In the afterword for Incredible Hulks #635, the last issue in my five-and-a-half year run with the Green Goliath, I mentioned the huge influence writer Bill Mantlo has had on my work and dedicated the book to him. Tragically, Bill Mantlo was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 1992 and suffered traumatic brain injury. If you'd like to donate towards his ongoing care, please feel free to use the PayPal button below. All donations go directly to his brother and legal guardian, Mike Mantlo, who uses the funds for Bill’s ongoing care. And please check out the end of this column for some moving words directly from Mike. I love Mantlo's work for its epic scope, unabashed emotionalism, and complete embrace of the trippiest ideas. He first blew my mind with The Micronauts when I was 11 years old. I remember a conversation with a teacher in which I confidently ranked Micronauts penciller Michael Golden with Michelangelo and noted that I'd learned the world "sibilant" from the comic book. An added bonus? Centaurs! Feast your eyes on the cover of Micronauts #11, the awesomeness of which I still can’t fully comprehend. (True confession: as a kid, I wrote a script for a Micronauts stop motion movie I wanted to shoot on Super 8 but never managed to pull off. In the big climax, the heroic Force Commander is knocked off-panel by the wicked Baron Karza, who snarls that Force Commander will never walk on two legs again. So Force Commander comes galloping back in centaur form, natch, saying, "What about four?" (Yes, it's true. A master of dialogue even then.)
When it comes to my Hulk run, Mantlo’s deep understanding of the fundamental tragedy of the Hulk and his supporting cast laid the foundations for much of what I explored.In Incredible Hulk #279, Mantlo gave the Hulk a massive victory and a ticker-tape parade through New York City as a national hero. But in this moment of his greatest acceptance, the Hulk catches sight of his estranged love Betty Ross — who disappears, leaving the Hulk alone in the adoring crowd. It’s a moment that gets to the heart of something essential about the Hulk — all that smashing, no matter how justified it may sometimes be, has an emotional price. I loved the moment so much we echoed it in Incredible Hulk #606. Mantlo built on the tragedy of the Hulk with Kate Waynesboro, who entered Banner’s life as an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent charged with keeping tabs on him — but who eventually became his lover. I always loved Kate, partly because Sal Buscema’s pencils made her feel so real and normal and sympathetic. She and Banner seemed to have a real future. But when the mindless Hulk rampages in #299, Mantlo crafted a brutal scene in which Kate experiences the Hulk’s savagery first hand and walks away forever. (Well, until I brought her back in the “Warbound” miniseries.) I remember feeling genuine shock when I first read that scene — and completely believed and understood Kate’s reasons for leaving. Whether or not it’s his fault, the Hulk or the situations that arise when he’s around almost invariably hurt the people he loves. That became a major theme in my own run — and the driving force behind all of the Hulk’s actions in my final storyline. Finally, in Incredible Hulk #312, Mantlo gave us what may be the most important story ever written about Bruce Banner's childhood, a shocking and terribly sad tale of neglect, abuse, and murder. I directly referenced the story in Incredible Hulk #611, wherein the Hulk flashes back to his abuse at the hands of his father as he confronts his own savage son. Incredible Hulk #611 is one of the issues I'm most proud of in my Hulk run. I was thrilled that we were able to reprint Mantlo's Incredible Hulk #312 in the collected edition (Incredible Hulks: World War Hulks).
And now, a bonus list of mighty Mantlo homages in my Hulk run:
One of Mantlo’s most beloved creations is an insectivorid jokester named Bug who debuted in Micronauts #1. Bug had a literal verbal tic — a periodic "tik" punctuating his speech. In Incredible Hulk #92, I introduced Miek, an insectivorid underdog whose speech was punctuated by "kik"s.
