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Penance (Baldwin) of the Thunderbolts (Marvel Comics)

Penance

(Robbie Baldwin)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

“Penance” was an alternate identity taken by Robert Baldwin, the super-hero previously operating as Speedball. It was part of the fallout after the commercially-but-not-critically successful Civil War event at Marvel Comics , in 2006.

The Penance identity was retired in 2011.

Things’ll likely be clearer if you read the Speedball (Robbie Baldwin) character profile first. If you like cats, there’s also the Hairball profile you can read before Penance’s.


Background

  • Real Name: Robbie Baldwin.
  • Former Aliases: Speedball, The Masked Marvel.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Madeline Naylor (mother), Justin Baldwin (father).
  • Group Affiliation: Initiative; Formerly New Warriors, Thunderbolts, Damage Control.
  • Base Of Operations: Camp HAMMER.
  • Height: 5’6” Weight: 133 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Blond


Powers and Abilities

As Penance, Baldwin initially believed his powers had changed. He thought that he now could transform any pain he felt into energy he could expel in powerful blasts. Since he’s shown to still be able to use some of his old powers, it’s more likely the way he now uses his powers is significantly affected by psychological factors, especially his guilt.

Whereas before the field surrounding him protected him from damage, he now seems to feel the pain of such attacks. Yet he doesn’t suffer long term effects from them – he has scars and such, but nowhere near the level of broken bones and other damage he should endure.

He can store up the energy from his pain for a while, although high levels need venting quickly. As well as kinetic energy, he now appears able to absorb the damage from pure energy attacks.

These energies can be expelled in an explosive concussion blast, or directed into powerful punches. While powered up, he has a small field of energy crackling around him. It can burn and melt objects around him, and can also be fuelled by his stored energy.

He can also focus the energy as a force field, or use it to levitate himself off the ground. He always seems to have a mild charge available to him, from the pain the bullet shards near his spine give him (hence the basic Mental Blast in his DC Heroes stats).

His powers also seem to make him immune from mental influence and attacks.


History

(A general history of his time on the Thunderbolts can be found in the team entry, starting at the Osborn’s Bastards section. This doesn’t cover his prior career as Speedball, which will hopefully be addressed by a separate profile. At some point.)

The sole survivor of the New Warriors present at the Stamford incident, Robbie was thrown 500 miles away. His powers apparently burned out. He was blamed by the public for the 612 deaths caused by Nitro’s explosion, and used as a figurehead for getting the Superhero Registration Act (SRA) pushed through.

Penance (Robbie Baldwin) vs. Steel Spider

Art by Marko Djurdjević‎

Awakening from the coma he’d landed in, he was placed in federal prison. His mother disowned him. Offered the chance to testify before Congress, Robbie was shot by an assailant on the Capital steps, and taken away by ambulance. He recovered, but still had fragments of the bullet near his spine.

His powers began to re-emerge, but changed so that he could only use them while in pain. After thwarting an attempted prison break, Baldwin agreed to comply with the SRA. He had a new suit designed, with 612 spikes inside it. He used to both punish himself and activate his powers.

Calling himself Penance, he was assigned to the Thunderbolts. But his true identity was kept a secret.

Osborn’s Bastards

Osborn was dubious of allowing someone as unstable as Robbie on the team, and considered falsifying reviews to have him committed. But Moonstone convinced him that Baldwin’s Hulk-level powers could be an asset, to be manipulated and exploited.

Osborn found him not as easy to manipulate as he thought. Robbie confronted Norman about having Bullseye beat him to try and get him to cripple a vigilante. He pointed out that while Osborn had nanites forcing him to behave, Robbie didn’t.

Despite Moonstone’s objections, Osborn brought in Doc Samson to help Robbie. During the session, Robbie unconsciously exhibited some of his earlier powers while relaxed (and after having a drink), which he’d believed lost. Unfortunately this happened during an assault on Thunderbolt Mountain by a group of psychics.

While they were unable to affect Robbie or Samson, they did affect other Thunderbolts. As a result, Moonstone attacked Samson due to an old grudge. Robbie blasted Moonstone through a few walls, leaving her needing to recover a fortnight before she could have surgery. But he did cushion her eventual fall by consciously using his old powers.

