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Friday, January 05, 2018 

The politics of Bill Mantlo

Former comics scribe and lawyer Bill Mantlo had plenty of interesting and entertaining moments in his work during the 1970s and 1980s, but he did have a political side in some of his work that could be questionable, and have to be taken with a grain of salt. Here, for example is a page from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #68 from 1982 (Spidey's real name would later be dropped from the official title after 1987), that's worth pondering for starters:
In this story, Spidey meets a US federal agent working with an Israeli agent and a Saudi agent to find out who's behind the black marketeering of weapons to terrorists, which, it turns out, were originally designed by the German criminal scientist Mendel Stromm, and they assume he's still alive, though it turns out it's actually a robot with similar brain patterns who's behind the recent manufacturing. Now there were Germans at the time who committed terrorist activities, as the case of the airline flight hijacked on July 4, 1976 to Entebbe made clear. But depending on your viewpoint, the simplification of the subject here, with no mention of Islamic jihadism and the iffy partnership demonstrated by an Israeli and a Saudi willing to work together do not necessarily make it the best of its subject.

Still, it's a lot better than another example of Mantlo's writing, in the 1982 Contest of Champions miniseries - one of the earliest Marvel published after DC began the concept with World of Krypton in 1979 - and the following scene involving the Arabian Knight, one of a few characters Mantlo created, is not very flattering:
So let me get this straight. The character who first appeared in the Incredible Hulk #257 is an antisemitic sexist, and this book depicts it all in soft terms?!? It's enough to make one figure Abdul Qamar was asking for the Hulk to bash him, as he did, across a mountain clearing. IMHO, Iron Man's response is also very weak; a better one would be to make a point to Qamar that if he holds anti-Israeli and misogynist beliefs, it's unacceptable for the main superhero community. According to this page, when Sabra's in danger of death at one point, and he offers to send his flying carpet to break her fall, she coldly tells him she'd rather die than be saved by an Islamist. And depending on your viewpoint, it risks making her look like the jerk here. I'm sure it's no surprise the miniseries is very obscure today, and may not have been reprinted. What I've seen of its material to date does look dopey, making even the weakest moments of the subsequent Secret Wars look like an intelligent masterpiece by comparison.

As if that weren't troubling enough, the superficial depiction of the Bedouin tribe that takes Bruce Banner in after he's wound up in Egypt in Hulk #257 is also bothersome:
The profilings of the Qamar character say he had 3 wives, making him a polygamist, and worse, all wearing chadors, as seen in the above panel with one (while in a later scene, Qamar himself goes barechested after finding the sword that makes him the Arabian Knight). And we're supposed to think this is an acceptable lifestyle? Absolutely not. I don't think Mantlo ever developed the Arabian Knight very well, and the politics, subtle or otherwise, all have the traces of somebody who couldn't be bothered to do any deep research. On which note, the earlier introduction of Sabra in issue #256 also has some inaccurate depictions of the Israeli shoreline, since the Hulk was on a freightliner heading to a certain city in Israel:
To Tel Aviv in a freightliner? Speaking as a local, I have been to the shores around Tel Aviv-Yafo plenty of times, and they only have a small port in the Yafo district, not accessible for ocean liner vessels because the sea basin is too shallow to accommodate their passage. So, while small boats can dock there easily, the really big freighters cannot. By contrast, Haifa has a much better developed port, as the sea basin in that area is deeper and more suitable for commercial ocean liners with heavy cargo and cranes to dock at. Ashdod's also got a more commercial port, better built for large freighters to dock at, with cranes provided. What this shows is that, whatever we think of Mantlo's writings, he wasn't one to do serious research, though that's probably nothing compared to modern liberal writers who don't even want to do that much. It also didn't help that issue #256 employed a morally equivalent setup wherein Mantlo made it sound like Israelis and Arabs/Muslims were just fighting over the country and "wouldn't share". That doesn't solve real life problems at all.

And of course, let's not forget that if he had another fault, it was tearing down a character out of apparent personal dislike, namely, the Punisher, as he'd done in 1983 in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #78. That's not a good quality to maintain as a writer who wants to be seen as professional and on the level any more than doing superficial research (or lack thereof).

All that said, I think it's a terrible shame Mantlo was injured in that hit-and-run car accident he suffered in 1992, which destroyed his careers as a comics writer and a legal attorney. For a quarter century since, he's been mostly living at a medical care center, and never fully recovered from the brain damage he received as a result of the scumbag driver who never took responsibility for running him down. I do hope he'll one day find light at the end of the mental tunnel he's been traveling through. I think he had a lot of imagination to offer in his various stories, which would surely be rejected by Joe Quesada's regime, and while it's regrettable Mantlo had to be so weak when it came to certain political aspects, he did still have plenty of pluses in his resume worth reading.

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"the iffy partnership demonstrated by an Israeli and a Saudi willing to work together do not necessarily make it the best of its subject."

The Israelis and Saudis are in fact working together on security matters: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Analysis-Secret-Israeli-Saudi-ties-likely-to-continue-despite-Abdullahs-death-388784

I am aware of that; I was speaking in the context of the early 80s, when it was a whole different story. Given that even now, the Saudis still have a lot of repairing to do with their own culture, that's why it can still be viewed as iffy.

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