Anyone who knows anything about the DC universe knows that most of their speedsters derive their Mercurian speed from the all-encompassing energies of the mystical and omnipresent Speed Force. It is viewed as a representation of the concept of reality in motion, and while it has been a part of the Flash mythos and lore and gone mostly unchanged since Mark Waid introduced the concept of it during his run on the Flash, it has received new properties and has had its origins altered on more than one occasion. The Speed Force also bestows upon its users a variety of powers and abilities depending on the person. To be clear, I’ll be strictly defining the Speed Force as it exists in the DC comic books, and not as it is presented in the Flash television show or its brief appearance in the Justice League animated series.
The existence of the Speed Force was originally hinted at in Flash #78 when Wally West was in need of a boost and he consulted scientist Johnny Quick and zen guru of speed Max Mercury for their different perspectives on shifting into a new gear. Johnny Quick accessed his speed through the use of a complex, 4th-dimensional formula: 3X2 (9YZ) 4A. By envisioning this formula in his mind, Johnny Quick described being enabled to tap into the 4th dimension – time – and drew his speed from there. This exchange suggests the idea of tapping into some external “force” to gain speed. Max Mercury expounded upon this idea of tapping into speed by approaching it from a different perspective – a spiritual, or “zen,” one. Max further described this in Flash #91, wherein we first actually saw someone speak the words “Speed Force” as he explained to Wally that their powers come from something far greater than simple concepts like lightning or chemicals and that allowing that force to flow through them is how to obtain true speed and also suggested that Barry Allen (currently dead after sacrificing himself in Crisis on Infinite Earths) went into this mystical force upon his death.
Wally West was the first speedster that readers witnessed entering the Speed Force during the events of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time and Flash #0. The Speed Force has taken on many forms visually, from swirling, living plasma energies to a neverending, raging lightning storm in Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s Flash: Rebirth, and a vast dimension all its own with floating rocks and islands with access to various other dimensions and the timestream itself viewable overhead, as it was presented in DC New 52 The Flash Vol 1. The few adept speedsters who are able to tap deeper into the Speed Force can use it to gain access to the timestream and jump across time. This has been seen in no small number of Flash stories; however few of them are as pivotal or iconic as the Flashpoint DC universe reset event.
The Speed Force is described as a cosmic force that makes time itself move forward and also acts as the barrier holding not only the other cosmic forces at bay (cutting them off from being accessed by other living things) but holding the DC multiverse together as a whole. In the 25th century, Hunter Zolomon (a.k.a. Zoom) studied this “Force Barrier” extensively with the goal of breaking it and tapping into these yet unseen energies. During the climax of the recently concluded Flash War event, Zolomon got his wish and, as a result of Wally West and Barry Allen breaking the Force Barrier, he was able to access the Sage Force and Strength Force. These new forces are still unknown quantities, as they’ve only been just discovered. Back to the Speed Force, however; it permeates throughout all of time and space and every dimension. Being such an omnipresent energy, the Speed Force can be extremely volatile and is known to create massively destructive “speed force storms” that rain down lightning. These storms often result in the creation of new speedsters, whether permanently or not. One such speedster is Godspeed, Barry Allen’s former fellow Central City Police Department servant. In the aforementioned DC New 52 The Flash Vol 1, it is also suggested that the Speed Force is responsible for the disappearance and destruction of the Mayan civilization. It is theorized that the Speed Force actually seeks out individuals worthy enough for it to channel its ever-expanding energies into them to expend them and hold together the very fabric of existence as it is directly tied to time and space itself.
The most noteworthy user of the Speed Force is actually its creator (at least in the pre-52 DC continuity, as it has not been made clear at this point if this is still the case; however, we will continue under the assumption that it is), Barry Allen – who, upon being struck by lightning, actually created the Speed Force and began to expand it throughout all of time and space with every step that he ran. This allows characters who existed prior to Barry to tap into its energies and achieve greater speed. Max Mercury noted this revelation during the events of Flash: Rebirth. Again, in DC New 52 The Flash Vol 1, while having run into the Speed Force for the first time (to his recollection), Barry Allen learns that his running, specifically, is what keeps the Speed Force the most stable and if he were to cease running altogether the consequences would be disastrous. While the Speed Force is ever-growing as Barry is constantly moving, its energies are finite and there is only so much of it to go around. When Barry Allen was trapped within the Speed Force after Crisis on Infinite Earths, its energies did not grow and instead stagnated. After the events of Infinite Crisis, Bart Allen absorbed the Speed Force in its entirety after Wally disappeared in time and became the only speedster able to tap into it for a while, though this threatened to kill him.
