SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash #49 by Joshua Williamson, Howard Porter, Hi-Fi and Steve Wands, on sale now.
Superman is the gold standard of DC heroes, so if there are any traits that he shares with any of his peers, there’s always the question of whether he is the best at that particular skill. Is he stronger than Wonder Woman or Martian Manhunter? Is he as invulnerable as Aquaman? Is he faster than The Flash? It’s a question that’s been asked and revisited a number of times, but this week’s The Flash #49 settles the matter once and for all, with Superman attempting to catch up to not one, but two Flashes, finally pitting himself and his top speeds against theirs.
The first race between Superman and The Flash took place in 1967’s Superman #199, by Jim Shooter (who was just sixteen at the time!) and Curt Swan and was presented as an event organised by the United Nations to raise money and awareness for third-world countries. However, the heroes learned that two rival criminal organisations had put money on the event and so they collaborated and made it so that they crossed the finish line at the same time, ending in a tie.
The rematch came in the same year’s The Flash #175 by E. Nelson Bridwell and Ross Andru, as the heroes were captured by aliens who wanted to see a definitive victory. It was eventually discovered that the two aliens were Abra Kadabra and Professor Zoom in disguise and the race was once again determined as a tie, as even with a photo-finish, the Justice League couldn’t decide which hero won the race.
The heroes have raced a number of times over the years, with it usually ending in a tie or in one of the heroes ceding the victory to the other. The last time Clark Kent and Barry Allen attempted to race was during Flash: Rebirth when Superman tried to convince The Flash not to race back into the Speed Force, but Barry pointed out that those races were always for charity before pulling away from The Man of Steel with a significant lead.
Superman has also raced other Flashes before, and there've been examples of Kid Flash/Superboy races as well, with similarly inconclusive results. The good-natured spirit of the original races was even replicated in the Justice League movie, with a post-credits sequence of Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ezra Miller’s Flash engaging in a friendly contest to see who is faster, once again ending without a definitive result.