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Single Power Superheroes
Game Master: "What will YOU do this turn, Cyclops?"
Cyclops (deadpan, despondent and bored): "...I shoot it with my Optic Blast."

There are many superheroes out there. Some, like Batman, do their super-heroing using years and years of training their bodies, showing human capability to a remarkable extent, possibly with the help from a utility belt as well. Others are like Superman, having a whole grab-bag of superpowers that needn't even be remotely related in some of the extreme cases. Then, there are superheroes like Cyclops. Beast Boy. Static. The middle-roaders. The ones that only have one listed superpower, but which they sometimes have many uses for.

As you can guess, this trope excuses unmentioned Required Secondary Powers, since they often aren't a power in their own right, though the line can get a little fuzzy at times. Elemental Powers are a sub-trope of this. In a show with Cast Speciation, this can easily become What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?. (See Hawkman in the Superfriends cartoon.)

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Contractors in Darker Than Black have only a single power. They might be creative with it, but it always comes back to one general ability.
    • This means that contractors who have an ability that needs Required Secondary Powers are quite pooched, as evidenced by the Contractor with a Flash Step ability who essentially defeats himself.
  • Similarly, most alter-users from sCRYed have one ability granted to them, at least at first. They may later get upgrades in power, and several characters have multiple largely unrelated abilities (Straight Cougar, for example, has the ability to make things fast, which manifests as super speed... and turning cars into pink supercharged vehicles). Main character Kazuma's only ability at the beginning of the series is an armored right arm.
  • The espers in To Aru Majutsu no Index and To Aru Kagaku No Railgun generally seem to operate like this. They have one very specific power that they can use in all sorts of ways (eg. Misaka has control over electricity, which she can use to stick to walls, shoot lightning, create railguns...). Mages tends to be a bit more complicated.
  • Devil Fruit from One Piece gives a person one super human ability. What regular humans can do in that universe would be super powers pretty much anywhere else though.
    • Although many of the Devil's Fruit have multiple powers that all fall under one name. For example the Desert Desert Fruit lets you control sand, turn into sand, and drain water out of other people's bodies.
  • Most of the Wizards of Fairy Tail are only proficient in one type of magic, but can use that magic in many different ways. Erza has a full arsenal of magical weapons and armors she can summon, and Gray can make anything out of ice.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure gives us Stands, most of which have one ability (healing, stopping time, turning things into paper). The majority of a Stand user's strength comes from how flexible they are with these powers (for example, the Stand with "healing" as its ability can heal human wounds... and rebuild broken objects, and reconstitute meals into their component ingredients, and...).

Comic Books
  • A significant number of characters from X-Men. Cyclops, Quicksilver, Magneto, Polaris, Rogue (even though she uses her one power to get many), Mystique, Shadowcat, and almost too many others to mention. In theory, all Mutants are supposed to have one and only one power, but this is not really the case.
    • This is inconsistently applied to Nightcrawler. Sometimes teleportation is considered his only "true" power, with things like hiding in darkness being just a function of his dark fur and wall-crawling coming from his unusual fingers and toes (and he's therefore unable to cling to very smooth surfaces). Other times he has full-on invisibility in shadows and can climb pretty much anything.
  • Daredevil. His only power is enhanced senses.
  • From DC Comics, we have Wildcat, Dr. Mid-Nite, both Wonder Twins, Metamorpho...
  • At the time he was created, The Flash's sole superpower was super-speed. However, he's since gotten a host of... very vaguely speed-related powers, turning the Speed Force into a Swiss Army Superpower.

Film
  • All superpowered characters in Sky High are like this, outside of Will who inherited one power from each of his parents.

Literature
  • In the Wearing the Cape setting, a significant percentage of breakthroughs are single-power types, loosely or tightly defined. Blackstone practices "stage magic" (illusions, levitation, teleportation), The Harlequin is bouncy to the point of physical invulnerability, Rush is "fast", etc.

Live-Action TV
  • Most superpowered characters in Heroes have only one power, and many others have "related" powers (eg Hiro Nakamura can bend time and space).
  • Pretty much everyone on Misfits are only given one power by a mysterious storm. In the original gang, Kelly has Mind Reading, Curtis has Time Travel, Simon can turn invisible, Alisha makes people want to have sex with her, and Nathan is immortal. In the new group, Finn has telekinesis, Jess has X-Ray Vision, Rudy has a Literal Split Personality, and Curtis first switches powers to become a Gender Bender and later switches to raising the dead. Most of the other powered characters also have one power, and sometimes it's useless anyway (or seems that way).

Video Games
  • Almost every character in Gensokyo has one special ability. Granted, almost all of them choose not to use them, but having game breaking abilities like the ability to invoke death and the ability to destroy everything available for use is a bit of an unfair advantage in hindsight.

Web Original
  • Due to the way the Hero System rules work, on paper most of the characters from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe have multiple superpowers on paper. Functionally, however, what most of them have is just a single power for which they've discovered multiple uses. For example, Bungie is a Rubber Man who has superior strength (because she can use her strechability to change her point of leverage in her own body) and invulnerability to most physical attacks (because her elastic body stretches with the force of the attack), and can change her shape (by stretching her body into various forms), but it all boils down to Bungie stretching.
    • To elaborate, the Hero System defines powers in terms of game-mechanical effects, not so much in ones of concept. So instead of giving your character the explicit power of "plant control" the way you might in some other superhero systems, you'd look at what you wanted them to be able to mechanically do and then pick appropriate pre-defined "stock" powers (say, things like Change Environment, Entangle, and Telekinesis), tweak them to suit the concept, and unite them all under the same "special effect"...which would just so happen to be "plant control". (Mutants & Masterminds works the same way.)
  • A lot of the supers in the Whateley Universe. Chaka can control ki. That's it. Except she can control her ki, your ki, pull extra ki out of the ground, read ki in other people, learn tricks by watching people use their ki... Blot can absorb electromagnetic energy. Kamuro can shoot sparks out of her hands.
  • Playing for Keeps has this in spades.
  • How to Succeed in Evil has this in characters mentioned off-hand by the narrator or the protagonist.

Western Animation


Semantic SuperpowerSuperhero TropesShooting Superman

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