The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (1988). Cover art by Ron Frenz.
|First appearance||The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (1988); as Penance - Civil War Front Line #10 (2006)|
|Created by||Steve Ditko
|Alter ego||Robert "Robbie" Baldwin|
|Team affiliations||New Warriors
|Notable aliases||Speedball, Penance, Masked Marvel|
|Abilities||As Speedball: Forcefield generation
As Penance: Energy blasts
Baldwin first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (1988). The character's origin and early exploits as Speedball were depicted soon after in a solo series. After that series was cancelled, he appeared as a member of the superhero team the New Warriors, in the monthly title of the same name.
In the Marvel Comics crossover "Civil War", Baldwin's powers change, and he changes his name and appearance to Penance. Following this change, Baldwin becomes a member of the Thunderbolts. As of the first issue of "Avengers Academy", he has reverted to Speedball and a modified version of his first appearance. Despite the outward change, Baldwin still seems to have issues with guilt and depression. However, he is also making a genuine attempt to move past those feelings and make positive changes.
Publication history 
Marvel Comics published ten issues of the monthly comic book series Speedball from 1988 to 1989. The series was primarily plotted and penciled by Steve Ditko, who also supplied the covers. It was co-written by Tom DeFalco and inked by several different artists.
After the series' cancellation, the Speedball character primarily appeared in New Warriors and its related comics, written primarily by Fabian Nicieza. Speedball continued to be the most consistent character through the second and third volumes of the New Warriors.
Baldwin became a featured character in Paul Jenkins' Civil War: Front Line, after it was revealed that he was the only New Warrior to survive the Stamford disaster. Baldwin's character underwent a drastic change in this series, in which his powers alter and he takes the name Penance, joining the Thunderbolts. He would also feature in his own limited series, Penance: Relentless, also written by Jenkins, which examines the background to these changes. In the Thunderbolts comics series, Mike Deodato based Baldwin's appearance on actor Edward Norton.
Speedball appeared as a supporting character in Avengers Academy from issue #1 (Aug 2010) through issue #20 (Dec 2011).
Fictional character biography 
Robbie Baldwin is a Presbyterian born in Springdale, Connecticut to a mother who co-starred in a soap opera with Mary Jane Watson. As a high school student, he becomes a costumed adventurer and crimefighter after an accident at the Hammond Research Laboratory where he works part-time as a laboratory worker. When Hammond scientists try to tap into a mysterious other-dimensional energy source, the energy bombards Baldwin. Baldwin survives the experience but finds himself surrounded by energy bubbles and clad in an odd costume.
Minutes afterwards, during a battle with some thieves who want to raid the lab, Baldwin discovers that his body now generates a kinetic energy field that protects him from impact and makes him a bouncing dynamo of kinetic energy. Calling himself Speedball, Baldwin becomes a crime-fighter in his hometown of Springdale, Connecticut. Baldwin's father Justin, a successful district attorney, and his mother Madeline, a former soap opera star-turned teacher, have marital problems while Baldwin secretly leads his double life. This situation leads to domestic stress that escalates over time, driven partly by the conflict between Robbie and his father, who as district attorney is expected to uphold Springdale's ordinance against costumed superheroes and has an extreme prejudice against these "vigilantes".
The energy source also affects Niels, a cat belonging to one of the scientists, giving him the same powers. Speedball makes a number of attempts to catch the cat, hoping that study of Niels would give him better control of his powers. He would later learn that a villainous scientist, Clyde, was also after the cat, hoping to gain Speedball-like powers, and had allegedly created most of the supervillains in Springdale to this end. Speedball would later adopt the cat, who under the name of Hairball would eventually have its own super adventures with the Pet Avengers.
The New Warriors 
When Baldwin is shopping in New York City with his mother, he joins a battle between Terrax and a number of superheroes. The heroes become the founding members of the New Warriors, and Baldwin agrees to join the team. He is seen with the New Warriors, aiding Thor in battle against the Juggernaut. The commute from Connecticut to New York City is difficult — he is depicted jumping in front of a speeding train to get enough of a kinetic charge to bounce into the city — and Baldwin is frequently late for Night Thrasher's formal meetings. With the New Warriors, he battles Psionex. He eventually revealed his double identity to the New Warriors, and when Speedball and the New Warriors battled the Force of Nature shortly afterwards, his mother also learned of his superhero identity. (His father learned the truth some time later.
