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When I posted the photo above on the BILL MANTLO Facebook Group page, I was floored when I received this response from one of Bill’s faithful fanatics, and thought to myself: “This needs to be shared with EVERYONE!”.
This WAS Bill Mantlo….every day, in every way.
May 2, 2016
I just saw the street sign you posted.
I had sat on the knowledge for years but after you posted this I just had to say something.
Back in, I think, 1983 I being a young, aspiring comic artist and writer, I somehow got all of the phone numbers of everyone I could think of in comics. Everyone from Stan Lee, Bill Gaines to my favorite writer Bill Mantlo.
"Hi I would like to speak to Bill Mantlo."
"Uhhh, this is Bill. Who is this?"
"HI! I'm a comic book artist and was wondering if I could talk to you about helping me with a script? I need a script to do a real submission. That's what they said. I thought about it and knew you would probably have one. By the way, did you know that we are related? My Uncle’s mother, I think, is a Mantlo…..before she got married. So how are you today?"
After a bit of a pause….. "Ummm... how old are you?"
"I'm 12. But I've been drawing forever."
"Annnnnd how did you get this number?"
"I called information. Did you know you can do that? I just found out."
So we talked for about fifteen, maybe thirty minutes, then he wrapped it up, asked for my address and wished me good luck after promising to send me something.
About a week later I received a manilla envelope with a Marvel address sticker and Bill's address on the top right corner. Inside was an original typewritten script for Fantastic Four vs the Puppet-master (with whiteout on the pages and everything!). I blessed his name, in the way a child does, and swore one day to meet him in person to thank him personally.
I was crushed when the accident happened.
I am eternally grateful to him for the script and the time he spent talking to me.
ROM: Spaceknight was designed as a toy, and Marvel’s comic about it was supposed to be a throwaway marketing gimmick. But writer Bill Mantlo created a space opera about duty and sacrifice, made ROM fall in love with a human, took him on fantastic pulp adventures — and made something that far outlasted the crappy toy.
Parker Brothers put out electronic ROM toys in 1979, and licensed the character to Marvel to increase its popularity. The toy was basically garbage, and was quickly discontinued. The comic lasted until 1986, every issue written by Bill Mantlo. And OK, so my headline here may be slightly hyperbolic — especially since basically all superhero comics are science fiction. There are some pretty great pure science fiction comics too, like Judge Dredd and certain eras of the Star Wars comics. So let’s say ROM at least makes the top five. And here’s why.
ROM Has a Great Space Opera Backstory
ROM is a guy from the planet Galador, a utopia filled with beautiful people and high technology. They run afoul of the dire wraiths, a vile race of genocidal magic-wielding shapeshifters. Imagine the Skrulls if they weren’t bumbling idiots. To defend Galador from the wraiths, some of the planet’s citizens volunteer to become cyborg warriors called spaceknights. Undergoing this process means they must leave some portion of their human forms behind, held in stasis until the war is over and they can be restored to their full human forms.
They fend off the imminent wraith threat, but — inevitable betrayal — the planet’s leaders decide they can’t stop being spaceknights until they hunt down and kill every last dire wraith in the entire universe. The spaceknights immediately realize this is tantamount to an impossible mission, and they’ll never regain their human forms. Some of them, like ROM, feel duty-bound to protect Galador no matter the cost, and wistfully set out, saying goodbye to their loved ones. And some of them go kind of insane.
This creates a great set of story hooks, such as ROM’s gradually fading devotion to his duty to protect Galador, a powerful hatred of dire wraiths, the existence of villainous space knights with genuine motivations, and a years-long story arc that has ROM protecting Earth, but seeking to return home one day, only to find — not to put too fine a point on it — that you really can’t go home again.
ROM Was Part of the Marvel Universe
Unlike other Marvel toy tie-ins like G.I. Joe and The Transformers, which did not interact with the Marvel universe (except on very rare occasions), ROM was fully integrated into the greater Marvel continuity. Although he was based in West Virginia — which was another strength of the series, allowing us to see people and locations outside Marvel’s NYC stronghold — ROM fought Marvel villains, teamed up with Marvel’s heroes, and had crossovers with other Marvel books. In fact, the dire wraiths became serious villains in a number of other Marvel titles in the 80s.
