Insurance Horror Stories: Bill Mantlo, Co-creator of Rocket Raccoon in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

If you’ve already seen Marvel’s latest summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, or even if you’ve just watched the trailer, one thing becomes immediately clear: the scene stealer for the entire movie is an anthropomorphic, trigger-happy raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper.

Rocket Raccoon

This is Rocket Raccoon, and he was co-created for Marvel Comics in 1976 by writer Bill Mantlo.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Bill was one of the top writers for Marvel Comics. He could turn out scripts at a breakneck pace, and when everyone else was struggling to make their deadlines, it was Bill who wrote all the fill-in stories that editors put in Marvel’s books when the scheduled issues were delayed by the dilly-dallying writers of the time.

Bill took on the assignments no one else wanted. Forget The Incredible Hulk or The Spectacular Spider-Man (though he had memorable runs on those as well). He was best known for transforming comics based on licensed properties into best-sellers. These include comics based on toys like Rom: The SpaceKnight and Micronauts. He created many characters for Marvel, seemingly not caring that at the time he would not be receiving any royalties from his creations, as they were all owned by the comics company.

Then Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter was trying to work out a royalty arrangement for his staff and told all of his writers not to create new characters until they received residual money for their efforts. But Bill Mantlo didn’t listen.

“Not Bill. Are you kidding? He was making characters like they were going out of style. He was irrepressible. He was a font of ideas. There was no limit to his creativity,” Shooter told writer Bill Coffin for an excellent feature on Bill in Life Health Pro Magazine. “I appreciated it on behalf of Marvel, but I felt bad for Bill that he had created these things that if he had waited a little while, he would have owned a piece of them. You know what his attitude was? ‘I’ll make more.’ I really admired that.”

Out of that came characters like Rocket, Cloak and Dagger, and The SpaceKnights among countless other intergalactic supporting characters. However, being so fast and so prolific didn’t always work in his favour. Often, Bill’s scripts had to be corrected entirely by Shooter and he was often accused of turning in derivative plots based on stories he’d already written. Not only was he plagiarizing himself, but he was also accused of copying others as well. Still, everyone he came in contact with said the good always outweighed the bad when it came to Bill. 

In addition to his comic work, Bill had passed the bar and was putting his outspoken reputation as “Boisterous Bill” to good use as a public defender. His was definitely a career on the rise and there’s no telling where else it could’ve gone had it not been so tragically cut short.

Friday, July 17, 1992

Bill frequently rollerbladed through New York traffic to and from work without incident and the date above started out like any other day. He left work early and began to make his way back to his Morningside apartment when — only four blocks from home — he was struck by a car. The driver never stopped and was never identified, but whoever it was caused the left side of Bill’s head to slam against the windshield. He then rolled over the hood and the right side of his head hit the pavement. As you’d often see him, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. 

Bill Mantlo young

The impact was severe enough to sever Bill’s brain stem. Thankfully, it didn’t paralyze him, but it did make it supremely difficult for his brain to send messages to his body — particularly his limbs, fingers, and toes. He spent two weeks in a coma on a feeding tube and a ventilator before spending another two months in critical care at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. The price to save Bill’s life was $1 million. The Legal Aid Society provided Bill with group insurance through CIGNA — one of America’s largest group insurers. The policy and all of Bill’s affairs were administered by his brother, Mike, who became his legal guardian since Bill could no longer make decisions for himself.

Bill’s condition oscillated between glimmers of rehabilitative progress — the peak of which happened in 1994, when he would return to writing and would write what would ultimately be the last words he would put on a page: “My name is Bill Mantlo and I wanted to go home” — and severe setbacks that saw him return to a comatose state and lose his entire short-term memory, which took him back to square one. 

As his condition worsened and became more long-term, Mike had various fights with the insurance company over which facility they would cover and whether Bill was making significant enough improvements to still be in a rehabilitative state and covered by Bill’s group disability or if he would need more long-term respite care, which his group coverage through CIGNA would not cover.

As it became apparent that Bill would need care for the rest of his life and that his insurance would not cover it, Mike began selling off Bill’s assets to get him down to an income level to qualify for the America’s subsidized healthcare program, Medicaid. Among them was his massive memorabilia, toy, and comic collection and a vacation home — both of which were beloved by Bill’s children and the sale of which caused them to not be on speaking terms with their uncle.

In order to pay for Bill’s lifetime of 24/7 care, Mike had also surrendered a $100,000 life insurance policy, which has now been depleted to zero. Bill is on social security and all but $50 a month of that money goes to his ongoing care. Marvel has done their part by supplying Bill with all the money that he is entitled to, but even that is not enough. Comic creators such as Greg Pak (Planet Hulk) are still spearheading fundraising efforts on Bill Mantlo’s behalf, all proceeds of a now out-of-print biography, Mantlo: A Life in Comics, went to Bill’s care and fans can now donate their admission cost to Guardians of the Galaxy to:  

Mike Mantlo
26364 East Pintail Road
Long Neck, DE, 19966

Please make out any cheques to “Michael Mantlo” — Bill’s legal guardian.

Bill Mantlo Today

Should Canada Have a Two-Tiered Healthcare System?

