Character Spotlight: Speedball/Penance


Alek As evidenced by my previous Character Spotlights, I have an affinity for the slate of new heroes that cropped up during the early 90’s. This was my comic book reading prime – so, just like you think of childhood more fondly than you should, I look at these heroes through rose-colored glasses and I remember them as an integral part of my adolescence. No team represented my childhood more than The New Warriors (a post is probably coming soon on that one) and no hero represented the fun and new vibe of that team as much as Robbie Baldwin AKA Speedball ( did. I think that Speedball was a throwaway character when he was first introduced. He made a random appearance in Spider-Man and although he had a short-lived solo series shortly afterwards, I don’t think Marvel really thought he had any staying power.

The New Warriors changed that. Speedball was the wise-cracking, fun-loving member of the team who made it a point to undercut all the “grim and gritty” nature of the team’s leader, Night Thrasher. He enjoyed being a superhero and he recognized just how silly and stupid the who endeavor was. (I mean…his power was that he bounced…and multi-colored balls came out of him.) Sure, Speedball had superpowers and he battled the occasional galactic threat – but that doesn’t mean he needed to take himself seriously. As someone who appreciates the silly ones…the self-aware ones…the ones that recognize how much of a joke everything is….Speedball was a hero that was close to my heart.

…so, who thought that turning Speedball into an emo-charged warrior of self-mutilation was a good idea?

I’ll admit – I had “lost touch” with this character over the years as my tastes in the medium changed. I had no idea that The New Warriors (in their original form) were no more. I had no idea that Speedball had turned the team into a celebrity-chasing reality show. I had no idea that he was essentially on the backburner of the Marvel Universe (okay…I kind of assumed that one).

Speedball and his New Warriors were the “inciting incident” in the Civil War storyline that played out in the Marvel Universe a couple years ago (and brought about a truly dark age…where grim and gritty was amped up to self-parody levels). The team was chasing Nitro, your typical b-level baddie, who decided to blow himself up and take out everyone on the team (except for Speedball) and a school full of kids. Umm…WTF?? I understand that comic books are always toeing the line between escapism and reality….but really Marvel? This tragedy turned Speedball from fun-loving hero to psychologically damaged survivor. “Seriousness” is one thing…calling yourself Penance and wearing a suit of armor with 612 spikes turned inward to constantly puncture you is just poor attempt at being “deep.” Yes…let me repeat that. In order to “charge” his kinetic powers, Robbie Baldwin now stabs himself constantly in a suit of armor that looks like the Gimp. Oy…

I understand that comic books are meant to appeal to adolescents…many of whom are going through some pretty angsty times…but seriously?? Of course, as the Civil War storyline ended and Marvel moved into a new “Heroic Age”, most of this was washed away. Robbie returned to being Speedball…but he’ll always have the taint of the Penance character on him.

Dammit…what was wrong with a hero who bounces around and shoots balls at you???

Who thought that turning Speedball into an emo-charged warrior of self-mutilation was a good idea?

John: I don’t have much of an opinion on Speedball other than he has a goofy name that’s shared with a drug. Alek hits the nail on the head when you call him a throw-away character. He’s goofy and forgettable in my opinion. That doesn’t make him bad. I didn’t dislike him either.

I did have a small bone to pick when he changed himself to Penance. He looked like something from Spawn rather than the Marvel Universe. Umm… No, he looks like a dude into the bondage fetish community. No real problem with that, but it’s a bit strange when you have a hero running around in a get up that some use to get intimate.

The Iron Maiden costume contraption is a bit strange to me. Wouldn’t that unsanitary? He’s running around with mini-spikes in him. There’s sweat all over the place and the outfit does not look breathable nor sweat wicking. It looks like he’s wearing a red latex outfit or one of those sweat suits boxers and wrestlers use to make weight. Yeesh…

In the end, I think it was an attempt to make a dull character interesting. It went a bit sideways if you ask me. Maybe someone out there likes having colorful balls twinkling around you. Definitely would be a smash at EDC. Or you could be the best dressed guy at a bondage party. Hmm… So I guess he is a hit with certain crowds. I stand corrected. This guy is a pretty decent character after all.

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