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Speedsters are stupid


I absolutely despise superheroes whose ability is super speed, for one simple reason, that being that super speed is one of the most blatantly overpowered abilities in fiction, and because of this, leads to massive gaping plot holes as writers fail to fully utilise this power.

Let's take the recent example of Quicksilver from the X-Men films. This character f*cking breaks the plot. He's been shown to move so fast that he can take out a whole room full of guards in the time it takes those guards' bullets to travel across the room. He can also notice an explosion going off under a mansion, dash in and save every single person in there.

While this can lead to some pretty clever and visually interesting scenes, it destroys any sense of tension and difficulty. Think about it, if you can move that fast, literally nothing poses a threat to you. You'll win every single fight due to your extreme reaction time. Someone throws a punch? Dodge it. Someone pulls a gun on you? Take the gun out of their hand, replace it with a banana. You step on a land mine? The moment you notice the mechanism activating, you move out of the way, grab a spade, dig up the land mine and throw it at a bad guy.

But no, in films the speedster never actually uses their power when it matters, and end up being beaten in contrived ways like being ambushed. Newsflash, you can't ambush someone whose reactions and movements are faster than a bullet. It should be that the moment something is perceived, it can be avoided.

Literally the only feasible way to take out a speedster is to do so while they're unconscious, and even then, if their senses can perceive things super fast, they'll probably just wake up the moment you pull the trigger.

Speedsters are stupid.
Literally the only feasible way to take out a speedster is to do so while they're unconscious

If you're designing a show for the CW network, you defeat a speedster with another speedster.

Professor X could defeat a speedster handily. Dr. Strange could as well, simply by warping the reality so that the speedster spends the rest of his life running around an M.C. Escher style Mobius strip (and probably a thousand other ways.) I suppose either of those could be taken out if the speedster gets the drop on them, although a) thoughts are faster than any speedster (Prof X) and b) magical defenses could be in place from the beginning (and thoughts again).

Legendary Sidekick

The HAM'ster
I totally agree.

Actually, this (almost) makes me want to write a speedster character whose sole purpose in the story would be to illustrate the point: speedsters are stupid. But instead of failing to take advantage of loopholes, a severe limitation of his superpower would render it near useless. For example, he runs twenty times the speed of a normal person but only thinks triple the speed, so dodging a bullet might be possible, but he'll likely bump into a wall. A shoelace coming undone can lead to disaster, but he really doesn't like those new laceless shoes. "Such laziness is inexcusable for one who can tie his own shoe in fourteen nanoseconds," he explains, only nobody understands him because he talks five times faster than the average person. His high voice shatters glass, so Speedster Stu needs to shut up.


Myth Weaver
This makes me wonder, would a speedster still age at the normal rate, or super fast as well?
Speedsters still need to know what to do. It's not good enough that they are merely super fast. This helps a little in something like the Flash on CW, since he's still learning the ropes and meeting opponents with abilities he's not faced before. And they can't be at two places at once. And they can't account for randomness even if their speed helps them to deal with it.

One problem with the depiction of speedsters: Carrying another person still requires strength, so when they effortlessly carry 30-100 people out of a building in a....flash, I have to wonder about that. They aren't super strong, right? (Although Superman, as another speedster, should have no problem.)


Article Team
You could probably say the same of any super power of you pick it apart. I won't bother to argue the weaknesses of speedsters but for me it boils down to one thing. The rule of cool. If it makes for a good story, then cool overrules.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I watch the Flash on the CW, and they definitely have this problem sometimes. They're inconsistent about his powers, and for some reason speed doesn't seem to make his punches any stronger. A speedster should have no problems with many of the opponents they face, and yet they are still overloading the Flash with new powers.

In general these issues are true for a lot of superpowers, especially I think a lot of the DC ones, but it's very true for speedsters. They take a higher level of disbelief just to make an opponent look dangerous.

Legendary Sidekick

The HAM'ster
Speedsters still need to know what to do.
I have a personal experience with this (though I lack superpowers. I'm not as legendary as my username implies)…

When I was 19, I worked at a grocery store and a shoplifter was making a run from the cops. The man was a blur when he ran–I had never seen anyone move so fast! But then something happened to my perception of time. It slowed to a crawl. This guy was about to run through me, but now he was jogging slower than the average hundred-year-old man would hobble.

This guy had no way of knowing how slow and predictable he was at that moment. He continued his course straight at me: the only obstacle between him and the exit. He probably thought my curious expression was one of fear and unpreparedness. Signs of weakness.

I'm describing an adrenaline surge, of course. And if you've ever experienced one like this, it's a very small taste of life as the Flash. You have all the time in the world to think about what to do. Your attack will be timed perfectly. It won't miss. You won't need to attack a second time. Lack of martial arts training won't matter. (I took my first karate lesson a month after this experience.)