When people got killed in Micronauts, they'd frequently sign off by screaming "Gleeeaaargh!" I loved that as a kid — it struck me even then as wildly improbable but nonetheless awesome. In Incredible Hulk #96, I had an imperial spy check out with a ridiculously oversized "Gleeeaaargh!"Worldmind and the Old Power:
I loved Mantlo's depiction of the warrior-king Acroyear bonding with the Worldmind of his home planet and literally raising mountains to smash the evil Baron Karza's invading armies in Micronauts #10. The tectonically based Old Power of the Oldstrong of Sakaar in "Planet Hulk” is a bit of a tip of the hat to Acroyear’s planet-bonding.
This one happened by chance. In Incredible Hulk #92, I introduced Hiroim, an "Unbound Shadow." Later we reveal he's an exiled priest of the Shadow People. Hence, a Shadow Priest. While rereading the first 12 issues of Micronauts a couple of years ago, I was reminded that the holy men in that story are also called "Shadow Priests."The Adamantium Hulk Statue:
In Incredible Hulk #299-300, Mantlo told the story of a mindless Hulk fighting half the Marvel Universe while rampaging through New York City. Of course the entire fight was the spiritual precursor to “World War Hulk,” and Mantlo’s sympathetic depiction of Dr. Strange inspired me to use the Master of Mystic Arts multiple times as the Hulk’s best friend in the superhero community.
But I hold an especially dear spot in my heart for the storyline because of the brilliant use Mantlo makes of a giant adamantium sculpture of the Hulk.
Almost two years earlier, during the celebratory ceremony in Incredible Hulk #279, the Hulk is presented with a heroic adamantium sculpture of himself created by Alicia Masters.
In Incredible Hulk #299, the mindless, rampaging Hulk attacks that same sculpture, and in #300 he attacks Thor with it. It’s a great, sad, ironic moment in which this symbol of the Hulk’s heroism turns into a weapon of his savagery.Many years later, Peter David brought that sculpture back – and teleported it to Planet K’ai. Which set writer Scott Reed and me up to unveil the sculpture again in the “Incredible Hulks: Dark Son” storyline, now as a religious icon of the K’aitians who long for the glory days when the Hulk ruled and protected them.
Somewhere in my mental dreamspace, that adamantium sculpture stands on a planet of living stone, flanked by an honor guard of proud centaurs and solemn Shadow Priests.
And it’s gazing down at us with Bill Mantlo’s smiling eyes.
And now a few words from Mike Mantlo:
First off, I send out a big THANK YOU to everyone that has helped support Bill over these past 19 years (!). Every donation, no matter how big or small, and every card or letter is greatly appreciated. Bill's condition remains the same (he suffers severe cognitive impairments, anger, and depression), and these factors keep him very much isolated from "the outside world." Aside from my visits, and the kindness of my beautiful wife and some of the attendants at the nursing home/rehabilitation facility he resides in, his contact with other human beings is virtually non-existent. But the support and encouragement of fans, and industry professionals like yourself, helps to bring a little ray of sunlight into his dark and dreary days. When I (or my wife) engage Bill in conversation, his spirit emerges and is as strong and pure as it ever was! So, once again, I can't thank ALL of you enough!! I strongly believe in the power of practicing random acts of kindness, and with that belief I hope that ALL of your kindnesses will be returned to you many, many times over!
Cards, letters or donations to Bill Mantlo can be sent to:
26364 East Pintail Road
Long Neck, DE 19966
Please make out any checks to “Michael Mantlo” — Bill’s legal guardian.
Greg Pak writes Alpha Flight and Herc (with Fred Van Lente), Red Skull Incarnate, and Astonishing X-Men for Marvel and Dead Man's Run for Aspen. For more about his work, visit www.gregpak.com, www.twitter.com/gregpak, and www.gplus.to/gregpak.
@ 2011 Pak Man Productions. All rights reserved.More from Greg Pak:
- GREG PAK's Centaur Crossing 1: An Introduction
- Pak & Van Lente On the Now-Ongoing ALPHA FLIGHT's Future
- Writer's Workshop #11: Greg Pak's Path From Film to HULKS