Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Best Character Ever 7: Speedball

As Lightweight continues on Kickstarter, I take a look back at a beloved character with an important role in my personal fandom of young heroes.

[caption id="attachment_577" align="aligncenter" width="510"]A 2008 sketch of Speedball by Darick Robertson. A 2008 sketch of Speedball by Darick Robertson.[/caption]

I think every long time comic reader has one: the character or series you read from the beginning and became fiercely loyal too. I’ve talked to others about it before, with books like Darkhawk, Suicide Squad or Aztek getting nods. But for me it will always be Speedball.

Created by legendary Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko with assistance from Roger Stern, the book was originally supposed to be the first expansion to the New Universe line. But when it became quickly clear that the New Universe didn’t have the sales to justify new books, Marvel decided to make the character part of the regular Marvel U. You wouldn’t know it from his ongoing series which was set outside New York and never featured another Marvel character, but his first appearance did come as a team-up with Spider-Man and Daredevil during “The Evolutionary War”. (Which is a series that deserves its own entry here at some point.)

[caption id="attachment_576" align="aligncenter" width="193"]Click for larger view. Click for larger view.[/caption]

Speedball was Robbie Baldwin, a mild mannered kid living in Springdale, Connecticut. His mother was a soap star (in the same series Mary Jane Watson-Parker worked on) and his father was a lawyer. He possessed a kinetic force field that could absorb and reflect all force directed against him. Early on, this amounted to him bouncing around like a pinball a lot, but later he would develop plenty of tricks to redirect it effectively. The field came with a transformation into his Speedball form, complete with a vocal change that allowed him to hide his identity from his parents.

I followed Robbie through all ten issues of his ongoing series, but halfway through it was clear no one was buying into Ditko’s classic hero tales. When the series was canceled, the character could have easily fallen into limbo, but Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz saved him for a heroic teen team in the pages of Thor, the New Warriors. When the Warriors spun off into their own book, Speedball became a charter member, remaining one of only a few members to continue through multiple incarnations of the team.

[caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="199"]Skottie Young's New Warriors collection cover. Click for larger view. Skottie Young's New Warriors collection cover. Click for larger view.[/caption]

Robbie’s influence on Lightweight is obvious in the search to find a unique set of powers to give my young hero. Gravity manipulation might not be quite as off the wall (literally) as Speedball’s powers, but it certainly was out of the ordinary.

Speedball continues to lurk in the corners of the Marvel Universe, even after a terrible darker turn as Penance. He recently starred in a year long New Warriors series and it seems likely that he and his brethren will pop up in some way in the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe. But for me, he will always be a young man struggling to find his place in the world and eventually finding it in a group of his peers.

Now if someone will finally get around to making the Speedball action figure happen...

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