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The Past Was Close Behind: That Time Dan Slott Predicted Speedball’s Future as Penance

This feature spotlights moments, exchanges, etc. from older comics that take on a brand new light when read in concert with later comic books. Here is the archive of previous installments.

Today we look at a 1991 Dan Slott story that, in hindsight, seems to allude to Speedball’s future role as Penance.

In 1991′s New Warriors Annual #1, Dan Slott wrote a very good back-up story that tells of Night Thrasher experimenting with Speedball’s powers. He gives Speedball a serum that will allow them to monitor Speedball’s powers so they can study him further. Speedball just has to activate his powers for it to work. As it were, Speedball’s powers activate when his body makes solid impact with something, like if he jumps off of a building his powers will activate when he hits the ground (until his powers activate and he transforms into Speedball, he looks like a normal teen). Well, throughout the story, Speedball keeps trying to jump off things but various superheroes keep saving him before he lands. In the end, we learn that the serum actually temporarily DE-ACTIVATED Speedball’s powers, so the heroes all actually DID save his life.

In any event, early in the story, there’s this classic exchange…

speedballpenance1

Of course, after the events of Civil War, Speedball becomes Penance and he does, indeed, have spikes all over his body…

Hilarious.

Thanks to reader Beacon for the suggestion!

NOTE: Years later, Slott (along with former New Warriors writer Fabian Nicieza) had a good deal of fun making fun of Speedball’s change into Penance in a Squirrel Girl story that you can read about here.

EDITED TO ADD: Commenter Brandon Seifert correctly pointed out that later in the New Warriors story there is a great panel where Night Thrasher is designing a new costume for Speedball based on the spike suggestion…

speedballpenance3

Very funny.

If you have a suggestion for some other hilarious in hindsight comic book related item, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

24 Comments

Ahhh, Penance. One of the more heavy-handed changes that the market didn’t seem to accept very well. Proof that the majority of the readership doesn’t need every character to be gloomy and doom. I always liked Speedball, and if I ever try to track down copies, I would readily give them to my 7 yr old.
I know there’s good kids comics out there. Just wish there were cheaper ones. Its easier to go through the 50 cent boxes and find those.
Hopeful, Lil’ Gotham is as good as the cancelled Superman Family.

I remember that issue. I didn’t realize until now that Dan Slott wrote it. It’s interesting, I wasn’t even aware he was writing back in ’91. I never think about how long it takes to really break into the industry sometimes.

Also, Penance was utterly wrong, utterly stupid and a black mark on whoever came up with the idea. They should burn in comics hell.

Come to think of it, if it was, you know, actually comics hell it means they would endure minor discomfort, then have somebody heroically rescue them and then come back to life in a crossover event, so it’s not that bad.

Wait, Slott has been writing comics since 1991?

Andrew Collins

May 11, 2013 at 10:51 am

@Bob D

The first issue of Lil Gotham was hilarious and, IMO, appropriate for kids. I think anybody would enjoy Batman trying to teach Damian how to trick-or-treat…

@phred
Strongly worded there at the end, but agree with the overall sentiment. Penance was terrible and right from the start I was wondering if anyone at Marvel understood how much a self-parody he was…

@Kabe
I have to admit, I thought the same thing. I have some Batman Adventures & Superman Adventures comics from the early 2000′s written by Slott, so I knew he had been active for awhile, but I had no idea his career reached back 20+ years!

Penance was a crummy idea but I think Ellis did a great job with him in Thunderbolts. And didn’t Ellis’s run end with him getting some therapy (good therapy, from Len Samson, not the bad therapy he’d been getting from Moonstone) and starting to turn things around?

And yeah Slott’s been writing comics for ages. I loved his Ren and Stimpy when I was a kid.

Penance wasn’t a very good idea, but Ellis wrote some great stuff and the Jenkins mini was good, and of course, who can forget P-Cat the Penitent Puss :D :D

Peace

Robbie’s especailly wrong if he thinks that a cat would be penitent for anything. :P

lol love robbie joking about adding spikes to his out fit who knew later on it would be come a reality in the mu as penance was born.

I’m a bit behind on Speedball. Is he still Penance nowadays or did he go back to Speedball?

And is Night Thrasher still dead?

Speedball was Speedball in Avengers Academy, but he was still into self harm. And I believe Dwayne Taylor is still dead.

Brandon Seifert

May 11, 2013 at 6:28 pm

There’s a panel later in the Annual story where Dwayne and Chord are sitting in front of a monitor — where they’ve done a design of Speedball’s costume with spikes sticking out of it. It’s pretty great; you should add it to the article!

PietroMaximoff

May 11, 2013 at 11:34 pm

My god! so weird XD

This is kinda awesome. I wonder if Paul Jenkins knew about this …

I think the whole Speedball to Penance and back storyline was some great character work by nearly all involved. I don’t think it was ever meant to be permanent at all and showed how deeply the scars would run for a true superhero had they experienced all that he did starting in Stamford. Not many characters are allowed to take a long arc like that back to finding … well, the ability to forgive oneself and move beyond a tragedy.

