For as long as there have been superheroes, there have been intense, passionate arguments about which ones are fastest. DC Comics attempted to settle the debate among their own speedy heroes in 1967 with the Superman vs. The Flash races, but the series proved so popular that the first several times the two went at it, it ended in a tie. (By 1970, the company realized that if the Flash wasn’t faster than Superman, he was basically useless–although poor loser Supes only conceded that “on this world, you’re the fastest.”) Still, the debate extends well beyond The Flash and Superman–certain types of people (i.e., big ol’ nerds) have spent much of the past 40 years arguing whether the Millennium Falcon or the Starship: Enterprise is faster, and for most of the last 15 years, the Firefly-class ship Serenity has been in the mix there, as well. In an age of Marvel movies and Star Wars revivalism, meanwhile, you don’t even have to be the biggest nerd on your block to have spent a few moments wondering if the Iron Man suit is faster than a TIE Fighter.
Finally, though, there’s a comprehensive solution to all of your “which is faster” arguments, courtesy of the folks at TravelMath. In the site’s interactive infographic, a whole mess of characters, ships, and transportation devices get stacked against one another. How does the Human Torch compare to Sonic the Hedgehog? Finally, there are answers! (Spoiler: he fares poorly.)
The methodology for TravelMath’s infographic is surprisingly detailed. At the very least, it digs deep into various character details for its answers–for instance, determining that the Human Torch can travel faster than the speed of sound involved looking at an issue of Fantastic Four in which he boasts that he can outrun a heatseeking missile:
The Human Torch is able to travel at supersonic speeds, but quantifying this relied on a specific example. In one comic book series, he claims to be able to easily outrun hunter-seeker missiles. A close comparison might be the AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking, air-to-air missiles used by the U.S. Navy. These missiles have a top speed of mach 2.5 (2.5 times the speed of sound) so it seems safe to assume that the Human Torch can travel up to mach 3, or 2,283 mph.
It’s possible that the notorious braggart miiiight have been exaggerating in that issue, but the rest of the details are fairly sound: The Batmobile, for instance, gets a top speed of 160mph–not as fast as a Hennessey Venom GT, but since it has armor capable of withstanding a missile, that’ll eat into the speed a bit–while the formula for determining how fast the Serenity is is downright complicated. (V(final)^2 = V(initial)^2 + 2 * a * d where V(initial) = 0 (meaning at rest), a = 4.2g and d = 200 AU, if you want to get specific.) All of that is a lot of work to figure out who can get from New York to Los Angeles the quickest (spoiler: Superman), but if you want these arguments to hold up in Nerd Court, you better have some nerd math to show your work.