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A speedster is a character whose powers primarily relate to superhuman speed (also known as superspeed). Primary abilities shared by all speedsters include running at speeds far in excess of human capability (to varying degrees) and resistance to the side effects (air resistance, inability to breathe, dynamic shock resulting from contact with objects at high speed, etc.) that result from such velocity. In almost all cases, speedsters are able to physically attack opponents by striking them while at high speed to impart huge amounts of kinetic energy without suffering harm. A variety of other powers have been attributed to speedsters depending on the story, the origin of the power, and the established continuity and rules of a given universe.
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.
The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe states that the character Nova 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.
In DC Comics, the Flash family of speedsters derive their abilities from an extradimensional energy source known as the Speed Force, which grants them superspeed and various other abilities required to use it, such as durability. However, the Speed Force is not the source from which other DC characters with superspeed such as Superman or Captain Marvel/Shazam 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.
Other writers choose not to offer any scientific explanations for the questions raised by the actual use of such abilities. Peter David, whose run on the series Young Justice included the junior speedster Impulse, has opined that speedsters are inherently difficult to write: "Speedsters make me nervous, because if you play them accurately, they're impossible to beat ... I could deal with Impulse because he was easily distracted."
Some speedsters may also end up destroying their surroundings or entire astronomical structures around them by their sheer speed alone if they are not careful enough. For example, Saitama from One-Punch Man accidentally destroyed a large portion of the moon when he jumped back to Earth from it within ten seconds during his battle with Boros.
In other media
Speedster characters appear in other media such as film, video games, anime and manga, the most notable being the video game character Sonic the Hedgehog, and Looney Tunes characters Speedy Gonzales and the Road Runner.
- Daphne Millbrook from the NBC television superhero drama Heroes
- XLR8, Jetray, and Fasttrack from Ben 10
- Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- One-Punch Man characters Saitama, Speed o' Sound Sonic, Flashy Flash
- Dash Parr of the Pixar motion picture The Incredibles
- Bree Davenport, the superhero from Lab Rats
- 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".