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9 of Bill Mantlo's Best Comic Covers

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Bill Mantlo, the subject of our cover story “Tragic Tale,” was Marvel Comics’ go-to guy for getting stories turned around in a hurry. It was a role that landed him writing assignments on virtually everything Marvel published in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At his busiest, he was writing for up to eight different titles a month, and his total output is more than 500 issues. Not too shabby.

Bill left comics for a legal career and in 1992 was nearly killed in a hit-and-run accident that left him permanently brain damaged. Ultimately, he fell through the cracks of the U.S. healthcare system and is now a living cautionary tale for anyone who produces, sells, buys or relies on health insurance.

National Underwriter takes a look at 9 of Bill’s best covers (and two special pieces of extra artwork) from his comic-writing days to see what kind of writer he was…and what kind of victim he became.

Micronauts #1

#1 – Micronauts #1. This is one of the series for which Mantlo is best known. Mantlo himself suggested Marvel secure the publishing rights to the Micronauts, which were a toy line imported from Japan that died off soon after the comic itself launched, a victim of Star Wars merchandising. Mantlo found the toy line, which came with little back story, utterly compelling, and he developed a setting so intricate that it even had its own alphabet. The series lasted for nearly five years.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Cloak & Dagger #1

#2 – Cloak & Dagger #1. This was a minor title Bill developed, and which saw inclusion in other Marvel titles. While never a huge hit, it reflected Bill’s theme with all comics; making a story that was about something important young readers should think about, while presented in a non-preachy manner. Cloak & Dagger is an extended allegory about drug addiction, and about missing children; the main characters are themselves teenaged runaways given powers when forcibly injected with experimental drugs.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

ROM #1

#3 – ROM #1. This was the second title in which Mantlo developed a huge universe and backstory off of a basic toy license Marvel picked up. Mantlo’s enthusiasm for this character managed to craft a series spanning 75 issues, which long outlived the toy that inspired it. To this day, much of the ROM universe has been integrated with the Marvel universe, an ongoing creative legacy Mantlo has left behind.
 Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

ROM - Spacenite

BONUS – Spacenite. This is just one of a number of pieces of artwork created by artists who either worked with Mantlo at some point, or who were later inspired by him to become artists themselves. It was made for Spacenite, a charity event spearheaded by Floating World Comics as a way to raise money for Bill’s care, once his health insurance ceased. The first Spacenite event raised some $2,000 that was donated to Bill’s care. A second event was unable to raise enough to donate. Spacenite prints are still for sale through the event’s website.
Image courtesy of Floating World Comics.

Rocket Raccoon #1

#4 – Rocket Raccoon #1. This four-issue limited series was a spin-off from a more whimsical story Bill wrote for the Incredible Hulk. What begins as a space opera featuring robotic clowns, talking animals and intelligent starships ultimately boils down into something more serious and cerebral – the question of who really is responsible for caring for those who are unable to care for themselves. That the story ultimately centers around the topic of mental illness and impaired thinking becomes more ironic, considering the author’s condition today.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Human Fly #1

#5 – Human Fly #1. This was a quintessentially Mantlo effort. Short run, licensed book, quirky 1970s Marvel mania. Where this project gets ironic is in the character’s backstory. Based off of a real-life stuntman who wore a costume and never revealed his identity (though he was later identified as Canadian stuntman Rick Rojatt), the Human Fly survived a near-fatal car wreck and had to reconstruct his ability to move and perform even basic tasks. Bill’s own injuries would condemn him to a similar fate, but once his health coverage ceased, any hope for recovery went with it.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Micronauts #58 - Farewell

#6 – Micronauts #58. This full-page illustration caps off Mantlo’s final issue on the Micronauts, the first series for which he really became attached to as a writer. The image circulates online to this day as a sort of farewell to Bill himself, as his transit to the Queens-Nassau Rehabilitation Center and Nursing Home have relegated him largely to the “where are they now” file of comic fandom. Bill’s suffering is largely unknown to the wider public, especially since his medical paper trail, now some 20 years old, seems to have largely disappeared.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #8

#7 – Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #8. This was Bill’s first fill-in assignment for Marvel, a job he turned around so quickly that it landed him an ongoing gig writing for it. The title would soon be cancelled, like many of the projects Bill was assigned to. It never bothered him that he essentially was tasked with propping up failing titles for as long as he could. He still took each as a challenge to promote his own agenda of living up to the 1960s ideals that defined him. While writing on Deadly Hands, Bill teamed with artist George Perez to create the White Tiger, the world’s first Puerto Rican superhero.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck #30

#8 – Howard the Duck #30. Howard the Duck was Mantlo at his silliest, a work of pure satire that endeared him to many fans. Howard was Bill’s most direct dialogue with his audience, frequently breaking the fourth wall, and often directly opining to the reader. It is here that Mantlo’s reputation as “The Boisterous One” can be most readily seen. It is a side of his personality that is all but gone now, the result of both his brain injury itself, and, his family contends, years of regression due to a lack of rehabilitative theory.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Incredible Hulk #300

#9 – Incredible Hulk #300. In this landmark issue, the Hulk – the Marvel Universe’s avatar of rage embodied – goes berserk and takes on the entirety of the rest of Marvel’s heroes. The story ends with the Hulk being banished to an interdimensional crossroads, where his rage can express itself without causing harm to others, the result of his fellow heroes treating him with compassion rather than aggression. Sadly, it would be an endless sense of anguish and anger that consumed Bill after his accident, making him combative with therapists, and contributing directly to the cessation of his rehabilitation. Like the Hulk, he too was banished to the hinterlands, where he remains to this day.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

What If #21

#10 – What If…? #21. This was one of the few issues in which Bill contributed to What If…?, a long-running Marvel title that explored alternate ways in which pivotal stories of the Marvel universe could have played out. The stories themselves were not considered canon – they were never part of the official history of any of the characters or concepts they included. But they did lend an imaginative look at how things could have been had history had gone just a little bit differently. “What if?” is now a question Bill’s family and friends have mostly stopped asking themselves, having accepted Bill’s fate as a man in a broken body, out of reach of the rehabilitative care that could possibly bring him to a higher degree of functionality. As Chris Claremont, a fellow comic writer and friend of Bill’s notes, had Bill not been injured, he might have one day run for political office. But as every issue of What If…? notes, the past cannot be changed, and as much as one might wish things were different, we must contend with the world we know.
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.


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