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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Tale of Two Invasions (An INFINITY WAR Crossover!)

With all the recent hubbub (bub) over Marvel's Secret Invasion crossover event this spring/summer, wherein the characters (as it's hard to call them all heroes in this age of cynicism, isn't it?) of the Marvel Universe may or may not have been replaced by shape-shifting Skrulls, you might remember the last time something secret-y and invasion-y happened in a Marvel crossover: 1992's Infinity War event.

Infinity War concerned a villain named Magus and his machinations involving exact duplicates of some of Marvel's greatest heroes, including, oddly enough, Tony Stark and Reed Richards. The story wasn't anything remarkable, certainly nothing on the level of Secret Invasion - although, I was only 4 years old at the time of Infinity War, so fuck if I know if there was much hype on USENET or whatever.

I haven't actually read Infinity War, but I certainly have the gall to call it one of the greatest pieces of sequential art in the history of mankind, even ahead of those cave paintings in France. Why? Because it gave us this:

Evil Speedball.



Yeesh. he's a real looker, ain't he? And dig that caption on the cover: You didn't demand it, but you got it anyway--. Considering how some people feel about ol' Robbie Baldwin around here, that's a line I may just make my official blog motto.

New Warriors #27 is one of the essential stories in the Speedball canon. While the B-plot involves Speedy's buddy, Rage, having a crisis of conscience after slamming some punk's head through a windshield, the Speedball-centric issue sees the Masked Marvel return home to Springdale, Connecticut, only to find his old stomping grounds devastated, and the police finger him as the culprit! And, since it was the early nineties, we get this sight-gag courtesy of the sophisticated humor of penciller Darick Robertson.

I'll let you figure that one out.

The police are led by Robbie Baldwin's father, a notorious anti-super-hero crusader who's just been looking for an excuse to pump some lead into the bouncing hero - thus logically explaining why the police would subscribe to the "shoot first, ask questions never" philosophy, and why Speedball can't just surrender himself to them. Although how the police can mistake the two, given their very different appearances, must be entirely an effect of comic book logic.

Speedball escapes the sights of the police by using his kinetic field ("Speedball Effect") to sap all of the momentum out of their bullets, and heads over to the family home, fearing that his "evil twin" might be longing for some homecooking. Evil Speedball's already there and accosting his mother, looking to replace Robbie because - well, he feels like it, I guess. That's all the reason he needs, apparently.

Scattered amongst the fight is some faux-losophizing about having to become like your evil twin in order to defeat him, as well as the usual "I'm everything you don't like about yourself" bullshit, which doesn't make sense (unless this means that Evil Speeds is the living embodiment of Robbie Baldwin's malice towards woodland creatures) because Speedball certainly hasn't shown the urge to destroy things simply for the sake of destruction. Also, I really don't see how you could fight evil like crooks, gangsters, and super-villains (and, uh, giant birds) unless you had a hatred of evil. It's like that Star Wars bullshit about fear and anger and hate being the source of all evil in the universe - never made any fucking sense to me. It's a ham-fisted effort to make New Warriors "deep" through force, instead of natural flow.

So anyway, Speedball kicks the crap out of "Blackball" (the impromptu nickname he gives Evil Speedball, which is sorely deficient in my opinion because it totally omits the word "evil"), and the double dissolves into a pile of dust. By sheer contrivance, this drains all of the strength from Speedy, forcing him to de-power into Robbie Baldwin so that his father can discover his secret identity.

See? I told you this was an essential Speedball story. His mother had known for months that he was a superhero, but his father's attitude toward "vigilantes" forced Robbie to hide it from him. This development would have Robbie moving to New York to stay with the New Warriors permanently, which would, in turn, lead to the origin of "Hindsight Lad," which then led to much of the hatred against the New Warriors during and after Civil War when Hindsight set up, which exposed the heroes' true identities.

So, way to go, Evil Speedball. You helped to totally screw over one of my favorite characters. I hope you're happy.

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