The tragic tale of Speedball and Penance, Pt. 2Posted: 12/23/2012
In part one, Robbie Baldwin’s (aka Speedball’s) recklessness caused the supervillain Nitro to explode in a crowded city, killing over 600 people. This set into motion the Marvel Civil War, but more importantly, Speedball’s intensive guilt and suffering changed both his powers and his costume. Now, he’s attempting to make amends as Penance, serving on Norman Osborn’s government-sanctioned Thunderbolts team. Y’see, the Penance costume contains hundreds of spikes inside the costume, as the only way to activate his powers now is through pain. And not just physical pain:
And by “working through the process,” his handlers fail to realize one extremely important loose end. Look, Baldwin’s still a teenager, who by the way have a terrible grasp of emotional control even without hundreds of murders on their hands. Understand that Penance doesn’t just blame himself for the Stamford incident — oh sure, most of it — but Penance didn’t himself explode. Nitro did. Time to make that psychopath pay.
We’re taking a look at the miniseries Penance: Relentless #1-5, written by Paul Jenkins and drawn by Paul Gulacy. Heads up, it gets dark. I’m talking stuff that would make the comics from the 1990s look like puppies and rainbows by comparison. So you know ahead of time, I’m skipping tons of stuff. You like conspiracies, master plans, betrayals, and fights with Wolverine? Well, buy the book.
Eventually, Penance figures out that Nitro’s being held prisoner by Dr. Doom in the country of Latveria. No time like the present, right?
Want to see the Penance vs. Dr. Doom fight? Sorry, still scared of fair use laws, but here’s a taste:
Now we get to the meat of the story.
Yes, Baldwin’s rash decisions caused his current state, but Nitro’s still the one who had no problem igniting next to a school in the middle of the suburbs. And as Nitro will soon find out, Penance is way stronger than Speedball.
Okay, I’ll admit it, I only included this part because I love explosions.
You figured out by now that Nitro doesn’t stand a chance. The baddie’s tough, certainly, but he was also once taken out by Daredevil, who Penance could incinerate into paste before Daredevil even got his first kick in. If you’re wondering, Wolverine cut off Nitro’s hand a few months before this.
Listen, the next part of the fight involves Penance beating the monstrous crap out of Nitro while reciting the names of those he killed. Since we’re still kind of in the aftermath of our own similar real life situation, let’s skip that part and go to the end of the fight.
I would like to think this is Penance’s anger stage of grief. Because if not, the poster boy for happy-go-lucky teenage superheroes just took a drastic turn into supervillain territory. Like stuff that makes even Magneto wince.
Fair to say Baldwin’s come a far way from his origin twenty years ago:
I know comic books rile up controversy every time anything gets too “dark,” as if it’s pandering for edginess or whatever. But from a literary standpoint, the readers need to know how deep down the cliff their character has fallen to know just how wonderful the climb up will be. Now, Nitro’s torture is certainly excessive and horrifying, especially for Penance, who a year ago fought crime with colorful bubbles.
Regardless of whether you approve of Penance’s revenge, do you see the purpose of this? He’s finally reached the bottom of the ravine. All the next steps from this point on go upwards.
Well, baby steps. In part three, we’ll get to see the end of Penance and his transformation back to Speedball. Thank god. Oh, I have no idea how he sees out of his helmet either.