Those who tap into the Speed Force for their powers: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen, Wallace West (II), Max Mercury, etc. are generally known as Speed Force Conduits. This name comes from the idea that the Speed Force itself channels its energies into and through these individuals with the purpose of burning off its excess power. As stated earlier, Barry Allen is the most significant of these conduits as he is the primary source for the Speed Force to let off steam despite his connection to it not being as strong as the original Wally West’s. A quick aside here for those confused by the idea that Barry Allen (presumably still) created the Speed Force and is its main outlet for exhaust and primary conduit, and yet Wally West’s connection to it is stronger: Barry Allen has always viewed the Speed Force from a cautionary perspective and with a scientist’s skepticism, and while he best understands how it works, who and how he is as a person only allows for so much of a connection. The original Wally West, on the other hand, has embraced the Speed Force practically from the outset. In the pre-52 continuity, Wally achieved Speed Force Nirvana, being the first speedster to enter the Speed Force and then subsequently exit it of his own volition. Upon achieving this nirvana-like state, Wally truly became one with the Speed Force and is the only speedster to mainline it; that is to say, that instead of just tapping into its energies for his powers the entire Speed Force constantly flows through him. This is what allows Wally to be, according to DC Nation Magazine #2’s official DC Universe Speed Ranking, the fastest being ever in existence.
Returning to the concept of Speed Force Conduits, these individuals receive and/or develop a variety of powers usually including, but not limited to, the ability to run at incredible superhuman speeds. There are some powers derived from the Speed Force which only certain conduits have manifested or developed as unique to them (as of this writing, at least, so if DC Rebirth Flash writer Joshua Williamson has changed that by the time you’re reading this, please refer to this as an apology of sorts), and they will be notated as such.
Superhuman Speed: This one should go without saying, but conduits tend to gain the ability to run at insane speeds once they’ve tapped into the Speed Force. This includes characters who may have already possessed speed as a superpower prior to their connection with it. An example of this would be the original Flash, Jay Garrick, who, before his connection with the Speed Force, was only capable of running at up to 770mph from his metagene, however, once connected, he was able to run upwards of 20 times that.
Speed Force Aura: A necessity amongst speedsters, this is a passive power granted by the Speed Force that generates a kinetic barrier. This barrier protects the speedsters from the immensely high levels of friction and heat generated from running as fast as they do. Without it, they would catch on fire, as when Reverse Flash Eobard Thawne temporarily took away Jay Garrick’s kinetic barrier in The Flash: Rebirth. The Speed-Force-stealing demi-god villain Savitar showed a more advanced evolution of this power by generating a Speed Force Shield that reflected incoming objects away from him.
Decelerated Aging: This is one easily forgotten by readers, but many conduits experience a prolonged youth, or, more accurately, slowed aging when they’ve been connected to the Speed Force for a period of time. This reduced aging also extends to those the conduit is in direct contact with the most. To use Jay Garrick as an example again, in his last pre-52 appearance he looks around 50 while actually being closer to 90, and this extends to his wife Joan as well.
Phasing: The ability to vibrate one’s molecules at the same frequency as a given surface or object allows the conduit to phase through said physical thing or allow objects to pass through them, be it a brick wall or bullets. While this ability is common among speedsters, conduits who are more adept with it can allow other people or things to do the same if they maintain direct contact with them. Barry Allen did this in DC New 52 The Flash Vol 1 when he impressively vibrated an entire jet and its passengers through a bridge.
Vortex Creations: One of the first powers to be seen used by the Flash, aside from his running speed, is his ability to rotate his arms at such high velocities that he creates mini tornados. More adept speedsters can create significantly powerful cyclones with this trick and also use it to suck the air out of someone’s lungs to suffocate them.
Accelerated Healing: Speedsters who become wounded in battle are able to rapidly heal with short rest. This effect varies with the severity of the injury. A few scrapes and gashes heal much faster than when Wally West practically shattered his legs or when Deathstroke blew out Bart Allen’s knee with a shotgun blast at point-blank.
Increased Perception: Speedsters’ bodies aren’t the only thing that moves at superhuman speeds; their minds function at higher speeds as well. While this ability is difficult to get a handle on at first, once proficient with it, conduits are able to perceive events before they transpire. This is less an ability to see the future and more one wherein because they are able to think so fast, they can envision virtually every possible scenario in a given situation and then act accordingly.
