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'Rocket Raccoon' Creator's Plight Draws Attention After 'Guardians' Trailer Debuts
As the Marvel teaser wows audiences, fans ask that Bill Mantlo, the writer responsible for the movie's much-hyped savage space raccoon, not be forgotten.

March 10, 2014 by Graeme McMillan

An unexpected, but welcome, response to the release of the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer on social networks and through comics websites has been a renewed focus on the plight of Bill Mantlo, the writer who co-created (with artist Keith Giffen) the character of Rocket Raccoon back in 1976's Marvel Preview #7.

Mantlo, whose comic-related work includes runs on Marvel's The Spectacular Spider-Man, Micronauts and ROM: Spaceknight, was struck by a car while rollerblading in 1992 and remained in a coma for many years after; although he is no longer comatose, he suffered brain damage as a result of the accident, and has required full-time medical care ever since.

Tucked away on Beach 19th Street is the Queens-Nassau Rehabilitation Center and Nursing Home, a bare-bones geriatric and head-trauma facility. Small and tightly quartered, its halls are partially blocked by old, frail-looking patients wearing ragged clothing.

Bill Mantlo is one of them. At first glance, there is nothing to suggest that he is different from his fellow patients, nothing to suggest the unusually high-profile career he once had, the near-fatal car accident that ended it, or his tortuous transit through the healthcare system from the outside world to Queens-Nassau. And certainly nothing that would point out how his life’s remarkable reversal of fortune illustrates not only some of the worst deficiencies of modern healthcare, but of the effort to reform it, as well.

Bill is gaunt, almost skeletally so. His skin is pale and pasty, the product of getting very little time outside. His short hair is lank and unwashed. His teeth are yellow and have not been properly cleaned in some time. He turns 60 on Nov. 9, 2011, but he looks more like 80.

The victim of a closed-head brain injury from nearly 20 years before, Bill cannot move from his wheelchair to his bed without help, nor can he feed himself, go to the bathroom or conduct any other kind of normal physical activity unaided. He can move his arms, but the fine motor control in his hands is very poor. He needs someone else to put his glasses on for him, and when he wants to take them off, he can only drag his hands across his face and let the glasses clatter to the floor.

Bill can hear and recognize when people speak to him, but his own speech is slow, labored and typically consists of single words or very short sentences. Most times, he simply yells at anybody who enters his room. He has a history of lashing out violently at staff and patients, though in his current condition, the only person he is likely to hurt with a swing is himself.

His room is nearly empty. No television. No radio. No books, magazines or newspapers. No decorations on the walls. No mementos from previous visitors. Nothing at all to mark the individual who has lived here since 1995. A solitary prison cell has more personality than this, even though Bill is not prohibited from going anywhere. He just lacks mobility, and most times, the will. His average day consists of waking up, getting changed and cleaned by the morning shift nurses, and then a sit in his wheelchair, where he stares at nothing. When he has had enough, he is transferred back to his bed, where he closes his eyes and tries going back to sleep. At some point he will be fed, and after that, more sleep.

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