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Side Kick Glass Ceiling
Hey, what's TV Guide saying this week? It claims the bumbling sidekick
character is going to have a freak lab accident thwarting the local Mad Scientist. Now she's got superpowers just like the lead— maybe even more so!
But wait. You've seen this plot before.
Any setting with superpowers
not only loves
to bandy them out randomly like it's going out of style, but also loves to take them away
. Maybe With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
, her powers come from either Toxic Phlebotinum
or The Dark Side
, or a power-draining Heroic Sacrifice
is in the very near future; regardless of the explanation, Status Quo Is Effing God, Dammit
, so the powers have to go by the end of the episode. They all have to hit it eventually: The Sidekick Glass Ceiling. Search your feelings: you know it to be true.
All the reasons why Status Quo Is God
exists apply here, good and bad: To maintain the premise, a hero and leader
needs to be better than the Sidekick
, civilian Love Interests
, and pretty much all the other good guys
. The characters may complement each other with different specializations, but the hero, ultimately, has to be tops, or his title is void. Otherwise it'll have to be played for laughs, because the ensemble would be completely unbalanced; you'd end up with an incompetent hero and a bad ass sidekick
and hyper-competent Cornfed, or Inspector Gadget
and his niece Penny). Or worse, a Sidekick Ex Machina
is when the sidekick gets some or all of the hero's powers.
In these cases, there is absolutely no way
that the sidekick will keep the powers; even if the hero has flat out said "I Just Want to Be Normal
", and the powers are Blessed with Suck
, the hero will nonetheless move heaven and Earth to get them back by episode's end. Expect a Family-Unfriendly Aesop
about how seeking power or not wanting to give it back to its owner is bad, and you should Never Be a Hero
. (Also a Broken Aesop
when the hero does
seek to get his powers back.)
A few typical situations where the sidekick gets empowered can be:
When this trope is not in use:
In short, a sidekick can
develop powers... just so long as they stay solidly behind the hero they kick beside
However, there is hope for those sidekicks since once they are ready to strike out on their own, Sidekick Graduations Stick
. Contrast Hypercompetent Sidekick
The more general case, where it doesn't have to be a sidekick, is Superpowers For A Day
. The specific case where a particular sidekick has this happen to them every other issue is Superpower Silly Putty
. Compare Fixed Relative Strength
open/close all folders
Live Action TV
- Lois and Clark had Clark drained of his powers by bad guys, who also accidentally gave Lois all his powers for the episode. She even got a costume—with an actual mask; take notes, Clark— and fights crime as Ultrawoman. There were several other instances of power transfer in the show.
- On Big Wolf on Campus, Tommy's Non-Action Guy sidekick Merton is totally delighted when Tommy accidentally turns him into a werewolf (and Tommy doesn't mind having someone to wolf out with, either). But sadly, becoming a werewolf makes you evil (Tommy is the notable and unexplained exception), so of course Tommy has to cure him of it.
- Smallville has often given Lana, Lex, Lois and Pete (damn, ruined the alliteration) super powers, but they're always gone by the end of the episode. Chloe is the only exception, and even then, her costly power isn't going to get much use. Lex still technically has a meteor-freak super-strong immune system, which gave him decidedly temporary Healing Factor when combined with something else.
- In the Doctor Who season 4 finale "Journey's End," this happens to Donna; she gets the Doctor's intelligence as part of a freak regeneration accident, but of course, this is a life-threatening talent that must be cured, in as tear-jerking a way as possible.
- Rusty likes this trope. It happened back in "The Parting of the Ways" as well, to likewise save the day all Deus ex Machina-like.
- Heroes inverts this majorly by the end of Volume 3. Ando gets an ability, and Hiro is Brought Down to Normal. Halfway through the next volume, and still no signs of his sidekick Ando hitting the glass ceiling anytime soon.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Averted starting in season five as sidekick Willow is quite capable of upstaging Buffy in terms of power. Averted mostly in theory only, though, as Willow's magic ends up harming her and others almost as much as saving people and her powers are more of a liability than an asset during most of seasons six and seven.
- Xander is a straighter example, since for awhile he had military knowledge lasting from Becoming the Costume in a Halloween Episode. Such knowledge faded after awhile, to leave him the same Badass Normal team member he always was.
- The Leadership feat in Dungeons & Dragons allows a player to get a number of followers, as well as a Cohort. The Cohort's maximum level is two levels below the player's. (So, 4th level for a 6th level Character, 5th for a 7th, etc.)
- Although with a different sort of glass ceiling than the standard example of the trope: the Cohort can not become as strong as the player character, but she does keep what powers she gains; they just happen to be two levels below the player's.
- And thanks to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, the cohort can be much more powerful than the player character. Still lower level, though.
- Kind of inverted in Big Eyes, Small Mouth third edition. Though no sane GM would let you do it, a single follower basically has 10 character points for every character point you put in them, plus a starting bonus of 100. Multiple followers have a lower ratio, making it a bit harder to have an army of overpowered followers, but looking strictly at points, if you put half your points into a single follower, they'd be ten times as strong as you, and five times stronger than a character that didn't abuse this.
- There's something similar in Mutants & Masterminds, although there it's fifteen points flat per point in the Sidekick feat. So ten points into it, and you can build someone who's just slightly better than you because they can put those ten points you just spent on them into Protection or Strike.
- Robin and Ming from The Wotch. Robin most shows this in a dream. Ming has power jealousy in season 3, because lots of her friends have powers and she's ordinary. She doesn't get powers, but she does get a magical slime woman friend/familiar. Robin attempts to counter this by learning Martial Arts. It's helped a little.
- The whole point of Sidekick Girl, who's stuck with a superheroine who is The Ditz..