Robbie Baldwin is the son of Justin Baldwin, District Attorney of Springdale, Connecticut, and Maddy Naylor-Baldwin, a popular actress. His parents held very opposite views and often argued in front of Robbie, a fact made more poignant as their arguments often had to do with what Robbie should be doing with his life and future career.
As a high school student, Robbie was interning at the Hammond Research Laboratory in Connecticut. There, Doctor Benson and two colleagues began the final stages of their attempts to tap an extra-dimensional energy source, but the researchers did not construct adequate safeguards and the energies began to overload Hammond Labs' equipment. Part of the energies fed back into the generator, shorting out the entire system. Unfortunately, Robbie had sneaked into the lab where the experiment was taking place, curious as to what all the hush-hush preparations had been for. Robbie was bombarded by energy from the dimension but survived, finding himself surrounded by weird energy bubbles, clad in an odd costume, and having a hollow and resonant voice. Panicking, Robbie sought to escape to the roof of the lab building where he encountered four masked gunmen. During the ensuing battle, Robbie discovered that his body now generated a kinetic energy field that protected him from any impact and made him a bouncing dynamo of kinetic energy.
Shortly afterward, Robbie's parents were accosted by Johnny Roarke, a criminal Justin Baldwin had put away, and Robbie used his powers to defeat him. The media leaped to the story, reporting the appearance of a new hero, whom they dubbed "the Masked Marvel." Robbie continued to use his powers to fight crime, and the Masked Marvel enjoyed a great deal of popularity from the townspeople, although his parents held very diametrical and vocal views about the costumed vigilante. Baldwin was forced to keep his power under control, avoiding any potential contact that might trigger his powers. He also spent much of his time trying capture Dr. Benson's cat, Niels, who was similarly caught in the energy experiment and gained Speedball-like powers, and using him to help understand his powers.
Speedball was created by Steve Ditko and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (1988).
Mayor Story Arcs
Connecticut To New York & Back Again
During a trip to New York City, Robbie ended up helping Spider-Man and Daredevil stop the Purifiers of the High Evolutionary, but mostly Robbie fought criminals in Springdale, such as the Sticker, Leaper Logan, the Bug-Eyed Voice, and the Feathered Felon. Robbie hoped to become a big-time superhero, and even joined a tryout for the premier hero team Avengers, only to be rejected.
During a shopping trip to New York City with his mother he saw a battle breaking out involving Terrax, former herald of Galactus. Joining the fray along with the other heroes that would subsequently become the founding members of the New Warriors, Robbie agreed to join the team as well after Terrax was defeated.
Despite the long distance he often had to travel, Robbie stayed with the New Warriors for a long tenure, quickly becoming an annoying but lovable kid brother to the older Warriors and continuing to grow in the development of his powers. Shortly after joining the team, he asked his teammates to join him in investigating the long absence of his mother, who had joined a fanatical ecological watchdog group, Project: Earth. The Warriors discovered the group wanted to kill Baldwin's mother, as her celebrity would serve to make her a martyr to their cause. Robbie helped save his mother and defeat Project: Earth, and in so doing he revealed his secret identity to her. Although shaken, she supported her son's lifestyle as a superhero. For a brief time Robbie Baldwin was an intern with the construction firm Damage Control.
Speedball had battled numerous villains with the New Warriors, including Terrax, the Sphinx, the Puppet Master, Gideon, Force of Nature, Psionex, and the Folding Circle. At one point, the cosmic villain Magus created evil doppelgangers of Earth's heroes, and Robbie's duplicate used its powers to virtually destroy the town of Springdale. It also confronted Robbie's parents, and Robbie was forced to kill his duplicate. This led to his father discovering his secret identity, and Justin Baldwin denounced his son because of what he saw as vigilantism.
Robbie’s parents got divorced, and Robbie chose to live with his mom in New York. This allowed him to develop deeper relationships with his teammates, notably Nova, Rage, and, perhaps more reluctantly, his neighbor Carlton LaFroyge (who used the knowledge of Robbie’s identity to force his way onto the team as Hindsight).
Predictions Of Death
When Timeslip joined the Warriors, telling of her visions of Speedball’s death, she and Robbie nevertheless developed the beginnings of a romantic friendship while seeking the truth behind these visions. At the same time, despite Speedball’s ever-increasing control over his powers, Robbie began experiencing severe spikes in his power levels that wreaked havoc over his immediate area. The Warriors were confronted by the Sphinx, who claimed the presence of Speedball was creating chaos with time itself. They were also confronted with the evil techno-organic being Advent. The Sphinx succeeded in killing Speedball before escaping, and Advent left for the future. Timeslip, holding Speedball when he died, received memories from him in his dying moments-- memories of a citizen from the future named Darrion Grobe.
