For Your Consideration: Marvel’s Speedball the Masked Marvel


Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Stop me if you heard this before. A teenager is accidentally irradiated and gains unusual powers and abilities, then struggles to master them and figure out how to have a normal life when not fighting super-villains.

Speedball the Masked Marvel

Speedball the Masked Marvel


Every generation of so, a creative team comes in and tries to recreate the creative spark that readers felt with Amazing Fantasy #15, when Peter Parker first got bitten by a radioactive spider and became you-know-who, courtesy of Stan Lee and Steve Dikto. In the 1970s, Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema introduced readers to Richard Ryder who became Nova. And in the 1980s, Robby Baldwin was an intern at Hammond Labs and got zapped, becoming Speedball the Masked Marvel.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Speedball is that he is Ditko’s final significant contribution to the Marvel Universe. Not that this was the original plan.

Creator Tom DeFalco told Ed Lute in Back Issue, “I wrote the bible— although I originally called him Ricochet—and presented him to Jim Shooter for the New Universe. Jim didn’t feel the character fit into his ideas for the New Universe and told me we should eventually do him for the Marvel Universe.”

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22


It took two years, but Ricochet, now renamed Speedball, finally arrived in the summer of 1988 as part of the Evolutionary War crossover event. Then, for a two-year period, Speedball was everywhere, with Ditko right there with DeFalco.

Those modern-day classics are now being collected in Speedball the Masked Marvel, collecting Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22, Marvel Age Annual #4, Speedball #1-10, Marvel Comics Presents #14 and 56, and Marvel Super-Heroes #1-2, 5-6.

Speedball #1

Speedball #1


We don’t really get Robbie’s origin until his solo series and the meeting with his spiritual ancestor actually fits right after Speedball #2. Interestingly, he rarely interacted with the Marvel Universe after this until a period after his series was cancelled. Instead, the stories we are treated to focus on smaller matters, lesser opponents, and manageable threats. This certainly fit Robbie’s suburban Connecticut locale. Not that Robbie had it easy, caught as he was between a father, Justin, who expected his son to be a lawyer and his mother Madeline “Maddy” Naylor, who encouraged him to be a free spirit and a creator of some sort. While a DeFalco invention, the competing sides of an issue is pure Ditko.

Speedball #5

Speedball #5


While DeFalco created Robbie, he wound up sharing plotting and scripting chores with Ditko, David Michelinie, Jo Duffy, Roger Stern, and Fabian Nicieza. Stern told Back Issue, “I always thought of Robbie as a likable, average kid. And by average, I mean in comparison to Peter Parker, to whom he’s most often compared. Peter was always the smartest boy in school with genius-level intelligence. Now, Rob has a good head on his shoulders, and he obviously has an interest in the sciences—otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to land that after-school internship at Hammond Labs—but he’s more of an everyman character. Where Rob is like Peter is that they both acquired their powers by accident, and of course, they were both co-created by Steve Ditko. Other than that, they’re really very different guys ”

If there’s anything missing from this collection of stories is the sense that Robbie had a circle of friends or even a girlfriend. This was definitely focused on Robbie and his family, which made sense since most of the tales were short stories, often two to an issue of his solo tile. He had only a few full-length tales, so the supporting cast would have to wait.

Once his series ended, the character began appearing in anthology titles, still with Ditko pencilling the stories. He had an able cadre of inkers, most of who were honored to be inking the legendary artist, starting with Jackson Guice but including Mark Badger, Tom Christopher, Chris Ivy, and Jim Sanders III. From out of Marvel’s earliest days, Sam Grainger turned in one of his final jobs as did Dan Adkins.

Speedball #7

Speedball #7


With the bulk of his stories set on the fringes of the current Marvel Universe, Speedball definitely felt like a pleasant memory, a throwback to comics’ Silver Age. Don’t get me wrong, these are all fine stories, solidly told.

Nicieza grew particularly fond of Robbie so when he built his New Warriors, first appearing in DeFalco’s run of Thor in 1989, Speedball was there, finally a full-fledged member of the MU. Nicieza was partnered with Mark Bagley, who drew the lead in the Spidey annual so things came full circle.