With the New Warriors, he battled the White Queen and the Hellions, and then met Darkhawk. With the New Warriors, he was manipulated by the Puppet Master into battling the Fantastic Four. With the New Warriors and the Fantastic Four, Speedball battled Terrax again. Speedball and the New Warriors were captured by Gideon. Later, superhuman research done by the Sphinx raised questions regarding the make up of Speedball's kinetic field.
After Baldwin's mother discovers his secret identity, his parents' marriage ends and Baldwin moves permanently to New York City. Baldwin finds friendship with all of his fellow New Warriors, but his closest friendships were with Nova and Rage. After Baldwin is transported to the dimension his powers derive from, Darrion Grobe joins the New Warriors as Speedball, although the other members think he is Baldwin. Baldwin returns from the kinetic dimension and begins a brief relationship with Timeslip.
"Civil War" 
At the beginning of the "Civil War" storyline, the New Warriors attempt to apprehend a group of supervillains in Stamford, Connecticut for their television reality show. Nitro, one of the criminals, creates an explosive blast that kills 612 civilians, including 60 children, as well as the New Warriors with the exception of Baldwin. This event triggers the push for superhero registration at the heart of "Civil War". Baldwin is presumed dead after the incident, but he is found alive after the blast launches him over 500 miles (800 km); his kinetic field kept him alive, but it "burned out" as a result.
After awakening from a coma, Baldwin is arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed in federal prison. Furthermore, his own mother disowns him. After he discovers his powers are still functional, Baldwin is taken to the new penitentiary called Negative Zone Prison Alpha. Reed Richards, the facility's creator, offers Baldwin the chance to testify before Congress; however, on the Capital steps, Baldwin is shot by an assailant and taken away in an ambulance. Baldwin recovers from the wound (yet bullet fragments remain inoperably lodged near his spine), and Richards determines that Baldwin's powers are evolving. Baldwin thwarts an escape from the prison and says that he will comply with the Superhuman Registration Act.
Overcome by guilt and driven insane by his treatment, Baldwin orders a new suit of armor that features 612 internal spikes (the number of Nitro's victims from Stamford) to trigger his powers. Baldwin then rechristens himself "Penance" and is assigned to the Thunderbolts.
The Penance revamp of the character is satirized in Deadpool/Great Lakes Avengers Summer Fun Spectacular, in which Squirrel Girl (who has a crush on Speedball, who was her first kiss) confronts Robbie after learning of his transformation into Penance. Robbie tells Squirrel Girl that he became Penance not out of guilt, but to become "deep" and to escape his comedy-character background. Furthermore, he reveals that he has created a similar costume for his pet cat Niels (who he has renamed "P-Cat, the Penitent Puss") while banging his head against the wall.
After the events of "Civil War", Baldwin joins Norman Osborn's new government-sponsored Thunderbolts team. This team mostly comprises supervillains who are being forced to reform, or at least give the appearance that they have in public. On one of the new team's first missions, Norman Osborn sends Bullseye and Penance to deal with a vigilante named Americop, Bullseye turns against Baldwin in order to force him to use his powers to cripple the vigilante. After finding out that Norman gave the order to Bullseye to do this, Baldwin destroys an expensive, one-of-a-kind eavesdropping device of Osborn's with his powers, while reminding him that unlike many of the Thunderbolts under Norman's leadership, he has no failsafe nanites in him that force his compliance. This causes Norman to gain a newfound respect for Penance.
