web stats

CSBG Archive

Meta-Messages – Squirrel Girl Tries to Show Penance the Error of His Ways…

All October long I will be exploring the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator using the characters in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments! If you have a suggestion for a future meta-message, e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com.

Today, based on a suggestion from reader Paul L., we look at how Fabian Nicieza and Dan Slott used Squirrel Girl to poke some fun at the changes made to Speedball following Civil War.

Early in 2006, Marvel did a series of cute romance one-shots featuring their characters. In one of them, written by Fabian Nicieza, Squirrel Girl (who has a big crush on Speedball) has a moment with her crush…

Well, less than two months after this one-shot came out, Civil War #1 was released and Speedball was involved in a fight with the villain Nitro (who was pumped up with Mutant Growth Hormone from the new evil head of Damage Control, so his powers were greatly amplified) that resulted in Nitro exploding, killing most of Speedball’s teammates and a large chunk of Stamford, Connecticut.

Speedball was driven by the pain of these events to devise a new costume designed to constantly punish him for the deaths of the innocents in the battle…

He felt he had to do penance for their deaths, so in Civil War: Front Line #10 (written by Paul Jenkins, although I am unsure if the change was Jenkins’ idea or not), he took the new name of…

So in 2007, Fabian Nicieza and Dan Slott got together to write a Deadpool/Great Lakes Initiative Summer Special, and Deadpool decided to take the opportunity to let Squirrel Girl know about Front Line #10…

Squirrel Girl then goes to confront Robbie, in an extended sequence where Nicieza and Slott use Squirrel Girl to make fun of some of the odder aspects of Robbie’s story…

Funny stuff.



Tom Fitzpatrick

October 27, 2011 at 5:21 am

The “Penitent-Puss”!

ha ha ha. I gotta get me one of those. ha ha ha

P-Cat the Penitent Puss.
I love it.

I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I saw P-Cat. Poor kitty! :D

Personally, even though I was never a huge Speedball fan, I always thought the whole Speedball-to-Penance thing was an amazingly stupid plot development. Of course, that could just be me.

This is pretty funny, but Robby becoming Penance was surely a meta-joke to begin with, right?

Of all the books I picked up during that time, I bought and read each of those issues. A+ for pointing it out to the masses.

Speedball was the butt of a lot of Joe Q’s jokes a few years ago. Then they turned him into Penance. To me, that’s what Civil War did to the Marvel U. Take a Steve Ditko creation and make him dark and brooding, the same dark tone took over Marvel after that.

Ed (A Different One)

October 27, 2011 at 7:16 am

Who was responsible for turning Speedball into Penance anyway? Was that directed by Millar, who was the architect for Civil War?

Anyway, I understand that Speedball is all better now . . .

Awesome. THIS is how to use Squirrel Girl to satirize a dumb story.

You evil, evil man!

lol love the penis puss bit plus squirel girl saying penace is nuts even after he learned he is not responsible at alll for the tragedy

“Personally, even though I was never a huge Speedball fan, I always thought the whole Speedball-to-Penance thing was an amazingly stupid plot development. Of course, that could just be me.”

No, that’s anyone who’s matured above the emotional age of 15.

I’d heard of this but missed it. Even though it seems a little too meta to be in-continuity, I’m still glad they did it because DAMN, what they did to Speedball was THE worst part of Civil War, even more than the “Captain America doesn’t ‘get’ modern America because he doesn’t watch Nascar” speech. It’s like they hated Speedball and just wanted to ruin him. At least this thing is still kind of rare in Marvel. DC, on the other hand… (see: Sue and Ralph Dibny, Ted Kord, Wendy and Marvin, Roy Harper and his daughter Lian, etc. etc.)

BTW the part with The Avengers and Washington in particular makes the very concept of Civil War fail, unless they say that it “never happened” because of all the time travel stuff during the Kang War. Still there had already been bigger massacres in Marvel Earth already like when Xorn/Magneto attacked New York.

Best Metamessage yet. Thanks.

Penance has got to be one of the dumbest concepts I’ve ever seen in comics. It’s good to see that the writers can make fun of themselves.

This is pretty funny, but Robby becoming Penance was surely a meta-joke to begin with, right?

I’m sure if you asked Quesada that now, he’d spin it that way, but it came across to me as 100% earnest (embarrassingly so) at the time.

These pages are ALL perfect examples of how idiotic and moronic comics can be. What has Marvel done to themselves?!!!

Or, as they used to say in the EC comics,
“Good Lord!”

>>lol love the penis puss

*ahem* I think I need to stop automatically skipping chad’s posts from now on …

I like to think that the costume-maker guy is doing the ol’ facepalm in the last panel of that page.

“Now it’s time for Penance.”

You know what’s amazing?

