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Phlebotinum Overload
No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.
Rule 22, The Evil Overlord List

A major danger of energy sensors, Energy Absorption and Deflector Shields is the risk of a Phlebotinum Overload. Too much energy thrown at a given piece of Applied Phlebotinum can cause a catastrophic Phlebotinum Breakdown. If enough energy was thrown at the target in the first place, the resulting explosion can resemble a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Differs from Explosive Overclocking in that the Applied Phlebotinum is here being used to protect against the incoming energy (from an outside source such as Energy Weapons or Ki Attacks), rather than having Tim Taylor Technology applied to it.

May cause a Heroic RROD and/or Superpower Meltdown.

Not to be confused with Phlebotinum Overdose.

Overclocking Attack is a specific subtrope. Compare and contrast Pent Up Power Peril when the power builds up from within, but with the same danger.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • YuYu Hakusho: Kuwabara vs. Byakko. Kuwabara repeatedly attacks Byakko with his spirit sword, the beast absorbing the spirit energy and growing with each attack. Eventually, he absorbs so much that he bloats up and gets propelled away by the "worst case of gas [Yusuke's] ever seen!"
  • Beyblade: Michael, the American team captain loses when his weaponised spinning top builds up more power than it can handle.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Goku vs. Yakon. Goku feeds Yakon so much "pure light" (the aura of his ki when he is transformed into a Super Saiyajin) that the monster explodes.
  • In One Piece, if anybody eats more then one Devil's fruit, they explode. This info is very important as probable Big Bad above all BigBads in the show Blackbeard is able to do it, albeit via unknown means.
  • The Super Dimension Fortress Macross's Omni-Directional Barrier does this every time it's turned on: it will block pretty much any attack, but then it explodes, leaving the Macross in the center unharmed, since all the energy goes outward. The first time it's used, it blows up a Canadian city during a Zentraedi attack (this is probably the reason the technology is abandoned in all later installments). The heroes do use it to their advantage against Bodolzaa, though, when they fly the Macross into the middle of his flagship and turn the barrier on, as in that case they didn't care about collateral damage.
  • In Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, the shadows can overload synchro cannons.
  • The first confrontation between Arika and Nina in Mai-Otome, and the one between Nina and Miyu.
  • When Naruto is captured by the chakra-absorbing Pain's body and has his chakra drained, he cleverly starts gathering sage chakra, knowing that it will be absorbed. The result? Pain's body turns into a stone frog.
  • There was one battle in Pokémon where the opposing trainer's Kingdra gets ready to launch a Hydro Pump, only to be countered by Ash's Totodile by biting the Kingdra on the mouth until the water that was supposed to be shot out overloads and sends Kingdra flying like a Jigglypuff filled with gas.
  • The first instance of this in Witchblade causes Shiori to turn into a crystalline statue, and then shatter into a pile of glittery dust.
  • Kinnikuman has Buffaloman trying to absorb the main character's Burning Inner Strength. It proves to be too much for his body to handle and he quickly reinserts it into his victim.
  • Bread in Yakitate!! Japan is Serious Business enough that, if made well enough, can cause crazy reactions, transformations and even hurl the eater back in time or temporarily send them to heaven. Just before the final bake-off, Azuma tries to perfect his ideal "Ja-pan" to defeat Kirisaki with, and has Kawachi taste test all the bread that comes out of it. After suffering so many reactions in so short a time, his body eventually degrades into a tiny blob-like thing for the rest of the arc (though he eventually gets better.)

