Mantlo—or at least the Hero Initiative, the comics charity that helps creators in need. To put it in crass terms, it would be a feel-good story and a PR bonanza…and, as it happens, The Right Thing To Do.

The comics industry has a history of scant reward for creativity, and some burning injustices along the way, from Siegel and Shuster to Jack Kirby and on down the list. With billions of dollars now being made, the time is right to give back. The time is always right to give back.

At the same time, efforts that publishers have made to compensate creators shouldn’t be ignored, even if they are secret. Such things, when they happen, should be praised.

But it isn’t enough. Yet. Keep trying. There’s a long way to go before the sins of the past are washed away.

Source: TheBeat

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