Unless you're a die-hard fan of comics, you may not have heard of Rocket Raccoon just yet, but by this time next year you'll probably own the action figure. The first trailer for Marvel's latest superhero franchise film, Guardians of the Galaxy, appeared online last week - and many expect its break-out star to be the gun-toting, wise-cracking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper.

Marvel's most recent movie, Thor: The Dark World, has passed the $200m mark at the US box office, and the studio could earn up to a half a billion more from Rocket and co when Guardians is released in August. The character was originally created in 1976 by Bill Mantlo, but Marvel's ownership of the title means Mr Mantlo will not benefit directly from the movie's anticipated success.

Marvel's superhero movie universe goes cosmic with the Guardians of the Galaxy, a space saga starring Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt and a lot of CGI.

That fact is all the more poignant because Mr Mantlo - once one of Marvel's most beloved contributors - has been seriously disabled since a hit-and-run accident in 1992. His family has struggled to pay his medical bills, and thanks to the vagaries of the US healthcare system, he now lives in unsatisfactory long-term care at an assisted-living facility in New York.

This week, fans have used the exposure of the Guardians promotional push to put Mr Mantlo's predicament back in the spotlight, and to urge others to contribute to his ongoing treatment.


Mr Mantlo was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, where one of his neighbours was the legendary comic-book artist Jack Kirby. He first went to work at Marvel as an intern in 1973, and ended up as a prolific writer, contributing to Spider-Man, Iron Man and Hulk titles during his career. He also created his own cult favourites, including Micronauts, ROM the Spaceknight and Rocket Raccoon, who made his first appearance in Marvel Preview #7 in 1976.

The character was inspired by the Beatles' song "Rocky Raccoon" and came from the planet Halfworld: an abandoned colony for the mentally ill, where the patients' animal companions had been genetically engineered to develop human IQs and the ability to walk on their hind-legs.

In the late 1980s, Mr Mantlo switched careers, becoming a criminal defence lawyer for the non-profit Legal Aid Society. But in July 1992, as he was rollerblading home from work in Brooklyn, he was struck by a car and left severely brain damaged.

A 2011 article for National Underwriter magazine chronicled his medical travails. His emergency treatment cost more than $1m, and as it dragged on, his health insurance provider became increasingly reluctant to provide the necessary cover. Finally, Mr Mantlo's family was forced to sell his assets, including his precious collection of comics and memorabilia.

Now 63, he is a permanent resident of the spartan Queens-Nassau Rehabilitation Center and Nursing Home in Queens, New York. His family says that even the recent Obamacare reforms would have done little to improve his long-term residential treatment. Yet according to the magazine article, he has benefited from the kindness of comic fans, who have contributed to his care via the Hero Initiative, a charity providing financial aid to comic-book professionals in need.

On Wednesday last week, in a post that was shared multiple times, Tumblr user and comics fan Charlotte of Oz invited others to contribute at least the cost of their Guardians cinema ticket to Mr Mantlo's care directly, or to the Hero Initiative; she wrote that while his situation is in large part a product of the flawed US healthcare system, "The fact that he doesn't see much in the way of royalties for his work cannot possibly be helping.

"Marvel is about to release a movie that will probably pull in half a billion dollars at the minimum, and Mr Mantlo's family won't see anything from it. If a comic taught me anything, it taught me that that isn't right."

- Independent