Sunday, September 6, 2009
Just How OLD is the Flash?
I was watching Spider-Man 2 on TV recently, and thought back to the other superheroes I enjoyed when I was younger. One of my favorites was the Flash; specifically, the Wally West version.
But one thing always bothered me: Just how old was he?
I don't mean how long its been since the character was created (the first Flash comic appeared in 1940), or how old he physically appeared to be (Wally West, like most superheroes, was supposed to be perpetually in his mid-to-late 20s.) But rather: how much subjective time has he lived through?
The Flash's main power, of course, is speed. He can do everything and anything fast. He can react and think at speeds no human--or too many other superhumans, even Superman--can match. And therein lies the rub.
He lives through every single action he performs at superspeed. He has to, or else he could easily end up plastering himself all over a wall at half lightspeed. He's aware of every single step he takes as much as we are of ours, even if he can take a million such steps a second.
One of the most common feats he performed in the comics was running around the globe in a handful of second or less. That's 25,000 miles. Assuming one didn't get tired or had to stop to sleep, eat, or run to the latrine, how long would that take a normal person? At a breakneck running speed of 10 mph, that's 104 days. And the Flash lives through every step, even if to us it takes only a heartbeat. That's 3 1/2 months, subjectively. In some storylines, he does something similar dozens of times. He must burn through years of subjective time every time he fights a supervillain.
But that's just an average day at the office. What about some of his more extraordinary feats? In one story, he evacuated a threatened city of a quarter million single-handedly in a few seconds. How long would that take a single person? Assuming he could carry out one to two people per trip, that's something that could take years.
In another story, he had to tune every single radio on Earth to a certain frequency in a fraction of a second. Every single radio, in every country in every city, in every home and apartment and business and military base and ship and airplane in the world. Billions of individual units. If you had to do all that on foot, you're looking easily at a centuries-long project.
Now take all this, and combine all the adventures and battles he's had throughout his comic, plus guest appearances in other comics like JLA and such.
Now once again: Just how OLD is the Flash?
He's had to have lived through thousands, if not millions, of years of subjective time. Every time he uses his superspeed to battle a supervillain, he must be burning through lifetimes of subjective existence.
Given the nature of the world he lives in, where his best friends include a shapeshifting alien telepath and a magical greek goddess, the fact that he may be effectively immortal between ticks of the clock is not really an unbelievable development. But it does raise some rather disturbing possibilities.
For example, why hasn't he gone insane? He's not only millennia old subjectively, but he's lived through most of that time doing very repetitive tasks, like running or carrying things or turning radio knobs. It would be the next best thing to sensory deprivation, and would drive even the most resilient mind bonkers. Or maybe he has gone insane many, many times over the years, only he lives in such an accelerated timeframe that he was the only one who was ever aware of it.
Second, why does he bother with human relationships? Every time he went into battle, he'd be away from his loved ones for so long according to his own perceptions it would be difficult for emotional bonds to really persist. Other writers have pointed this out, but I think in the context of his millennia-long subjective existence I think it might be especially true: most of the time he lives in a world of very slow-moving statues. The periods where he can de-speed and spend normal time with his wife and friends would only be a minuscule fraction of his total subjective existence. Would they even seem real to him after a while?
Anyway, just something to think about next time you pick up a comic book.