It's safe to say that the audience reading this site is probably well aware of Marvel Studios' next film, Guardians of the Galaxy, which hits US theaters August 1st. (There's a new trailer, in case you missed it.) And it's no surprise that much of the marketing has prominently featured a certain talking, gun-toting, very badass, and very merchandisable raccoon.
Rocket Raccoon, in his big-screen CG Bradley Cooper incarnation
In stores now! (Shameless plug.)
Rocket Raccoon has taken some time to achieve his current level of fame, though. The character was first introduced by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen in the black-and-white Marvel Preview #7, in 1976. Here, he helps out the Conan-esque Prince Wayfinder:
At the time, he went by Rocky, rather than Rocket, a reference to the Beatles' “Rocky Raccoon”; accordingly, he spoke with British mannerisms, a characteristic that would be abandoned in later appearances.
The character was subsequently abandoned for years, but Mantlo clearly had a soft spot; in 1982, he returned in The Incredible Hulk #271:
In 1985, he'd get his own miniseries, also written by Mantlo, with art by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola:
Rocket's talking walrus buddy, the creatively named Wal Rus, is also a badass.
A few years after that, Rocket showed up in She-Hulk:
and then was implied to be dead in Incredible Hulk #415:
That pelt looks familiar.
After that, Rocket would stay in limbo for a while, before being revived by his co-creator, Keith Giffen, in 2007's Annihilation Conquest: Starlord miniseries. It's here that he's paired up with the giant talking tree Groot for the first time, as well as Peter Quill (Star-Lord, for those of you who have somehow missed the Guardians of the Galaxy film marketing), who had himself been in B-character limbo for some time.
The Starlord miniseries would segue into Guardians of the Galaxy, which while never a high seller, was enough of a cult favorite to prompt the development of a film script. The rest was history.
What is all too often forgotten is the sad situation of the writer who co-created Rocket. As documented in a throughly moving 2011 article, Bill Mantlo, who by the late 1980s had largely given up comics to pursue a law degree and a job at the Legal Aid Society, was hit by a car while rollerblading in summer 1992.
On Friday, July 17, 1992, Bill left work early for the weekend, and made his usual three-mile rollerblade journey through Brooklyn traffic to his apartment near Morningside Park. Just four blocks from home, a car came around a corner and hit Bill. The left side of Bill’s head impacted the windshield. He rolled across the hood of the car, and the right side of his head impacted the pavement. The driver never stopped and was never identified.
The accident jostled Bill’s head so violently that his brain squashed against the inside of his skull, and his brain stem severed. This did not paralyze him, but it would make it very difficult for Bill’s body—particularly his extremities—to accurately receive and process electrical messages from his brain.
Bill spent the next two weeks in a coma at Saint Luke’s hospital in midtown Manhattan, after which he remained in critical care for another two months. During this time, he was still on a ventilator and a feeding tube, as his brain was too damaged to tell his body how to swallow or breathe.
Today, his care limited by an insurer determined to deny as much coverage as possible, he is reduced to a bare-bones nursing facility in Far Rockaway, Queens:
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.
Donations to support Bill's medical care can be made via his brother Mike; to do so, click the donate link here. If Rocket can go from an underdog (to mix animal descriptors) to a movie star, surely his co-creator deserves the opportunity to live a happier life.