Speedball is a quirky character that was bouncing around when I started to read comics but never seemed serious enough to devote time to. A member of the New Warriors with a personality and power that were so saccharine it was hard not to hate him growing up; he’s a character that has been messed with so heavily in recent years he’s practically been destroyed (check out Civil War for more on that) — whicih gives us good reason to revisit the character. After reading the newly released original run it’s safe to say this character will no doubt get his own movie some day and here’s three reasons why.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Few creators have left their mark like the inimitable Steve Ditko. His unmistakable creative vision brought the world the Amazing Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and, in 1988, Speedball! Together with writers Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco and Jo Duffy, Ditko crafted the adventures of Robbie Baldwin, a high school student with strange other-dimensional powers that create an energetic kinetic field that turn him into Speedball! In the classic Ditko style, Baldwin’s life is complicated — his father is a district attorney with no love for costumed vigilantes and there is serious marital strife between Robbie’s parents. This Complete Collection brings together every Steve Ditko tale of the New Warrior-to-be for the very first time.
Can I jump in easily?
Yep! This collection contains Speedball’s origin and his first adventures as a do-gooder kid trying to hide the fact that he’s a superhero. It also has a fantastic introduction by series writer Roger Stern written this year explaining what it was like working on the title and how it got off the ground. Originally a Tom DeFalco creation it’s a good intro as it adds context and background on Speedball.
Reason 1: He’s like Spider-Man but with far more chaotic powers
Like Spider-Man, it’s quite clear this is a superhero teenagers could see themselves becoming. Speedball aka the Masked Marvel is a good kid from a middle-income family trying to do his best with parents who want their kid to go far in college and life. He only wants to be normal, but his powers are too chaotic so he must avoid sports and any activity or they might go haywire. The powers are a blessing as they let him fly about, but they inhibit his ability to do what he wants. Added pressure. Add in a cat who got similar powers who seems to have a way better handle on the powers and you have quite a cool premise for a film.
Speaking of his powers these are some wacky abilities. He basically creates balls of energy that he bounces off of, but he can also shoot them and use them as a shield. They also look pretty rad too thanks to Steve Ditko’s design choices. I’ll admit his costume looks a bit too kooky for a film, but I’m sure a cooler more retro look could be pulled off.
Reason 2: Middle-class kid with two wildly different parents
Speedball’s parents might seem ordinary, but they are split on their directions. His father is a no-nonsense lawyer and his mother an actress. In a great panel early on we see his father pushing Speedball to become a lawyer as law “is the ultimate controlled human power” while his mother is pushing him to get into the arts as “art is spiritual power. Higher than law.” It’s a pressure I’m sure many kids deal with be it parents who want their kids to be something they aren’t or two parents with conflicting views on what their kid should become.
Reason 3: A rogues gallery of weird criminals
Speedball has a weird powerset and with it, he fights many very strange villains. Most are two-bit thugs with a gun (more on that in the wary section below) but make no mistake they’re all as weird if not weirder looking than Speedball. One of the first villains he faces is called Crooked Face who is simply a guy who wears a weird mask; another is a green sludge villain who is called The Sticker, and another is named Bug-Eyed Voice. The fact that you’ve never heard these villainous names shows there’s potential for something brand new for movie audiences.
Reasons to be wary?
The rogues are wacky and weird, but they’re also low stakes villains which makes for conflicts that aren’t too exciting. When Speedball faces off against a bird villain named the Feathered Felon, and that conflict results in the Feathered Felon simply flying off, you can get an idea of how uneventful some of these issues can be. Heck, in one issue Speedball helps stop an old alumnus of his high school from giving the track team steroids.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
If this collection tells us anything it’s that Speedball is a B-level superhero well worth getting the Marvel Studios treatment. Like Spider-Man, but with less anguish and more positivity I can’t help but see this character working. With higher stakes, it could be the next Spider-Man, especially if the New Warriors are in development too.
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