Robert "Robbie" Baldwin was born and raised in Springdale, Connecticut. He was the son of Maddie and Justin Baldwin. Their overbearing and smothering parenting allegedly turned him into and angst-ridden teenager. His father wanted him to go into law while his free-spirited mother hoped he would go into arts.
After school, he interned at Hammond Labs. Robbie snuck in to watch Dr. Nicholas Benson's experiment that tapped an extra-dimensional energy source, and was accidentally irradiated by it when the energy went out of control. The energy gave him superpowers: Whenever Robbie was hit with an impact above a certain strength, he'd become surrounded by a protective kinetic energy field that manifested in the form of a more muscular body, a spandex costume, and floating 'bubbles' in the air around him. When he was in "Speedball mode," any impact against him caused him to bounce instead of being harmed. He could also harness this energy and direct it more forcefully, or alternately use it as a bubble/shield to protect others, catch others, and even stop moving objects, like bullets, in mid-air.
Using his powers he had brief career as a local hero against a series of ill-conceived villains such as Sticker, Leaper Logan, The Ghost of Springdale High, The Basher, Two-Legged Rat, Bug-Eyed Voice, Harlequin Hitman, Bonehead, and Feathered Felon. It was revealed that scientist Dr. Clyde Bodtchik was responsible for equipping or empowering most of Springdale's villains.
Robbie and his mother attended a Broadway play when he was jumped by four thugs. He turned into Speedball and defeated them, but a pair of armored men arrived and killed the muggers. High Evolutionary's armored Purifiers prepared to render the city unconscious prior to killing everyone with unacceptable DNA. Speedball overheard the purifiers and contacted the police but he couldn't get the police to take him seriously. So he arranged for Daredevil and Spider-Man to crash the Purifiers' operation in the Empire State Building, thinking they are tackling the drug dealers' killers. Speedball smashed the Purifiers' antenna on the building's tower ending the threat but falls from the building. Daredevil and Spider-Man were able to rescue him.
Speedball was once tortured by the Sphinx and drained of some of his power. The Sphinx in a later time banished Speedball to the kinetic dimension where Robbie derives his powers. During this time Robbie was briefly replaced by a clone created by Darrion Grobe in the future in a bid to stop Darrion's father Advent from destroying the timeline.
During his time in the New Warriors his closest friendship was with Rage. Rage felt betrayed when the person he thought was Robbie sided with Nova about kicking Rage and Night Thrasher off the New Warriors. When the real Robbie returned he confessed to Rage that he may have made the same call.
During the early years of the New Warriors Speedball's parents fought constantly and eventually got a divorce. Speedball's mother Madelyn Naylor was an actress who used to star on the soap opera Secret Hospital with Mary Jane Watson. Madelyn was once tricked into joining into the violent environmental group Project Earth but was rescued by Speedball and the New Warriors. Speedball's father who is the district attorney of Springdale, Connecticut was kidnapped by the street gang the Poison Memories after they learned of the identities of the New Warriors and began targeting their families.
After the Warriors, Speedball was working with the police to take out drug dealers, but because of his uncontrollable powers, he screwed up. Jessica Jones assumed that Speedy was a "washed up second string hero," on the side of the baddies.
The New Warriors attempted to apprehend a group of supervillains in Stamford, Connecticut for their television reality show. Nitro, one of the criminals, created an explosive blast that killed 612 civilians, including 60 children, as well as the New Warriors with the exception of Baldwin. This event triggered the push for superhero registration at the heart of the superhuman Civil War. Baldwin was presumed dead after the incident, but he was found alive after the blast launched him over 500 miles. Baldwin's kinetic field kept him alive, but it "burned out" as a result.
After awakening from a coma, Baldwin was arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed in federal prison. After he discovered his powers were still functional, Baldwin was taken to the new penitentiary called Negative Zone Prison Alpha. Reed Richards, the facility's creator, offered Baldwin the chance to testify before the U.S Congress. On the steps of the Capitol Building, Baldwin was shot by an assailant and taken away in an ambulance. Baldwin recovered from the wound, and Richards determined that Baldwin's powers were evolving. Baldwin later thwarted an escape from the prison and said that he would comply with the Superhuman Registration Act.
Baldwin ordered a new suit of armor that featured 612 internal spikes that caused him constant pain, symbolic of the 612 deaths he felt responsible for. Sixty of these spikes actually broke his skin, these sixty spikes are symbolic of the sixty children that died in Nitro's explosion. He joined the newest incarnation of the Thunderbolts.
