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An extra-dimensional energy field from which all speedsters draw their power. Or at least, they did until Infinite Crisis.

For years it was assumed that all humans with super-speed abilities derived them from a different source. The first Flash inhaled fumes from an experimental chemical. The next two were struck by lightning. Johnny Quick used a spoken formula derived from an Egyptian tomb. The Soviet teams Red and Blue Trinity were given power by combinations of steroids, gene splicing, and other biological experiments.

However, one speedster was able to learn more about the source of the mysterious power: Windrunner, legend of the American West.

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Windrunner

One evening, at the absolute peak of his prowess, he felt the night lightning...calling him. Not with his eyes or mind—but deep in his heart—he sensed a strange beckoning...and chased it. Into the unknown, Windrunner raced faster and faster. He shattered all limits. He moved quicker than the hurricane, more swiftly than the thunderbolt...faster than light itself. Reaching supreme velocity, he approached the threshold of a new communion. For a span razor-thin even to him, Windrunner touched the very source of his great power—and was transformed. The speed force drew Windrunner in...without words, inviting him to the other side of light, to become one with the power...as others had before him.
   —(Max Mercury, Flash v.2 #97, January 1995)

Windrunner hesitated at the last moment, and lost his chance at heaven. Propelled forward through time, he landed in 1891. “He had locked eyes with God—and had blinked. From that day forward, he was burdened with an empty ache more painful than the greatest dream dashed...or the greatest love lost.” Windrunner tried many times to recapture that moment, each time arriving in a new era, until he became the present-day Max Mercury.

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The Flash

From over a century and a half of experience, Max learned that all speedsters drew their power from the same source: an energy field beyond the speed of light, which for lack of a better term he called the “speed force.” He finally explained what he had learned to the others when Wally West (Flash III) began transforming into energy. He explained that Wally’s trip through time during Zero Hour had caused him to brush up against the speed force and set him on a one-way trip that would soon bring him to it (Terminal Velocity, 1994–1995).

Wally later became the first person to return from the other side of light, after which he found himself with a direct link to the power and new abilities. The efforts of Savitar to channel all the energy to himself and his army—successfully stealing it from all the others—again indicated a common source of power (Dead Heat, 1996).

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The Speed Force

Panel from The Flash #150 Over the years, known speedsters who have merged with the speed force by achieving terminal velocity include Barry Allen, Johnny Quick, and Savitar. Only two have returned under their own power: Wally West (three times), anchored by his relationship with Linda Park[1], and Bart Allen, after the nature of the speed force had changed. Max Mercury and Rival both needed outside help. Wally may have finally entered the speed force for good this time, as wherever he went in Infinite Crisis, he took his family with him.

The way the speed force seems to work is that it powers any super-fast being not naturally fast. A cheetah, for instance, is naturally fast. Superman’s speed is also a natural consequence of his Kryptonian heritage. All Flashes, however, have been normal people “noticed” by the speed force through accidents (lightning, supersonic flight, etc.) or intentional experiments (magic, steroids, etc.). The nature of the speed force has, however, changed significantly since Infinite Crisis (see below).

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Genesis

Another perspective is provided by Highfather of the New Gods[2]. According to him, the speed force is simply one aspect of a field of power called the Godwave:

Ages ago, a great world destroyed itself and released into the birthing cosmos a wave of energy such as had never been known! This was the Godwave, and its power seeded all worlds with divinity. From this came the gods your worlds have come to know and worship. That Godwave expanded to the full limits of the universe, whereupon it doubled back on itself, and made a second passage through the universe. Out of the second passing came the potential for power in mortals. This power has been given many names...the speed force, the quantum field, the great energy once channeled by the Guardians of Oa.
   —(Highfather, Genesis #2, October 1997)

Unfortunately, it is difficult to merge this view with the one previously shown. In Genesis, all super-powered beings across the universe found their powers fluctuating due to a common source. In Dead Heat, Savitar only sapped energy from speedsters. More importantly, Genesis shows Jesse Quick unaffected[3], suggesting her power comes from another source... despite the fact that Savitar was able to steal her speed along with everyone else. We can probably assume this is just an error in Genesis.

