SPEEDBALL, THE MASKED MARVELMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1988
Creator: Steve Ditko
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One of many ways in which Steve Ditko's characters tend to be quirky, is rapid, unpredictable movement. He conveys a definite impression that superheroes like The Creeper, The Blue Beetle and especially Spider-Man are constantly jumping all over the place, like fighting them would be similar to fighting an extra-mobile, self-cocking jack-in-the-box on a trampoline. Speedball, who debuted
in the1988 Spider-Man annual, is probably the apotheosis of that tendency. His super power involved literally bouncing off walls.
Ditko heroes tend to be cheerful types, with a good sense of humor and a generally positive outlook, but troubled. In this, too, Speedball was typical. He was Robbie Baldwin, a student at Springdale Central High School, and a pair of overbearing parents who only wanted the best for their boy, but disagreed radically on what was best, was only the start of his troubles. He also had a troubling super power, and was further troubled by the fact that he couldn't tell anybody about it, especially where it came from.
Robbie had snuck in to witness an experiment at Springdale's Hammond Research Lab, where he worked after school. The experiment went wrong, and bathed him, still unseen, with powerful energy from an alien dimension. This resulted a transformation that made his clothes look like a superhero suit that he couldn't take off, including fusing his protective goggles to his face and turning them into what looked like a fancy mask.
It also filled him with kinetic energy, which made any impact on his body trigger a more than equal reaction, but at the same time protected him from being harmed by the subsequent, greater impacts — all the while putting on a light show to rival Dazzler's. By carefully slowing down, he caused it to wear off quickly, transforming him back to normal, but any impact, even a slap on the shoulder, was liable to set it off again. He had to be very careful in his normal life, but gradually learned to exert some control over his movements in his superhero form.
In his early superhero exploits, witnesses referred to him as The Masked Marvel. Tho he had no connection, that became how he was known at first. Another of his troubles was that local law enforcer Officer Burnatt noticed that Robbie was always turning up after crimes had been committed, and even the fact that Robbie's father was a high-ranking assistant district attorney and his mother was a famous actress didn't keep Burnatt from suspecting something was up.
Speedball was originally intended for Marvel Comics' New Universe, a publishing gimmick which resulted from the geniuses who ran the company deciding, just as DC was getting rid of its reader-confusing Earth-One/Earth-Two dichotomy, the most exciting way to celebrate the 1986 25th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1 would be to launch a whole new line of characters they couldn't even promote by guest-starring them in established series. But the New Universe failed to generate enough sales, and was quickly scrapped.
Instead, Speedball was made a mainstream Marvel character, in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (1988), where he was promoted by guest-starring him with Spidey and Daredevil even before the character's creator did him. That story was plotted by Tom DeFalco (Spider-Ham), scripted by David Michelinie (Turok, Dinosaur Hunter), pencilled by Mark Bagley (Captain America) and inked by Mike Esposito (The War that Time Forgot). Ditko came in with Speedball #1, dated September, 1988.
The only credit carried over was DeFalco, and he wasn't the only plotter listed. The other was Ditko, who also pencilled the comic as well as having created the character. The script was written by Jo Duffy (Crystar).
Ditko continued to co-plot and pencil the title for the duration of its run, which was ten issues (the last one dated June, 1989). After he was no longer associated with the character, Speedball got swept into The New Warriors, where he was a member from the very very beginning (first issue, July, 1990). Other founders included Marvel Boy (no relation), Namorita (clone/daughter) and Nova.
The New Warriors series, too, ran its course, but was revived a couple of times in the late '90s and early 21st century. It was during one of them that they became involved with the 2006 event that precipitated the "Civil War" event/mini-series, which pitted practically all of Marvel's superheroes against one another. As a result of an ill-advised fight against a bunch of super-villains, there was an explosion that killed the villains, most of the heroes and over 600 innocent people, a substantial number of whom were children.
Speedball was originally thought one of the victims, but was later found alive, 500 miles away, proteced by his super power — which apparently got burned out in the process. Being the only one still alive and available for prosecution, Speedball was scapegoated for the disaster.
But nobody could blame him worse than he blamed himself. Discovering his super power wasn't gone, but just mutated so it could be triggered only by pain, he had a suit of armor made with over 600 inward-pointing spikes, one for each innocent victim. From then on, he wore it not just to stimulate his powers, but also as a form of self-flagellation.
The formerly cheerful and optimistic hero is still active in the Marvel superhero community under the name "Penance".