    Comics 
  • Marvel Universe character Sebastian Shaw's mutant power of absorbing kinetic energy is pretty useful, but can be circumvented if you drop something on him quick and hard enough.
  • Bishop, the X-Men's resident Energy Absorber, can be overloaded given enough time and fuel. This usually results in a fairly splashy explosion, though he himself is rarely injured from it... well, except maybe his uniform.
    • In the Havok/Wolverine 4-part graphic novel, Havok almost experiences a Phlebotinum Overload when he absorbs the radiation from inside a nuclear reactor. He has to shoot all the absorbed energy out into space to prevent it.
      • In a later storyline, Havok gets dropped into a star. He absorbs a ridiculous amount of energy and uses some of it to propel himself out. Luckily, the Big Bad of the story is right in front of him afterward, providing a convenient target for all that energy.
  • The Parasite, an energy vampire in Superman comics, is normally able to absorb Superman's energy with no ill-effects, but there have been a few occasions when an overpowered Superman caused him to lose control.
    • Marvel's Expy of the Parasite in Squadron Supreme, the Lamprey, actually exploded after this happened to him. He didn't get better.
  • The Absorbing Man, in his first battle with Thor, tried to absorb the power of the Earth. He blew up.
  • Starfire and her sister got most of their powers from an alien race experimenting with when the phlebotinum actually overloads. They were stopped at the last moment.
  • X-Factor's Strong Guy can absorb the kinetic energy from anything that strikes him and add it to his own strength. When he was punched by the Hulk, the power was too great for his body to handle and he had a heart attack.
    • His deformed appearance comes from the first time his power manifested. Guido got hit by a bus, and he didn't realize that he needed to quickly use the absorbed energy. As a result, his body is permanently over-muscled and he's in constant physical pain for the rest of his life.
  • Subverted in Marvel Universe: The End, when Thanos finds that the only way to win is to absorb the Heart of the Universe. It's noted and warned that this might happen, but he actually does manage to control it (although he gives it up later)
  • This is how Rachel Summers takes down Necrom, the Big Bad for the first 50 issues of Excalibur. Rachel realizes that the ever more powerful attacks they're throwing at each other aren't actually causing each other any damage, but with the exponentially-increasing power being thrown around they're liable to soon destroy the universe. So she stopped keeping her distanced and charged him, allowing him to grab her and use his energy draining ability. Necrom thought this was an act of desperation and was gleeful that he could finally absorb the Phoenix Force like he'd been planning for thousands of years. Turns out that absorbing an infinite amount of energy is a bad idea.

     Fan Works 
  • The wraiths in With Strings Attached feed on Paul's Life Energy until they explode.
  • In the Harry Potter fic The Problem with Purity Harry came up with a shield that could destroy physical objects and sent medium-strength spells rebounding in odd directions. When Hermione shot several stronger spells at it in quick succession it resulted in a blindingly bright outward explosion.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Ang Lee Hulk features the Absorbing Man (who is also Banner's father) trying to absorb all the power of the Hulk. Banner gladly lets him do so, and Absorbing Man is ecstatic, until the power drives him insane, leaving him vulnerable to be killed by a mixture of gamma radiation and a nuke.
  • In Firestarter 2: Rekindled, the boy Cody has the ability to absorb energy. He uses this against Charlie but finds out too late that he can't absorb everything she gives him and explodes.
  • In X-Men: Days of Future Past, in one iteration of reality, Bishop blows up after absorbing too much energy from three Sentinels' beams.

    Literature 
  • In Dune, hitting a shield with a lasgun beam results in a nuclear explosion. It will always result in the destruction of the shield and the lasgun in question, but the resulting explosion can vary from merely killing the users to stronger-than-nuclear.
  • In the Keith Laumer book Rogue Bolo, the phlebotimum in question is a "universal catalyst" — used to make an alien crystalline beast so big that it breaks under its own weight, burying the titular Bolo in the process. This of course is done completely by the Bolo itself, from escaping its testing area, to fabricating the catalyst, to getting to the Moon, etc. As a Bolo is a intelligent supertank weighing in at around 30,000 TONS, how it's able to do all this covertly AND without notifying the humans that supposedly control it, is a handwaved mystery. It does account for the "rogue" in the title, though.
  • Warships in the Niven/Pournelle The Mote in God's Eye stories are protected by shields that absorb all energy directed at them — up to a point. Go beyond the capacity, and all the absorbed energy is released. Inward.