During the team's mission to capture the Steel Spider, Penance suffers a mental breakdown and ends up slamming his head into a brick wall while remarking that he is "not good enough". Found by teammate Radioactive Man (who remarks that Baldwin is a "broken toy, forced to live in a world he was never meant for"), Penance is eventually brought back to the Thunderbolts Mountain where he experiences another episode of violence when he brutally assaults one of the prisoners after he taunts Baldwin for his role in the Stamford tragedy. Osborn comes close to killing Baldwin, but is stopped by the team's field leader, Moonstone, who initially found Baldwin and his mental problems related to survivor's guilt to be an annoyance, but is now convinced that he could be manipulated and exploited as a Hulk-level enforcer for Osborn's sinister schemes and is able to persuade Osborn to let the boy live.
However, because of the increasing signs of instability Baldwin is showing, Doc Samson arrives at Thunderbolts HQ to give Robbie additional psychiatric assistance, much to Moonstone's professional jealousy, as Moonstone wanted to be named Baldwin's therapist instead so that she could exploit Penance's fragile mental state to her own ends. During this time, Samson is able to help Penance focus his powers back to their original state, which he uses to defeat Moonstone in combat when (under the influence of a group of renegade telepaths) she tries to kill Samson.
Robbie participates in the Thunderbolts' fight with his former New Warriors teammate and best friend Nova who had recently returned to Earth. After the fight Robbie confronts Nova at his home and urges him to register with the Initiative. Seeing Robbie in this state prompts Nova to return to space; upon his departure he urges Robbie to not let them turn him into something he is not.
Ultimately, in the five issue Penance mini-series, Baldwin goes AWOL from the Thunderbolts and leads them on a complicated series of wild goose chases as Baldwin, with Wolverine's help, makes his way to Latveria to bring back Nitro and make him stand trial for his act of mass murder. During this adventure, Baldwin steals the ill-gotten fortune of Norman Osborn's former employee and rival, Mendall Stromm after stealing information Norman obtained on Stromm illegally via his position with the Thunderbolts. He holds his own against Wolverine in combat, before convincing the X-Man to aid him in his quest. He confronts Doctor Doom as part of his quest, and forces Doom to drain the power grid of all Latveria into his armor in order to stand against Penance in combat. Doom eventually concedes the fight and relinquishes Nitro after realizing that defeating Baldwin would force him to tap into Latveria's secret nuclear power plants, potentially revealing their existence to the outside world. After secretly donating Stromm's fortune to charity, for the rebuilding of Stamford, Baldwin arranges for a new Penance suit (with the same appearance, but fewer spikes than the previous one) built after locking Nitro in the previous one. Nitro is imprisoned, but Robbie remains in the suit and after going AWOL, returns to the team.
During the Secret Invasion, the Thunderbolts are sent to protect Washington from the Skrulls. A large group of Skrulls shape-shift into walking corpses, posing as the victims of the Stamford disaster. Initially unnerved by this ploy, Penance is reminded by Osborn that he had memorized the faces of all those who had died that day, and realizes that the Skrulls look nothing like them, which enables him to defeat them.
Shortly after the events of Secret Invasion, Moonstone would get her revenge against Penance for defeating her in combat. After mocking his costume and survivor's guilt, Moonstone drugs Penance and proclaims that, in her capacity as a psychiatrist, she is going to have Penance permanently committed to the nearest corrupt maximum security hospital she could find.
"Dark Reign" 
Penance, brainwashed and heavily drugged, is persuaded by Osborn to join his new Initiative, at Camp H.A.M.M.E.R., and has psychotherapy sessions with Trauma, the camp therapist, who had been ordered by Osborn to keep Penance in his mentally fragile state. Through Trauma's "pet therapy" method, Penance is unknowingly reunited with his cat, Niels. When the Avengers Resistance, consisting of many of Penance's New Warriors teammates, come to Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. seeking to release a captured teammate, Taskmaster orders Penance to attack them. Penance's brainwashing prevents him from remembering his friends, and his costume prevents them from recognizing him, leading to an all-out battle. Their fight is interrupted by Nightmare, who had taken over the body of his son, Trauma. Nightmare forces Penance to remember the Stamford incident, causing him to pass out in mental anguish. Tigra revives him, using her powers of empathy to help him see Trauma's predicament. With this knowledge, and having already experienced his worst nightmare, Penance is able to talk Trauma into freeing himself from his father's control. Penance then helps the Avengers Resistance escape Osborn's forces by rupturing a gas main. He refuses Vance's offer to join their team, not wanting his old friends to see how much he had changed.