ROM Could Be Trippy As Hell
Mantlo took his ROM stories in all kinds of bizarre directions. The dire wraiths’ shapeshifting abilities created lots of creepy conspiracy stories, as little by little it was revealed how many corporations and government agencies had been infiltrated by aliens in human form. Since the dire wraiths also used magic powers, Mantlo could get really weird. Haunted houses, alien lizard creatures, humans wearing spaceknight armor, hybrid human/alien kids, Dr. Strange dream sequences — all fair game. And a solid chunk of the series was illustrated by Sal Buscema — to be honest, he phones it in on a few panels of each issue, but he could also draw up some incredible scenes of space energy, weird fire, or morphing aliens.
ROM was not the only spaceknight, of course. The other spaceknights appeared in the series from time to time, which is awesome because each one is totally unique in abilities, appearance, and name. Firefall, Heatwave, Breaker, Pulsar — plus Starshine, the spaceknight woman that ROM has a complicated relationship with, especially once his human love interest becomes the new Starshine.
Some issues had a backup story called Saga of the Spaceknights which told us what happened back on Galador around the time of the war against the dire wraiths (it had taken ROM 100 years to reach Earth, so this all happened in the fairly distant past). These backup stories are pure amazing pulp science-fantasy. You’ve got cyborg space warriors battling over their human remains on a utopian planet guarded by genetically modified angels. It’s as pulpy as a comic book can get.
ROM Talks Like Cyborg Aragorn
Seriously, his grandiose way of speaking is one of ROM’s best qualities. It never gets annoying the way Thor’s Asgard-speak can, but it gives much of what ROM says a certain epic feel. He is, after all, on a seemingly hopeless quest to save the universe from the ultimate evil.
You Can Find Them in the $1 Box
Marvel no longer holds the ROM license, which is why subsequent appearances by the character have been sparse and used a generic name. It also means reprints are not gonna happen. But the original issues are not hard to come by. I’ve been working on a full set of the ‘79-’86 run just by digging through the dollar boxes at small comic cons. Only the first four issues go for more, and not that much more. The only problem is, a lot of dealers don’t see much demand for ROM so they tend not to bring them to smaller cons. Sometimes you have to really dig through unsorted junk boxes to find them. But it’s really worth the effort.
The year of
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!
The photo image may be small, but the
of that special day was, arguably,
THE BEST COMICS EVENT OF 2014!
Agreed, BILL MANTLO fans?
(special thanks to AWESOME Ernie Stiner for alerting me to this article).
While Vin Diesel's Groot is actually
the oldest Marvel character from Guardians of the Galaxy (having debuted in 1961), Bradley
Cooper's Guardians character, Rocket Raccoon, is pretty old as well, and may have the more bizarre backstory: Originally introduced by Keith Giffen and Bill Mantlo in 1976 as Rocky Raccoon
(yeah, like the Beatles song), he was rechristened "Rocket" and reintroduced five years later in an issue of The Incredible Hulk.
after that, in 1992, Mantlo was hit by a car while Rollerblading and left comatose. Though he eventually recovered, Mantlo was left with irreparable brain damage and has remained hospitalized under
full-time care. So when Rocket made it to the big screen, Marvel decided to bring the film version of his character to him.
Michael Mantlo, who runs Bill's Facebook group, posted about the experience. "Bill thoroughly enjoyed [the film], giving it his highest compliment (the big "thumbs up!"), and when the credits rolled, his face was locked into the hugest smile I have ever seen him wear (along with one or two tears of joy)!"
Michael added that Marvel Attorney David Althoff and Vice President David Bogart were responsible for the screening, adding, "Giving Bill this opportunity was a daunting challenge (with all the legal and security protocols that needed to be breached), but these two fine men made it happen, and Bill had the happiest day of his life!"
