Warning: Serious Comic Book Geekery ahead

I’ve been watching a lot of cartoons in my spare time recently. Because I am (ostensibly) an adult, and therefore I can choose to fill my hours this way. 😛

Now, we all know that there are almost no superhero powers that stand up to close examination. And normally, I just accept that. I don’t worry about what actually propels Superman when he flies, or the precise mechanism by which Spider-man sticks to walls (except when it’s handled stupidly).

But… There’s one that I cannot stop nitpicking in my mind.

Let’s talk super-speed.

Both Superman and the Flash have, in various incarnations, been given different maximum speeds, but even when they’re not breaking the speed of light, they’re still fast enough to circle the world in a matter of minutes.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that Flash would have to be just as invulnerable as Superman to even survive that. I’m nitpicking at more of a story level.

Flash has to be able to react at that speed, too.

So… There is zero–literally zero–way that any human could pose a threat. None.

Lots of fight scenes between Flash and people with mechanical gimmicks involve him running just out of reach of lasers or freeze rays or whatever, until he works his way closer. Or a villain catching him by surprise and shooting him with something from behind.

Thing is, a fight between Flash and anyone who doesn’t have equivalent speed should basically look like a quick flash of light, followed by a smear on the wall.

We’re talking about someone whose reaction time is such that, if you did shoot him from ambush, he can move out of the way between the time the bullet hits his skin and the time it actually starts to penetrate. Let alone between the time the trigger’s pulled and the hammer falls, or travel time after the bullet leaves the gun.

You can’t hold someone hostage. You can’t hold down a dead man’s switch and threaten to blow up a building. None of that matters, because Flash or Superman can have the device out of your hand not only before you can use it, but before the signal that says "Hey, he moved!" has traveled from your eyes to your brain.

I know, this is pure nerd-ranting. But it bugs me in a way that other power discrepancies don’t, because it’s so clearly plot-specific. It’s not even that Flash’s or Superman’s speed (for example) varies from story to story, it varies in the midst of a story. And it varies this way because otherwise it’d be damn near impossible for writers to threaten these characters.

So here’s an idea. Why the hell make them that inhuman?

Isn’t it enough that Superman can lift an oil tanker? Does he really need to be able to push the moon out of orbit? (Again, leaving aside the whole "He’d go through it before it moved" issue.) In Marvel comics–IIRC–Quicksilver can run at several hundred miles an hour. Isn’t that–or even several thousand–enough? Does the Flash have to be able to reach a good portion of the speed of light?

I know, I know. I’m ranting. It’s "just comic books." (And for those who can’t read my tone over the internet, this is a tongue-in-cheek rant. It’s something I’m poking at because I’m a geek who loves this stuff, not because I’m genuinely pissed or anything.)

But even in "just comic books," I prefer well-told stories to poorly told ones. And when your main character’s abilities are determined by what s/he’s facing–by the needs of the plot, not what’s been established–that doesn’t lead to well-told stories.

You may now proceed to throw tomatoes at me and tell me to lighten up.  😛