In 2016, Marvel Studios will release the third installment of its Captain America series entitled “Captain America: Civil War”. Plotwise, it’s somewhat of an adaptation of the Marvel Comics 2006 crossover event “Civil War”. In that story line, the United States government passes the Superhero Registration Act, requiring all superheroes and costumed individuals to reveal their identities and act under government regulations. Those who opposed the act stood with Captain America, and those in favor stood with Iron Man. The former considered it akin to slavery, while the latter considered it necessary. The aftermath of the two colliding factions led to the (temporary) death of Captain America and Tony Stark being appointed as head of S.H.I.E.L.D.
But it’s the event that caused the enactment of the Superhero Registration Act that merits more attention. The beginning of the “Civil War” started with a combination of two things which have become an inexorable epidemic in American culture: Reality TV shows and school violence.
Remember the New Warriors? In the 1990’s, they were an eclectic mix of teenage superheroes led by Night Thrasher, Marvel’s African-American answer to DC’s Bruce Wayne/Batman. At the start of Civil War, the team was revamped into media whores. They had their own reality show with the world seeing their super-heroic exploits on live television. In one episode, they attempt to apprehend the super-villain named Nitro in Stamford, CT. The battle took place near an elementary school and Nitro created an explosion that killed 612 people, including 60 children in the school. It was this careless event that made Congress pass the Registration Act. Nitro survived, most of the New Warriors didn’t. One survived, and his dramatic shift in persona and character along with this event is a story that Marvel Studios should adapt into a Netflix series as a prequel to “Captain America: Civil War”.
One unique name is in that Tweet: Robbie Baldwin. Better known as Speedball, the Masked Marvel. The surviving New Warrior in question. Being the sole survivor, the mass media and the authorities made him the scapegoat for the public’s fear and hatred of super-powered costumed individuals and living proof of the necessity of the Registration Act. Speedball became the pariah of super-heroes and even his home town, a hamlet of Stamford known as Springdale. His secret identity was revealed, he was imprisoned and subjected to brutal physical beatings at the hands of the guards and his fellow inmates, and his parents disowned him.
He refused to admit any wrongdoing and took no responsibility for the Stamford disaster in open court. Also, the battle in Stamford seemingly burned out his powers. The government offered to release him if he registered with them, but he openly refused that as well. The general public’s blame became fully realized when Speedball was shot by a man whose daughter was killed in Stamford. This action was the straw the finally broke the camel’s back (more on that later). But who was Speedball before Stamford?
Born to a district attorney father and a mother who was a soap opera actress, Robbie Baldwin grew up in Springdale, Connecticut. As a teen, he worked as an assistant at the Hammond Research Laboratory. During that time, he happened upon an experiment there involving tapping into some extra-dimensional energies. Robbie was bombarded with these energies and found himself endowed with superhuman powers. The main scientist’s cat, who Robbie named Niels, was doused with the energies as well, gaining the same powers are Robbie. Learning he can transform into a costumed identity with a force field that made him as indestructible as he was bounceable, Robbie became a local hero and later on a national scale after becoming part of the New Warriors. But during Civil War and when he was shot, what happened?
The assassin’s bullets didn’t kill him, but were lodged in his spine to cause him constant pain. Furthermore, he discovered that he hadn’t burned out his powers as he had believed. They were now triggered by his pain and functioned more aggressively. With all of the trauma his fragile mind had endured at this point, Robbie was overtaken with survivor’s guilt and became a more darker, masochistic character solely concerned with own self-harm. He joins the Superhuman Registration Initiative and creates an iron-maiden costume for himself. With his new outlook focused on self-punishment, Speedball dropped his cheerful attitude and became extremely emo. He shaved his head and adorned his body with several painful body piercings. Even his new costume reflected his worldview, containing 612 internal spikes (the number of victims from Stamford) to trigger his powers. From here on, Robbie Baldwin began calling himself Penance.
Real Name: Robert “Robbie” Baldwin
First Appearance: As Speedball, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (1988); As Penance, Civil War: Frontline #10 (January 2007).
Powers: Robbie Baldwin gained superhuman powers when he was accidentally exposed to the matter of the Kinetic Dimension, a pocket dimensional realm that is actually the physical representation of conceptual reality. Each bubble comprising the Kinetic Dimension represents each moment in space-time, so there are functionally endless bubbles representing every moment that ever occurred at every location that ever existed or will exist. It is the passage of time, through space, as depicted by multi-colored bouncing bubbles. Robbie’s exposure to this dimension caused his consciousness to bond with it. This allows him to transposition every molecule of his body to replace them with the Kinetic Dimension’s bubbles, becoming the bouncing kinetic energy bundle known as Speedball. His conversion was originally triggered through contact with any amount of kinetic energy. He eventually gained enough control over his powers to stop the change from occurring in low-level kinetic events.
