Speed is The Flash’s super power. He’s considered The Fastest Man Alive. That’s not in doubt. But is he really the fastest superhero? Superman vs The Flash has become an iconic story in DC history. There have been many stories were the two heroes have raced one another. Some have ended in a draw while others had The Flash as the victor. I don’t believe Superman has won any of these races. Are the publishers trying to make sure we know that no one can beat The Flash in speed? No one?
Well, I see it this way. While The Flash may be the fastest man alive, Superman is considered to have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. The Flash is mortal. Yes, he’s a powerful superhero and his speed is unmatched by most heroes. But at the end of the day Superman is the most powerful and that includes his speed. An alien from another planet who some look up to as a god is slower than a man who’s been doused with chemicals? I can’t wrap my mind around that.
The Barry Allen Flash debut ushered in the Silver Age, a time when Superman’s powers could not be matched. We joke about Clark juggling planets but truthfully he was performing acts that boggled the mind. He could fly from planet to planet in nearly a heart beat. His speed was legend, whether he took to the air or was running to capture a bank robber’s car before he lifted it over his head, making everyone scurry. Sure, he could be a showoff back then but you get my point. Heck in the Golden Age speed was one of his most important abilities because at the time he could only leap tall buildings in a single bound not fly to the top of the Daily Star/Daily Planet. How often did he chase down a train full of explosives and come out of it without a scratch? Yes, he used many of his abilities in these situations, but without his speed the train would explode and down came a bridge killing hundreds! Yes, speed! In the Bronze Age his power levels didn’t diminish very much. They tried to de-power him a bit early on but that didn’t last. And again he raced The Flash and didn’t win.
Post-Crisis they did change his power levels. He wasn’t the godlike being he used to be but he was still faster than a speeding bullet. Again they raced and Superman didn’t win. Whether The Flash won or it was a tie, Superman was never the victor. Correct me if I’m wrong. But it seems Superman just wasn’t given the respect he was due. This is Superman! He was still considered to be god in the eyes of some, even if his power levels decreased. And still he couldn’t beat this guy who gained his powers by accident!?
Look, let’s be real here (if we can be real when discussing comic book characters) The Flash in any iteration, Jay, Barry, Wally, etc. are all great heroes. In fact for me any Flash is in my top five. In fact The Flash Rogues Gallery taught me the word rogue! But a human being with powerful and at times complicated powers just cannot beat the greatest and most powerful hero of all time. I wish I could take the time and dissect particular stories that could prove my point. I’ve given examples but on the surface the subject seems destined to go in The Flash’s favor. We all know it’s much more complicated than who’s the fastest man alive. These characters deserve more analysis. But Superman, the greatest hero alive, should always be the fastest. We can argue all day but with his powers and abilities Superman should come second to no one!
I’ll tell you what this is all about. Labels. The Flash is “the fastest man alive!” Superman “is faster than a speeding bullet!” It all comes down to labels. It’s just about the one you believe. And to me Superman will always be FASTER than a speeding bullet.
For decades, comic book fans have debated about Superman’s speed in relation to The Flash. There have been numerous races in the comics, an episode of “Superman: The Animated Series,” and a segment in the theatrical cut of “Justice League” dedicated to trying to provide an answer as to which hero was the fastest. As fun as it is to see the two race, it’s always been silly to me to think that the Man of Steel could ever outrun The Fasted Man Alive. Superman is fast, but he should never be faster than The Flash.
For starters, having Superman be faster would render The Flash useless. Barry or Wally would always just be second best. Why have The Flash take care of things that require incredible speed when Superman could do it and do it faster? Suppose that the League needs to evacuate a downtown district, but the battle prevents the team from getting a massive transport vehicle in to do that. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern are able to subdue the villain while Batman is running crowd control, leaving Superman and The Flash to speed citizens out of harm’s way. Of course, both would be helpful in the situation, but Superman’s super strength would allow him to carry more people and also get them out at a faster rate, meaning more people saved in less time. The Flash needs to be The Fastest Man Alive, not only to live up to that nickname, but also to keep him from being a redundant member of the Justice League. Of course, the League would never remove Barry or Wally from the League for being slower as he’d still be useful, but I can imagine The Flash might come to feel some resentment towards Superman.
Additionally, keeping Superman just a bit slower than The Flash gives him some limitations. People always complain that Clark is too powerful for anything to ever be a challenge. Capping his speed gives him an extra obstacle. As much as I love Superman, an all-powerful Superman doesn’t make for a very compelling read. If Superman needs to get from the Fortress of Solitude to Metropolis to prevent a disaster, keeping that limitation makes for a more suspenseful read. If he can travel great distances in an instant, the reader has no reason to get invested.
That isn’t to say that I don’t want Superman to have super speed. It’s one of his powers, after all, and I like that he has the ability to move at incredible speeds. The original premise behind Kryptonians was that they were just like us, but at the peak of physical perfection, and able to perform feats of speed and strength that we could never. I just don’t think he should be able to outrun the guy who changed the entire universe because he ran so fast he was able to travel back in time. Ideally, Supes should come in close second against The Flash’s standard running speed, whatever that may be. Besides, I don’t much like the idea of Superman having the ability to time travel.