Super powered individuals are, believe it or not, closely related to nuclear reactors. Oh sure, they don't (usually) eat uranium
, or even have a nuclear accident to credit with their powers
, but when facing critical injuries or mental attacks they run the risk of losing control of their powers and going into a Superpower Meltdown
the likes of which could make Chernobyl look like a radioactive cough by comparison.
This depends on the power in question
and its source. Nuclear and radiation
based heroes have a distressing tendency to go nuclear
under duress, but any super with enough raw power
can have a meltdown, no matter the source: psychic
, mystic, or technological
. Sometimes the power builds up inside the body by themselves; not releasing it regularly may mean disaster.
Normal people using a Green Lantern Ring
or Artifact of Doom
can inadvertently cause it (or their body) to self-destruct. This can also happen to heroes abusing Explosive Overclocking
, who may enter Heroic RROD
and start showing Volcanic Veins
. Villains who are Drunk on the Dark Side
might take One-Winged Angel
a level too far and peter out humiliatingly
. A genetically empowered
hero may discover the hard way pure humans have a longer lifespan
. Shapeshifters will usually go lose control of their Shape Shifter Mashup
and go into a Shape Shifter Swan Song
. Common side effect of Going to Give It More Energy
Less lethally, if the hero/villain is only modestly powered or hit with Green Rocks
to cause a short circuit, then the meltdown might only take the form of their normal power causing random effects. Like telekinesis mimicking a poltergeist rather than de-atomizing everything, or a pyrokinetic setting nearby objects on fire rather than exploding. Should their power require constant concentration to keep stable, then any effect that destroys their concentration could be potentially fatal for all involved.
A common occurrence is for a hero going into meltdown to be coaxed back
from the brink using Heroic Willpower
, or forced to do a Heroic Sacrifice
and fly away to save those nearby. If a Love Interest
is nearby, a Cooldown Hug
can reliably stop the meltdown. Occasionally, a hero or villain might purposefully
trigger it to try and kill their rival, since the Sphere of Destruction
such a meltdown generates tends to be pretty devastating. Whether this works on not depends on if they're the lead.
Compare Spontaneous Human Combustion
, Load-Bearing Boss
, Phlebotinum Overload
, Unstoppable Rage
, Super-Powered Evil Side
, Action Bomb
, Power Incontinence
, and Taking You with Me
. Contrast Heroic RROD
, where the meltdown is mostly contained within the hero.
See also Power Degeneration
, Clone Degeneration
and Flawed Prototype
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Anime and Manga
- In Watchmen, the giant squid Ozymandias plans to drop on New York is expected to die in transit, causing a psychic wave killing millions, driving millions more insane, and scaring the hell out of the rest of the planet. It works.
- Captain Atom in the DC comic Kingdom Come, inadvertently causes the US Midwest to become a radioactive wasteland when the Parasite ruptures his containment suit. This has almost happened to him a few other times in mainstream DC continuity, since unlike other Energy Beings he's made of nuclear radiation.
- In the Italian Disney comic Paperinik New Adventures, Donald Duck has a superhero identity and one of his allies is the sole survivor of a destroyed planet who has literally absorbed the power of her star (yeah, it's a bit of a Superman shout-out) gaining control over matter and energy. The energy she has at disposal is immense, and if she were to release it fully it would cause her to go nova. Really.
- After she finds out that a few hundreds of her people, including her lover, survived the destruction of their planet, but are doomed to die anyway sooner or later because the new planet they colonized has no sun, she ends up sacrificing herself to become a sun.
- We later see a straight example of this from Evron scientist Zoster, who just acquired Xadhoom's powers and went bombastic with his newfound powers. He lasts five seconds before his Family-Unfriendly Death.
- The Atom (the original Golden Age one with an "atomic punch," not the shrinking Silver Age one) was once used by a time-traveling villain who plotted to turn him into a human atom bomb, destroying Washington, killing President Truman and ensuring that superheroes would be hated and feared forever. (He failed.)
- More recently, the Atom's son, Damage, almost destroyed Atlanta when he built up all his explosive power in a rage to take out a villain who had disfigured him. (They stopped him.)
- Damage actually does have one of those at the end of Zero Hour when he's fighting Parallax. Just as well, since they were the only creatures in the DCU by then; Damage created a Big Bang that recreated the DCU as something mostly resembling pre-Zero Hour continuity.
- In The Authority story, The Authority:Revolution, during a fight on the White House lawn, a superhuman with radioactive powers ends up losing control of his abilities, and the resulting explosion levels the city.
