Why “Faster than a speeding bullet” is hardly good enough.
We all know the lines. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…”
Yeah, yeah. Personally, I’m not impressed. With all that’s expected of him, I don’t think being faster than a speeding bullet is hardly enough for Superman to do his work competently. Why?
How Fast IS A Speeding Bullet?
According to The World Book Encyclopedia (New York: World Book, 1998), the fastest recorded speed of a bullet is 1500 meters per second (m/s).
Sounds fast? Not if we look at it in layman terms.
Superman is based in the fictional city of Metropolis . While the real Metropolis is in Illinois , Superman’s Metropolis is more synonymous to New York City , so we’ll put Superman’s real life home base in New York .
Now Boston , Massachusetts is 306 km or 306,000 meters away from New York City . If Superman can fly at 1500 m/s, it will take him 204 seconds, or almost three and a half minutes to reach a call for help in Boston . Not bad?
If you were in a bus falling off a cliff, you would have crashed in much less time than three minutes.
Another Problem: The Speed of Sound
We are, of course, assuming that Superman heard your S.O.S. the very second you uttered it. But while the Man of Steel has super-sensitive ears that can detect the faintest sound waves, he still has to wait for the sound waves to arrive.
Sound, unfortunately, is a notoriously slow traveler. It only moves at 340.29 m/s.
That means, from Boston to New York , it will take your cry for help 899 seconds or nearly fifteen minutes just to reach Superman’s ears! Add to that his flying time to get to you, and you have to wait almost twenty minutes to get help!
And that’s just New York to Boston , 306 km away. What if you lived in Chicago , which is nearly four times as far at 1158 km ? Or California at 3961 km ? (In case you’re wondering, it would take your screams from California almost three and a half hours just to reach New York , and Superman would take another 44 minutes to fly to you.)
The Real Superheroes
The point I am making is that while Superman sounds impressive in DC Comics, we’re lucky that we don’t have to rely on him in real life. He’s just too slow.
If I had an emergency, I know who I can call who would give much faster and more competent help: 911.