Between Flashpoint, the New 52, and 2016’s Rebirth, fans practically need their own cosmic treadmill to keep up with the Speed Force. Every time we get a handle on DC speedsters, something changes.
With that in mind, the Speed Force is one of the most unique and powerful energy sources in DC comics. Its raw power levels easily compare to The Quantum Field or the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum channeled by Green Lanterns. But unlike a Green Lantern’s connection to EES, natural or primary speedsters don’t just channel the Speed Force, they are part of it. They are called by it. And when a speedster dies, he or she becomes one with it.
There is an almost religious connotation here not unlike the concept of Midi-Chlorians in a Jedi Knight. You might remember on The Flash TV series when Cisco’s said, “May the Speed Force be with you.”
It’s enough to make us wonder if being struck by lightning is a speedster’s version of baptism by fire. The bottom line is, whether it’s a godlike presence or simply infinite energy, this enigmatic force is likely the most controversial and misunderstood concept in The DC universe.
So here are 15 Facts You Never Knew About The Speed Force.
15. It Wasn’t Officially Introduced Until 1994
The Golden Age Flash hit comic book shelves like a lightning bolt in Flash Comics #1 (1940). Barry Allen debuted 16 years later in Showcase 4 (1956) followed by Wally West in Flash #110 (1959). So if the writers went 54 years without the Speed Force, why add it in 1994?
For the answer, we need to flash back to the 1980s. DC was hitting their 50th anniversary. Comic book sales had partially stabilized after huge losses in the 1970s, and the company’s executive team was under pressure to regain market share. So the management team decided to shake things up with a multiverse changing crossover event. They called it Crisis on Infinite Earths. But it was really a shiny new reset button for DC.
In one fell swoop, they collapsed the multiverse into a single reality, powered down its heroes and added character depth. They also killed off Barry Allen and harnessed Wally’s speed, which was likely an attempt to minimize the possibility of future continuity issues.
Flash forward to 1994 and we still have a guilt-ridden, under-powered Wally West. By this time, DC writers have played out the burdened hero story and are looking for a way to get Wally back into the high stakes game. So they give him access to an extra-dimensional energy created by the Godwave and thus, the Speed Force awakens in Flash (Vol. 2) #97 (1994), introduced by Max Mercury.
14. Barry Allen Generates It With Every Step He Runs
While the Speed Force wasn’t officially named until 1994, the idea of a governing energy source was implied in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Then in Secret Origins Annual #2 (1988), we watched Barry become the lightning bolt that struck him at the beginning of his career. Unfortunately, it took two decades to elaborate on these concepts.
Flash forward 23 years to 2008 and Barry is alive and well in Final Crisis. Soon thereafter, Max Mercury drops a bombshell retcon moment stating Allen is the source of the Speed Force. And just like that, we remember The Flash creating his own origin.
Basically, Barry generates a kinetic wall between his present and the time barrier manifesting energy with every step he runs. This has been a controversial concept. Many people think it lessens the Speed Force. Others wonder how Wally or Bart has ever been faster than Barry, if he’s indeed the “speed source.”
The wall generated by Barry is not dissimilar to the barrier first envisioned in earlier retcons, as seen above. It is literally a wall of energy that can be accessed at any time or place within the universe. Although generated by Barry, the force which is stored equals the energy of near limitless speed multiplied by every nanosecond of use in the past, present, and future. It also carries the knowledge of every speedster who accesses it. So not only is the Speed Force every bit as powerful as if it had been spread by the Godwave, it also remains a semi-intelligent energy.
13. There is a Negative Speed Force
It is hard to grasp the full range of the Speed Force without acknowledging its negative counterpart.
The Negative Speed Force was introduced in DC’s Rebirth and is generated by Zoom. It eats at the Speed Force, consuming more of its power with every step Zoom runs, just as Barry’s every step perpetuates the Speed Force. Since Black Flash accesses this energy as well, it’s a good idea to read more about it if you are watching season 3 of The Flash.