    Live Action TV 
  • Mahou Sentai Magiranger and its American adaptation, Power Rangers Mystic Force: In the final episode, the Big Bad, who feeds on the magic of others, is finally defeated when the Rangers draw on the strength of their "infinite courage" (Magiranger) or the faith of the citizens and magical forest dwellers (Mystic Force) to feed him more magic than he can handle. Result: kerblooey.
  • In Star Trek, every time a panel explodes or the warp core breaches when phasers or torpedoes hit the shields. Lampshaded in the subtitle commentary for the Director's Cut of Star Trek II with Micheal Okuda idly wondering if Starfleet ships even have surge protectors or circuit breakers.
    • Omega Particles are theoretically capable of providing unlimited power. Theoretically, since in practice they remain stable for a nanosecond before blowing up. This is very bad since an Omega Particle blowing up doesn't just create an explosion big enough to wipe out a Borg fleet; it also damages subspace, making warp travel impossible in that region. The Federation takes this threat very seriously: the Omega Directive requires Federation personnel to do whatever it takes, even if it violates the Prime Directive, to prevent anyone from creating an Omega Particle. And people do try to make them despite the risks. The whole "limitless power" thing is too tempting. It doesn't help that the Borg worship the Omega Particle seeing it as a symbol of perfection.
  • One word: Naquadriah. In Stargate SG-1, it is an isotope of extreme power and even more extreme unreliability. Before the advent of ZPMs, it was generally considered the most potent power source in the galaxy, but no-one could harness the power for anything other than rather nasty explosions (which might be seen as a metaphor for nuclear fusion — everyone knows nuclear fusion would be incredibly powerful, but right now the only fusion we can reliably produce is in bombs).
    • A nation on the planet where naquadriah is found didn't see a problem with this, and simply made naquadriah bombs. And used them on the planet's other nations.
  • After the discovery of ZPMs, the heroes of Stargate Atlantis found a source that was even more powerful. Unfortunately, activating it would inherently create exotic particles that violate the laws of physics. Attempts to use the technology destroyed five sixth of a solar system and permanently damaged a parallel universe whose fate is unknown.
    • The latter happened when the heroes tried to overcome the problem with this power source by shunting the exotic particles into another universe, under the assumption that with an infinite number of universes, odds were that most would be lifeless. Unfortunately, this one wasn't. They later tried again, this time with the idea of shunting the particles into every universe, figuring that when spread across an infinite number of universes there'd be too few particles in each one to cause any real damage. But this went wrong too.
  • In the Smallville episode "Persona", the blue kryptonite that was establised to remove Clarks powers in a previous episode instead increases the powers of Bizarro, too much and...
  • In the final battle of Kamen Rider Double, the Utopia Dopant tries to absorb the power of CycloneJokerXtreme; it actually causes scarring on the hand he attempts to use.
  • The Doctor Who serial Planet Of The Spiders ends with the Great One, ruler of Metebelis Three, activating a device she has constructed to amplify her mental powers without limit... and is consumed by the power, taking her entire species with her.
    • The Master is prone to this.
  • In the backstory of Kamen Rider OOO, the original OOO from 800 years ago did this to himself. For context, when Eiji (the modern OOO) activates his Finishing Move, he scans three of the Medals he uses as Transformation Trinkets; the original OOO scanned over twenty at the same time, which caused him to turn into the "coffin" that sealed away the Greeed.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Happens with regularity when the Warp gets involved in Warhammer 40,000, usually to fatal consequences. Unless it goes badly. Then what happens doesn't bear thinking about.
  • This is cited as the reason fire damages Prometheans so badly — the Divine Fire that gives them life is overstimulated when put in direct contact with flame. Electricity can stir up the "like attracts like" quality to heal Prometheans, but exposure to fire is like taking a human's natural tendency to heal all the way into cancer territory.
    • What's more, if a Promethean screws up badly enough while channeling Pyros (the "consumable" form of the Divine Fire), it can touch off a Firestorm. Firestorms have a number of effects, ranging from "burning-hot rain" to "hallucinations of your dead friends" to "raise corpses to attack those in the area", but the end results are rarely if ever even slightly positive for those in the vicinity.
  • Parapsychics in Cthulhu Tech have a minor problem. If they overuse their abilities and Cast from Hit Points, they tend to Burn. And while Burning, their abilities are vastly increased.
  • In the first version of Dungeons & Dragons' Manual of the Planes, any living creature entering the Positive Energy Plane regain 1d20 Hit Points by round, even past their normal total as Temporary HP. A quick and efficient way of healing or supercharging oneself, huh? Problem his, if the Hit Points ever reach twice your normal total... you explode.

    Toys 
  • In BIONICLE, the Toa Nuva allow the Bohrok Kal to absorb all of their power. The Kal are unable to control the power, causing them to overload and destroy themselves with their own powers.

    Video Games 
  • In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, being exposed to large amounts of Phazon will send Samus into a dangerous form of Hypermode where she's required to continually vent it from her body/suit or risk Terminal Corruption.
  • In World of Warcraft, Festergut can impose this on players. Over the course of the fight he adds stacks of Gastric Bloat to his current target. Each application increases the damage that player does by 10%. The fight requires two tanks who swap which one is under attack at 8-9 stacks, then must absolutely avoid drawing his attention again until the bloat wears off. Or they explode at 10 stacks.
  • In the Adventure Game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indy must use Reverse Psychology (in one of the endings) to convince Those Wacky Nazis to absorb too much (or too little) energy when powering up the God Machine.
  • As per the Literature example above, in the RTS Emperor: Battle for Dune, any time a unit with a laser weapon hits a unit with a deflector shield, both are instantly killed. This makes House Ordos mirror matches somewhat farcical since their mainline Hover Tank is both shielded and armed with a laser cannon.
  • In the Geneforge series, the titular Geneforge in the first game is a vat of Mutagenic Goo that alters the body of the user and makes them much more powerful. Altering someone so extensively will kill them horribly if done too fast, so the user is supposed to just lightly touch their hands to the surface of the goo and wear special gloves that only allow a tiny bit to seep through. It's possible to kill Trajkov by giving him a sabotaged pair of the safety gloves.
  • In Disgaea Dimension 2, this is ultimately what Xenolith is trying to prevent from happening to Etna, using the Artifact of Absolute Doom on her when she was young to drain her massive demon magic. Depending on the ending the player goes for, Etna can still have this happen to her or she'll be able to contain her power.

