We’re just about a week out from an exciting, senses-shattering contest between two giants of the comics world. No, I’m not talking about Dawn of Justice or Daredevil vs. Punisher. I’m talking about the Supergirl/Flash crossover. It’s a really special thing. A cross-network crossover is not exactly unprecedented, but a relatively rare occurrence outside of Detective Munch. Thanks to some promotional art CBS/CW have released, as well as some neat teaser videos, we know that a Flash/Supergirl race will play some role in episode.
Races between Superpeople and Speedsters are a tradition in DC Comics. A friendly contest between heroes to see who really is the fastest person alive. The races run the gamut from a sprint around Smallville to intergalactic marathons and ultimately a race through time. The crossover episode utilizing the race – even if just for a stinger at the end of the episode or a quick comedy beat – is a great way to bring these characters together and try to avoid the “heroes meet and have an misunderstanding” trope so common to Superhero comics and media.
— Supergirl (@supergirlcbs) March 17, 2016
The Superman/Barry Allen Races
The first Superman/Flash race occurred in 1967 in the pages of Superman #199. The United Nations has asked Superman and The Flash to race as a charity fundraiser. The two men would circle the globe three times and a winner would be declared when they crossed the finish line. The only caveat was that Superman was not allowed to fly. Throughout the race, minor obstacles get in their way and Superman and Flash try to help each other over the obstacles while not trying to be too overt about it, so as not to wound the other’s pride. However, two rival mobs – one American, one International – have placed large bets on the race: one wants the Flash to win, the other Superman. Both mobs plan to take out the racers and replace them with mobsters in Flash/Superman costumes and jet boots. This way they can guarantee their bet wins. As evil plans go, it’s inspired, if perhaps overly complicated. Along the way, Superman and Flash race through various international locales, whose depictions border on insensitive, across oceans and frozen tundra. As the first such story out of the gate, it’s probably the most entertaining race to read and the one that is most race-like. During this era Barry and Clark are evenly matched in terms of speed, and some dialogue implies that Superman may be able to fly faster than Flash. This race ends on an inconclusive note which sets up our next issue…
Six months later, Superman and Flash are forced into a second race in The Flash #175. Two aliens who lost money by betting on Superman and Flash during their last race are out for revenge… by making them race again, with Central City and Metropolis on the line. Why exactly aliens with the power to blow up cities needed to bet on the first race is never really explained. This time our heroes are tasked with racing from Earth to a point 40000 light years away and back. The aliens make sure the JLA won’t interfere by trapping them with their HQ’s own defenses. (Somehow, Aquaman got stuck in a shower stall that was installed over his seat.) Again, they overcome obstacles like space vortices, living spaceships and kryptonite meteor storms. However, it becomes clear that this race isn’t designed to be won, so Superman and Flash quietly agree to cross the finish line at the same time to trick the aliens. Once they return to Earth, they discover the aliens were actually the Reverse Flash and Abra Kadabra in disguise as part of an elaborate scheme. Their evil plan is foiled by their infighting and Superman and Flash resign themselves to not knowing who won the race yet again.
The third race between Flash and Superman took place in World’s Finest Comics #198–#199 (1970). A strange machine-like force called the Anachroids are ripping a hole through time that will eventually destroy the universe. The Guardians of Oa reach out to Barry and Superman to help, as they are the only two beings fast enough to fix the damage of the Anarchroids, by running counter clockwise to them. This time out, the pair must race around distant galaxies, traverse other dimensions and avoid the perils of red suns and disintegrating comets. The goal of this race is a little esoteric, they need to reach the origin point of the Anachroids before time pulls apart – a few cutaways show us Jimmy Olson falling through time into Imperial Rome and Inquisition Spain – but they also fight the Anachroids who can’t exist below the speed of light. Much like the last race, it turns out the Anarchorids are just a front for a bunch of Kryptonian criminals – Jax-Ur, General Zod and more – recently escaped from the Phantom Zone, who want to kill Superman. Again, the villains are undone as much by their inability to work together as they are by their own overblown plan. Flash and Superman escape just in time to race to shut down the time machine. We get our first clear winner as the Flash reaches out to pull a lever just before Superman can, though there’s an asterisk attached as Superman and Flash were temporarily hobbled at the time and crawling across the floor. By the third time they raced, however, many DCU residents couldn’t seem to care less. Batman, who actually shot off a starter pistol for this race, is found catching a movie with Alfred in the middle of the event.
