A speedster is a fictional character in superhero fiction, particularly comic books, whose primary power is the superhuman ability to perform physical and/or mental acts at impossibly high speeds. The most recognizable such superhero is the Flash. The Golden Age Flash resembled the Greek god Hermes or the Roman god Mercury with his winged cap and winged sandals. Another notable speedster is Quicksilver who has been on The Avengers roster, and has had conflicts with the X-Men.
Plausibility and artistic license
The use of speedsters in fiction requires artistic license due to the laws of physics that would prohibit such abilities. Moving at the speed of sound, for example, would create sonic booms that are usually not heard in such stories. An enormous amount of energy would be required to achieve such speeds, and as some speedsters can actually move close to or at the speed of light, this would cause them to gain near-infinite mass, according to the laws of relativity.
For example, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe states that the character Northstar maintains speeds which can be considered "modest," especially when carrying a passenger. The Handbook also concedes that a solid object moving in the Earth’s atmosphere at several times the speed of sound or faster would wreak havoc on the planet and that moving at such speeds would prohibit Northstar from breathing, while the generated wind/friction would ravage his body. On the other hand, the Handbook states that the character Quicksilver was born with adaptations that make higher speeds possible, such as enhanced cardiovascular, respiratory, musculature and digestive systems, a more efficient metabolism, better lubricated joints, tendons with the tensile strength of spring steel, unidentified bone composition that can withstand the dynamic shock of his touching the ground at speeds over 100 miles an hour, and a brain that can process information fast enough for him to react to his surroundings at high speed.
DC Comics dispenses with such explanations with its Flash family of speedsters, who instead derive their abilities from an extradimensional energy source known as the Speed Force, which not only grants them super speed, but protects them from the ravages that would be suffered by their bodies, and grants them various other related abilities as well. (See Speed Force Powers section.) However, the Speed Force is not the source from which other DC characters with super speed such as Superman or Captain Marvel derive their powers.
Writer John Byrne maintained modest abilities for the speedster character Danny Hilltop in his series John Byrne’s Next Men. Although Danny can keep pace with a race car, the friction generated by his speed melts any footwear he wears, burning his feet. Thus he runs barefoot, having toughened the soles of his feet through a regimen of pounding increasingly harder materials (sand, gravel and then broken rock). The costume he wears has a built-in guidance system.
Other writers choose not to offer any scientific explanations for the questions raised by the actual use of such abilities.
|“||Speedsters make me nervous, because if you play them accurately, they're impossible to beat...The moment someone sees him coming, it's too late. You shout, "It's the Flash!" and you haven't even got "It's" out before you're done...I could deal with Impulse because he was easily distracted.||”|
In other media
Speedsters in other media include Daphne Millbrook (played by Brea Grant), a character in the NBC television superhero drama Heroes. Daphne first appeared in that series' third season in 2008, initially as a villain.
In addition, many characters exist in other media such as film and video games who possess the abilities to perform feats at incredible speeds that exceed the abilities of those around them. Examples include the video game character Sonic the Hedgehog, and the animated cartoon characters Speedy Gonzales, the Road Runner, Morton of Horton Hears A Who!, several Ben 10 Aliens including XLR8, Jetray,and Fasttrack, and Dash of The Incredibles.
- See Coogan, Peter (25 July 2006). Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre. Austin, Texas: MonkeyBrain Books. ISBN 1-932265-18-X.
- Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert's review of Watchmen rogerebert.com; March 4, 2009
- The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, by Mark Gruenwald and Peter Sanderson; Volume Five; Pages 55 & 128.
- John Byrne’s Next Men #7; September 1992
- Question and answer with Peter David
- Further discussion with Peter David
- The character is referred to as a "speedster" on Page 3 of the August 25, 2008 TV Guide, and refers to herself as such in "The Second Coming".