ceived a number of offers to work for real estate legal firms but
he opted to work for the Legal Aid Society, a private not-for-profit
that provides free criminal defense representation.
Mantlo made about $40,000 a year at Legal Aid, which was
considerably less than he was making at Marvel. But that was
almost the point: he became a lawyer mainly because he felt
he had done all he could with comics to send messages about
social causes. In law, he could help people more directly.
In court, Bill lived up to his reputation as the Boisterous One,
earning numerous warnings from the bench for his fiery brand
of delivery, especially while cross-examining police officers. As
one justice recalled, Mantlo was the nicest person he ever had
to hold in contempt of court. Once, Bill was arrested as part of a
sweep against a sit-in by a local school union he was represent-
Just four blocks from home, a car
came around a corner and hit Bill.
The driver never stopped
and was never identified.
own career as a photographer to become a teacher; their calling
to help people had been a joint life change. But by 1988, he
and Karen were bitterly divorcing. The experience was hard on
both children. Adam, 21 years old and an accomplished bicycle
mechanic, stayed far from home to distance himself from the
emotional carnage. Corinna was only seven and stayed with
her mother, but the stress of the divorce also had a long-lasting
effect on her. To this day, she does not readily share details
about it. Regardless, Bill, Adam and Corinna still saw each other
regularly and maintained a close relationship. Both Adam and
Corinna describe Bill as a great father.
Throughout his time at Marvel and at Legal Aid, Bill was an
avid runner, biker and rollerblader, keeping himself in excellent
shape. A favorite activity was to take Adam and Corinna dirt
biking in Central Park. Bill always wore a helmet, and insisted
that his kids did likewise. But when rollerblading, Mantlo did not
wear any head protection, like many other early rollerbladers. It
was an oversight that would destroy his life.
ing. He used his phone call not to arrange for bail, but to order
pizza for himself and everybody else in the holding cell.
It was also at this time, however, that his marriage fell apart.
Mantlo had married Karen Pocock years before when they were
both working at Marvel (Pocock was a letterer). Pocock had a
young son, Adam, from a previous marriage whom Mantlo accepted and raised as his own. In 1981, the couple had a daughter, Corinna. And when Bill entered law school, Karen left her
HIT AND RUN
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.
The acute care needed to save Bill’s life cost more than $1
million, according to Bill’s brother Mike, who at the time was a
dispatcher for FedEx. Mike became Bill’s legal guardian once
Bill could no longer make decisions for himself. The Legal Aid
Society had provided Bill with group health insurance through
CIGNA—one of the country’s largest health insurers.
According to Mike, in October 1992, CIGNA de-