ESP: Exhibited primarily by speed guru Max Mercury, his connection to the Speed Force allows him to perceive the location of other Speed Force Conduits, as well as the motion of any object in the world. Wally West has also used this ability once to detect the location of his wife, Linda Park, from across time and space.
Light Projection: Speedsters who have manifested this ability are able to utilize their Speed Force lightning as a sort of strobe light, creating a piercing light that can be used to either blind their foes or pierce through pitch black darkness. Wallace West (II) used this ability in DC Rebirth Flash Vol 2. The Speed of Darkness.
Electro-Blast: Another Speed Force lightning-related power, some conduits have been capable of channeling their lightning and throwing it like a projectile. Both Barry Allen and Wallace West (II) showed this ability in DC Rebirth Flash Vol 1. Lightning Strikes Twice, and it is also one of the powers Barry learned how to use on the TV show.
Speed Force Negation: A difficult stunt to pull off as it can backfire if not performed properly, though one that theoretically all speedster conduits should be able to perform, this involves matching up and interlocking their Speed Force energy with that of another. By doing this, a given speedster can short-circuit another.
Superspeed Reading: Since their brains operate at such high speeds, speedsters can read as fast as they can run, able to fly through enormous volumes of books in mere seconds. The unfortunate side effect of this ability is that they generally lose the information not long after gaining it.
Photographic Memory: While all speedsters have the ability to read at superhuman speed, the ability to actually permanently retain all of the acquired information lies solely with Barry’s grandson Bart Allen (the second Kid Flash). He can process and recall everything he’s ever seen or read, having once speed-read every single book in the San Fransico Public Library and being able to remember all of it.
Speed Scouts: An ability that precious few speedsters have manifested, this power involves the conduit manifesting Speed Force energy clones of themselves which they can then send out to either distract or gather information that they then gain upon absorbing them back. The villain Godspeed used this power against Barry Allen in the already mentioned DC Rebirth Flash Vol 1. However, it was shown to have negative side effects on Godspeed when overused. The only speedster to have been able to use this ability without issue is Bart Allen.
Electrokinesis: By channeling and manipulating their Speed Force lightning, conduits can use their lightning to a variety of effects. This includes their ability to fire bolts of lightning from their hands but also is what allows Barry Allen (and at one point Bart Allen) to store their Flash suit within the Flash ring and retrieve it as well.
Energy Construct Creation: Speedsters who possess a high level of proficiency with Speed Force manipulation can use it to construct solid objects much like those that the various Lantern Corps member can. Wally West uses this ability to construct his Flash suit, and at one point used it to create a reinforced, extra-armored suit to allow his broken legs to heal.
Speed Sharing and Stealing: Wally West is able to temporarily lend his Speed Force energy to other people or objects, as well as take the momentum and speed from them, allowing him to slow down or speed up the object. Godspeed also possessed the ability to steal the Speed Force energy directly from other speedsters.
Infinite Mass Punch: By running at insanely high speeds, Wally West was able to use his momentum to hit his enemies with the force of a white dwarf star. To put this into a clearer perspective, he used this to knock out a being that had the durability of Superman.
Dimensional Travel: A exceedingly high-level ability of which very few speedsters are capable, this allows them to create wormholes to traverse the timestream to jump to any point in time, sometimes to the detriment of the known universe (read Flashpoint). Barry Allen does this through the use of the Cosmic Treadmill; however, the original Wally West does this without any aid at all.
One final note is that not all characters, hero or villain, that can move at superhuman speeds derive their powers from the Speed Force. A few notable examples of this are: Superman, who can move incredibly fast when under the yellow sun but is like anyone else when not; Shazam, who derives his ability to move fast from Hermes and is therefore magic-based; and Bar Torr the Kid Flash of the New 52 Teen Titans, who, while adopting the name of “Bart Allen,” shares no relation to Barry Allen, nor do his powers come from the Speed Force – he’s simply a metahuman gifted with the ability to run at incredible speeds, much like Jay Garrick before he was exposed to the Speed Force’s energies. The Speed Force has undergone many transformations over the decades that have expanded it from the simple concept that it began as, and it is one of the deeper and more complex things that exist within the DC multiverse. As DC’s Rebirth continuity continues to reveal more secrets of the past, there’s no telling what role the Speed Force will play in its future. No doubt, this is far from a comprehensive lesson on all things Speed Force, but it is a solid introductory course, if you will, to the energies that give many of our favorite, fleet-footed, Flashes their powers. If you enjoyed this tidbit of Speed Force download, then stay tuned to Friday Flash Facts at Geeks + Gamers for more information on all things Flash!