The Negative Speed Force doesn’t just imbue its host with speed-related powers; it also gives that host the ability to disarm primary speedsters. It can negate their speed or remove specific speed-related powers. Zoom has also been known to use the negative Speed Force to absorb the memories of other speedsters.
Finally, the energy stolen by the negative Speed Force can find a host and create new adversaries for The Flash and other speedsters. This step seems to be the final balancing between forces. Just as Barry and the Speed Force have called forth other speedsters in time of need, gifting them with its power, the Negative Speed Force can do the same.
12. Despite Varying Power Levels, it’s An Equal Opportunity Energy
We all know different speedsters have different powers. Some speedsters are faster than others. Some speedsters don’t even get their powers from the Speed Force. But of those that do, raw power has generally been about will and experience. When Wally slowed down to 700 MPH, it turned out to be a mental block that kept him from accessing his speed and thus, the Speed Force.
Once Wally overcame the mental block through pure force of will, he was not only faster than Barry Allen, but actually began accessing the Speed Force in ways no one else had ever imagined. He stopped worrying about being too slow and started worrying about being too fast. This can happen when you are concerned about being trapped in an extra-dimensional energy (see #10 below).
On a basic level, accessing the Speed Force allows one to move very fast. And with that speed comes faster reflexes, faster thought processes, and heightened perception. The Speed Force also generates a protective aura around speedsters. These powers, along with a few others, such as accelerated healing, are a byproduct of speed. But how fast a speedster can go really depends on the speedster’s individual determination and experience.
11. Different Speedsters Can Use it Tap Into Different Abilities
Just as willpower and experience can determine a primary speedster’s maximum velocity, it can also determine how they use the Speed Force. The more advanced powers are learned and vary greatly between speedsters. For example, Wally West was the first person to create energy constructs, like the armor he generated during the Emergency Stop Arc (1997).
Lady Flash of Earth-33 can cast electromagnetic blasts that literally drain movement from others. Many Speed Force conduits also have a Jedi-like sense that allows them to detect the Speed Force in others. A point of particular interest is Bart Allen’s genetic disposition. Having been born with the Speed Force built into his DNA, he is the only Flash with a truly photographic memory.
In simplest terms, each speedster accesses, conducts, and disperses the Speed Force in ways that are unique to their own imagination, will, and experience. The most basic way to explain some of those differences is with the 3 primary speedsters most connected to it:
- Barry Allen generates the Speed Force and accesses it as the source
- Wally West is the perfect conduit for the Speed Force, arguably having the most balanced connection
- Bart Allen is a manifestation of the Speed Force, having been born with it in his genetic make-up
Given the right experience, willpower and need, one could make an argument that any primary speedster could access any Speed Force related ability that has or ever will ever be invented.
10. Speedsters Can Get Trapped Inside it
Like a possessive god, when the Speed Force reclaims a speedster, it does not wish to let go. Wally West once feared running too fast because he was worried about merging with the Speed Force and becoming stuck. Considering that ended up there anyway, it was not an unmerited concern. And he isn’t the only one to have been reclaimed by the Speed Force. Max Mercury, Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and others have also merged with it.
Once in the Speed Force, a speedster loses physical cohesion and form. They become something akin to the lightning energy generated when they run. But if a speedster merges with the Speed Force prior to death, it seems to act like a purgatory or limbo where they are stuck with their conscious mind intact.
In 1994, Max Mercury explained that there is a risk of being pulled into the Speed Force after reaching light speed. He called it a strange beckoning, not of his eyes or his mind, but deep in his heart. And when he chased it, accelerating to light speed, he felt it begin to pull him past the light. He wanted to become one with it. Then in a moment of fear, he hesitated and was cast out. Or more specifically, he was bounced into the future.
As such, the fastest speedsters have generally set their max velocity at just under the speed of light (.9999x). One notable exception to this speed limit was when Bart Allen absorbed the Speed Force to stop Superboy-Prime.