Gage in Fear Itself: Front Line, somehow managed to take the Speedball/Penance story to a pretty effective conclusion. It was done so well that it almost makes the crap that came before it better.


Man, the MU is so much better off than it was in 05.

Cracked has a commentary on Speedball/Penance under “5 Superheroes Rendered Ridiculous by Gritty Reboots”.

Yeah, what Ken said. I love how when Robbie becomes Penance, the costumer in the background’s body language is like “Oh lordy, can you believe this clown?”

P-Cat makes the whole ludicrous Penance character arc worthwhile.

One thing that has bothered me – Just how was Penance supposed to see through that helmet? Eye holes in the spikes?

I quite liked how Ellis treated the Penance thing in Thunderbolts, though. With Moonstone as his psychologist, doing everything in her power to make him MORE messed up.

Btw, I’m not sure about this but the very name “Penance” might be a bit Meta in itself; they had a similarly named character in Generation X years before. Considering Marvel tends to create new characters (or rename existing ones) just to avoid losing the trademark on a name (see the multiple Captain Marvels and Spider-Women for examples) I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case here as well.

I hated the Penance character, the concept on it’s face was beyond stupid, but I will say that the stories he was in, were pretty good imho. His mini series was good(or at least I liked it) and even his appearances in the Thunderbolts was worthwhile. I just tell myself it’s a Baldwin from another universe and I’m fine with it.

Who was responsible for turning Speedball into Penance anyway? Was that directed by Millar, who was the architect for Civil War?

Given all the ways Frontline deviated from Civil War, I’m happy to assume that Penance was completely Paul Jenkins’ turd.

“And that means I do deep stuff! Like THIS!” Brilliant.

I like the romance one shot featured up top, and that Deadpool/GLI book is very very funny. Seek it out, because the whole book is good like this.

Ellis kind of poked fun at the Penance thing in T-Bolts when Doc Samson was in those few issues.

I really didn’t care for the switch from Speedball to Penance. I like my fun characters fun. There are always plenty of dark brooding characters. Additionally, I love Squirrel Girl.

Wish a big ole truck would run over Rodent Lass.

This thread really needs the accidental Penance foreshadowing of the Speedball short story Slott wrote in the 90s

If you strike her down, she shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine

The Penance concept was kinda lame, but some of his stories were good, I recommend the Penance mini, was very good. BTW, love Squirrel Girl :D


Both Penance and Squirrel Girl look like bad ideas to me. Backward-looking.

Penance is for people fixated on post-Alan Moore 1980s, it’s like JMS in a bad day. Squirrel Girl appeals to people fixated on a madcap Silver Age that never really existed in the MU.

The concept of Penance is so ridiculous that it looks like stealth parody. Dan Slott actually parodying it is like kicking a dead horse, or making fun of the mentally disabled. You can do better, Mr. Slott. I think it’s far more noteworthy the people who tried to actually do something good with it, like Warren Ellis.

Squirrel Girl is a very smug, oh-so-very-meta, oh-so-very-cute concept that comics could do without. It’s the flip-side of Superboy Prime. And the MU never had that sort of Silver Age anyway, it was built on a certain level of deconstruction and angst from the get-go (though far more balanced than the extreme parody of deconstruction that is Penance).

I should point out that in that same GLI special we also get a brief alternate future visit for Squirrel Girl, in which she meets up with a normal and functioning Speedball transplanted to the 2099-verse (a storyline started in Kirkman’s Marvel Team-Up). She begs him to come back to deal with Penance, but, well, he prefers the future/

Rene- Marvel never had a “Madcap Silver Age”? You have GOT to be kidding. Just check out some of Brian’s “Wackiest Moments” and “I Love you, But You’re Strange” columns for just a very few examples of how Silver Age Marvel could hold its own against DC in the just-plain-out-there department.

James –

I’ve read almost all of Marvel 1960s superhero books, and I stand by my words. Almost every story had, along with the craziness, a lot of angst and soul-searching. Every romance had to be a love triangle, every hero had to have some achilles heel. Whenever something silly happened – like the Thing disguising himself with a fake beard to become a pirate – it seemed like something deconstructionist also happened – the Thing wanted to stay in the past as a pirate because, by that time, he hated his teammates.

Actually, there are a few Marvel comics from that time that ARE cast in the mold of DC’s Silver Age, but none of them were the most sucessful, and most of them were written by Larry Lieber, Stan’s brother, who didn’t like superheroes and tended to write a sort of poor man’s DC. It was the Human Torch in Strange Tales, most of Hank Pym stories in Astonishing Tales, and the beginning of Thor and Iron Man, before Kirby became more involved in the former, and Lee in the later.