The most confusing race comes in DC Comics Presents #1–2 (1978). Eight years after saving time from destruction, our heroes are tasked with one more race to save time. Two warring alien cultures have captured Barry and Clark and want them to race forward in time – described as a flat-circle long before Matthew McConaughey – until they circle back to the beginning of time. I’ve read it a few times and still I’m not quite sure why exactly this all needs to happen, but suffice to say that if Superman or Flash don’t help penetrate the cosmic curtain the two warring cultures will have never have existed. This doesn’t seem to bother our heroes until it’s pointed out to them that exhaust from their living ships is responsible for life on Earth!? (Also, they settled Krypton, because, why not?) So if they never exist to leave their CO2 emissions on Earth, humans never come about. This one isn’t so much a race as it is chase through time, with a couple of stop0offs in other eras to kill time. But it’s the least successful of the race stories as it’s bogged down in time-lingo and spread too thin over two issues. The heroes tie yet again as this time Superman flies inside of a vibrating Flash to pass through the time-barrier at the same time. The real highlight of these issues, though, is Superman sealing a dimensional breach with a giant needle and thread.
The final – for now – race between Barry Allen and Superman occurred in Flash: Rebirth #3 (2009). After returning from the dead during Final Crisis, Barry has become infected by the Black Flash – the embodiment of Death in the Speed Force. Though the Justice League and Justice Society have been able to contain the compromised Barry, he beings to realize the only way to beat Death may be to run right at it. And so, after escaping his prison, Barry runs full throttle from Central City to Metropolis. Superman catches up, saying to Barry that he’s not alone. After briefly discussing sacrifice and protecting the ones they love, Superman reminds Barry that they’ve raced before and are evenly matched. Barry quips that those races were for charity and blasts ahead of Clark right into the Speed Force. While not a traditional race, it is the most definitive proof of The Flash being faster than Superman.
The Superman/Wally West Races
Wally West, Barry’s protege and the third to take the mantle of Flash, had his first race against Superman in 1990, in Adventures of Superman #463. Much closer in style to the original Superman/Flash race, Mr. Mxyzptlk promises to give Wally a big reward if he can beat Superman in a race. Wally accepts and the race is on. Superman comes off as cocky and even a little annoyed that Flash would want to race him – Mxyzptlk aside – whereas Wally is pretty unimpressed with Superman. While both of those attitudes get resolved during the race, as again obstacles arise that require them to help one another, it’s a bit jarring at first to see two heroes bitterly resigned to dealing with each other, especially as Wally was around Superman as a kid. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, both Wally and Superman were depowered to a degree, so this race is only once around the globe on a path that Mxyzptlk has laid out before them. Indeed, at the time Wally’s powers required him to eat massive quantities of food to fuel his speed, and there’s a neat sequence of people bringing food to the roadside for him to snag and eat. This issue is a lot of fun and feels a bit more tense than the first race. Wally just manages to win which sets the bar for Wally’s speed for much of the 90s. But it’s a great update on the original race idea that also doesn’t feel like a retread because of who is under the Flash mask.
It would be 12 years before Superman and Wally West raced again. However, the circumstances of that race were very different. In DC 1st: Superman/Flash, Abra Kadabra escapes prison and immediately sets up a trap for Wally West and Jay Garrick, the original Flash. Superman intervenes but not before Abra Kadabra cast a spell that rapidly aged Wally West and sent him racing into the future at full speed. Superman and Jay race after him to save his life – and the lives of a captive audience who are also rapidly aging. The first person to grab Wally will stop the aging of Wally, but will themselves age instantly. As Jay and Superman race forward they argue over who should sacrifice their life to save Wally. Jay argues that as an older man, he should be the one to take the bullet. Superman counters that Jay is more valuable to Wally in resolving the situation and he won’t age quite as quickly as Jay. They remain neck and neck for a time. Ultimately, Jay cheats by tapping into the Speed Force to steal Superman’s speed – a trick he learned from Wally. That extra speed allows him to pull ahead and rescue Wally. While Jay does age, Superman and Wally are able to figure out a way to cure the problem by remembering that Abra Kadabra’s magic is technologically-based. This marked the first time Superman and Jay Garrick raced against one another and cemented the idea that all three Flashes are faster than Superman.