Penance turns against Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. and helps the "Avengers Resistance" fight the Hood and those that are with him. During the battle, he finally revealed his identity to his other ex-New Warriors teammates.
"Heroic Age" 
Robbie has returned to using the Speedball identity in Avengers Academy as part of the academy's teaching staff. Although on the surface he seems to have fully recovered, he still secretly cuts himself using his Penance helmet and uses the blue energy aura associated with that identity. Apparently only Justice knows he is doing so and offered his help.
Speedball decided to take the Avengers Academy students on a field trip to Stamford to show them the memorial of the people who died during the Stamford incident, to show them what happens when you make an ill-advised mistake against a supervillain. But news broke out about this, and they were attacked by a group of men called "the Cobalt Men", who had named themselves after one of the villains involved in the Stamford incident. Not wanting them to ruin the memorial of the dead, Speedball quickly defeated them himself.
Speedball later admitted he cuts himself to store up the energy he used as Penance because this power is more useful in a fight. He acknowledged that he should not have kept this a secret, and Hank Pym offered to help him find a better way to activate those powers. After that realization, Robert seemed to have really improved himself on an emotional level. Although he is still very depressed and still feels terrible for what happened in Stamford, he seems to have cheered up a little and regained his sense of humor. After returning to the Academy, Speedball announces to the students and teachers that he is quitting the faculty (but still offers to help them anytime) and later leaves, with Justice joining him.
Powers and abilities 
As Speedball 
As a result of the mutagenic effects of irradiation by an unknown form of energy, Robbie Baldwin possesses the superhuman ability to create a kinetic force field of unknown energy, manifested as iridescent bubbles, around himself which absorbs all kinetic energy directed against him and reflects it with even greater force against whatever object with which he is in contact. Hence, if he struck a wall, he would travel at a greater velocity in the opposite direction.
When Speedball uses his superhuman powers, his voices alters in an unknown fashion and solid force bubbles of residue kinetic field energy appear on his body and, when he bounces, in his wake. While bouncing, he is immune to any kind of harm caused by physical contact. Speedball's power activates automatically when any physical contact occurs above a low level that has not yet been precisely determined. When Speedball's kinetic field activates, his body increases in height and mass (drawn from an extradimensional source); he reverts to his normal size and mass on deactivating the field. Early in his career, the slightest touch, such as snapping his fingers, would turn on this field, but he eventually gained conscious control over it. The field repelled all energy that struck it, especially kinetic energy. As such, bullets, punches, and all other physical attacks bounced off him. A side effect of this, though, was that he, too, would bounce in the opposite direction. Baldwin often used this to his advantage, such as purposely running into a wall in order to gain momentum and thus hit an opponent with twice the force.
While with the Warriors, Baldwin gained far greater control over his powers via a combination of experience in battle and Night Thrasher's mentorship off the battlefield. Whereas previously Baldwin could barely bounce in the direction he wanted, he eventually became more proficient at controlling his leaps and using his powers in various ways, such as to deliver impressive blows, and even to project a stream of kinetic energy from his bubble field at a distance. He eventually learned to mentally "throw" the bubbles that surrounded his field to use as concussive force attacks. He was able to somewhat deflect Siena Blaze's electromagnetic attack that "no one short of the Hulk could have withstood", as well as resist the omnipath Gamesmaster's telepathy, one of the few people in the world to do so.
As Penance 
After the events of Stamford, Baldwin believed his powers to be burned out. However, they still exist, but now only manifest when he feels pain. While his powers are still kinetically based, they no longer appear to manifest as a "bubble field"; rather, his powers seem far more explosive in nature. In order to stimulate his powers, his Penance suit constantly rakes his flesh. Baldwin tolerates this to a masochistic degree, once stating that he would "wear [the suit] all the time if I could." By wearing the suit he has developed a natural tolerance to pain.