Bill Mantlo’s family blames CIGNA for Bill’s current state because he was making progress in the early years after his accident, writing a journal, gaining more coherent speech, and talking on the phone to his parents. The family says that it was CIGNA who put pressure on the special institutions Bill was in at the time to cut him off, saying that they couldn’t see enough progress fast enough and any progress that was made didn’t truly qualify as rehabilitation. The family concludes that it was the insurance company that impeded Bill’s treatment in an effort to save money. They maintain that to this day, had the insurance company not forced the issue and went against Bill’s physicians and therapists, Bill would be much better off than he is now. Had his accident happened today, they believe his development would’ve been better protected and he may have returned to some semblance of a normal life.

Many in the media, and those in the upper echelons of Canadian politics and the Canadian healthcare systems, often discuss a two-tier healthcare system as a solution toward long wait-times and a lower quality of treatment. For example, take the case of Winnipeg’s Brian Sinclair, who waited 34 hours for treatment before dying of a treatable bladder infection. CBC asked the question, “Could a two-tiered healthcare system have saved his life?'”  

“If we had waiting-rooms that were not crowded or chaotic and just trying to do too many things with too few resources, then we wouldn’t have situations where mistakes would be compounded or left for the hours and hours that they were in Brian Sinclair’s case where he not only died, but was not found until hours after his death when rigimortis had set in,” said Marni Soupcoff in an interview with CBC Radio.

She is the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a registered charity dedicated to defending the constitutional rights of Canadians, and she believes it’s within all Canadians’ constitutional rights to choose how their healthcare is being delivered, so all Canadians should have the right to pay for private healthcare or private insurance if they wish, so they can avoid being at the mercy of a government that may not deliver proper medical care in a timely enough fashion. This would take pressure off the public healthcare system and allow it to be able to provide a better quality of care.

However, Mark Sable wrote a piece in The Globe and Mail about his review of the economic evidence on the effects of private insurance on public health care systems. He finds that there is little evidence for many of the benefits that advocates of private insurance claim will occur for those who do not make use of the private system, such as shorter wait times or lower public costs.

He wrote the following:

The first thing to note is that very few people in most countries purchase private insurance for care covered in the public system. In the U.K., for example, it is less than 10 per cent, and in Sweden, is it less than that. For the remaining 90 per cent plus of the population, the weight of the evidence suggests that private insurance provides little benefit for the rest of the system.

There is evidence that physicians shift their time to the private system, resulting in fewer publicly funded services. And there is evidence that the cases left in the public system are most complicated and costly.

But there is little evidence that wait times in the public system go down. And there is little evidence that a private system reduces the costs of public systems. In fact, in some jurisdictions, overall costs in the public system actually went up in those cases where the tax system subsidizes people who purchase private insurance (as Canada does).

Overall, those systems that have private insurance have had to continue to grapple with issues of costs and access, much as we do here in Canada.

If a two-tired system were to be a reality, the issue of what you can afford would always loom large and situations like what happened in the treatment of Bill Mantlo could become more of a reality across our borders.

The Importance of Long-Term Care Insurance

If Bill Mantlo had a comprehensive long-term care insurance policy, he may have been able to sustain the progress he made in the first few years of rehabilitation because he may have been able to afford sustained treatment at the early hospitals where he saw his greatest success. Not only that, but he would’ve also probably been able to stay in one place and his brother, Mike, would not have had to bow to the whims of CIGNA’s obviously inadequate group insurance coverage for what became Bill’s situation.

Mike would not have had to sell most of Bill’s assets to make sure he was eligible for Medicaid and family division would not have been created. The financial and emotional impact that was visited on Bill and his family could’ve been lessened by a quality long-term insurance plan.

“People aren’t prepared, or even know they have to prepare, to pay for their own long-term care. Everyone believes the government will pay — give me a break!”  Tim Landry, an insurance broker and consultant with 45 years experience, explains.

Landry says we are about to hit three taxpayers per retiree, so there’s no way that people can rely on the government.

“Ask yourself, if you need care, do you want to be a customer or do you want to be a patient? I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be a patient.”

We’re living longer, so dementia is bound to explode, which is why Landry says we all will need care and we’ll absolutely have to be able to afford it. Even if you happen to be extremely wealthy, he’ll tell you that it still makes better financial sense to use the funds provided to you by an insurance company rather than your own.

“A lot of wealthy people buy life insurance because it makes more sense to use other people’s money rather than their own,” says Landry. Not only that, but he’ll tell you we’re on the cusp of an eldercare crisis, where family members will no longer be available full-time to take care of their aging parents.

“Men are going to have to share the caregiving role,” he says. “I grew up in a time where very few women worked outside the home and now very few don’t. So, who’s going to look after our seniors? The biggest cause of employee absenteeism in the U.S. is eldercare.”

The problem will only get bigger, and Landry will tell you we’ve only just begun to deal with it. But as the Baby Boomers hit age 76, we will all really start to feel the strain of taking care of so many seniors. He predicts we’ll really start to see the most long-term care claims in 2022, when the Baby Boomers turn that age.

So now’s the time to really seriously consider applying for long-term care insurance. Landry knows that the application process is pretty reasonable, so learn from the legendary Bill Mantlo and protect yourself from his tragic circumstances.

If you’re interested in investigating long-term care insurance, please call us at 1-866-899-4849 or visit our Long-Term Care Insurance Quote Page.


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