Relentless

His psychiatrists and Osborn grew concerned about the series of numbers Baldwin kept fixating on. They were actually part of the revenge he was planning for the Stamford disaster, which he’d been working on for the previous year.

To this end he used the Thunderbolt systems to download information on a range of classified subjects. These included the Initiative, Latveria, and the IRS databases which allowed him to locate Robot Master, then in the witness protection program.

The team was sent to apprehend a Latverian terrorist cell, led by the Terrible Trio. They had acquired launch codes for nuclear missiles illegally aimed at a number of European countries, Latveria included. Penance went in early, against orders. He captured the Trio, and retrieved the disc containing the codes.

Penance (Robbie Baldwin) readying an energy charge

He let one of the terrorists escape, with a message for Doctor Doom. It said that he’d use the codes if Doom didn’t transfer Nitro, a prisoner of his, to US custody. He switched the disc with the codes for another he’d brought with him, and planted a tracker on the terrorist’s weapon.

Escaping his watchers, Penance found Robot Master’s current residence. He fought through his guard robots, then browbeat Robot Master into telling him how to use the launch codes. Robbie also took $8.5M in unmarked bills from Robot Master’s stash.

Nuclear crisis

The entire Initiative was mobilised, guarding all nuclear missile silos. But he’d studied their files and had no problem getting past the initial responders into the Vermont facility. Wolverine (Logan) arrived to stop him, though, and the two fought.

Holding his own in the fight, Robbie convinced Logan to help him. Logan pretended to be beaten when the Thunderbolts arrived, sending them into the control centre while Robbie stole their transport. Baldwin used it to fly to Latveria.

Having learned that the prison in which Nitro was held also served as Latveria’s main armoury, he tracked the weapon he’d bugged to find the prison. He had little trouble with the guards, but Dr. Doom soon arrived to confront him, offering a duel to decide whether he could take Nitro.

Penance accepted, giving Doom the identity for a satellite his men should investigate.

Impeding Doom

They fought, and Penance actually managed to dent Doom’s armour. Doom gained the upper hand, but Penance’s powers were in danger of causing a blackout.

Doom’s men reported to Doom that the satellite was spying on Latveria for signs of radioactive materials. If the fight continued, the technology blocking their nuclear research would be detected. Doom reluctantly ceded the fight, letting Penance take Nitro.

Freeing Nitro, Penance let him fight for his freedom, but subdued him anyway, beating him repeatedly as he recited the names of the dead. On the flight back to America, Robbie revealed that the Penance suit had never been intended for him.

It had been built for Nitro, redirecting the force of his explosions back into him. Nitro remained trapped, with the 612 spikes inside the costume keeping him in constant agony. Robbie then proceeded to beat him with a spiked hammer.

Setting the transport to automatically return home, where Nitro was discovered to be alive, albeit severely wounded and in critical condition. Robbie used the escape pod to set down in the ocean, where he waited for Wolverine to collect him as they’d agreed.

After donating the stolen money to cover the shortfall for the monument in Stamford, he returned to the Thunderbolts, wearing a new costume, looking the same but with fewer internal spikes.

Secret Invasion

When Osborn decided to disband the Thunderbolts (officially), he let Moonstone take her revenge on Robbie by heavily drugging him and having him committed. Baldwin’s memory ended up pretty much shattered.

Dark Reign

Osborn decided Penance could still be a useful asset, and moved him into the Initiative, based at Camp HAMMER. There he forced camp counsellor Trauma to keep Robbie in an unstable but useful condition.

Penance took part in a few operations, including the retaking of the 42 Negative Zone Prison. He was publicly lauded for this despite his minor role. He also came into contact with former New Warriors team mates, now part of an Avengers Resistance movement.

Trauma suggested introducing a therapy pet to help stabilise Robbie, and was allowed. He secretly located Robbie’s old cat, Niels, and brought him in to try jogging Robbie’s memories.

During a battle with the Avengers Resistance mystical entity Nightmare took control of his son, Trauma. Nightmare, at Trauma’s unconscious urging, restored Robbie’s memories. In shock for a while, he recovered quickly enough to drive Nightmare off.

Keeping his identity secret from his friends, he gave them the chance to escape, but didn’t go with them.

Siege

When Osborn launched an attack on Asgard, the Avengers Resistance attacked Camp HAMMER. The Hood led his villains against them while Penance and the less criminal members of the Initiative were confined to their quarters. Penance ignored this, leading the other Initiative members to help the Avengers Resistance.