Squirrel Girl was a huge fan of Speedball, on whom she had a crush. She learned of Speedball's transformation into the darker hero code-named Penance after Deadpool provided her with a copy of Civil War: Front Line #10. Squirrel Girl traveled to Thunderbolts Mountain to convince Robbie to lighten up and stop being Penance. Frustrated by his current attitude and unwavering determination to remain as Penance, Squirrel Girl traveled to Latveria to use one of Doctor Doom's Time Machine to travel to the past and prevent Speedball from ever becoming Penance. The machine instead transported her into the future, where she encountered an alternate version of Speedball (whom she unsuccessfully tried to get to travel back to the past with her), and Mr. Immortal, who told her she has an important task to perform in the past — namely, kicking Deadpool out of the Great Lakes Initiative's headquarters.
Hunting the New Warriors
While hunting down unregistered superhumans during Civil War, Penance was sent to capture his friend and former New Warriors teammate, Nova, who was visiting earth after the Annihilation War. Though Penance's actions were what ultimately caught Nova off guard, Nova still managed to resist capture until Iron Man intervened and forced the Thunderbolts to leave. Later that night Penance appeared before Nova, revealing his true identity to Richard. Richard, who had grown disenchanted with both sides of the Civil War, was absolutely horrified to discover what happened to Robert and decided to leave Earth until the madness was over.
After the Civil War, Speedball had a status of free citizen, so he often went to a coffee shop to write repeating numbers on his notebook. Later, when he joined the Thunderbolts, he was under surveillance by government agents 24/7. The action was diagnosed by Dr. David Ableton when he found out Baldwin had post-traumatic stress effects and by Norman Osborn as guilt ridden as they were multiples of 612, the number of the casualties in the Stamford explosion.
In Latveria, Penance encountered Nitro, who was in one of the dungeons of Castle Doom at the time. Doctor Doom handed Nitro over to Baldwin and Robbie tortured Nitro almost to the point of death. The Thunderbolts later found Nitro.
Dark Reign & Siege
After being brainwashed and heavily drugged he was persuaded by Osborn to join his new Initiative, at Camp H.A.M.M.E.R., and had psychotherapy sessions with Trauma, the camp therapist, who had been ordered by Osborn to keep Penance in his mentally fragile state. When the Avengers Resistance, consisting of many of Penance's New Warriors teammates, come to Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. seeking to release a captured teammate, Taskmaster orders Penance to attack them.
His brainwashing prevented him from remembering his friends, and his costume prevented them from recognizing him, leading to an all-out battle. Their fight was interrupted by Nightmare, who had taken over the body of his son, Trauma. Nightmare forced Penance to remember the Stamford incident, causing him to pass out in mental anguish. Tigra revived him, using her powers of empathy to help him see Trauma's predicament. With this knowledge, and having already experienced his worst nightmare, Penance was able to talk Trauma into freeing himself from his father's control. Penance then helped the "Avengers Resistance" escape Osborn's forces by rupturing a gas main. He refused Vance's offer to join their team, not wanting his old friends to see how much he had changed.
Robert turned against Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. and helped the Avengers Resistance fight the Hood and those with him. During the battle, he finally revealed his identity to his other ex-New Warriors teammates.
After the fall of Norman Osborn, Henry Pym founded the Avengers Academy and had Robbie (now Speedball again) join as a teacher, along with Justice, Tigra and Quicksilver. He held the first class in the school but had to cut short after Hazmat tried to use her powers and unleashed radiation on her classmates. Fellow instructors remained unsure if Speedball should be teaching the children, but Justice still vouched for him nonetheless. His attitude was still that of Penance, not Robby Baldwin of the New Warriors, however, he was making a genuine attempt to change.
Speedball decided to take the Avengers Academy students on a field trip to Stamford to show them the memorial of the people who died during the Stamford incident, to show them what happens when you make an ill-advised mistake against a supervillain. But news broke out about this, and they were attacked by a group of men called "the Cobalt Men", who had named themselves after one of the villains involved in the Stamford incident. Not wanting them to ruin the memorial of the dead, Speedball quickly defeated them himself.
Speedball later admitted he cut himself to store up the energy he used as Penance, saying that power was more useful in a fight. He acknowledged that he should not have kept this a secret, and Hank Pym offered to help him find a better way to activate those powers. After that realization, Robert seemed to have really improved himself on an emotional level. Although he was still very depressed and still felt terrible for what happened in Stamford, he seemed to have cheered up a little and regained his sense of humor. After returning to the Academy, Speedball announces to the students and teachers that he was quitting the faculty (but still offers to help them anytime) and soon left, Justice tagging behind him.
