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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Speedball vs. The War on Crime

Speedball didn't exactly have the most impressive Rogues' Gallery. He fought a man in a rat mask who was trying to shoot cats, once. His main antagonist was actually Niels, a cat who was caught in the same "experiment gone awry" that turned Robbie Baldwin into Speedball. Speedball hoped to catch Niels and then - I don't know, use his mastery of science to figure out how to get rid of his kinetic powers.

None of his enemies really posed a believable threat to Robbie Baldwin, but for a kid who's only ability is bouncing off the walls whenever somebody hits him real hard, he racked up quite the impressive kill-count. Only Golden Age Batman could match the rate at which Robbie Baldwin was knockin' off scum-bags.

Speedball: The Masked Marvel only ran for 10 issues, but that was enough for Baldwin, a man who would soon lose his shit over indirectly causing the death of 600 civilians when a bad-guy went nuclear, to put a disproportionate number of evil men in their graves.

Speedball doesn't wait, either: he gets started right off the bat, in Speedball: The Masked Marvel #1. In Speedball's origin story, a group of masked crooks set out to rob the Hammond Research Lab of Springdale, Connecticut, where young Robbie Baldwin has been employed as the weekend (and, evidently, night) office bitch. After the accident that turns him into Speedball, Baldwin heads to the roof of the lab to hide his condition, and encounters the thieves trying to enter from the top. After a short fight which serves as a showcase for Baldwin's new-found kinetic powers, the thieves are pursued in their getaway van by the police, who waste no time in delivering justice:

Springdale justice.

Sure, that one was the fault of the police more than it was Speedball's, but if Speedball hadn't been there, they probably would have gotten away scot-free - and alive. Now, don't get me wrong - I hardly sympathize with the crooks, here. I'm just saying that there's very little difference between criminals crashing their van in an effort to get away, and Nitro blowing up a couple city blocks in an effort to kill the New Warriors during Civil War. The criminals are responsible for the deaths, Robbie, not Speedball. They became guilty when they chose a life of crime.

But let's move on, shall we?

Remorseless Kill Number 2:

In Speedball: The Masked Marvel #2, a man called Foxworth has stolen the "magnetic glue" formula from Dr. Sol Haven (which just screams "Steve Ditko named me"), and murdered him in an attempt to steal the files necessary to gain legal ownership of the discovery. If you've read Ditko's "Question" stories for Charlton, or his independent "Static" series, then this villain will sound familiar to you - he's the parasite who couldn't come up with an idea on his own, so he steals one to acquire fame and fortune. Too bad these types of villains are typically nothing without their stolen technology.

Dr. Benson, Robbie's boss at the Hammond Lab, just happens to be sending the very files that Foxworth is looking for back to Haven, so he sends Robbie to deliver them. When Foxworth has his lackey take the files and push Baldwin down the stairs in an attempt to kill him, his kinetic powers kick in and he sets out to kick Foxworth's mooching ass. Tracking him to an old button factory (Springdale used to be the button-making capital of the world until China liberalized it's economy - true fact), Foxworth gets the upper-hand by using his goo-suit to stick to anything Robbie throws at him - including Robbie himself!

Alas, Robbie is smarter than he looks - and realizes that without the suit, Foxworth is nothing. So he takes his helmet off.

And with that, Robbie Baldwin has now achieved the prerequisite number of kills to become a double-o agent.

As an aside, I want to mention that this would have been a great recurring villain for Robbie - Speedball is essentially rubber, and Foxworth has a suit that's essentially glue. The concept is little too limited to provide for any real variety in their encounters, but Foxworth is the only villain in the short-lived series to ever really give Robbie any trouble at all.

To recap: we've now seen two issues of Speedball, and it's 2 for 2 when it comes to featuring stories where the criminals pay the ultimate price. How many more filthy criminals will bite the dust in the next 8 issues of Speedball: The Masked Marvel? Tune in tomorrow for Part 2!

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At 24/1/08 1:28 PM , Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Given Ditko's portrayals of heroes-versus-villains in his later works, it's not too surprising that even in Speedball, villains die. Not that the heroes kill them, necessarily, but that their evil has led to the end of their worthless, misbegotten lives. For villains have spurned the path of reason and truth, and thus forfeited their humanity and their right to live! Etc., etc.

Here's to hoping silly, bouncing Robbie comes back soon.

Preferably without all the killing.


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