Man, I used to write *happy* posts....

| 6 Comments

We all have our heroes. Sometimes they're real people. Sometimes they're fictional. And sometimes the line between the two blurs, at least somewhat.

When I was quite young, I knew who my heroes were. The Legion of Superheroes. Green Lantern. The Justice League. The Avengers. The X-Men. Good guys against bad guys, and all very, very exciting.

But above all of them, there were the Micronauts. The first major comic book company book to feature a toy license, the Micronauts were much more than the story of my favorite plastic and die cast metal toys (seriously, I had hundreds of those things) -- it was a grand saga. A full on space opera. A legend. A fantasy. An epic. And I was into it. Commander Arcturus Rann -- the legendary Space Glider and leader of the Micronauts. The beautiful, powerful Marionette -- the Princess Mari, dedicating her life to saving Homeworld from Baron Karza. The wily, canny, laughing Bug -- barely a pastiche of Galactic Warrior, but mostly unique to the series, bringing roguishness and humor to the darkest of situations. The taciturn Acroyear, named for his race, prince and exile, mighty warrior. Biotron, faithful servant for a thousand years and his counterpart Microtron, yang to his yin. Force Commander, Prince Pharoid, the beautiful Slug (don't ask), the mysterious Time Travellers and their Shadow Priests, the evil of Baron Karza, the might of the Worldmind, Captain Universe -- the hero who could be you! And so, so many more....

They were my heroes, and my friends. And through the grace of the Enigma Force, I will never forget them. I owned all their comics -- a complete run. Plus the unfortunate crossover with the X-Men. Plus the trades.

Now, a lesser hero but still one I greatly enjoyed was ROM, Spaceknight! Another toy based line, but this one far more integrated into the Marvel Universe (including a universe-wide crossover where the Dire wraiths attacked), ROM was the story of Rom, a Galadoran who was the first to volunteer to be remade into a cyborg in plandanium armor, who spans the galaxy fighting to protect those who would fall.

Heroes.

They weren't real, of course. I might have had a nine year old's crush on Princess Mari, but she didn't exist any more than Brandy Clark did. Yes, there is a Steve Jackson in the world, but he's not the man who was at once a friend and a rival to Rom (I always wondered if the real Steve Jackson was amused at his Marvel counterpart). But they felt real to me. They helped me to dream of broader things, to believe in the most noble of ideals, to let my imagination run wild.

Behind them, however, there was a real hero. A man who was incredibly formative to my childhood and to the man I would grow into. His name was Bill Mantlo, and he wrote comic books.

A lot of comic books.

Really, there was a time when he worked on almost every comic in Marvel's stable. He had a memorable run on the Hulk (a run where the heroes of Earth had banished the Hulk to other dimensions because he was so dangerous -- a plotline that should sound familiar since they ripped it off for World War Hulk's setup). He worked on Thor, and Iron Man, and even Howard the Duck. He worked on the Avengers, Captain America, Ghost Rider, and he even wrote a few X-Men comics here and there. When John Byrne's star was on the ascendence and his Alpha Flight was still a major comic, it was Bill Mantlo who took it over when Byrne left. He created Cloak and Dagger, for God's sake.

You know what? I'm going to steal a list of his work from the Howling Curmudgeons -- it's easier than trying to explain just how heavily he was involved in the work of this era of Marvel:

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, Journey Into Mystery/Thor, 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.

Seriously, dude.

Mantlo had an incredible sense of character voice and motivation. His series featured grand themes, but explored them in sophisticated ways. Relationships were passionate but never simple -- there was pain and joy in equal measure, and his heroes had to walk heroic journeys -- trawling the depths of despair before they could once again find hope. They were incredible.

And Mantlo wasn't afraid to take risks. He subverted the heroic and sympathetic Force Commander, turning him into a villain before killing him off to return Baron Karza to the universe. He killed every living thing on Homeworld -- a horrible, terrible loss -- without losing the idealism that held the Micronauts together. After setting the town of Clairton, West Virginia as the home of pretty much all of Rom the Spaceknight's human friends and secondary characters, he had the entire town killed off and replaced with Dire Wraiths in an effort to kill Rom and Brandy Clark. You couldn't take anything for granted in a Mantlo story -- except that in the end, after terrific pain and sacrifice, good would triumph. But would forever wonder at the cost....

Oh, over at DC he also wrote the Invasion miniseries. Yeah. He actually did one of the monumental crosssovers they did in the eighties, and it was one of the ones that actually did have impact and didn't suck. Who knew?