- The original appearance of Wildfire in the Legion of Super-Heroes had him do a meltdown as a Heroic Sacrifice (He was an Energy Being in a containment suit, who released his whole self as an attack that was exponentially more powerful than his 'normal' energy blasts.) He got better a few issues later.
- Wildfire set up a special chamber in the basement of Legion HQ with a series of spare containment suits, in case he ever had to use his not-as-permanent-as-you'd-think Heroic Sacrifice stunt.
- In the original Squadron Supreme limited series, Nuke has a meltdown which ends up killing him, as he burns up all the oxygen inside the force field that's keeping him from incinerating the countryside.
- In the Marvel Universe, some powers have had serious meltdowns. Captain Mar-Vell was given the Nega-bands, but it should be noted that they were turned into an apocalyptic Nuclear Option in Operation: Galactic Storm and used to blow up the Kree Galaxy and effectively mutate what little life made it through. (It was just as rough of the life in the Negative Zone, as it turns out). Also, such matters as Nova Flares from Johnny Storm (one destroyed the NYU campus, I believe) have long been staple in Marvel.
- The Nega-bomb is ironic in that it hangs a lampshade on the best-played example of Super Power Meltdown ever, and the least over-the-top, one ironically also caused by Nitro. Captain Mar-Vell actually died of cancer caused by Nitro blasting a toxic storage and leaving Mar-Vell to suffer catastrophic radiation poisoning, but by the time his own powers let it be detected, they were all that was keeping him alive, AND prevented anyone trying to operate or magic-spell out the carcinoma. That death remains the best Permanent Exit in comics history.
- A fairly common problem for mutants, especially when their powers first manifest since most of them have no idea that they even are mutants, much less any advance warning of what powers they have. Can also occur if physical or psychological trauma causes an individual to lose control of their powers.
- This was also the means by which the Legacy Virus (usually) killed mutant victims. The degree of damage produced depended on exactly what the powers of the mutant in question did.
- The original (?) Quasar got his Power Bands because the previous two users incinerated themselves by trying too hard to control them, while Wendell Vaughn's more laid back go-with-the-flow attitude allowed him to "calm them down", so to speak.
- Examined in the Image comic-miniseries titled Meltdown (fittingly enough). The protagonist, Caliente (aka. "The Flare"), is slowly being overcome by his fire-based powers. Many tears are jerked as he lives his last days.
- Hellboy: Liz Sherman already suffers from some Power Incontinence, but when she was eleven, she lost control of her pyrokinetic powers, and destroyed an entire block, with thirty-two casualties (among them her parents and brother).
- Things work differently in the Negation universe (as opposed to our "bright" universe), so superpowered individuals from the "bright" universe tend to go meltdown. Atlanteans turn out to be immune to this, and other empowered individuals can eventually acclimate themselves.
- A major plot point in the Justice League/Naruto crossover Connecting The Dots. Ino, having accidentally gained telepathic powers from J'onn J'onnz slowly begins to go insane as she struggles to control her new abilities. She almost drives everyone else insane too.
- During the Final Battle of the third My Hostage Not Yours story, Gaz loses control of her pyrokinetic powers and nearly kills everyone. Fortunately, Zim is able to calm her down though she loses her power completely afterwards.
- Shadows Awakening: During the Final Battle, Uncle and Tohru use a spell to invoke one of these in The Queen, causing the target to lose control of their chi, which was destabilized when they went One-Winged Angel.
- Sburb Glitch FAQ has something it calls berserk triggers: at least once a playthrough, you'll be channeling your Aspect so much that you'll instinctively cast an endgame ability with no regard for your co-players' (or your own) safety. A notable example is the Aspect of Law, of which the berserk trigger generally involves continuously Min-Maxing for one battle, starting out with things like "I'm going to punch hard, but I can't cast other abilities" and ending with things like "I'm going to punch that guy THROUGH SKAIA and then MY HEART WILL EXPLODE like an OVERCOOKED POTATO". Or the Aspect of Rhyme, which is the only one where players actually target their own teammates when on a berserk trigger.
- X-Men: The Last Stand features this in the form of Phoenix. Sure, she had total control of her powers, but she was still going completely batshit. At least until she asked Wolverine to kill her and end it.
- Iron Man 3 has the Extremis characters. Control of the power? Raising your body heat to plus 3400 degrees and that's enough to cut through Iron Man armour!. Loss of control of the power, or high-temperature attack? An explosion at plus 3400 degrees.
- Godzilla is going through one of these in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, causing him to glow red and be perpetually angry. Also, there's a fear that his literal meltdown will probably blow up the atmosphere. Luckily, all this radiation is absorbed by Godzilla Junior, mutating him into the next Godzilla, so that's okay.