Grobe, the son of the man who would become Advent, hoped to undo the meddling his father had done by traveling through the kinetic dimension to the past. He used futuristic technology to become a duplicate Robbie Baldwin/Speedball, replacing Speedball when he was trapped in the kinetic dimension by the Sphinx several months before. Timeslip used her knowledge and powers to transport the New Warriors to the future. There, a holographic persona of Darrion helped the Warriors to undo all of Advent's manipulations. Ultimately, the team had to enter the kinetic dimension to escape the future before it became re-made, and they brought back the true Speedball while returning home.
More New Warriors
Robbie has always been a New Warrior at heart. Even when the team seemed to be on a long hiatus, he and Nova helped re-form the Warriors to defeat Blastaar, adding new members Aegis and Bolt. Robbie and Nova even tried to pitch the New Warriors as an animated series, but they were forced to flee when they saw the producers’ unique take on the team. Nevertheless, Speedball returned when the New Warriors were led by Night Thrasher into a unique re-branding as a reality-TV show. Robbie’s bouncy personality seemed a perfect fit despite the contentions of other teammates, and the team hit the road to become heroes for the common man throughout small-town America.
Recently the New Warriors encountered Nitro, Speedfreek, Cobalt Man, and Coldheart in a small town called Stamford. During the battle that followed Nitro used his power and caused a massive explosion killing Night Thrasher, Namorita and Microbe of the New Warriors, His colleagues Speedfreek, Cobalt Man, and Coldheart, and around six hundred people of which sixty were children. This was the flashpoint of the ensuing Civil War and the Super-Human Registration Act.
Speedball was seemingly killed during this explosion and was later ridiculed by TV talk show hosts. Speedball was found on a field about 500 miles from the explosion. He survived thanks to his powers but since he was absorbing so much energy his powers has completely burned out.
After recovering from coma remarkably fast he is arrested by SHIELD and put in The Negative Zone prison in a cell with Coldblood, Typeface, and an unspecified Non-human fighter wrapped up like a mummy. He is used as scapegoat for the Stamford incident.
After discovering that his powers has evolved and now is pain-induced he agrees to join the Thunderbolts to redeem himself using the name Penance. He has a special suit of armor made that has 612 internal spikes of which 60 are larger to remind him of the lives he feels responsible for. Norman Osborn has stated that he is worried about his sanity and after fighting his old friend Nova he told him not to let them turn him into something he is not.
He later met Squirrel Girl who has feelings for him and told him, "You just don't get it, do you? This self-punishment thing? It's too deep for you!" he said his cat Niels has become "P-Cat, the Penitent Puss" and after a battling and defeating Americop with Bullseye, Norman sends a memo saying he is making progress.
After a lot of careful planning on Penance's part, he stole the Thunderbolts ship to travel to Latveria to confront Nitro for what he did. Once he was there he also was forced to confront Doctor Doom. He was forced to fight doom to gain entry into the dungeons where Nitro was being held. Penance won the fight between him and Doom, for if Doom didn't stop he would bypass the nuclear fail safes and lose the containment core. Doom then told him that asylum would be given to him within his country if he should need it. after reaching the dungeon he faces off with Nitro and defeats him and takes him back to the thunderbolts ship that he stole. When Nitro wakes up, Penance explains how his costume works, and he forces Nitro to wear it, as a way to torture him. According to Penance the entire costume was never designed for him, it was in the end designed for Nitro and to remind him of what he had done. After being beaten to the point of death, Robbie removed the spike closest to the heart and left the ship to go back to the Thunderbolts, while he got of and was picked up by Wolverine. In the end of the comic he gives the spike from the heart to wolverine and tells him he can keep it he doesn't need it anymore.
It was later revealed that Penance has regained his old Speedball powers when he tries to throw a can and shoots it and makes it. He also uses his old Speedball powers to defeat Moonstone when she tries to attack Doc Samson.
After Norman Osborn gains control of the Initiative, Penance, continues his rehabilitation under his remit. Robbie places himself in solitary between missions and it is there that counselor Trauma secretly returns his cat Niels to him. During Siege, the Avengers Resistance attack Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. and Penance sides with his former New Warrior team mates. During the battle Penance removes his helmet, revealing his identity to a shocked Justice & Rage.
