Sidekick 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 (see Duckman and hyper-competent Cornfed, or Inspector Gadget and his niece Penny). Or worse, a Sidekick Ex Machina. Especially egregious 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:
- In a Powers as Programs setting like Smallville where frakkin' everyone has gained one of Clark's powers accidentally, or from meteor rocks, or crotchety cryptic Kryptonians.
- Could be part of a Day in the Limelight episode where the best friend, jealous of the hero, makes a Deal with the Devil for powers or gets Psycho Serum they must be weaned off of.
- They gain powers permanently via How To Give A Character Superpowers, and keep them.
- Occasionally, they never get powers per se but work hard (or not) to develop important support skills to help their hero friend (investigation, engineering, etc), and possibly become a Badass Normal capable of at least handling Mooks.
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- Superman. Jimmy Olsen + The Silver Age of Comic Books = Superdickery says it better.
- Silver Age Lois Lane got the occasional temporary powers as well. Even Lana Lang did!
- And Perry White had super-cigars that gave him super-powers◊ when smoked. And before that, he became "Masterman" from eating a superpower-giving secretly-sinister-Mind Control fruit.
- The Spider-Man arc "Spider-Island" had the concept of the ENTIRE city of New York hitting the glass ceiling, with Mary Jane in particular getting to play a large part in saving the day.
- Enforced in Sky High. A coach decides whether you are a hero or a sidekick based on a single demonstration. One character ends up a sidekick when she points out the injustice of this and refuses to participate. She's more powerful than several in the "hero" category.
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..
- While Tailgunner, sidekick to Golden Age superhero Barnstormer in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe had the same powers (flight, super-strength, and invulnerability) as his heroic mentor, they were for the most part lesser versions. The single exception was his flight speed and aerobatic agility (both greater than Barnstormer's).
- The male best friend of the Token Trio on Danny Phantom went through this, rapidly Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, thanks to a recurring Be Careful What You Wish For wish-granting ghost, Desiree.
- The Teen Titans episode "The Beast Within" lets Plucky Comic Relief Animorphism-powered Beast Boy get more Beast and less Boy. Even while it lasts, his suggestions that his name be changed to Beast Man fall on deaf ears.
Raven: We're having a moment here, don't ruin it.Beast Boy: ... Beast Dude?
- Gwen of Ben 10 gets a magic charm in an early episode and even gets a whole set of charms at the end, only to destroy them all in service of a Broken Aesop. After hitting the Glass Ceiling a few more times she ultimately breaks through and discovers innate magical powers (but she's still a sidekick).
- On Static Shock, in an early season Richie gets telekinetic abilities from power-granting Bang Baby Ragtag, resulting in him taking up the moniker "Push" and becoming a competing superhero (Virgil and Richie were not getting along too well at the time). Unfortunately, Ragtag's price is too high and Static has to help Push take him and his gang of Super Mooks (including "Run" and "Jump") down, resulting in the loss of Richie's powers. In a later season, however, it turns out that Richie's early exposure to Virgil after he was exposed to the Big Bang mutagen has resulted in the latent power of superintelligence. He designs some gadgets and becomes "Gear" just in time to stop the bad guys from figuring out Static's secret identity (ironically discovered because of Static/Virgil's friendship with him in and out of costume). Gear, unlike Push, would continue on as Static's partner.
- During one episode of Kim Possible the sidekick Ron Stoppable got this incredible Mystical Monkey Power Kung Fu that made him kick ass while having a Bad Ass Battle Aura. Yet he forgot about the power before the next episode, so he could stay as the bumbling. It was even lampshaded when some mooks wondered if he isn't supposed to have this Mystical Monkey Power Kung Fu. Except for in The First Movie and The Grand Finale, where he proved to be more of a hero than Kim Possible...
- Mira Nova in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command gained awesome powers in the Very Special Episode "Super Nova". The power-up turned out to be a G-Rated Drug and by the end of the episode she overcame her addiction through The Power of Friendship.
- In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "Full Tilt Tails", Robotnik decides to make his Super Special Sonic Search & Smash Squad faster via a new super weapon that took years to make- Speedamint gum. It works wonders and during a test drive, Grounder does a full lap of Mobius in record time, but crashes and loses the gum. Tails comes along and steps in it, making him faster than Sonic. He gets so excited about it that he almost gets run over by a train, ruins a parachute free fall event and almost gets beaten up by a biker. At the end of the episode, he loses the gum and learns a lesson about not being ready for what he wants the most.
- Defied in Young Justice where the entire plot is sparked when a bunch of side-kicks decide they're tired of hitting the ceiling and want to become real heroes.
- Averted entirely in Hong Kong Phooey, where Phooey's sidekick Spot is way more often than not the one to defeat the villain. The twist in the trope being that Spot allows Phooey to get all the credit for his heroics, giving Phooey one advantage: A powerful reputation.
- There are people who claim that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is an example of this.