9. It Can Cause Accelerated and Decelerated Aging
Bart Allen entered the world as part of the Speed Force with a hyper-accelerated metabolism and equally quick mental processes. This resulted in accelerated physical and mental aging so that by the age of 2, he had the body and mind of a 12 year old. He was raised in a virtual reality environment that simulated a world where time moved at a pace he could understand in order to keep him from going insane.
Inversely, Jay Garrick’s body automatically started aging at a decelerated rate when he received his powers. There are other speedsters who have had and/or learned to command this power. But Zoom’s ability to manipulate and change his very age at will seems to be the most advanced usage of this particular power to date. Zoom has reversed his aging process within his body and appeared as a child. He has also used his powers to prematurely age others, stealing their life force.
8. Time Wraiths Are Exclusive To The Expanded ArrowVerse
Time Wraiths as seen on The Flash TV show have not appeared in DC comics. On the show they act as Speed Force enforcers or a specialized time patrol only appearing under a specific set of circumstances. In this respect they are very similar to the transcendental beings known as Reapers in the BBC Doctor Who series.
In the DC universe, we have the trench coat sporting Rip Hunter from Legends of Tomorrow as DC’s version of the Doctor. And we have seen the Time Masters, who are an alternate version of Time Lords. As such, Time Wraiths do not manage the timeline in general. More specifically, their job is to ensure that speedsters do not use the Speed Force to impact the time line.
It is important to note that while Time Wraiths are not in the pages of DC Comics, Rip Hunter has seen his share of time on page. He first appeared in Showcase #20 (May 1959). The Time Masters debuted later and have appeared in multiple comics, including their own mini-series.
7. The Speed Force Connects Speedsters To Each Other
As mentioned above, speedsters have been able to detect the Speed Force in others, much like Jedi Knights sensing the force. In addition, they have been known to siphon, steal, give, and share speed between each other, as conduits of the speed force. Think about what that means. If primary speedsters can be born as part of the Speed Force, exist as living conduits of the Speed Force, and merge with it in death, then they must be connected to each other as well.
The Born To Run story arc covering Flash (Volume #2) issues 62-65 implies that Barry didn’t just turn into the lightning that gave him his speed, but he also created the accident that gave Wally his powers. He literally willed the lightning into existence by feeling the need to create another speedster.
While we have seen multiple retcons describing different origins and sources of Speed Force energy, it seems one growing tennet within the mythos is that the Speed Force continuously grows into a unifying energy between speedsters.
6. Speedsters Have Used The Speed Force To Fly
While all speedsters who are fast enough to reach escape velocity can experience “inverse flight”, a few speedsters have been able to use the Speed Force to actually defy gravity. This power was mastered by both Johnny Quick and his daughter Jessie Quick. The Flash also manifested this power in the Kingdom Come miniseries (1996) written by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.
In the story line, Wally West, known as Wallace West, also exhibits other new powers, as he has completely merged with the Speed Force and phases through every dimension. Johnny Quick and Jesse Quick actually access the Speed Force through visualization of the formula 3X2(9YZ)4A. Both their super speed and power of flight is attributed to the Speed Force. However, Jesse also exhibits super strength which has not been linked to it.
It is important to note that there have been multiple versions of Johnny Quick, including an anti-matter universe doppelganger who was an evil version of the Flash. He was most notably a member of The Crime Syndicate.
5. it’s One Of The Only Forces That Can Counter The Anti-Life Equation
The all powerful Anti-Life equation is a formula that accesses half of a cosmic being which was split into two entities during the war of the Old Gods. It is a byproduct of The Source energy and in the New 52 retcon it was the spark that gave life to the anti-matter universe.
The formula has been mastered and utilized by Darkseid to subjugate the will of others. However, he is said to only have a partial understanding of its full destructive capabilities. It completely saps the will of someone under its control, leaving them lost, and either saps their will to exist and/or turns them into vile, evil creatures, dependent on the specific retcon.