Robbie is next seen as part of the staff for the Avengers Academy along with Tigra, Quicksilver, Justice and Wasp. He almost introduces himself as Penance to the students before saying Speedball. He is the first to take on the students in battle. Wasp & Tigra observe him while fighting the children when Pym comments on how much he’s been acting like his Penance persona. The session ends when Speedball slams Hazmat for using no gloves and a radioactive blast. He loses it on her and lectures her about using her raw power around innocent bystanders. Justice breaks them up and Robbie storms off. He starts getting into it with Quicksilver about how they need to tell the kids the truth about themselves.
Before leaving on a trip to the Raft with the students, he is seen cutting himself with his Penance helmet. When arriving to the Raft, Moonstone approaches him and say’s how she misses him in the Thunderbolts and how ridiculous he looks in his Speedball outfit. He snaps back at her about being brainwashed and used by her and Osborn. She points out how he’s using a blue kinetic energy to threaten her which was Penance’s signature. He later takes on several rioting prisoners during the blackout.
During Fear Itself, when Kurroth, Breaker of Stone destroyed the Raft several super villains headed towards Stanford to once again create destruction on the anniversary of New Warriors incident than sparked the original super hero Civil War. With no choice, Robby returned to the town only to be attacked by it's citizens before he was rescued by the mother of one of the children who were killed in the original disaster who had finally realized that Nitro was really responsible for all the death's, including her son. In doing so, the rest Stanford rose up against the various super villains and forgave Speedball and the rest of the New Warriors at last. Following the defeat of the Serpent. Robby and Justice both quit the Avengers Academy and decided to head out on a roadtrip and reclaim something of their careers they feel they have been missing since the beginning of the Civil War.
Trivia: During the months before the big crossover Civil War, then time Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, Joe Quesada, often joked that Speedball would be dying and would be the one to ignite Civil War. This was done numerous times, often saying it at the end of an interview "Ow yeah, and Speedball dies". It later turned out that Speedball's team, the New Warriors would ignite Civil War, but that Speedball was the only one of the team to actually survive that first ordeal.
Robbie Baldwin's exposure to energy from a dimension of kinetic energy gave him the superhuman ability to create a kinetic field of unknown energy around himself which absorbs all kinetic energy directed against him (what he originally called the "Speedball Effect.") This absorption can vary from resisting the effects of physical objects such as bricks and rocks to resisting that of energy and fire and even explosions. Within his kinetic field it is nearly impossible for him to be hurt, and he instead bounces harmlessly from object to object, with no loss or transference of momentum.
During his time with the New Warriors, Robbie's understanding of his powers grew in strange and unexpected directions. He discovered that if he bounced around to excess within a confined space such as a pipe, he could unleash a barrage of bubbles from it to powerful effect. Also in similar situations and confined spaces, such as within a telekinetic bubble created by teammate Justice, he could "float" within a sea of bubbles, that would, in some never fully explained or explored way, allow him to peer briefly into the future. This angle hasn't been explored or developed in a very long time.
As Penance his powers seems to have altered and is now linked to his central nervous system, thus the best way to activate said nerve system is to inflict pain, which is why he wears a suit of armor with internal spikes.
His powers no longer manifests as bubbles. They now appear to be in the form of energy blasts and lose force the longer they "let fly".
It should also be noted that the spikes are indeed taking there toll on Robbie, originally, Robbie had flawless skin...Now his skin has many deep cuts, bloody wounds and nicks all along his body, Including his face.
Seemingly, Robbie is getting better after talking to Doctor Samson, even showing signs of no longer needing Nerve stimulation for power..although he refused to go with Samson for more therapy, so whether or not Penance will go back to being Speedball remains to be unseen . Speedball now has the powers of Penance along with Original Speedball powers, So he is able to shoot kinetic energy blasts as well having his kinetic field which allows him to bounce off objects and resist the force of objects and energies.
In the MC2 reality Speedball was a member of the Avengers. He continued to serve with the Warriors for some time afterwards. Speedball would later pursue a career as a crimefighter on his own, preferring to work as a solo agent, passing up on the possibility of joining the newly re-born Avengers. He also aided Spider-Girl in defeating Mr. Abnormal.
On a world ravaged by the Hulk, Speedball is a member of the Next Wave of Heroes - the last heroes of earth. The members are Kid Omega, Patriot, Wiccan, Julie Power, Speedball and the Stepford Cuckoos.
In another reality Speedball is still Speedball and a member of the League of Losers.
The year 2099 is the home reality of Darrion Grobe.
In Other Media
Penance is a playable character in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 and has an unlockable costume which shows his scars.