Issue(s): Speedball #1
This book is basically a Steve Ditko vehicle. This issue is the best case scenario in terms of getting a classic Ditko comic that is palatable to a modern audience, with Roger Stern scripting and Butch Guice inking, but it still has a very old fashioned feel.
And it's very Ditko. Here's Speedball's father, Assistant District Attorney Justin Baldwin.
And his wife, Maddie.
Actually, despite the look of the panels, Robbie isn't a bullied nerd. He's not playing sports because of his new "powers".
Robbie is torn between his mom and dad's philosophies.
But his more immediate concern is what happens when someone hits him.
The real trouble starts when a Johnny Roarke, a criminal that Justin Baldwin one put away, comes back for vengeance.
Robbie is sitting up on a cliff wall thinking about his parents when he notices Roarke, and he kind of spazzes to the rescue.
As the "Masked Marvel" (no one calls him Speedball yet) he defeats the bad guys, and then slips away. He starts to gain more control over his powers...
...but he's worried that the whole town of Springdale is talking about him.
Now that Ditko and company have whetted your appetite, they jump back to tell Speedball's origin. Robbie Baldwin works as a part time assistant at Hammond Research Labs. Someone get that cat out of the way.
Robbie is exposed to an "extra dimensional energy source"...
...that transforms him.
There's that cat again.
Speedball runs into some masked criminals on the roof and finds out what happens when he falls off a building and hits the ground.
He bounces back onto the roof and "fights" the criminals mainly by bouncing around randomly.
He delays the criminals long enough and eventually the police show up and they run away. Later he confirms that he still has his abilities and tests them out.
And that is the origin of Speedball.
Speedball's total lack of control of his powers is interesting but beyond that this is a very old fashioned book lacking in original ideas, and Speedball was a joke of a character at least until he was included in the New Warriors.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: By publication date, Speedball is introduced in Amazing Spider-Man annual #22.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showAl Laguardia, Doc Benson, Don Phipps, Justin Baldwin, Maddie Baldwin, Niels, Officer Burnatt, Speedball
Speedball? Really?, man I hated this series with a passion. I can't believe this is where the New Universe's budget went to. IMO, one of the worst Marvel characters ever.
Posted by: clyde | July 2, 2014 8:45 PM
Speedball's name is often criticized for it's drug connotations. Terry Kavanagh joked that the tagline was going to be "Speedball- it killed John Belushi".
Posted by: Michael | July 2, 2014 10:11 PM
Something very Mark Bagley-ish about those faces.
Posted by: Robert | July 2, 2014 10:50 PM
This comic is a guilty pleasure because I somehow had a few Speedball comics when I was a kid and even then I knew it was lame but I read them over and over. I feel like if it was introduced just a few years later, it could have been billed as intentionally retro and thus "hip."
The comic felt like Ditko plagiarizing both Spider-Man and the Hawk and Dove.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | July 2, 2014 11:00 PM
Most of you probably know that already, but "Roarke" is a Ayn Rand reference. One of her better-known works has a protagonist by that name. And Ditko is famous for his Randian Objectivist tendencies.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 3, 2014 12:49 AM
I actually loved this comic when it came out, as did my brother.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | July 3, 2014 12:49 AM
Speedball was lame!
Posted by: david banes | July 3, 2014 1:24 AM
Wow! That art work looks like something straight out of the sixties --so does the plot and script. I've never been a fan of Ditko's art -- although I find his Spider-Man creepy and quite apt for his character. Sometimes I wonder if Ditko was used just out of respect. He may have been great in the 60s but I find him irrelevant post 1970s.
Posted by: JSfan | July 3, 2014 4:33 AM
Ditko had been long worshipped by fans & critics due to his idiosyncratic style and his Silver Age Marvel work, but it was at this point that all that came to an end. The critics and even longtime fans were merciless to this book and many suggested that Ditko had finally lost it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 5, 2014 5:50 PM
Here's some more characters that need tags. The cop that suspects Robbie is named as Al Laguardia in issue 5. His partner is named as Don Phipps.