There are very few energies or beings who can withstand this energy. It has even been known to overpower The Monitor, yet The Flash was able to use the Speed Force to reverse its effect on his wife in Final Crisis #4, entitled How To Murder The Earth.
4. Speed Force Conduits Can Control The Passage Of Time
This is power, called Chronokinesis, is used by The Flash, The Reverse Flash, and Zoom. Each of them have been known to adjust their personal time stream. Most of us are aware of their ability to travel through time given the right circumstances. In addition to this ability, speedsters have been able to slow time, reverse time, and speed it up in order to change the outcome of events.
Interestingly, Hunter Zolomon was able to simulate super speed in at least one retcon without accessing the Speed Force. He literally used his scientific knowledge to manipulate his personal time stream instead of moving at super speed. By slowing and otherwise manipulating time, he was able to rival and even seemingly surpass Wally West’s speeds. As such, he was able to simulate great physical speed, enhanced mental speed, and more. He could not, however, travel through matter, which lost him at least one battle against Wally.
3. The Black Flash Has Been Called The Grim Reaper Of The Speed Force
The Black Flash was first seen in Flash (Volume 2) #138. (1998) and was known as the supernatural embodiment of death in previous DC retcons. When a speedster was near death, the Black Flash would come for him or her. If the speedster could not outrun the Black Flash, he would take them into the Speed Force. The Black Racer and Nekron have also been considered aspects of the Grim Reaper.
Barry Allen described the Black Flash as a supernatural entity whose presence signaled the approach of his death. And multiple retcons revised the stories behind the deaths of Barry and other speedsters as having been heralded by The Black Flash. It is unclear whether the current continuity, Rebirth, will continue with this particular storyline. There has also been a lot of speculation about how the story line will play out in season 3 and/or future seasons of The Flash TV show.
2. Max Mercury Is DC’s Speed Force Guru
As seen in 1994, Max Mercury was the first speedster to reference and name the Speed Force. After a failed attempt to merge with it in the 1800s, he ended up dedicating his life to becoming one with it. And his is a life which has spanned a few centuries. His first appearance was in National Comics #5 (1940) which means he predates the Silver Age Flash in appearance as well as timeline. However, this appearance was under the guise of Quicksilver. And the only reference to his secret identity at the time was his first name, Max.
Going through many incarnations including Windrunner, Whip Whilrwind, and Max Mercury, he was constantly enamored with the Speed Force. After his first attempt to merge with it resulted in him being skipped through time, he began meditating to try and re-establish that connection. As such, he developed an innate and zen-like knowledge of its essence.
This is likely how he was able to sense that Barry generated the Speed Force in the newest retcon.
1. Geoff Johns Reportedly Called It “Completely Absurd”
Several posts on multiple sites, from Wikipedia to Comic-Vine, have stated Geoff Johns called the Speed Force both “completely absurd” and “basically magic”. While there aren’t any specific sources for this statement actually cited, we can draw conclusions about the overall statement based on both Geoff’s writing and some of his interviews.
Two interviews in particular are of great interest. The first is Geoff Talks The Flash: Rebirth. In the interview Johns makes a veiled statement about the Silver Age Flash and his god-like speed powers which were linked to the Speed Force. He clearly states Barry was more of a “science fiction” hero while Wally was a “super hero”. In another Rebirth interview Geoff discusses how excited he is that the new Barry Allen is all about speed while Wally’s character wasn’t about speed at all. It almost seems like a “company line” coming from him. Johns wrote the Wally West character for years. If Johns wanted a character who is all about speed, why didn’t he write that characteristic into Wally’s version of the Flash?
And finally, while retaining great speed and powers, we do have to acknowledge that the first thing Rebirth did with the Flash was change the nature of the Speed Force.
The Flash TV series continues on November 15 with ‘Shade’ @8pm on The CW.