Flash vs Quicksilver by Edgar Manjarrez
The Flash, Quicksilver, Johnny and Jesse Quick, the Whizzer, Impulse, Northstar and Aurora, X-S, the Road Runner, Speedy Gonzales, Fastback... When people are asked which power they'd like to have, super-speed is a frequent answer. Is that essentially why we like Speedsters? In a world where we're ever busier, who wouldn't want the ability to shave off the seconds, to complete your work in record time, to do more in less time, and heck, to travel anywhere in the world in seconds? (Obviously, we all want the best possible version of this power, the one that doesn't burn off your clothes, force you to eat vast amounts of food, or experience the world in slow motion.) The time-saving power fantasy is an alluring one. And when the art is good on these comics, there's nothing more dynamic, making us viscerally feel the speed.

But is that why we like super-speedsters? We simply want to mooch off their Speed Force? It has to be more than that. One possible reason is that we recognize the "runner" as sports hero or mythical archetype. Since running is an ability common to most humans, characters with uncanny speed have found their way into the myths and folk tales of many cultures (including my own - the French Canadian Alexis le Trotteur!). We're wired to admire these guys, whether in stories or on the Olympic track. Beyond running, vehicles allow us to move faster, and get our hearts pumping faster too. Speedsters feel the literal "rush" you get when driving a fast car, plane or boat, only more so. If we, as a species, are excited by speed, these superheroes surely hold an attraction.

But my interest is more scientific. Speed is made of pure physics and super-speed has traditionally been used to create all sorts of effects. They're not just runners, not if they have imagination. They can be used as weather controllers, teleporters, super-learned geniuses, sonic boomers, inertia absorbers, water walkers and more. The faster they run, the crazier the physics and effects. That's why I respond much better to the Flash than I do Quicksilver, for example (or, Wally West just after the Crisis). I don't want realism, I want mad mad science. Such a simple ability, but so much potential variety.

What about you? Do you have a "need for speed"? What attracts you (or doesn't) to the Speedster set?


Anonymous said...

Super-speed means you can beat everyone else at every task, except perhaps for weightlifting. Almost all activities involve a time component, so being able to complete them faster means winning.

My list of best superpowers, from best to worst:



time control

the ability to see the future and know what to do about it

all the other powers

Luck is always best because it renders losing impossible, but look at the next several powers: they all deal with time and making more efficient use of it. The ability to uproot telephone poles is of limited use against someone who can freeze time, move out of the way in the blink of an eye, or pre-emptively plant a banana peel at just the right spot on the ground.

Siskoid said...

We really are fixated on time aren't we?

Zundian said...

Honestly, you need to see the world in slow motion to make super-speed non-dangerous. Unless you have a phasing power, that is.

If you have neither, you're just a 6' tall projectile without the ability to change course.

I've always considered teleportation to be the best super-power, because at some point flying and/or running everywhere is going to get deathly noring.

Zundian said...


Siskoid said...

I think the best possible version of super-speed allows your brain to think super-quickly too WITHOUT slowing down the world to a crawl where you would perceive yourself to be going normal speed while everyone else is frozen in time. Your reaction time is sped up too, in other words, so that you don't hurt anyone, and as Mark Waid developed on Wally West, speedsters have a certain control of inertia, or else they couldn't stop themselves.

The Mutt said...

I've never card for speedsters. Why isn't every Flash comic over in one panel? Wally once dodged a bullet when he felt it hit his hair, for crying out loud! He once searched an entire city in one panel!

It reminds me of the old Silver Age comic when, between a gun being fired from across the room, Superman grabbed Lois, flew her to the Fortress of Solitude, built a Lois duplicate robot, flew back and replaced her, all faster than the human eye could see. (How Lois survived the instant acceleration to light speed is never explained.)

Quicksilver worked better for me because he was fast, not ridiculous fast.

SallyP said...

I have to say that is a fabulous picture.


Jeff R. said...

Speedsters are the hardest superhero model to emulate in an RPG. (This is probably because they have an inherent and unavoidable tendency to violate the game's action economy, which usually makes them either game-breakingly super-effective or far too expensive(in point-buy systems) for anyone to actually play, depending on how well the game was designed...)

Siskoid said...

Mutt: I guess we're on opposite ends of the spectrum on that :)

Sally: Yeah, I seldom use fan art on the blog unless it's the whole point of the post, but I had to make an exception when I saw this.

Jeff: True that! And it's somewhat reflected in the way team books with speedsters are written. The same way, you can't break the game with too many actions, especially considering the rest of your party needs equal time to have fun, speedsters in super teams don't get to defeat everyone before Batman can throw the first punch.

And that's the way I try to handle it in my own games. You have the same number of actions as everyone else per turn, BUT those actions can be those that would take a long time at normal speeds. In a fight, it takes the whole round to do a speed stunt (like a tornado) or you can throw a ton of punches (equivalent with a high damage single superstrong punch), or you can do stuff like go and read a whole book at the library during your turn. But you can't do all three.

This limit works well enough and emulates the comics too.


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