"New" New Warriors
During a roadtrip with Justice, Speedball impulsively decided to reform the New Warriors. He and Justice drove to Carefree, Arizona in order to pursue and recruit the new Nova, Sam Alexander. At first he declined but after a visit with The Watcher Sam accepted and joined the team.
- Kinetic Energy Field: 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 absorbed all kinetic energy directed against him (what he originally called the "Speedball Effect.") This absorption could 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 was nearly impossible for him to be hurt, and he instead bounced harmlessly from object to object, with no loss or transference of momentum.
Hindsight deduced that because Speedball taps into a dimension of kinetic energy that Speedball must be an embodiment of time and motion. Gamesmaster a being who is able to read the minds of almost every being on the planet is unable to read Robbie's mind when he is in Speedball form. When the Sphinx experimented on him it was shown that Robbie's Speedball body only appears human and can be stretched into a variety of shapes. Speedball also showed control over his own molecules when he reshaped his body to give himself another costume after everyone else on the team got new costumes.
These powers appeared to have "burned out" when saving Robbie from Nitro's explosion, however, they had evolved into his Penance powers. Currently, this power (his power as Speedball) has shown to be returning to him, and he can use it again.
When transformed into Speedball, he was covered with a blue-and-gold costume (originally a facsimile of the lab uniform he wore when exposed to the energy) and surrounded by a display of multi-colored bubbles (sometimes shown as golden circlets of energy). He gained the ability to manipulate his kinetic field to extend out to either attack an enemy or block a projectile. He typically used the field to slam into his opponents. After many years, Robbie learned to extend the kinetic field outward, pushing back everything in his immediate area or, by focusing more locally, delivering more powerful blows in hand-to-hand combat.
- Hyperkinetic Shockwave: As Penance, Robbie's powers evolved into a more aggressive form of kinetic energy release. He could absorb energy from his surroundings, such as kinetic activity, electricity, even the transnormal radiation signatures of other super-beings, such as She-Hulk. This energy was then harnessed as kinetic release, causing explosive force to radiate from his body, firing lance-beams of pure force from his hands, or even allowing him to fly.
Penance initially required physical pain in order to activate his powers, and his "bubble field" powers appeared to be gone. Doc Samson later showed Robbie that his powers were affected by his mindset, and he could reactive his Speedball powers with relaxed, positive thinking. After mostly overcoming his guilt from being Penance, Robbie became Speedball again on a regular basis. Although "Speedball" was his default power set again, he could still access his Penance powers through focusing on dark or negative emotions.
- Telepathic Immunity: Robbie has stated that during his time with the New Warriors it was discovered that telepathy 'doesn't really work' on him.
- Computer Hacking: Robbie was skilled enough with computers to be able to access classified information from a government facility as well as highly protected nuclear launch codes multiple times while under surveillance, all without being detected. He was also able to reprogram one of the Thunderbolts ships and disable the GPS from one of its emergency pods.
- Deliberate Self-Harm: Robbie's penance powers required him to cut or otherwise injure himself to activate, at least initially (as his Penance costume had over 600 spikes inside, one for each Stamford victim), during this time he was stated by Doc Samson to be addicted to self-harm. He appeared to have still not overcome his guilt, following his abandonment of his Penance persona, though he was genuinely trying. He still had to cut to use his Penance powers, however.
- Mental Illness/Instability: After the events of the first Superhuman Civil War, Robbie was diagnosed with PTSD, stated to be suffering from survivors guilt as well as delusions and paranoia. He was also believed to have developed obsessive-compulsive tendencies in relation to numbers connected to the Stamford incident and his plans for Nitro, these tendencies did not appear to continue once he had enacted his plan.
- Penance Suit: As Penance, Robbie wore a suit of armor constructed of super-hardened plastics, reinforced with certain alloys, with a sharp interior lining of spikes causing him constant pain. The metals act as non-resistant energy conduits; the larger spikes contain the main energy conduits. The suit contains spikes representing the 612 people who died in the Stamford explosion; the 60 larger spikes represent the 60 children who burned to death in the schoolyard. The spikes are hardened with carbonate steel.
- Robbie's height increased when he became Speedball, and his hair turned "jello-y" and his voice "hollow."
- Robbie Baldwin is a Presbyterian.
- When Speedball was shot on the steps of the Capitol Building in Civil War: Front Line #6 it was framed identically to the murder footage of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby in the real world.
- 294 appearance(s) of Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)
- 10 appearance(s) in handbook(s) of Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)
- 24 minor appearance(s) of Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)
- 15 mention(s) of Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)
- 5 mention(s) in handbook(s) of Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)
- 168 image(s) of Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)
- 16 quotation(s) by or about Robert Baldwin (Earth-616)