The Fans’ Favorite: Celebrating the Work of Bill Mantlo
On November 9, 1951, one of the purest superhero comics writers of all time was born: William ‘Bill’ Mantlo. Best known for his work at Marvel, Mantlo was a talent whose persistence, hard work, and knack for character saw him rise up the ranks to take on a succession of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes --- and co-create several new icons in the process.
From an early age, Mantlo was a fan of comic-books, and in particular Marvel’s rising brand of street-level, identifiable heroes whose ranks were swelling every issue to include characters like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. After coming into the industry in 1974 through mutual friends in the industry, Mantlo started on odd-jobs --- a few roles as a colorist here; a fill-in issue there. It was his reliability that made him so important to Marvel through the 1970s, and he stepped into a number of titles when the original writer missed a deadline, or was unable to complete a script.
During his time at Marvel, Mantlo was responsible for creating various, long-lasting concepts and characters. He co-created Cloak & Dagger; Rocket Raccoon; the Soviet Super-Soldiers, and White Tiger --- Marvel’s first Hispanic hero --- among many others. He was even the first writer to put the words “Sweet Christmas” in Luke Cage’s mouth.
After seeing some of his son’s toys, Mantlo spoke to Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and asked for Marvel to pick up the license forh Micronauts and ROM, two toys created by Mattel. By turning the toys into comic book characters, Mantlo found some of his greatest successes, and told some of his best stories. In fact, in the case of Micronauts, the comics series well outlasted the toys themselves.
Similarly, ROM was never incredibly popular as a toy --- it was largely dismissed as a poor product --- but the comic ROM: Spaceknight was dynamite. Mantlo continued on as writer for 75 issues and four annuals, in a run that numerous writers and artists have since cited as one of the reasons they got into comics.
Mantlo was a prolific writer: he wrote on just about every major Marvel series for a generation, from Iron Man to his well-regarded run on The Incredible Hulk. Through the '70s and '80s, he continued to create new characters, explore new directions, and build the Marvel Universe into the shared universe it is today.
However, with work slowing down towards the end of the 80s, Mantlo changed course, passed the bar, and went into a career as a public defender --- still writing comics in his spare time.
In 1992, Bill Mantlo was struck by a car while out rollerblading. He suffered severe head trauma that put him into a coma for two weeks, and never fully recovered from the injuries.
In an article for LifeHealth Pro, writer Bill Coffin shed light on Mantlo’s story, in the process opening up a discussion about how the industry treats its former talents. With a need for consistent health care, and no regular income, Mantlo’s family have worked hard to maintain Mantlo's care and preserve his legacy.
In 2014, Mantlo was awarded the Bill Finger Award for his contribution to comics. That same year, when Marvel Studios released the Guardians of the Galaxy movie featuring Rocket Raccoon as one of the primary cast, increased media attention led to the launch of a campaign to recognize his contributions. He was also one of the first to see the movie, an experience that saw him "locked into the hugest smile I have ever seen him wear," according to his brother Michael. Writers like Greg Pak have also worked to raise awareness about Mantlo’s life, work, and continuing story.
Joy is the word that most captures Bill Mantlo’s comics career. He was a fan, making comics that inspired other people to want to make comics. His heroes were likeable, friendly, positive creations who reflected the real world in ways that were revolutionary.
As we celebrate Bill Mantlo’s birthday today, please consider visiting his website to write a message to Bill himself --- and if you are able, to send a donation to the Mantlo family.