Penance can achieve a variety of effects with his newfound powers. The most commonly used are explosive energy blasts from his hands but he is capable of firing them from any part of his body via the conduits on his spikes. He can create storm-like fields of energy around him capable of harming those around him and smashing objects. He can focus the energy on parts of his body, often on his hands to form superpowerful punches. He can also engulf himself in an energy forcefield which gives him a degree of invulnerability and allows him to levitate off the ground.
Baldwin's powers are constantly evolving and his original Speedball powers are shown to be returning to him.[volume & issue needed] Robbie no longer needs the Penance suit to activate his powers but chose to wear it for a time to help remedy the guilt he feels, as well as for the benefits to his powers.[volume & issue needed] He has recently abandoned it and Hank Pym is looking for better ways to activate these powers.[volume & issue needed]
Other versions 
In a reality where the Hulk, after being sent into space, kills Annihilus and leads the Annihilation Wave to Earth; Robbie (as Speedball) is one of the remaining superpowers, alongside Quentin Quire and his Exiles.
House of M 
Marvel Apes 
In the Marvel Apes universe, a chimp version of Speedball appears alongside an ape-hero called Ape X. The two seem to act as partners and are both Avengers. He seems loyal to them, but at the end of the second issue he is seen with a group of what would usually be considered "his enemies". He asks Marty Gibbon about the human version of Speedball, but Marty does not have the heart to tell him about the Stamford incident. He's later revealed to be part of a group trying to reveal that the Captain America leading the Ape-vengers is Baron Blood in disguise. After freeing the real Cap from the ice, the group goes out to fight Blood. Lost members of the Marvel 616 universe, the main Marvel universe, take a wounded Baldwin back home with them and get him medical treatment. He elects to stay, explaining that his entire ape-centric earth will reject him for helping humans. In the epilogue he tries applying for the Avengers.
An older version of Speedball exists in the MC2 universe, and appears sporadically in the Spider-Girl series and related miniseries. At some point he became a member of the Avengers, but has since left the team.
Marvel Team-Up: League of Losers 
Speedball features in an arc of Robert Kirkman's Marvel Team-Up (vol. 3), featuring a group of C-list heroes dubbed "The League of Losers". A group of heroes including Gravity, Darkhawk, Dagger, Araña, X-23, Sleepwalker, and Terror (although Araña dies along the way) go to the future to prevent the villain Chronok from stealing Reed Richards' time machine, Chronok having come to the present and already having killed all of Marvel's major heroes.
It is revealed Chronok is from the same time period as Kirkman's Mutant 2099; the group stays with him and his mentor Reed Richards to wait for Chronok. The team defeats Chronok, but at the end of the story, Richards reveals they cannot go back to their present, due to time-travel and alternate timelines. The group decides to stay in the future, satisfied with the impact they made, however unnoticed. Mutant 2099 suggests reforming the Avengers or the "Fantastic Nine".
Due to the Marvel Universe's method for resolving time travel paradoxes, the League of Losers' actions created an alternate universe. This is the alternate future visited by Squirrel Girl, a superhero with a crush on him, in Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun (2007). She tries to convince him to return, suggesting that no-one would mix him up with the Penance from her time, but before he can decide, the 2099 version of Mr Immortal, Squirrel Girl's GLI leader, tells her she needs to return to the present.
Marvel Zombies 
A zombified Speedball participates in a multi-zombie attack on the castle of Doctor Doom; where a few human survivors were hiding. Later, he is seen in the ruins of New York. He is one of the many casualties in the conflict waged against the Silver Surfer, ending up torn apart by the Power Cosmic.
Ultimate Speedball 
An Ultimate Marvel version of Speedball is mentioned in Ultimate Spider-Man #81. In Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2 (2006), an overweight man in a Speedball costume is depicted in police custody. Likewise, Spider-Man jokes that Speedball is faster than the Human Torch during the Ultimate Spider-Man video game.
In other media 
- On Fantastic Four, Speedball makes a brief cameo appearance at the beginning of the episode "Doomsday".
Video games 
- In The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes video game (which was only released in Japan), Speedball makes a brief appearance between levels to talk with Spider-Man.
