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  1. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Appropriate level of super-speed?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Fervidor, Dec 8, 2020.

    So, I'm mainly all about fantasy, but my brain periodically "changes genre." For a while now I've been all about superheroes, which occurs once a year or so.

    Been thinking about super-speed, and how it's widely regarded as the most difficult power to write. I recall hearing that the writers for the Justice League cartoon wished they could just kill the Flash because his speed was so annoying to write around. (Though I don't know if that's true.) Point is, very often super-speed comes across as very inconsistent and nonsensical just to allow for engaging conflicts.

    Case in point, the aforementioned Flash from DC comics can run around the world in seconds, pick bullets out of the air mid-flight, and perform complex actions so quickly that normal people can't see him move at all. And yet he's consistently "not fast enough" to stop multiple crimes within the same city, catch projectiles before they reach the victim, and sometimes gets punched by opponents who don't have superhuman speed.

    That's an extreme example, of course, but the point is that the more impressive you have super-speed be, the more unmanageable it is to write without making all antagonists equally fast or customizing all conflicts to negate it. At the same time, well, it's a super-power: It's supposed to be amazing.

    So, my question is: In a setting with super-humans who have varying powers, is there a reasonable level of super-speed that is formidable enough for specialized speedster types, yet without making them completely untouchable in physical conflicts?
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2021
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  2. mar-iposa

    mar-iposa Member

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    One thing that some Flash comics/media sometimes mention is speedsters love eating... probably because they burn through calories alarmingly fast. I don't think I've ever seen it become a limitation, but you can make it one! I'm imaging a speedster who requires a family-of-4-sized meal to feel up for a mission; that can get expensive fast, and you can decide how far this meal takes them. This doesn't necessarily answer your "level of super-speed" question but can help make whatever you choose seem less untouchable. :)
     
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  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

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    You can say that about a lot of plot devices. And superhero stories aren't particularly known for logical continuity. That's not what the audience is looking for.

    As for super speed? Meh. Everything needs a threshold.
     
  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    The calorie idea mentioned by @mar-iposa is a good one that came up briefly in The Boys. A-Train (the speedster in that series) needs something like 8000 calories an hour. He's also suffering from an enlarged heart and brittle bones, IIRC.
     
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  5. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    I never liked the idea of super-duper-fast. However, being "unusually fast" is a fair power that can be written all good. EG, instead of catching bullets, have the character be able to /potentially/ dodge bullets by being fast enough. Same argument for fights; a few boxing/MMA/fencing/Judo videos immediately reveal that a simple 10% increase in speed could do ... wonders. Imagine being "twice as receptive/fast" as a normal human - you'd already become a fighting machine - however, not immune to being surrounded or overwhelmed. That, and by the laws of physics, speed directly translates into power of hits and strikes.

    For reference, this lad fences so fast you have to watch him in slow-mo else you won't even catch his moves.
     
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  6. GH0ST

    GH0ST Member

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    Of course there is. It depends on the other powers you have available. But as one person mentioned above, it doesn't have to be a massive speed increase to be interesting.
     
  7. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    I think the reason super speed is so annoying to write is constantly justifying why it isn't used all the time to do and fix everything. Take down a bad guy? Get in some place. Steal something. It's so frustrating to see someone like superman not simply taking down an assailant with his speed, rather than march towards someone using his bulletproof perk and risking others.
     
  8. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Well, I wasn't really asking about weaknesses or drawbacks, just reasonable limitations. I actually don't like giving super-powered characters distinct weaknesses, because I think that's a failure to manage the balance of power within the narrative. (That is to say, you only need kryptonite if all of Superman's enemies are too weak.)

    Also, just my personal taste here, but I'm not a big fan of powers that cause some sort of minor inconvenience without coming with an "off switch." If the Flash can slow down his movement and mental processing speed enough to not live in a world of living statues, he should be able to slow down his metabolism as well. Or, why can't Superman just choose to not be invulnerable if he needs to get a blood sample or something? Stuff like that just feels kinda cheap, while usually not affecting the story at all. I don't think I've ever come across a story where an issue like that was actually important.

    Right, let me rephrase the question: Suppose I have a Superman-type character who is fast enough to, say, catch bullets and move so quickly most normal people can't react. Let's further assume I have a speedster character whose only power is moving very, very fast. How much faster should the latter be to the former to stay relevant, without making them plot-breakingly overpowered since nobody else can match them in terms of getting stuff done in a hurry?

    I've noticed for a while now that Superman's speed tends to be dramatically downplayed, to the point where he sometimes don't appear to have that power at all. Often he just flies at his enemies and punches them very hard. (Same applies to similar character, for example Supergirl.) The fact that Superman is absurdly fast only seems to come up when it is needed as a plot device.
     
  9. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 12/210 MP: 0/130 Contributor

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    Imagine if a character could move at super-speeds but their reactions don't operate at super-speed.