I can't overestimate the impact Bill Mantlo's writing had on me. I really can't. And it was a very sad day for me when he decided to move on from comics, and enter the legal profession. And even there, he was a hero. He became a public defender, apparently a very good and dedicated one.

And then came tragedy. In 1992, Mantlo was rollerblading when he was hit by a car. He had massive head trauma that led to a coma for more than a year. When he emerged, he had brain damage that he has never (and will never) recover from, needing constant care. Expensive care, I would add. His capacities are diminished at best and will never recover.

When I learned this... all the breath just left me for a while. It was so unfair. It was so wrong. Bill Mantlo deserved so, so much better.

But if there was one thing Mantlo wrote about, it's that being a good guy -- and deserving good things --was no guarantee that you would get them. Bad things happened to good people in Mantlo's stories.

The point, in the end, was what you did with the things you've received. Bill Mantlo needs us.

He needs me.

And he needs you.

Fortunately, there's an easy thing you can do.

Writer/Illustrator David Yurkovich has produced Mantlo: A Life in Comics, a tribute and benefit book that includes fiction, history, and interviews with everyone from Marve Wolfman to Jackson Guice. It costs seven dollars and fifty cents, and all the profits -- all the profits -- are going to help insure Mantlo's care now and into the future.

You can order it here.

My own circumstances aren't good right now (though thanks to you incredible people, they're vastly, vastly better), but on my next paycheck my order for this book is going in. And I pass it forward to all of you. If you were of the era I was, and you liked Marvel Comics at all, you know Bill Mantlo's work. If not, but you like comic books of any stripe, you're a recipient of his legacy.

When tragedy comes, it falls upon all of us to bring hope back into the light, to take off the cloak of the Shadow Priest and reveal the shining embodiment of idealism given form.

Put simply, he needs us.

That's reason enough, and probably all I would ever need to say.

Dallan and Sepsis preserve you all.

6 Comments

Bill Mantlo was an amazing writer. ROM was everything I ever wanted in a comic, seriously. Epic scifi/fantasy with a superhero slant.

I didn't even mind the deus ex bit at the end. I just saw it as Mantlo acknowledging that since ROM lived in the Marvel universe, why wouldn't the Beyonder teleport his girlfriend across the galaxy to be with ROM? The man knew how Marvel comics worked,and that the characters don not exist in a friendless vaccum.

I miss you, Bill.

This may or may not say good things about me, but creating Cloak & Dagger alone earns the guy my respect.

I loved those guys.

Dude, were we separated at birth? I had boxes full of Micronauts...eventually my mother gave them away because they were taking too much space in the attic when I went to college.

Luckily, I still have my ROM Spaceknight comics, nearly the entire run.

Thanks for the heads up on the tribute!

Sadly my comics shop was sold out of the Mantlo book after I forgot to grab it when it first came out a couple weeks back. Which means I'll have to order it direct...

Also I've been seeing some rumors that Wraith, one of the characters in the follow up to last year's Annihilation might be ROM in fleshy form (since the armored form is tied up with the toy company). Add in that the team book for the series features Captain Universe, Bug and fricken' ROCKET RACCOON, this 2nd space event in chock full of Mantlo goodness...

Now if U.S. Archer and US1 show up...

I feel a little funny posting in this in response to your moving post about Bill Mantlo, but…

What my brother used to use our Micronauts for is stop-motion animation. Turns out they're just the right size, have good posability, vehicles to drive around in, etc. I wish I knew where the stuff went: I can't even remember whether it was Super-8 or video, although given the time frame it must have been the former, I guess.

Good times.

P.S. I'll happily admit to being a Cloak & Dagger fan also. Mantlo is definitely one of the good guys.

It's funny how often you seem to write something that has me thinking about something I haven't given a thought to in years. Not the Micronauts, that pretty much slipped by me in all forms. I think I read one issue of Rom, the Space Knight, and it was interesting how well integrated it was into the Marvel Universe. But Cloak and Dagger were great, and I'm sure from your description that I've probably got many books of his but didn't know it. One of the things I love about Freedom Force is their tribute to Cloak and Dagger in Law and Order. God, those were some well written characters.

Leave a comment

Logo: Sleeping Snarky

Recent Entries

By the way? The Soonr™ web services ending in 'r' stop dropping the 'e' before that r, the Bettr™.
The people who brought us Pirate Bay -- the very best in organized intellectual property theft -- have launched…
Charting a Course: Star Trek Online moving forward
It's been a while, yet again, and this time I have no good reason for it. It's not illness…
I suppose this means the U.S.S. Fort Kent needs to have natural lighting in the light panels
(All pictures are screenshots taken by me while in Star Trek Online. Click on the thumbnails to get full…