- Speedball is mentioned in the Ultimate Spider-Man video game. While racing the Human Torch, Spider-Man jibes: "Speedball is faster than you!" He is also mentioned in the game while Peter researches himself on a website on mutants; one article is noticed by Peter with Speedball claiming "He's the coolest guy since the Ultimates."
- Baldwin (as Penance) is a playable character in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 voiced by Benjamin Diskin. The voice of Speedball is heard during the Stamford cutscene. Baldwin appears in two audio logs - the first is a commercial for The New Warriors Reality Show, and the second is as he is getting his new costume, where he goes into detail about who the costume is for, and why. During She-Hulk's conversation with Iron Man at Stark Tower, he tries to deter her from defending Speedball, but she only says she is doing what she thinks is right. The heroes later encounter him guarding the portal to Prison 42 in the Negative Zone. During the fight with him, some prisoners break free and defeat him. After the prisoners are defeated and Nick Fury arrives, Penance helps the heroes get into Prison 42, noting that he respects the players for their interest in saving innocents while the other heroes are busy fighting each other in the Civil War. After the events of Prison 42, both She-Hulk and Firestar express their shock at Robbie's sudden change during conversations with him. Iron Man also apologizes for what he said earlier, only for She-Hulk to say that, given Baldwin's current state, she did not do him any favors. In the Wii version, Penance can be recruited as a playable character by completing a side-mission featuring him under the conditions 75 nanite-controlled enemies are defeated, a mini-boss is defeated, and the player scores a certain amount of points by defeating enemies. Once recruited Robbie can form the Thunderbolts team alongside Songbird, Venom and Green Goblin.
- Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, Comic Book Resources, November 3, 2005
- Paul Jenkins on Penance, Newsarama, January 19, 2007
- Better Know a Thunderbolt: Penance, Newsarama, January 6, 2007
- REFLECTIONS #221: Paul Jenkins, Part 2, Comic Book Resources, September 9, 2007
- "The Religion of Speedball/Penance". Adherents.com. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
- New Warriors, vol. 1 #32
- Speedball #1
- Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22
- New Warriors #1
- Thor #411-412
- New Warriors #4
- New Warriors #7
- New Warriors #9
- New Warriors #27
- New Warriors #10
- New Warriors #14
- Fantastic Four #356
- New Warriors #15-17
- New Warriors #19
- New Warriors #21
- New Warriors #31
- New Warriors, vol. 1 #50
- New Warriors #71, May 1996
- Civil War #1
- Civil War: Front Line #1 (Aug. 2006)
- Civil War: Front Line #2
- Civil War: Front Line #4
- Civil War: Front Line #5
- Civil War: Front Line #6
- Civil War: Front Line #8
- Civil War: Front Line #9
- Civil War: Front Line #10
- Deadpool/Great Lakes Avengers Summer Fun Spectacular
- Thunderbolts #110
- Thunderbolts: Desperate Measures
- Thunderbolts #116
- Thunderbolts #117
- Thunderbolts #121
- Nova #3
- Penance - Relentless #1
- Penance - Relentless #2
- Penance - Relentless #4
- Penance - Relentless #5
- Thunderbolts #124
- Thunderbolts #125
- Thunderbolts #127
- Avengers: The Initiative #25
- Avengers: The Initiative #29
- Avengers: The Initiative #30
- Avengers: The Initiative #34
- "C2E2: The Mondo Marvel Panel". Comic Book Resources. 2010-04-16. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
- Avengers Academy #3
- Avengers Academy #10
- Avengers Academy #10
- Fear Itself: The Home Front #7
- Avengers Academy #20
- New Warriors #46
- Civil War: Front Line #1
- Civil War: Front Line #10
- Thunderbolts #113
- Exiles: Days of Then and Now #1
- House of M: Avengers #3
- Marvel Apes #1-5 (2008)
- A-Next #1
- Spider-Girl #15
- Marvel Zombies Vs. The Army of Darkness #5 (2007)
- Marvel Zombies - Dead Days #1
- Marvel Zombies #3
- Robbie Baldwin at Marvel.com
- Review of Relentless #1, September 21, 2007
- Speedball at the Comic Book DB