Superman may have beaten The Flash in a few comics races, but Wally West reveals the real reason why the Man of Steel could ever come in first.
Some nerd debates never end, especially those involving the Scarlet Speedster and Man of Steel. One such hypothetical argument is who would win in a race? Superman or the Flash? While this debate has raged on since their very first race in the comics in 1967, a look back at most of Superman’s previous races with Barry Allen and Wally West suggest the Last Son of Krypton is ALMOST an even match for the Flash Family.
While their first couple of charity races ending in ties, their third race ended in a victory for the Flash. The following decades continued this trend, with Superman just barely being able to keep up with whichever speedster happened to be wearing the Flash emblem at the time. But most recently in Superman: Up In The Sky #4 (written by Tom King with art by Andy Kubert), Clark proves he can outrun the fastest man alive.
Although King acknowledges that the Flash is theoretically faster than Superman, when given a reason to push himself beyond his limits, Supes can turbo boost his speed to a level that even the fastest man alive has difficulty keeping up with. In this particular race, Lex Luthor promised to donate a billion dollars to a center for displaced children if Superman won (Lex calculated the Flash would beat Superman). So does this mean that Superman was actually faster than the Flash all along? The short answer is no.
Lex was correct in believing that the Flash is faster than the Man of Steel, but Superman’s greatest villain didn’t factor in the one thing that holds back every Flash—fear. Barry Allen’s successor Wally West explained it best in The Flash #209, written by Geoff Johns in 2004. Wally, the acting Scarlet Speedster at the time, was fleeing Superman; and somewhere between New York and Maui the Flash realizes that Clark’s momentum snaps the laws of physics and gravity in half. However, Wally had a special trick up his sleeve that could have easily left Superman in the dust… but he refused to use it.
At this point in time, the Speed Force (the cosmic energy field that pushes space and time forward) was a relatively new concept. When Wally discovers it to be the power behind the Flash’s incredible speed, it opened up bold new possibilities for him as a speedster. One such upgrade was the power to siphon kinetic energy from other fast-moving bodies. To beat Superman in a race, all Wally would need to do is get within close proximity and steal his speed. But doing so would likely be catastrophic—like throwing the Kryptonian out of a car going two-thousand miles a second. Superman would be an unstoppable wrecking ball of destruction, unable to control his momentum for miles.
But even without the speed drain trick, both Barry and Wally are still technically faster than Superman at their max velocity. The Speed Force pretty much allows the Flash-Family to outrun time itself, however, running too fast can also be lethal to them. What ultimately gives Superman the edge in a race (besides flight) is his invulnerability. Superman can push past his limits without any physical backlash, but multiple speedsters have evaporated into the Speed Force after metaphorically flying too close to the sun. In a race against Superman, The Flash may be the clear winner on paper—but that doesn’t mean you should immediately place your bets on him finishing in 1st place, as Lex Luthor humbly learned.