A very brief Wally/Superman race took place in JLA #59 (2002), however much of that race took place off page. En route to an investigation, Wally challenges Clark to a race and we cut away. When they arrive on scene, Wally says he’s won but Clark says’s they’ll discuss it later. Only a mistake has the word balloons pointing to the wrong people, so it’s a little unclear despite the use of Wally’s name.
Wally and Superman faced off once again in Flash #209 (2004). Though not an official race, Wally lead Superman on a wild chase around the world. Thus race follows on from the “Ignition” arc of Flash, where Wally asked The Spectre to make everyone forget that he was The Flash – including himself. He slowly came to remember who he was, but decided not to immediately reveal himself to the Justice League. While Batman was the first to figure out something was wrong and confronted Wally, the rest of the JLA sought answers about why their memories were tampered with. Wally left rather than explain his reasons and immediately set about search for his life, Linda, who had gone missing. Superman followed after him and the two talked about responsibility, mistakes and protecting the ones they loved as Wally went from location to location to find Linda. They end up back in Wally’s lonely apartment, where he utters a down beat “I won,” after Superman fails to catch hold of him. Wally then reveals himself to Clark, and he promises to help Wally find Linda. Perhaps the most heartfelt and well written of the races, but the least race-like. It’s a great character moment for Wally and a great version of Superman who both wants answers but understands there’s more to the situation than just protecting an identity.
The Supergirl/Flash Team-Ups
Remarkably, there are very few team-ups between Supergirl and Flash and they’ve never actually raced against each other. While they certainly have appeared together during event stories and in scenes of Justice League, there are really only two prominent Flash/Supergirl team-up stories. The first comes from the out-of-print Super-Team Family #11 (1977) which sees Supergirl team-up with both Flash and the Atom. Barry is sort of cold toward Supergirl, annoyed by being bossed around by a teenager, but the Atom is basically a sexist jerk to her. There’s very little interaction between the heroes after the beginning of the issue, as Supergirl gets separated from them, and much time is spent on The Atom and Flash alternatively fighting with each other and getting concerned when the other is injured.
The second major team-up between the two came 36 years later in Supergirl #16 (2013). This issue saw the New 52 versions of Barry and Kara clash as Barry tries to rescue Kara from the Fortress of Solitude. Only, Kara is there of her own accord and she resists Barry’s attempt to remove her by force. There are some great fight sequences rendered by Mahmud Asrar, but the fight ultimately ends in a stalemate. While the two interact, there’s really not a lot of interpersonal connection between them.
We’ll probably see more Supergirl/Flash stories as a result of the crossover episode. Despite their important roles in Crisis on Infinite Earths, there’s really not a lot that brings these two together and I think there’s great story potential between the two of them.
Jesse Quick, who once filled in as Flash for Wally West and is a speedster in her own right, and Supergirl raced each other around the Justice League Watchtower in Justice League of America #50 (2010) but they were interrupted before coming to any firm conclusion about who would win.
While Barry and Kara may not have raced, Kara has raced Kid Flash (Bart Allen) and his speedy nemesis, Inertia, in Tiny Titans #16 (2009). As part of Mr. Lobo’s gym class, the various sidekicks and young heroes of Sidekick City engage in an epic footrace. Featuring cameos from Mas y Menos, Batgirl and her Bat-copter and Robin’s scuba gear, the race is the right amount of fun, right down to its unexpected winner!
The Superman: The Animated Series episode “Speed Demons” features a race between Clark and Wally that is interrupted by the Weather Wizard.
In Superboy and the Ravers #7 (1997), Superboy (Kon-El) races against Impulse (Bart Allen, in his original superhero identity) for the first time, but stumbling upon the ruins of Coast City makes them question why they’re racing.
Superboy #5 (2010) shows us a second race between Kon-El and Bart, this time a race through every street, road and country lane of Smallville. However, they’re both overtaken by Krypto!
Finally, Bizzaro and Reverse Flash had their own race in Superman #221(2005) and Action Comics #831 (2005). Reverse Flash was sent to recruit the opposite talking un-Superman and decided to track him into joining the other villains uniting against the heroes by making it a condition of Bizzaro losing the race. And it worked!