Receive 2014 Bill Finger Award
Robert Kanigher, Bill Mantlo, and Jack Mendelsohn received the 2014 Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. Ordinarily, the blue-ribbon committee chaired by writer/historian Mark Evanier selects one posthumous award and one for a living individual. In 2014, the committee voted unanimously to break precedent and present two awards to living individuals, Mantlo and Mendelsohn.
"This year, the judges couldn't decide between two living recipients so one said, 'Why don't we just give it to both of them?' And we decided to give it to both of them," Evanier explains. "They're two men who deserve the honor and we figured, why make one of them wait until next year, especially in light of the fact that Bill Finger would have turned 100 this year? And as for our posthumous recipient, Robert Kanigher, that one's long overdue."
The Bill Finger Award was instituted in 2005 at the instigation of comic book legend Jerry Robinson. "The premise of this award is to recognize writers for a body of work that has not received its rightful reward and/or recognition," Evanier explains. "That was what Jerry Robinson intended as his way of remembering his friend, Bill Finger. Bill is still kind of the industry poster boy for writers not receiving proper reward or recognition."
Robert Kanigher wrote his first comic books in 1942 and quickly became one of the most prolific talents in the field. His early work included Blue Beetle, Steel Sterling, and the original Captain Marvel. Then in 1945, he went to work for All-American Comics as an editor and writer and segued to DC Comics when it absorbed All-American. In 1946, he began a 35-year association with Wonder Woman, serving as the character's editor for 22 of those years and writing hundreds of her adventures. As the main editor of DC's war comics line, he created and/or wrote Sgt. Rock,The Haunted Tank, Captain Storm, Enemy Ace, Johnny Cloud, and dozens of other series. He wrote the first story of the 1956 Flash revival that is often cited as the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics, and his list of co-creations also includes The Metal Men, The Sea Devils, The Rose and the Thorn, and Black Canary. He worked on most of the major DC features up until his death in 2002.
Bill Mantlo went to work for Marvel Comics as a production assistant and colorist in 1974 but quickly found his niche as a writer, initially of fill-ins. Within a few years, he had written at least an issue or two of almost every major Marvel title and also took on many regular assignments. The regular books included long and popular runs on Micronauts and Rom: Spaceknight, and readers hailed his work on such titles as Ka-Zar the Savage, The Incredible Hulk, Moon Knight and his co-creation (with artist Ed Hannigan), Cloak and Dagger. Another co-creation was the Guardians of the Galaxy character Rocket Raccoon, soon to be part of the major motion picture. Mantlo used his income from comics to go to law school, and in 1987 he passed the bar and began working as a public defender. In 1992 while rollerblading, he was struck by a car and suffered what was described as "irreversible brain damage." He currently resides in a nursing facility. His Finger Award wasshipped to his brother and caregiver Michael, who presented the plaque to Bill.
Jack Mendelsohn got his start in comics interning for Jerry Iger in 1942. His earliest identified credits as a writer are for DC's More Fun Comics in 1946 and Animal Antics in 1947. Other early writing appeared in comics published by Ziff-Davis, Pine, and the Archie company, and then for EC Comics when he scripted their in-house imitation of Mad called Panic. Later credits include comics for Dell and Western Publishing of Nancy and Sluggo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Miss Peach and Beetle Bailey. He wrote the Felix the Cat newspaper strip for a time and also wrote (and sometimes drew) Felix comic books. His own newspaper strip, Jacky's Diary, was the subject of a Dell comic book he wrote and drew, and the strip has recently been collected between hardcovers by IDW Publishing. Mendelsohn also had an extensive career in animation (including work on the screenplay for the animated feature Yellow Submarine). His live-action writing credits include Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Carol Burnett Show and Three's Company.
The Bill Finger Award honors the memory of William Finger (1914-1974), who was the first and, some say, most important writer of Batman. Many have called him the "unsung hero" of the character and have hailed his work not only on that iconic figure but on dozens of others, primarily for DC Comics.
The very first comic book created by BILL MANTLO
Bill’s January 1, 1989 interview in
“AMAZING HEROES” # 156
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