Incidentally, if you’re wondering which of the Guardians of the Galaxy was my favorite, it turned out to be the one I was initially the most uncertain about:
I’ll be the first to admit that a computer-generated talking raccoon with a badass attitude and a fetish for large, complicated weapons is pretty damn ridiculous, even in the best-case scenario. There’s a thousand reasons why such a character could turn out to be really, really lame (not least of which is that his voice is provided by Bradley Cooper, an actor I find very, very difficult to like). Happily, though, he works. He works very well, stealing nearly every scene he’s in, and he even gets a couple of sensitive, introspective moments that will break your heart. As unlikely as it sounds, this guy is the new Han Solo. Seriously.
But here’s something interesting I learned about old Rocket Raccoon the other day: he was created in 1976 by a comic-book writer named Bill Mantlo. My ears immediately pricked up when I ran across that little factoid, because Mantlo was also the guy behind one of my favorite comic titles when I was a kid, a trippy series based on a line of popular toys (but oh, so much better than that implies!) called The Micronauts. I’ve written before on this blog about The Micronauts and Bill Mantlo… and the sad story of what happened to him. (The short version, if you don’t feel like clicking the link, is that he was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 1992 and suffered severe brain damage. He now lives in an assisted-care facility and requires constant, around-the-clock attention.)
Well, there’s a heartwarming sidebar to the success of the Guardians movie. Even though Mantlo’s contribution was work-for-hire, meaning he doesn’t own Rocket, Disney and Marvel Studios made sure he got namechecked in the film’s closing credits. And in a show of good old-fashioned human decency, they even arranged for a private screening of the movie for him. According to his brother and legal guardian Michael:
Bill thoroughly enjoyed it, giving it his HIGHEST COMPLIMENT (the BIG “THUMB’S 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)! This was the GREATEST DAY OF THE LAST 22 YEARS for me, our family, and most importantly, BILL MANTLO!
I can only imagine how satisfying it must be for somebody to see one of their creations — a work-for-hire job from 40 years ago, no less — come to life on the screen, and to know it’s going to reach millions, maybe even billions, of people before it’s all done. That he now has audiences who weren’t even born in 1976 about to discover and love his work… For someone who frankly has lost almost everything a human being has to lose… well, it’s got to be hugely emotional. And hugely gratifying. I’m so glad Bill was able to see that, to have one little moment of victory in a day-to-day existence that’s otherwise pretty bleak.
One final note: Bill’s care is enormously expensive, and he has very little human contact beyond his caregivers, so Mike Mantlo encourages fans to contribute whatever they can, large or small, to help out, and also to reach out to Bill with a card or letter. I would like to make the same request of my Loyal Readers. If you enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, if Rocket and Groot cracked you up and touched your heart, if you have an action figure or a bobble head or a t-shirt with this character on it, send Bill a few bucks. The cost of a movie ticket perhaps. Give up an extra screening of the movie for the guy who helped make it happen. And send him a card to let him know how much we love that little furball… to let him know he’s not forgotten, and he’s not alone. That’s what I intend to do as soon as I finish this.
Details on donating and how to contact Bill can be found here. I hope you’ll consider it. We all love these stories about heroes saving the universe. But more and more I think true heroism comes from just reaching out to another individual human being, and offering to help even if we really can’t do much…