Friday, July 13, 2007

Mantlo: A Life in Comics

There were a host of guilty pleasures to be found in the morass of 70's Marvel, and many of those were written by Bill Mantlo. Mantlo never has as distinctive a voice as Don McGregor, Chris Claremont, or Doug Moench, yet when he was settled down on a book, he invariably did a great job of reinventing or reinterpreting the material, filtering it through some great new ideas, and putting together a solid run. Without that distinctive voice, however, he was doomed to be the man out of place with the fans as well as editorial, an thus never got the acclaim that he should have. When I heard that Bill had suffered serious head trauma while rollerblading, I was sad at the opportunity to never meet him and talk to him about his great redefining run on Iron Man from #98-115. David Yurkovich, a big fan of Bill's work, had put together a website where he was taking donations to put to Bill's care, as well as to put together a publication dedicated to Bill Mantlo the man, as well as the comic book writer.

David has done a pretty good job with this, giving your average comics fan a lot of good reasons to reassess what they think of Bill and his writing. For all the memories that I had of his a good fill-in writer, I really had forgotten how many great runs on books that he had written, besides the Iron Man run: Micronauts, Marvel Team Up, Jack of Hearts Mini-series, Rom and the Hulk.

Knowing the idiot politics that exist int he comic book market, you could make a case for Bill as one of the best Marvel writers from that time that never got the killer artist, and thus never got the killer rep. People marvelled (ha-ha) about his turning ROM into a really fun, well written book. You could also make a case that it was that lack of a singular voice in his writing that prevented people from seeking out his stories. You may cringe at the repetition of cliches when you read over the X-Men by Claremeont/Byrne/Austin, but back then, it was new and different and Chris had such a distinctive style that you really were taken by the prose as well as the plot. Bill had the plot but not the prose.

My personal favorite: Mantlo's reworking of Iron Man, at a time when the book was the laughing stock of the Marvel universe. The impending supervillian "War" from the issues 70 and up turned in into a fill-in ridden, Arvell Jones debacle, one that the writers were making fun of while it was being published. Mantlo came, brought in a top notch storyline with Madame Masque, Jasper Sitwell, the Wraith, Sunfire and proceeded to use all these classic characters in novel ways. Midas, the big villian, finally came into his own just as the Jack of Hearts came in asking for help so that he could get better. This let into a great little sci-fi storyline with the Recorder and, I think, the Colonizers. Great stuff really.

As soon as I heard about the book, and David's work to help Bill, I sent a donation to their website. After all, how often do we run across things like this and we think, "I'll do something later." and then we never do. And its not the $20, but a function of time, memory and laziness. So many of these artists that made our childhood fantasies come alive haven't had the best of circumstances later on in life. Bill's accident is a great reminder to put on your damn helmet
when cycling or rollerblading. He had already carved out a life that he liked after comics, and he'll never have the opportunity to continue that.

Thanks David. If you're in San Diego, look me up and I'll buy you a beer. The rest of you, check out the site and consider helping Bill.


david yurkovich said...

Hi Charles,

Thanks for your comments about the magazine. I'm gonna have to re-read those Iron Man stories. The first IM stories I ever read were 113 and 114, Bill's last two issues on the series, it was enough to hook me on the title--Bill was just so good. Look forward to seeing you at Comic-Con!


mike mantlo said...

Hi Charles...Thank you so much for the kind words about Bill, and the "free publicity" for the book.
It never ceases to amaze me how many different titles people claim Bill improved during his run at Marvel. Whether it was Iron Man, The Hulk, Peter Parker/Spectacular Spider-Man, or even Howard the Duck, the general consensus is that Bill was ALWAYS able to make lemonade out of the lemons he was handed!
I think that's a testament to his IMMENSE TALENT, but obviously, I'm just slightly biased in my opinion.
THANK YOU once again for taking the time to help out, and on behalf of BILL MANTLO, all the best to you and yours!
--Mike Mantlo

Danny said...

I can't wait for the day that the people behind this book start selling outside of America - I'm really looking forward to this as I always liked Mantlo's stuff.

RedMaigo said...

Wow! You brought back some serious memories. I wasn't, and I am still not a big Iron Man fan. But I did buy Jack of Hearts, Howard the Duck, ROM and especially that lost classic of 70's comicdom "The Micronauts" during his run.

I say classic but I mean the first 11 issues of course. The Micronauts never seemed to be the same after Baron Karza died...the first time.

But you're right. Everything Mantlo touched was worthy of my consumer dollar at the time. And I bought, oh how I bought.

Again thanks for the memories, and the heads up on this book.