    "Oh, I must turn left before I hit that wa-"
    *splat*
     
  10. mar-iposa

    mar-iposa Member

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    He could slow down his metabolism, but it would be at the cost of using his powers... the suggestion insinuates he doesn't have full autonomy of his bodily functions.

    You could make your speedster a sprinter, such that there is some sort of time/distance limit for his speed with some sort of recovery period. Maybe the character gets this power from tech instead of super-biology so this kind of mechanic makes more sense?
     
  11. GH0ST

    GH0ST Member

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    Huh, well for starters, if he's faster than this Superman-type character, he can't be beaten by him (he would just outrun him).

    I would also add some sort of weakness, that could counter his powers.

    One of the limitations of this power could be that he can't take people with him, since their bodies aren't used to such speed. So he can't put all his enemies in jail without killing them, and he can't take innocent people out of nuclear bomb range for example.
     
  12. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Not using his powers was basically what I meant by "having an off switch."

    But I guess what I was trying to say is that his metabolism should only work that fast when he's actively using his powers. I'm not sure about the comics but Arrowverse Flash lamented that he can't get drunk, like in general, since he metabolizes alcohol too fast for it to affect him even though he doesn't want it too. That suggests that his metabolism is always working at super speed even when the rest of him clearly isn't. And that just doesn't really make sense to me.

    If anything, that seems like something that would actually be incredibly dangerous. Like having the super-power equivalent of a serious nutritional disease. Dude should constantly be hours away from starving to death.

    Well, he could blast the speedster with eye lasers. Then there's psychic powers, and any other ability you can't simply outrun. Also, you can't actually win a fight by running away.

    But it's not really about whether or not the speedster can beat the superman in a fight. Rather it's a question of having the speedster be fast enough to be viable and effective, while also not being so fast as to be plot-breakingly unbeatable when not fighting other speedsters.

    On that note, I notice now I expressed myself poorly before. (I may have been a bit drunk when I wrote my last entry, don't quite remember.) This would all apply to the superman as well, assuming they have super-speed. See: The actual Superman barely using his speed most of the time.

    It's just much harder to get away with having your hero forget how fast they are when going fast is their only power.

    Actually, my speedster character already has a weakness: Running too fast prevents her from breathing enough oxygen for her body to keep up due to air pressure, while also increasing her cellular respiration to combustion levels. As a result, she collapses due to a combo of asphyxia and hyperthermia. She needs a special suit and mask to move at her top speed, so if those are damaged it will weaken her. (She may eventually overcome these issues, though, due to the way powers work in this setting.) Also, she suffers from a power-related disorder that makes her a kleptomaniac, though I guess that's more of a flaw than a weakness.

    Basically, I have that part covered. I'm really just trying to figure out where to put the "speed limit" to prevent her from being overpowered relative to everyone else. Understand, I don't consider this to be the same thing as compensating with weaknesses.

    I actually think that's going a bit too far, honestly. That's like having someone with super-strength who can't physically touch things (like people) without breaking them. Or a teleporter who has to account for their inertia and the movement of the planet to not die whenever they make a jump. Or invisibility that makes you go blind. It prevents the amazing heroes from being properly heroic and amazing, which is counter-productive.

    Realism isn't really a high priority in superhero stories.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2021
  13. GH0ST

    GH0ST Member

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    It was just an idea for a limitation, but from what I've seen you got that covered. But I wouldnt go so far to say that all superhero media arent supposed to be realistic.
     
  14. MartinM

    MartinM Member

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    @Fervidor

    It’s a hard question to answer. The problem as you point out is over powering the character and then finding a counter. In fact, having the powers actually feel consistent within the storyline which fails to happen in most tails like WW84 as a recent example.

    The Flash and speed power you mention fail in the real world for many reasons. You mention breathing for one. Physics E=mc2 means the mass of a 200pound man traveling at 1,000mph explodes to impact his local environment. Anything close to him would be torn apart as he moves through the near space. His basic power fails to make logical sense even in a fantasy setting.

    Although I do like the counter balance of calorie intake mentioned by @mar-iposa it makes good sense, it can’t help ground his power in some form of believable reality. This is why its so hard to write. It makes no sense.

    Take a different angle…

    The YouTube link below is to Isaac Arthur channel. Its hard core sci-fi that’s grounded. Watch the video at least till 06:55 when he talks about AXON. THIS IS YOUR FLASH FOR THE REAL WORLD.

    (8) Transhumanism and Immortality - YouTube

    “The least comic book superpower, but probably the most useful…”

    The character doesn’t move at super speed, but recognises information at super speed allowing him to react better. The counter is him living in a world where one hour will feel like one week to the character. Everything moves at a snail’s pace including conversation. The idea might be a McGuffin that allows for him to temporarily increase his AXON width links. This then subsides and he’s back in normal time…?

    Take it for what its worth, but this is a more realistic FLASH to write about with proper well-defined positives and negatives…


    MartinM.
     
  15. GribbleGrunger

    GribbleGrunger Member

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    Give him a weakness. How about a limp?
     

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