    Web Comics 
  • In SpecialSchool! a villain lampshades this rule and actually measures to ensure the phlebotinum he is about to consume is smaller than his head.
  • In Fans!!, Cassiopeia Chattan the emotion-vampire falls for this twice, gorging herself until she collapses. It's pointed out that she can stop absorbing whenever she feels like it; she's just a glutton.
  • In Drowtales, Sene'kha explains that despite their seed, attempting to summon a Demon God would overwhelm the best of casters. Of course there's an exception...
  • In 8-Bit Theater this is the ultimate fate of Sarda after absorbing the power of the elemental orbs and Black Mage's evil, transforming him into the earthly vessel for Chaos He was not happy about it.

    Web Original 
  • In Madness Abrogation, the Auditor suffers this throughout the flash, and as Hank learns to channel the lightning through his organic Power Fist, the Auditor starts absorbing all the dead dudes that Hank killed (as well as several others). Everything goes well until he makes the mistake of absorbing the remains of the Clown, leading to the Auditor's demise.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in Futurama, "Where No Fan Has Gone Before". Leela tries to defeat Melllvar by overloading him with energy, or as Fry puts it "like putting too much air in a balloon." Instead, Melllvar just gets more powerful, "like a balloon, and something bad happens!"
    • In "Rebirth", the Professor rebuilds Bender with a nuclear reactor. He instructs Bender to burn off the excess energy to avoid a meltdown... by partying nonstop. Bender is at first keen on the idea, but eventually gets tired of it and refuses to party any longer. Fortunately, he is eaten by an alien monster just as the reactor explodes, absorbing the blast.
  • One of the early animated Superman shows has a plot with a bad guy getting hold of an energy-absorbing cream. After using it to steal the strength of several random people, he's strong enough to take on Superman. He beats him, but absorbing that much strength is too much for his body, and he explodes (inexplicably giving Superman back his strength).
  • Used on Phineas and Ferb, "The Chronicles of Meap", as Isabella overloads Phineas's "cute tracker". Though he knew it would happen, and had it set to ignore her initially.
  • In Transformers Animated, Sari tries to upgrade herself with the Allspark Key... and ends up absorbing all of its energy, which leads to an uncontrolable rampage as she loses control of her upgrades.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Bane is defeated by breaking the Venom pumping controls.
  • In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Legacy", Superman defeats Darkseid by covering Darkseid's eyes right when he's about to use his Omega Beams. The resulting explosion does far more damage to Darkseid, and it shows.
  • In Wakfu episode 22, Rubilax the major Shushu is freed from the sword to fight Sadlygrove. The hero soon discovers that, the more you hit the demon, the bigger and stronger he becomes. So what does Grovy do? He Uses His Head, repeatedly, on Rubilax until the demon is so huge and heavy that he starts sinking in the desert sand. Unwilling to die from suffocation, the Shushu has no choice but to return to his prison.
  • In The New Adventures of Superman, Superman deals with the Parasite by letting him absorb his nigh-infinite powers until he simply explodes, fatally.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: This is how Captain Atom defeats Major Force in "Powerless!".
    • And how Blue Beetle and Stargirl defeat Mantis in "Cry Freedom Fighters!".
  • In the 2000 Action Man CGI animated series, Dr. X at one point had created a power converter into his body (based on magnetism and a metallic body) whilst in Paris, when he faced off against Action Man, he managed to use his Bullet Time / Action Commands superpower to grind him into the Eiffel Tower (which was set up as an antenna to his secret base). This caused his then current form to overload so he couldn't maintain it, and stuff blew up.

    Real Life 
  • Sonar is subject to this. In World War II one could lose a contact right after dropping a pattern of depth charges because of all the noise spilling around.
  • Caffeine overdose. Drinking four Rockstar energy drinks or using a whole jar of coffee for one drink is akin to sculling a bottle of Jack Daniels straight: a feeling of euphoria and the sense of time slowing down or reaction being sped up. The downside is when you come down from such a sugar or caffeine high, you crash. Headaches, nausea and diarrhea are not uncommon, supplements or food rich in dopamine serve as a more mild yet safer alternative.

Phlebotinum OverdoseApplied PhlebotinumPhlebotinum Pills

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