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.