A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Slowest Man Alive

I'm a little short on material at the moment, but I've had this post languishing around for some time. Nothing great, as it's another analysis of comic book science from an unemployed lawyer, but it involves one of the pinnacles of lame Golden Age villainy: the Turtle.

The issue is The Flash #213. The new and improved version of Jay Garrick's arch-nemesis is no longer merely slow himself. Rather he is, in his own words, "a black hole for kinetic energy...I can steal speed too." (He would also seem to be a pervert and a child molester, but that's a subject for another time.)

The Turtle escapes from Iron Heights penitentiary, and shows off his new speed-stealing power. Everyone in the near vicinity is seemingly frozen in place (although he didn't steal the energy from the clocks, oddly enough). He even steals the Flash's speed, reducing Wally to normal movement. And at opportune times he returns speed to objects (particularly cars), allowing them to resume motion and run Wally down.

On about page 15, Turtle pulls the trick of freezing an asphalt truck in midair, upside down. (This isn't the first time he froze objects in the air; earlier in the issue he did the same with a balloon and some birds.) Wally maneuvers Turtle under the truck, and then when the Turtle starts getting distracted, the asphalt comes tumbling down on top of him, and everything returns to normal.

So what is there to talk about here? Speed force, stealing momentum...it's all pseudoscience, right? For the most part, yeah. But one thing jumped out at me while reading.

Turtle says that his power is stealing kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy of motion; to steal it is to steal an object's velocity or momentum. A thrown baseball would stop moving forward, for example.

But that doesn't mean the baseball would freeze in mid-air. That's because there's another kind of energy: potential energy. Potential energy exists because an object is affected by a force field, typically gravity. Imagine a dropped ball. The instant it is released, it has only potential energy, and no kinetic energy. Once it starts falling, the potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy and the speed of the falling ball increases until it hits the ground, at which instant it has only kinetic and no potential energy.

Thus, if Turtle can steal only kinetic energy, the asphalt truck should resume falling after he does his thing. It'll just behave as if it had started falling at that height. But it won't freeze in the air.

One possible end-run around this is to say that the Turtle didn't merely steal kinetic energy at one point, but is actually doing it continuously. In a way, it suits the "black hole" comment. That way, every fraction of a second that that truck starts to fall, he steals its motion again. And again. And again. The truck is actually falling, just imperceptably slowly.

This would also explain why people are frozen in place. Steal a person's kinetic energy, and that would only stop him for a moment. To stop everything indefinitely, the Turtle must be sucking kinetic energy constantly. And the fact that he can do this without killing everyone he freezes (as would be expected if you stopped a person's breathing or their blood from flowing), suggests that he has an incredible level of control over his powers. Gives you a new respect for the Turtle, doesn't it? (That is, if he weren't a child-molesting pervert. That's just creepy.)