As Speedball, Robbie’s new physical form is composed entirely of kinetic bubbles, shaped and textured by his mind to look like his normal human body. He becomes taller and more muscular to a degree as Speedball. The other noticeable differences of his transformation are his costume manifesting, his hair becoming jello-like, and a echoing/hollow ringing quality to his voice. His superhuman form creates a kinetic field which responds to kinetic impact by amplifying and reflecting it, allowing him to bounce with significant force and velocity. The kinetic field is composed of multi-colored bubbles and is typically the visual manifestation of his power (they’re actually excess bubbles from the Kinetic Dimension seeping through). This power protects him from virtually all forms of direct physical harm and, with practice, he learned how to use his bouncing as a reliable means of transportation. Though his personal kinetic energy is amplified with each impact, Speedball bleeds off additional energy as “bubbles” after bouncing, so that he doesn’t continually increase the velocity of his bouncing without end. If, however, he is stuck in a confined space, bouncing over and over again without getting a chance to expel some of his kinetic energy and momentum, Speedball can build up an enormous amount of power. As time passed, Speedball learned how to consciously manipulate his kinetic field for different effects. He could chose to focus additional energy through his fists, letting him throw punches the equivalent of various levels of superhuman strength. Robbie also learned how to absorb kinetic energy into his field without automatically transferring it into himself (the cause of his bouncing). Thus, he could stand still and allow his field to instantly drain the kinetic energy of bullets, causing them to drop in mid-air before they reached him. He could then use this additional built-up kinetic energy and fire it from his finger as a short burst of bubbles hitting a target with the kinetic force. Speedball could also extend his bubbles a short distance out in front of him, and used them to catch someone falling from a few stories high, draining their downward momentum on contact to let them land safely.
After Civil War, Robbie’s powers dramatically changed and he assumed the alias of Penance. His old abilities disappeared, replaced with the ability to siphon energy sources from his surroundings and convert that power into explosive discharges. Penance drains various forms of energy from his vicinity, especially electrical power. The forcible extraction of this energy generally caused electronic systems to feedback and overload — bursting light bulbs, frying a vehicle’s electrical system, etc. The range of energies Penance absorbs even extends to superhuman power sources, such as the gamma radiation inherent in She-Hulk’s body, leaving her temporarily weakened and physically vulnerable after he powered up in her presence. Once he has gathered this energy, he could release it from his body as a hyper-kinetic explosion that causes massive property damage expanding outwards from his position, like a bomb blast, or projected forward as a lance of pure force. The energy release is also dazzlingly bright, and can temporarily blind people caught in the explosion. He has also begun using his power for propulsion, allowing him to both levitate and fly at high speeds. This entire energy conversion process is triggered by pain, as Penance’s nervous system had to be adversely stimulated in order for him to begin drawing upon energy. Bullet fragments stuck around his spine kept Robbie in constant agony, and he increased that pain with his costume, equipped with 612 jagged spikes poking inwards to keep his power stimulated, and conduits that bolster his ability to intake energy sources from his surroundings. He has since resumed his Speedball alter-ego along with his original abilities.
In either form, the kinetic energy was being reshaped by Robbie’s subconscious. As Penance, his powers manifested in a more aggressive form, just as he reshaped his body when transforming into Speedball.
Shoutout to www.uncannyxmen.net and issues from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe for help with this power description.
IDEAS FOR A NETFLIX SERIES:
Many people believed that Speedball would make an appearance on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and that Fran Kranz would portray him. He’s a long-time Joss Whedon collaborator and looks like he could play Robbie as either Speedball or Penance. But considering how this character made such a dramatic turn, network television and motion picture film would be inadequate and inapproriate mediums to tell his story. The success this past April of “Marvel’s Daredevil” on Netflix established that Marvel’s darker, R-rated stories and characters are best suited for Netflix. What could tie Speedball’s story to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the same as that which ties “Daredevil”: The ending battle from 2012’s “Marvel’s The Avengers”. The former depicted how Hell’s Kitchen was affected by the Avengers battle, the neighboring tri-state areas would be affected as well for Speedball. His origin story would remain the same, but Robbie would gain his powers from the Chitauri wormhole (or maybe even the microscopic quantum realm from “Ant-Man”).
He’d afterwards become a local superhero in Connecticut, sans the New Warriors, with his own reality TV show until the Stamford tragedy happens. Nitro should be involved as well to polarize viewers as to who is the real danger that makes the Registration Act necessary. This being Netflix, I can imagine they can get away with showing the detonation of several suburban establishments, even an occupied elementary school. The events leading up to him becoming the masochistic Penance will be shown. As Penance, he’d be the wild card of the registrants. With his energy siphoning, he could even be the explanation for why the Hulk won’t appear in the third Captain America installment. As a registered superhuman, he’d be on Tony Stark’s team most likely.
Robbie’s story would be told chronologically, it’ll end with Robbie finally exorcising his demons, his guilt, his self-hatred on Nitro. I wouldn’t want the story to end on a downer, so him reverting to a more wiser, adult Speedball would be the light at the end of the tunnel. Some supporting characters would include Niels the Cat, Dwayne Taylor (with the easter egg of mentioning Tony Stark’s company as competition), and even Rich Rider to tie it into the Nova Corps from 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Who would I get to play him? Paul Dano. He’s still got boyish looks, he’s also from Connecticut, and he looks like he can capture Robbie in all of his incarnations.
Takes a Connecticut blue-blood to play one.
One character who’s notable for having a fall from being pulchritudinous is Archangel from the X-Men. Blonde, wealthy and with flighty feathered wings, Warren was transformed into a brooding, blue-skinned razor-winged killing machine after losing his wealth, beauty and pride. Speedball underwent a similar process, but the self-inflicted part became the defining aspect of his transformation. “Daredevil” scratched the surface at what Marvel can do on television, a Speedball series serving as precursor to “Civil War” would go further. A 12-episode transition from light-hearted humorous super-heroics to harder-edged tortured vigilantism will add a newer dimension to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in terms of the characters given wider exposure and the kind of stories that can be told with them.
All images appear courtesy of the Marvel Entertainment Group.