Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Proselytizing Penance's Pain Points

Yeah, we know this happened a few weeks ago, but were unable to dish about it then, so here we go.

Here's a quick primer: Speedball was a member of the New Warriors, with his powers based on kinetic energy, or some other quasi-scientific explanation that doesn't really make sense to us. He was the one member of the New Warriors to survive Nitro's blast that leveled parts of Stamford, Connecticut, which in turn resulted in the Civil War mini series. Perhaps you're familiar with it. (Editor's Note: We still waiting for Microbe to reappear, perhaps taking on the properties of super high heat bacteria, a la hydrothermal vents. Yes, it's just a theory.)

At the risk of sounding like a Marvel shill, Civil War: Front Line is a quite useful addendum to the Civil War mini. It's in Front Line that we learn that Speedball (Robbie Baldwin) survived. He had a rough road to hoe- society, his family, and many other heroes feel that he was to blame for the tragedy in Stamford, whereas he pointed out that Nitro was the one who actually killed folks (even though the New Warriors attacked across the street from a school). He was placed in the Negative Zone prison, and then trotted out to speak before congress. On his way into the hearing, a distraught parent shot him. The end result was that his powers went awry.

Up until this point we have enjoyed Front Line (heck, we're in the blogging minority in that we are enjoying Civil War in general). However, issue #10 really bothered us. Speedball apparently can no longer access his powers without inflicting pain on himself. It's a bit vague to us as well (for a brief description, albeit in the context of the Thunderbolts, which we will get to later, read the Newsarama article here). He has a costume developed with hundreds of internal pain points to represent all of the persons he - in his mind- had a hand in killing. The result is that he won't be able to use his powers without injuring himself in some way and every time he does, he will have to think of those he has impacted. He forswears his previous identities and will now to try and atone for his sins. Hence the name Penance.

So anyway, the problem we have with the character is the pain points inside the costume. It seems all too gulag-ish to us. I mean, was Paul Jenkins (the author) doing investigative reporting in the Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay Prisons when he wrote this? We like harsh. We like dark. We are not fond of self-immolation in our funny books. At the same time, the idea that he must think of the Stamford victims, is good for the character and will undoubtedly offer many great storytelling opportunities in the future.

Moving on, Penance will soon join the relaunched Thunderbolts, joining villains and reformed-villains on the team. Within the context of the relaunched title, we think the character will work. We do not, however, think it's necessary for him to injure himself. What kind of message does this send? Marvel has it's "no smoking policy" (and depending on whom you are speaking with, a "no gay character" policy), so why not a "no self-mutilation" policy? Now before you get all high and mighty on us, we know that for Wolverine to use his claws, they have to break free of his skin. But Wolverine has a healing factor. As far as we know, Penance does not (and if he did, we think it would undermine what they're trying to do with the character). It's this element that we have a major issue with.

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