November 30, 2006

Marvel Age Annual #4 [1988]

This issue previewed Marvel's upcoming comics for 1988, including a few short original stories of new books, among them 5-page Speedball story "The Mystery of Crooked Face", plotted and pencilled by Ditko, scripted by Roger Stern and inked by Jackson Guice.

This story presents some of the background of Speedball, teenager Robby Baldwin who got super-powers in an accident that enable him to absorb and release kinetic energy. His father is a district attorney and his mother is a former actress. In this story, Robby's father loses a trial in which the defendant, who was accused of crimes committed wearing a goofy mask, was identified by a witness who removed his mask but also had an airtight alibi. "Crooked Face" tries to get even with the Baldwin family, leading to some confrontations with Speedball, until it's eventually revealed that the original defendant was the twin brother of "Crooked Face", and they planned the crimes together.

I'm pretty fond of Speedball, who's a well designed character with some nice visual gimmicks that Ditko uses to good effect. I think Guice's inks are a bit too slick at points, but they work nicely at some points, bringing a bit of a then-modern look to Ditko's style. The actual story in this one is a bit too quick, but then it is only 5-pages, even with the dense layouts Ditko used for this series (with a lot of pages with 10 or more panels). I do think that the Crooked Man villain is a nicely silly bit of Ditko design.

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