Posted by: Michael | July 25, 2014 10:06 PM
Ok, i think i've tagged all the tertiary Speedball characters now, although i'm pretty sure the reporters don't appear until issue #4. I hope at least one of these characters appears outside the Speedball series at some point to make it worth it.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 27, 2014 6:34 PM
Never read this series, and by all accounts I'm missing nothing, but I still love Ditko's art; it has a charm all its own.
A main character being caught between two opposing philosophies will come up again in Ditko's Static, a "novel of ideas" approach that is almost certainly due to an Ayn Rand influence. At least here the two positions seem balanced, and he doesn't turn the mother into a complete shrew.
Posted by: TCP | April 22, 2015 9:22 AM
I never thought I'd see the day where characters literally/actually considered jokes at one time like Speedball and Squirrel Girl would be treated seriously and given a TV show. (sure it's actually a New Warriors/GLA fusion show but still...)
Posted by: Ataru320 | April 19, 2017 2:36 PM
Towards the end of last year, I finally acquired almost every new Ditko comic over, like the last decade. At some point, I was doing a rant on social media, and [naming no names] made a point that "It’s not like anybody will ask him if he wants to prevent [Party] from ever [REDACTED] again, or if he will protect [Opposite Party]s right to [REDACTED]. Without asking him that question, he is free to have it both ways...
"Like a f*cking Steve Ditko character. Ok, there you go. That’s [Politician]. Bouncing across the line whenever it’s convenient because he knows he’ll get away with it. And he’ll never ever be challenged on this. He’ll never ever have to stand on his principles and consistently defend/oppose a [Party]/[Opposite Party]'s right to [REDACTED]."
Someone I am friends with on social media responded "Kudos for referencing Speedball in a political tirade." I hadn't even been thinking of Speedball, just Ditko characters in general, but it made perfect sense. And Robbie is a teenager, who makes mistakes, unlike the Ditko/Rand's adult heroes. I don't know how Marvel convinced Ditko to try it again, but he really did try to give them another "Spider-Man." I'm convinced that's why they've kept Speedball and Squirrel Girl around for so long.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 19, 2017 9:14 PM
At least in the case of Squirrel Girl, she was so goofy an idea that anyone would have thought of her as ridiculous even back when she was created. Heck the whole point of the 1993 "New Awesome Character" annuals was the whole idea to the whole writing staff that "at least they aren't Squirrel Girl". It just took good comics and appearances for both characters (Speedball in the New Warriors, Squirrel Girl with the GLA and her solo) before they got the respect they deserved.
Posted by: Ataru320 | April 19, 2017 10:34 PM
I barely know Squirrel Girl beyond her first appearance, but I can easily see why she was kept around, even beyond the "Steve Ditko co-created her" justification. I've thought for a long time that superhero stories need to be about more than hero vs. villain. If nothing else, they need to have a sense of fun which Squirrel Girl has. If nothing else, you've got a teenage girl with not-very-impressive superpowers stalking Iron Man as he prepares to fight Dr. Doom. That could be a comedy, that could be a horror story, that could be a disturbing romance, any number of things, and beating Dr. Doom is the least important part of the story, especially with the 'legions of squirrels' punchline.
As far as I know, Ditko has never said what he thinks about Squirrel Girl, so I assume he saw it as a fun story. Squirrel Girl definitely isn't on Iron Man's level, but through a series of humorous escapades, she saves the day and defeats Dr. Doom. I've often had a superhero/pop band metaphor going on in my mind, and Squirrel Girl is one of the best 'one hit wonders' as far as her first appearance goes.
Speedball does not remotely qualify as a 'one hit wonder.' And I have to question the Marvel mindset that would use 'at least they aren't Squirrel Girl' as motivation. She's clearly a fun character. He's clearly an attempt to give Marvel another 'Spider-Man.' Both characters have stayed around is because Marvel isn't that willing to disrespect Spidey/Dr. Strange co-creator Ditko.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 19, 2017 11:26 PM
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