Guardians of the Galaxy is quickly becoming one of the most talked about movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From its racially diverse cast of actors being painted and CGI’d (Small sects of the internet are complaining that Star-Lord is regarded as the accessible “human” character and is white, while the majority of the alien characters are played by people of color and either body painted (Gamorra) or CGI’d (Groot)), to director James Gunn’s distasteful “jokes” about superheroines – the movie’s already had its fair share of controversy and media din, and there’s still five months to go before it gets released.
Bad buzz aside, the recent trailer of Guardians has brought about something really positive: more awareness of the plight of writer Bill Mantlo, the writer and co-creator–with artist Keith Giffen–of Rocket Raccoon.
Created in 1976 for Marvel Preview #7, inspired by the Beatles’ tune “Rocky Raccoon,” it took nearly a decade for Rocket to catch on as a character, making only two appearances before finally getting his own limited series in 1985. Rocket can be seen as a contemporary to Howard the Duck, another anthropomorphic animal character created just three years before the raccoon; but while Howard was created specifically as an existential joke, full of self-aware parody and satire, Rocket was created as a serious character who existed in an absurdist world. He was inspired by “funny animal” characters like Micky Mouse and was well-known for the chip on his shoulder and his sardonic dialogue, but the machine gun-toting raccoon remained a dramatic hero – albeit, one who fights killer clowns on deadly unicycles.
Bill Mantlo, whose other comic book work includes runs on big name books like Spectacular Spider-man and The Incredible Hulk and cult-classics like Cloak and Dagger, Micronauts, and ROM: Spaceknight, was struck by a car while rollerblading in 1992. The accident put him in a coma, which lasted for many years, and though he is no longer comatose, he suffered brain damage and has required full-time medical care ever since.
Since the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy aired on Wednesday, comics fans and professionals have been encouraging others to remember Mantlo—not only for his important contribution to what many already consider the breakout star of the film—but also for his current condition, and the cost and duress of his situation.
Writer Greg Pak, known for great titles like The Incredible Hulk and Incredible Hercules, as well as his current runs on Action Comics and Valiant’s Eternal Warrior, has been encouraging fans to help donate to Mantlo’s brother Mike to help with health-care costs since 2011, while many others encourage donations to the Hero Initiative, a non-profit created to help comic book creators facing financial hardship, and similar charities.
Bill Mantlo’s work influenced countless creators, but he was the unsung workhorse of Marvel Comics for many years. He was a man who took any assignment, any property, and made it interesting, relevant, and entertaining. He poured his heart into his work, and made the very best content out of some of the oddest ideas. His work is prolific, and his influence in comics huge, but there is a quite understatement about his legacy.
Stan Lee, whom Mantlo once tried to team up with the Thing while he was the writer of Marvel Two-in-One, will not be appearing in the Guardians of the Galaxy film, in reverence to the fact that he had nothing to do with the creation of any of the characters. “I’m not even sure who they all are,” said the 91-year-old, “I can’t wait to see the movie.”
Click here to donate to the ongoing care of comic legend Bill Mantlo.