Squirrel Girl is sort of a mis-reading of what earlier Marvel was supposed to be. From Fantastic Four #1 and on, Marvel has always been interested in naturalism, when compared to other superhero companies. Some of Spider-Man’s professional life is a deconstruction of Superman’s. Perry White is a lovable curmudgeon, Jameson is a real jerk, etc. Stan Lee was pushing the envelope, by the standards of his time. He wasn’t looking back and indulging in madcap nostalgia. When he brought Captain America back he killed his sidekick and made Steve Rogers a man out of his time. Sub-Mariner was found wandering in the Bowery as a bum and cast as an anti-hero (at the time they called it “hero-villain”). Stan Lee was trying to be more psychological, even somewhat “darker”.

I’m not saying that whoever came up with “Penance” is more in line with the Marvel tradition than Squirrel Girl, but there is some correlation. Like, the father drinks a little, smokes a little, but still lives a pretty normal life, and then the son does crack, heroine, and gets an overdose.

Darkhawk . . . also, Squirrel Girl wanted to stay in the future with a sane Speedball, but then Mr. Immortal told her to go back to her present, where she had to kick Deadpool off the Great Lakes Initiative.

Are those…
Funny enough out of context, I think, but looking at the short distance and angle between Squirrel Girl’s eyes and Speedball’s crotch…. I have to wonder if this is a coincidence or a deliberate gag?

Wait wait wait, WTF happened with the Avengers and Washington?!
But back on topic, I love this use of meta-commentary in comic books: a writer using a favorite character of his to ask “Guys, have we all gone completely insane?! Maybe thsi direction we’re taking our characters is kind of, I dunno, stupid?”

Actually, I don’t think Robbie’s transition from Speedball to Penance was that far-fetched, even though I didn’t like it. Speedball was an immature, carefree, attention-seeking hero, who felt that his poorly-handled actions caused the death of hundreds of innocents and sparked a civil war among all the heroes. That’s a heavy burden for anyone to bear. The amount of grief that a person would carry from something like that would – at the very least – drive him/her to depression, or worse. Speedball’s transition to Penance was his burden of guilt and shame.

Again, I was not necessarily a fan of Penance, and thought the dialogue between Robbie and the designer was laid a little thick, but still, psychologically, I think the Speedball/Penance thing was one of the more realistic struggles Marvel has displayed.

I have to agree with Thom on this. Yes, it felt forced in Jenkins’ writing(which is where the original evolution from Robbie to Penance happened- making me think it was editorially mandated, not Jenkins’ idea), but it was a tragic, insane arc that brought a bit more humanity to Speedball. To me(and I think Ellis may’ve touched on this a little), the darkness of Penance was the other pole in Robbie’s bipolar mind. I always felt Baldwin’s care-free shtick was exactly that: a coping mechanism. The events of Stamford and prison changed him: pushed him to embrace the darkness in him as fully as he’d previously embraced laughter and brightness. Of course, neither path is sustainable nor a way to achieve true happiness. That being said, I always thought the costume designer was Facepalming himself in that scene, too… “weird-ass super-types… I’m getting too old for this.. wonder if they’d take me back at Lincoln Center’s costume department?”

@Sijo: The thing with Captain America is also from Jenkins’ Front Line.

and TBH, I always get irritated when people throw around “they” and blame Marvel in general for stuff like this.

There is a particular writer credited on the cover of Front Line. Criticize him and don’t generalize.

Except the “particular writer credited on the cover of Front Line” isn’t necessarily writing this out of whole cloth. Just because Jenkins wrote the issue, doesn’t mean he wasn’t specifically tasked with writing a story where because he feels guilt over the deaths in Civil War that Speedball becomes a new darker character named Penance. They may even have brought the idea to him that his powers now work by pain causing electrical bursts.

In the case of work-for-hire writing, blaming “they” or “Marvel in general” is actually much more fair and probably more accurate than just criticizing the particular writer on the cover of the comic.

Hell, the entire last month of news has been about writers leaving DC books because other people were dictating story ideas that they were gonna be credited for on the cover.

Mike McAllister

April 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm

One columnist for “The Comics Buyer’s Guide” really loved Squirrel Girl, wrote a column about her, and said “We need more fun characters !” . I think the folks at Marvel Comics should get all their “grim and gritty” characters together in one spot and have them die in an explosion . Everybody in the Marvel universe should somehow get amnesia about Robbie Baldwin’s responsibility in the death of an entire town and he can go back to being Speedball, one of the fun characters comicdonm needs so badly . Finally, it should be company policy at DC Comics AND Marvel Comics that “grim and gritty” should be strictly avoided until the end of time !

Speedball and Squirrel Girl should get together and have some wacky babies.