Thanks, Tigris, for being one of the only people other than myself to enjoy that run. Honestly, I feel like Robbie’s jokey exterior has possibly always been a cover for some really deep issues he has never wanted to face or an indication of well managed bi-polar disorder and the Penance era was just him being on the downswing of a cycle.

stainedglassscarlet

May 12, 2013 at 4:32 am

I hate what they did with Speedball, ruined a character there. I also hate what they did to the Gen X Penance and then used her name for this horrible idea.

Apology in advance for rant, especially to Darth and Dan, because I’m not exactly responding to you, just to the issue in general.

Bi-Polar? Oh good crap. It was established in New Warriors that Speedball was jokey and light because his parents were on their way to a divorce. The kid was 15. Believe me, if he was Bi-Polar, there would have been more symptoms way before ‘Civil War.’ BPD is a serious issue, and frankly, that would be a cop out, lazy writing – ‘oh, he’s BiPolar, more angsty, right?’

And relentless, stupid self harm? Stabbing himself? A fetish BDSM costume? That’s a rational response to being responsible for tragedy?

Not to mention that my objection to the whole Penance problem starts with how the New Warriors were used to be the fall guys for the Super Hero registration act in the first place, the start of numerous out of character behavior that superheroes committed. Heck, the Zeb Wells run on NW was a humorous, tongue in cheek, jokey series, but even in that, the NWs weren’t depicted as being as stupid as they were in Civil War.

But even if they had been, their behavior was hardly without precedent by the more respectable, serious super heroes that were supposedly more responsible and had a right to lecture them. Iron Man? He shouldn’t have been Secretary of Defense or Director of Shield or whatever he was, because he should have been rotting in jail from something in his drunken idiocy, or Armor Wars, or ‘The Crossing.’ If, you know, he was held to those standards. But I think at least in his own comic, all of those were taken seriously and addressed at least loosely consistently with in-universe logic.

But no, we suddenly, 70 years after the first incidence of a super hero in the Marvel Universe, have to be more ‘serious and realistic’ or whatever silly, equally unbelievable plots that arise whenever Mark Millar wants to try to well, Mark Millar anything. If I was going to start with what is wrong with him, I’d be here all day though. So the New Warriors get shown doing what numerous super heroes have done numerous times before, (but they haven’t, really. I can find examples of other super heroes doing similarly risky things, but not them, but I could be wrong) and ‘boom!’ Suddenly they are horrible, selfish, grandstanding evil jerks.

And I’m not even going to bring up the later-added fact that Nitro had been juiced to be more explosive than he had ever been before, because that was a tacked on excuse that was added later, and doesn’t excuse the main idiocy of the story.

End rant. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Much love to everybody, I don’t intend to put down anyone’s opinion of the story, just my reaction to the story itself.

On a semi-related tangent, is the time-displaced version of Namorita that popped up in the last Rich Rider Nova book still around? Or did she die/disappear during Realm of Kings?

I dunno, the thing that broke Penance for me more than anything was that Jenkins miniseries, where suddenly the guy who’s supposed to be a light-comedy superhero with an everyman appeal turned into a tortured, self-mutilating wreck is also the world’s greatest computer hacker, a master strategist who punks both Norman Osborn and Doctor Doom to get what he wants, a determined and self-righteous rebel rather thana self-hating wreck, and an invincible combatant with powers that function exactly as the plot demands rather than sticking to either the Speedball or Penance “rules.”

Honestly, the last two major Jenkins creations at Marvel — Penance and Sentry — both ended up with a lot of Mary Sue-isms iwhenever Jenkins himself wrote them, while their flaws and nuances only emerged under other writers. (Sentry: Fallen Sun is especially blatant about all of this.)

Yeah, it’s disappointing that after Ellis had done great work at making Penance work*, Jenkins just tries to force his suspension-of-belief-breaking savant Mary Sue back into the comics.

*”He’s a broken toy, forced to live in a world he was never made for” remains one of the most chilling fourth wall-breaking moments in comics ever.

Wow! That takes me back!

Yes. It was printed in 1991 in NEW WARRIORS ANNUAL #1.
I wrote in 1990 while I was still a Marvel College Intern.
It was the second comic book story I’d ever sold.
(The first was MIGHTY MOUSE #10). :-D
And, to bring it all full circle, it’s being reprinted this week, tucked away inside the mega-gigantic NEW WARRIORS OMNIBUS, which features tons and tons of fantastic Fabian Nicieza stories and gorgeous Mark Bagley art!

He is one of the more interesting supehero characters That he would be psychological marred by events is not unexpected in actual life but typically glossed over in favour of fantasy. So having at least one character exploration of this is not a horrible thing.

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