They beat the villains, while Osborn and the Hood were beaten elsewhere, and Robbie revealed his identity to his friends.

Following this, he returned to his Speedball identity, becoming a teacher at the Avengers Academy. It’s unclear to what degree his mental issues have been resolved.


Personality

Wracked by guilt over the events of Stamford, Robbie is quiet and withdrawn. He is isolated from everyone – partly by choice, and partly by the situations he’s been forced into.

Some of his earlier detachment and apparent actions seem to have been a cover so no one worked out his plan to get his revenge on Nitro. But at least part of it is genuine, and he suffered flashbacks to Stamford on occasions.

Penance (Robbie Baldwin) punching a table

Despite a number of people assuring him he wasn’t responsible for the Stamford incident, whether they were partial (Squirrel Girl) or impartial (Doc Samson), Robbie refused to believe them, and knew this opinion wasn’t shared by the general public.

This was something he needed to work through by himself, and could be part of the reason he stayed away from his old friends, not revealing his identity to them (apart from Rich [Nova], when he briefly returned to Earth).

As much as he hated himself for what happened, he hated Nitro even more, and became obsessed with hunting him down. He approached it in a coldly clinical manner, though, taking his time to plan it out. When he eventually captured Nitro, he took his time to perform an act of premeditated sadism on the villain, leaving him horribly mutilated.

While indifferent to most things beyond his revenge, he did seem to be doing the right thing, albeit warped by his mental problems. However during the early part of his time with the Initiative he worried whether he was doing right.

After Trauma restored his memories, he appeared more together. He eventually reached out to his old friends, although whether he retains any of his earlier instability is unclear.


Quotes

“The pain helps me to think. It brings everything into focus. The pain. it’s the only time the world’s in colour. The rest of the time ? Everything’s flat and grey.”

Penance: “You said is could have happened to anyone. Thing is, that ain’t the point. The point is, it happened to me. And I need to give something back to make that right.”
Doc Samson: “Not here.”
Penance: “Yeah, here. See, Doc, here is where things are most wrong. So here’s where I make things right. Here’s where I do my penance now.”

(To Nitro) “I’m not numb. I feel more pain because of you than I can ever describe. The suit you’re now wearing channels that pain back tome. It drives everything I do. There are six hundred and twelve spikes arrayed inside the suit. Four more in the gloves. Every time I take or throw a punch, I get a reminder of what you did. The pain feeds every moment I draw breath. It fuels my power. But I didn’t make it for me. I made it for you. I want you to understand the real reason I built this suit. I’m going to make you feel how the families of the people you murdered feel. That pain is going to be multiplied because of the suit’s design. It’s going to hurt so bad that you’re probably going to want to die within the first few minutes. But you won’t. You’re going to live instead, you son-of-a-bitch.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Penance

Dex: 06 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Unwanted Power
Int: 05 Wil: 05 Min: 05 Occupation: Super-Hero
Inf: 05 Aur: 05 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 002
Init: 016 HP: 050

Powers:
Energy Absorption: 12, Flight: 04, Iron Will: 10, Kinetic Absorption: 18, Laser Beam: 00, Mental Blast: 05, Power Reserve: 18

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • RAPs from Energy Absorption and Kinetic Absorption can add to Power Reserve (+3).
  • Flight power may only be used if at least 8 APs of Power Reserve are available (-1).
  • Mind Field Protects Power User Only (-2).
  • Laser Beam may only be used if at least 4 APs of Power Reserve are available (-1) has No Range (-1), and Area Effect (+1).
  • Power Reserve is fueled by RAPs from Energy Absorption and Kinetic Absorption; the power as a default starts at 0 APs (FC -4; BC -50).
  • Power Reserve may only be used with Mental Blast, Laser Beam and STR by at most 14 APs in each; available APs of Power Reserve are reduced by 2 APs for each used powered power use or by 1 AP for each phase when not used at all (-1, see below).

Skills:
Scientist (Computers): 05, Vehicles (Air, Land, Water): 05

Advantages:
Familiarity (Hacking).

Connections:
New Warriors (High), Thunderbolts (Low), Wolverine (Low).