What bothered me about Robbie’s change was that every single issue he fought for himself and stated that he was a hero who had done his best. Then he had a nap and a bad a dream and boom, he was Penance. No evolution, no foreshadowing, nothing. ‘Course, Jenkins admitted he sucks at shorter stories so that could have been it…

How has no one asked for a “P-Cat the Penitent Puss” ongoing yet?

Rene, you have completely glossed over Forbush Man, Howard the Duck, Fing Fang Foom, et al. Marvel’s Silver Age had plenty of goofy crap too.

Dude is it just me or is penance emo that emo freak tottally scares me and have any of you read penance relentless then you know what I mean when I say he scares me also in that same comic he get’s creepy emo pericings I can’t bealive that he went from speedball to that

‘thunderbolts saving the world one masochistic headbutt at a time!’ ;)

@Louis: The “Avengers and Washington” thing refers to ‘The Kang Dynasty’, the climactic storyline from Kurt Busiek’s run on Avengers. It would have been a few years previous to ‘Civil War’, but not long after it in “Marvel Time”. In it, Kang essentially wiped out Washington DC with a neutron bomb, killing all the inhabitants and presumably wiping out most of the civil service. The United States surrendered to Kang, in what was I believe the “silent issue” for that series. (Remember the “Nuff Said” month?)

It was pretty roundly ignored in ‘Civil War’, primarily because (as Nicieza and Slott pointed out here) people freaking out about Stamford and blaming it on superheroes made no sense in light of losing the entire population of DC and blaming that on Kang.

Even if Penance were a completely new character, the concept still would have fallen flat on its rear. It’s like the concept was “Hey, let’s create an emo superhero! He gets his powers by … get this … cutting himself! He wears a costumes with spikes on it inside and out, cutting himself because of survivors’ guilt! It’ll be great!”

At best, it’s the creators trying too hard to be ‘relevant to what’s trendy’ or ‘edgy’ and ‘deep’. It ends up being not only pretentious, but downright ridiculous. Making a fun, lighthearted character like Speedball into Penance only further called attention to how ridiculous the Penance concept was.

Left out of this article was where Squirrel Girl travels to the future where, thanks to a time travel adventure, an alternate timeline Speedball awaits. Speedball says he can’t go back to the present because the time travel adventure made it so that there’s already a version of him there. Squirrel Girl counters by saying that his other self is now so messed up that NO ONE can get the two of them confused. That is an obvious meta-message in and of itself, making fun of how Penance is COMPLETELY unrecognizable as Speedball and might as well be a different character altogether.

@Mike McAllister

Man, I’m so glad you don’t run Marvel or DC.

- ti Dave

“Rene, you have completely glossed over Forbush Man, Howard the Duck, Fing Fang Foom, et al. Marvel’s Silver Age had plenty of goofy crap too.”

Dude, you answered me two years after I made my post, so I’m not sure you’re even there, but here it goes. Also 2 years after your post.

Forbush Man, as far as I know, never really appeared in an “official” superhero Marvel comic in the Silver Age. He was restricted to Not Brand Echh and other humor/parody magazines.

Howard the Duck is actually from the Bronze Age, and a totally different sort of humor, more like existentialist, absurdist humor than Silver Age’s gentle lunacy.

Fin Fang Foom IS a Silver Age character, but actually belongs to the pre-superhero Marvel Comics, when they had anthology monster/horror stories. He was integrated into the Marvel Universe proper in a very tenuous way in the Bronze Age, appearing in a very obscure comic, and really only entered Marvel in the 1990s.

So, none of those characters actually are the sort of stuff that was happening when the Marvel Universe started with Lee/Kirby/Ditko.

There IS a lot of goofy stuff in the early comics (Brian has columns devoted to it), particularly before 1963, but they’re unusual power uses, unusual scenes, things like that, while the main plot of the comics was mostly serious (though melodramatic). There were exceptions like Mike Murdock, but they weren’t that many.

So Penance being all depressed that he accidentaly killed lots of people IS more what classic Marvel is about (see, for instance, Steve Rogers being all depressed that he is a man displaced in time and Bucky is dead). Squirrel Girl is the one that feels slightly out of place to me, as an openly parodic superhero.

Okay, now I wait to hear from you two years from now.

I never knew of Speedball at all until Civil War #1. With no attachment to the character, I actually love the whole Penance story. I thought it was completely fascinating. I love super ultra tragic storylines, and Penance was super heartbreaking. Maybe it’s because the Thunderbolts run with him in it is so goddam good. I dunno, I like the tragic characters and to find out that he was someone that was so much the opposite of Penance was really trippy. I also really loved the whole arc of The Sentry, another character people seem to hate in the same way.

[…] to try to save him, to try to convince him that he had made a mistake. What happened next was described by Brian Cronin at Comic Book Resources back in 2011 with the help of two […]

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives