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The senses-shattering origin of the Mick – Mickey Mantle #1

June 28, 2013

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If ever there was a ballplayer who seemed to spring straight from the newsprint pages of a comic book, it was Mickey Mantle. From the alliterative name to the prodigious speed to the great strength, he fit the bill, the outsized parameters of a four color champion. A Midwestern farm boy, he became the toast of a great American metropolis — where have we heard that before? All he lacked was a cape and Fortress of Solitude and he wouldn’t have drawn a second glance strolling through the Hall of Justice — and maybe the pinstripes of the New York Yankees qualify as heroic garb. Unless you’re from Boston. Or any other American League city.

So a Mantle comic book seems a natural fit. It was even more of an imperative in 1991, when both comics and baseball cards were riding sales highs never seen before or since. Mickey Mantle: The Comic Book had the inevitability of death and taxes.  

It’s a testament to the enduring legend of Mantle that, more than two decades after his retirement, he’d be the athlete around whom an independent publisher would try to build an ongoing series. (Indeed, Bryce Harper, the current twenty-year-old baseball superstar, has cited Mantle as his sports hero, in lieu of any of the titans that have played the game during his time as a living, breathing human being. That’s a hell of a long-term legacy.) Sadly (or not — whatever), Mickey Mantle the series only lasted two issues before getting the axe. But, in the first installment, scripted by Tom Peyer with art by Joe Sinnott and John Tartaglione, the Mick got what every comic book hero needs at some point or another: an origin story. A senses-shattering origin story, one that delves deeply (or as deep as it’s able) into what made our hero a hero.

In the Mick’s case, as for many of us, a big part of it was his father.

Anyone who knows Mantle’s bio knows that his relationship with his old man was what made him what he was, for good or for ill. While pere Mantle, nicknamed Mutt, spurred his son on to his great athletic fame, it was his early death from good old Hodgkin’s Disease (and the early deaths of other men in his family) that led Mantle to drink and party like a man who figured he’d probably die in his forties. Mickey is forever young in our national consciousness, but his post-playing days were riddled with personal woes and organ transplants. This roots of this yin and yang are present in this early scene:

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According to the comic, there was an element of the Great Santini/Earl Woods/Marv Marinovich in Mutt, as evidenced when Mickey wants to branch out athletically in high school and play football:

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Peril to his knees aside, Mickey’s diamond career unfolds like a dream. He’s discovered and signed by a scout for the New York Yankees, comes up through their farm system, and then makes his Major League debut in 1951. But it’s not the unalloyed fairy tale you might think:

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(Kudos for having Mantle wear #6 in these early bits, his original number before he came to don the #7 that we all know.)

The slumping Mickey gets sent back down to the minors, and it’s there, in a bleak Kansas City hotel room, that he considers throwing in the towel and calling it quits. He calls his father, who tells him to sit tight — he’s on his way. And then:

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Tough love — if that’s what you can call it — wins the day. Mickey sticks to it, gets another call-up, and this time it’s for good. This first issue’s Mick-fest ends with Mickey scoring the first of many World Series runs, as his father is there to cheer him on:

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What’s left out is that Mickey tore his knee to shreds in that very same Fall Classic, pulling back from a fly ball that center fielder Joe DiMaggio had called. Some people think a jealous Yankee Clipper might have done that deliberately. Look elsewhere other than this comic or its sequel for any answers on that old mystery.

That injury, and his father’s simultaneous illness, were seen in the next issue, which would be it for the series. Like the (similarly alliterative) fictional adventures of Will Eisner’s Rube Rooky, Mickey’s comic book would meet a premature end — apparently there’s some unwritten code about baseball ongoings not selling at all. While the biographical material here at least takes its time to develop, as opposed to the “this happened, and then this happened” nonsense of, say, the Pete Rose comic, there isn’t much to recommend it. That said, the Mick’s toothy smile is faithfully recreated, and hey, at least the book is in color, unlike many of Mantle’s old photos.

Both issues of Mickey Mantle also had back-up stories featuring other ballplayers. In this first issue it’s Sibby Sisti, utilityman of yore who — shocker — was also the special adviser to this series. (Josh Gibson, Negro League slugging great, was the next.) This wasn’t the first time Sisti did consulting for baseball storytelling, as he also had a bit role and provided insights in Robert Redford’s baseball-as-American-myth classic, The Natural. Hey, speak of the Redford — here he is! (Script: Terry Maloy, Pencils: Joe Orsak, Inks: Joe Sinnott):

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There are plenty of baseball fanatics who would kill for that New York Knights jacket. KILL.

And onto things fans wouldn’t kill for — since this was a 1991 comic book, it (of course) came polybagged and (of course) had some useless tchotchke tucked inside. In this case, it’s Mantle and Sisti postcards. It’s hard to contain your excitement, I know:

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Bought a Mickey Mantle comic book today. We’re seeing all the sights. Well, gotta go! Give my love to everyone back home!

Amazingly, postcards weren’t enough to get kids to plunk down their cash for the comic. Wonder of wonders.

And so Mickey Mantle, like its outsized subject, passes into memory.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. m.l. post permalink
    June 29, 2013 3:53 am

    Yeah, I was right. You are a fellow fallen idealist, or romantic, I can’t tell the difference anymore. I never cared much about baseball, but I got a nephew out in Connecticut who is a fiend for the game. Not only does he play it, he studies it. Apparently there’s something to it I can’t see. But if he likes it, there must be something to it.

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