Drawbacks:
Dark Secret (His previous identity as Speedball), Guilt, SPI (Varying, see below), Traumatic Flashback (Stamford).

Equipment:
COSTUME [BODY 04, Claws (inside): 01].


Design notes

  • The way his powers work is less than clear, with his stated belief of how they work possibly influenced by his mental state. I’ve outlined how I’ve assumed they work, as an evolution of his earlier power set, in the Powers section.
  • There are a couple of scenes in his Initiative appearances where he appears to unleash powerful blasts before being attacked. I’m assuming this is due to him running into a few walls and such on the way out, to build up a charge.
  • At one point he may be absorbing the Spiritual damage Nightmare seems to be inflicting, and possibly returns it as a Mystical attack on Nightmare. There’s no other evidence to support something like this, though, so at this point it’s purely speculative.
  • Iron Will is due to abilities secondary sources attribute to him as Speedball, but this period has yet to be fully researched (hence the v0.9 of this write-up).


A World of Pain

Absorbing the energy from Physical attacks made against him, it’s all fed into his Power Reserve. He can hold a small charge for an indefinite period, but if his Power Reserve goes over 4 AP, the excess needs to be released fairly soon or it gets worn down as the energy crackling around him.

The APs don’t necessarily need to be funnelled into any Powers, reducing at a rate of an AP a phase while not being used as a 0 AP Laser Beam Area Effect takes place around him (this comes into effect if he has more than 4 APs of Power Reserve).

If he has any APs assigned to a Power, however, this loss doesn’t take place, even if he’s not using the Power, as the pain he feels from holding it maintains his power level.

When used in an attack, the stored energy is depleted, reducing his Power Reserve total by 2 AP for each use, more if he spends HPs to raise the AP (the APs the Power is raised by are deducted from Power Reserve).


Speedball Assumptions

Robbie’s original powers allowed him to absorb kinetic energy. Initially this had to be immediately expelled by Speedball being shot off in the opposite direction.

He gained a degree of control over these powers, so he could store some of his energy, and use it for creating fields, objects, and blasts, all using the bubbles which resulted from his kinetic impacts. The energy also made him taller, distorted his voice, and gave him a costume.

The assumed Powers for his time as Speedball (which would require research for a proper write-up) are:- Force Field: 00, Force Manipulation: 00, Iron Will: 10, Jumping (Fuelled by Power Reserve): 00, Kinetic Absorption (Adds to Power Reserve): 15, Mental Blast: 00, Power Reserve (fuelled by Kinetic Absorption, adds to any other Powers): 15, and had Insta-Change (or possibly an Alter Ego).

Kinetic Absorption had a Limitation that at least a few APs had to go into Jumping, for an immediate leap in the opposite direction (initially all the APs had to go into it). He also has the Thrill of Adventure Motivation at this point.

He still seems able to use some of these Powers, but they’re Minor Marginal.


Instability

His mental condition has manifested in a number of ways, most often involving self-harm. Most common is the cutting himself, and his original suit which contained 612 spikes on the inside, so he’d be in constant pain while wearing it.

After doing poorly in one battle, he started to hit his head against a wall. He has also been known to go catatonic at times, or just to ignore everyone around him. While planning his capture of Nitro, he was memorising long strings of numbers, mumbling them to himself or writing them on the walls of his cells.

While these weren’t necessarily a sign of his problems, since they were relevant, they added to the impression that he was unstable.

He had the occasional reaction to things which reminded him of Stamford, such as running from a group of kids playing in a yard, and being unable to think clearly for a time thereafter (his Traumatic Flashback).

Following his heavy drugging and institutionalization by Moonstone, Robbie had little access to his memories, and the few fragments which filtered through served only to weaken his fragile mental state, making him lash out occasionally. (During this time his MIND was reduced by 2 AP)

His Psychological Instability fluctuated, starting out at Minor, becoming Serious by the time he was institutionalised, and apparently disappearing after Trauma restored his memories. His Traumatic Flashback may also have gone by this point.


Previous Stats

His Connection to Wolverine only begins during his hunt for Nitro (Relentless section of the History), and up until this point he had an SIA towards gaining revenge on Nitro.

By Gareth Lewis.

Source of Character: Marvel Comics.

Helper(s): Peter Piispanen, Roy Cowan, Capita_Senyera.

Writeup completed on the 31st of October, 2010.

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