That was me experiencing time in slow motion for maybe a couple seconds in real time. A trained fighter who could do that always and to a greater extent–no way could they be even touched by those who experience time normally. (I also think life would be boring for speedsters, unless the super-speed was triggered like an adrenaline surge, so time passes normally when super-powers aren't needed.)
If it's like all those Spider-Man movies where Spidey is always fighting against common street thugs for the opening however many minutes—that's one thing.

If it's a speedster fighting against another super powered individual, one he's never fought before with a power he's never had to contend against and maybe doesn't know about, that's something else.

Just imagine a speedster who sees a crime being committed and thinks, "Aha! I don't need to know what I'm doing! I'm so fast I can think of 1000 ways to take this guy out!" Only, he doesn't know that anyone who approaches within a foot of this criminal is instantaneously vaporized—or instantly begins to love the criminal, an incurable condition. Ok, bye-bye speedster unless he decides to use the 1/1000 idea to throw something at the guy or take him out from a distance in some other way.

Yes, against many types of superpowered individuals, a speedster will obviously have an insurmountable advantage. But failure to create interesting and workable stories involving speedsters is more a failure of imagination for the writers/directors than an automatic disqualification of all speedsters.

Edit: That might have come out a little harsh. My general point is that speedsters can have weaknesses related to a lack of experience and wisdom or other weaknesses like indecisiveness, ambivalence, and so forth. A discussion of the generic speedster, who will always be 100% proactive and 100% capable of knowing what to do in every situation, might miss the mark.

I'm reminded a little bit of some of the discussion about character development on Writing Excuses. If a character's competency, proactivity, and likeability are ramped up to full 10's on the slider bars, that character's probably something like a Mary Sue. But even some Mary Sue type characters can work if you put them into situations where they may not have a full 10 competency level regarding every aspect of the story. Say your speedster's primary antagonist is someone who remains hidden and can infect the populace with a fast-acting, contagious, incurable deadly disease. What's he to do?
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La Volpe

But no, in films the speedster never actually uses their power when it matters, and end up being beaten in contrived ways like being ambushed. Newsflash, you can't ambush someone whose reactions and movements are faster than a bullet. It should be that the moment something is perceived, it can be avoided.

I think the idea here is that the speedster's ability only works when he activates it. I.e. if you catch a speedster while his ability is not activated, he's a normal guy. Meaning you can sneak up behind him and hit him over the head without him knowing a thing.

And I generally agree with PenPilot. The rule of cool wins.
I love speedsters, not because of the speed but the abilities that come with it. While it's true that they have extreme perception and reaction capabilities, no one seems to factor in the fact that they are still HUMAN. This means that they have normal human limits on certain things, like not being able to react to what they can't see or are unaware of. They can still be caught by surprise and easily defeated. Just because they have heightened senses, perception, and reflexes doesn't mean they can avoid everything.


toujours gai, archie
Are we seriously arguing about the realism of the unreal?

No fantastic idea--no idea, period--is intrinsically bad. It can be implemented well or badly, but that's not the fault of the idea. When I watch or read superheroes, I'm there for the fun, to be amazed, and to hear a good story. Do that and I go home happy, and let the nits pick themselves.


I have to confess, I am wondering why we are picking on these and not just about any other superpower. Speedsters don't bother me. I like the Flash. If your gonna have a world with superpowers, your probably gonna have villains which challenge them. In fact, I quite enjoyed in the justice league animated series, that it was the flash, eventually using his fullest potential that finally beat the big boss at the end.

You mention the super reaction time, which to me is the one I would question. I am not sure that flash and superman and such can just be in super reaction time mode all the time. Seems like they have to be more focused on it, or they can be sucker-punched.

I think Batman could take the Flash ;)


toujours gai, archie
What if a person ran only twice as fast as a normal person? Or three times as fast? Is that superpower?

Seems like a good area for magical spells. Gives you, say, extra strength, but it only lasts for a limited time, maybe degrading almost from the start. So whatever it is you need to get done, best get to it.
I think if I were writing a speedster, I'd make them bear the brunt of fatigue with the same multiple rate that he/she can move. So if the character can cover a mile twenty times faster than everyone else? Great. But in that 9 or so seconds of real time effort they'll feel the effects of their movement as if they've run a near marathon. This makes small bursts easy to accomplish but still creates more fatigue to deal with if they don't get adequate rest. A good villain would be able to exploit that. And it's a good limitation if too long of a run = too much exertion and could kill them from exhaustion.They may have a super power but their human body can only take so much.

And I like the idea that every time they use their power, they age at a similar pace. It's not a big deal but if that mile run aged them by the three to four hours it takes to run a marathon. It would mean a shorter life, especially if they made use of their speed too often, perhaps back in childhood when they couldn't get enough of discovering/exploring their super power. Ahh the proverbial wasting of one's youth. ..