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The Other Side of Light

Some time after his death, Johnny Quick was able to communicate through the speed force and finally say goodbye to his daughter. “The Speed Force is merely a portal,” he told Wally, “to someplace much greater—a place of indescribable beauty...” He also implied he had spoken recently to Barry, suggesting that individual consciousness survives on the other side of light (Flash v.2 Annual #11, 1998). This was later confirmed when Max Mercury was shown conversing with a number of people in the speed force (Impulse #82 2002).

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The Speed of Mercury

With Max Mercury’s health fading, his connection to the Speed Force became parasitic, draining him instead of sustaining. His only hope was to reestablish his connection by entering the Speed Force itself, but in his weakened state he could not reach the speed necessary. He enlisted his former foe Dr. Morlo to study his condition and the Speed Force itself, and the two of them planned for Impulse to carry him into the Speed Force.

[Morlo's Map] Morlo developed “map,” finding that within the timestream there is a portal, a tunnel leading to a “speed storm,” and beyond the storm, the Speed Force itself. Presumably it was this maelstrom which had tossed Max aside so often before, launching him forward in time over and over again. With a few complications, Bart was able to bring Max through the storm to the brink of the Speed Force. Max stepped inside, keeping hold of Bart’s hand, and stepped out again, healed.

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Infinite Crisis

When Bart Allen forced the murderous Superboy-Prime to the brink of the Speed Force, heroes already there (Barry, Max, and Johnny Quick) pulled Superboy inside. As soon as they succeeded, something happened to the speed force itself. As far as anyone on left on Earth could tell, it was gone (Infinite Crisis #4, 2006).

The speed force had taken the Flashes and their prisoner to an alternate Earth. When Superboy escaped, Bart Allen absorbed the speed force in order to beat him back to the main universe. The speed force remained locked in Bart’s body, inaccessible to anyone else (Flash: TFMA #4&6, 2006–2007), until Inertia built a machine to extract it (Flash: TFMA #12–13, 2007).

Oddly, other speedsters remained active without the speed force. Jay Garrick was nowhere near as fast as he was before the crisis, but could still run at Mach 1. He attributes this to his being a metahuman. Lex Luthor developed an artificial metagene therapy, giving Trajectory super-speed (52). Más y Menos were briefly Titans during that first year (Teen Titans #38). A speedy clone of Jay Garrick also showed up during this time (Outsiders #35–37).

It seems the nature of super-speed has changed on “New Earth.” Where previously all speedsters relied on the speed force for their power, and being cut off from it meant no super-speed, it now seems that the speed force merely magnifies and enhances that power.

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Top of Page Art

  • Eternal Race: The Flash (second series) #150 (July 1999) - Paul Pelletier and Vince Russell
  • Map: Impulse #66 (November 2000) - Ethan van Sciver and Barbara Kaalberg

Key Storylines

  • Flash #95–100 (November 1994–April 1995): “Terminal Velocity,” Mark Waid
  • Flash #108–111 & Impulse 10–11 (December 1995–March 1996): “Dead Heat,” Mark Waid
  • Impulse #62–66 (July–November 2000): “Mercury Falling,” Todd Dezago
  • The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1–6 (August 2006–January 2007): “Lightning in a Bottle,” Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo

Notes

[1] Note a similarity here: Jay Garrick never brushed up against the field because he retired, and was not active enough to approach it. His reason for retiring: to be with his wife, Joan.

[2] The New Gods are a race of beings from the planets Apokolips and New Genesis—the two remnants of the world whose destruction is described here. They are comparable in power and age to the Greek and Roman gods (see Hermes). Highfather is the ruler of New Genesis. The Black Racer is their avatar of death, and Fastbak is their resident speedster.

[3] It may also be noted that Jesse Quick was shown in Manchester, Alabama, along with Impulse and Max Mercury, both of whom had lost their powers (Genesis #1). However, in concurrent issues of Impulse, it is clear that Max Mercury had disappeared before the crisis began—and Jesse does not appear to be in Manchester.


Text revised January 1, 2007
Do not copy without permission.

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