- The Super-X3 thankfully also kept the now dead Godzilla's energy from rising high enough to burn the atmosphere, which if it had then Godzilla Junior's body would have burned up before it could save the city from the fallout. So man saves the world, and unwittingly a dead body, and the dead body saves Tokyo from the radiation and is brought back to life.
- In Animorphs Rachel loses control of her shapeshifting ability and starts randomly changing in things like elephants at inopportune moments. Like the middle of a scouting mission.
- The going theory in Gone is that Little Pete caused the FAYZ by having a panic attack... in the middle of the catastrophic meltdown of the Perdido Beach Nuclear Power Plant. Later confirmed.
- Flinx, of Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series, is a powerful Empath with a slight control problem. One of the more notable symptoms is his tendency to emit blasts of near-absolute telekinetic destruction when stressed to extreme levels. When this first happens, it's a complete surprise to him, but later in the series, Flinx learns to (more or less) intentionally trigger it.
- Pyrogenes do this all the time in the Evil Genius Trilogy, usually before they even learn how to properly harness their pyrokinetic powers. However, Cadel never witnesses these events himself, though he often ends up soaked by the sprinklers that activate whenever a pyrogene self-combusts.
- In Dave Duncan's series A Man of His Word and its sequel series A Handful of Men, learning "words of power" gives you magical abilities. The more words you know, the more power you have; knowing four words makes you a sorcerer with full-blown Reality Warper powers. Learning a fifth word, however, gives you so much power that it will quickly cause you to burst into flames and die.
- In the Dale Brown novel Wings of Fire, one of the AL-52 Dragons is mounted with a new laser that uses a contained plasma field as a power source. This generates immense heat and radiation that damages the components maintaining the containment, and when the plasma field gets free it will vaporise stuff in a large area.
- An unnerving example in If On A Winters Night A Traveler, where the (nameless) character doesn't even realize he's having a superpower meltdown (superpower being erasing things temporarily from existence) until he's erased everything in his city (and maybe even the world), and realizes he can't bring them back.
- The Wheel of Time:A major risk with channeling, though it's rarely shown. Every channeler has a certain "strength," corresponding to how much of the Power they can draw safely. Go further than that and they might sever themselves. Or render themselves brain-dead. Or kill themselves. Or disintegrate themselves in a Pillar of Light that results in a volcano and a brand-new mountain, called "Dragonmount" because that's where The Dragon killed himself, if there's enough strength. More likely to happen to people who have The Gift but no training. The series does a good job of making The One Power sound dangerous. Lews Therin Telamon, Aginor's first body, and eventually Egwene al'Vere fall victim to this.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Series/Valdemar books we have 'final strike' in which a magic-user channels all the magical energy in the area through his/her body. This generally creates an explosion that destroys the one invoking it and everything around him/her. How large the zone of destruction is depends on the invoker's power.
Live Action TV
- One of the crises of the first season of Heroes was the fear that Ted would use his literal nuclear powers to level New York. In the end, it wasn't Ted they had to worry about.
- Ted did have a Super Power Meltdown earlier in the series. It just wasn't as big as they thought. Instead of blowing up New York City, he burned down a house in Odessa, Texas. Still caused quite a bit of damage, and made quite a crispy Claire. It probably would have been as big as they thought, but fortunately Claire was on hand with a tranquilizer gun.
- In Season 3, Future Sylar loses control and vaporizes Costa Verde after his son is killed.
- Also Elle went all electric explosiony when Sylar starts to skullcap her, shorting out the circuits of Level 5 releasing it's inmates.
- In the volume 3 finale, Meredith, the pyrokinetic, is injected with a syringe full of adrenaline by Sylar. She goes into Super Power Meltdown mode, which sadly ends quite tragically for her and anyone else who might not have escaped the Company building
- In H2O: Just Add Water, the girls who are mermaids lose complete control of their powers every time it's a full moon, and in one such instance, Cleo became a siren.
- Tess in Roswell does this, deliberately, to take out a military base and protect her baby and the other alien teenagers. She doesn't survive.
- Willow arguably had one at the end of Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- And Illyria came within moments of having one (did have one, until it caused time to cycle back) in Season 5 of Angel. It would've taken out, at minimum, all of Los Angeles. Possibly the whole state.
- Untrained telepaths in Babylon 5 tend to have these frequently, one of the primary reasons behind the Psi Corps.
- The Tenth Doctor's regeneration was a mild case of this; previous regenerations weren't nearly as explosive. This may be due to him absorbing all the nuclear radiation he did. Plus suppressing the incoming regeneration so he could say goodbye didn't help either.
- Gabriel Ashcroft (AKA Patiant Zero) in Mutant X. The first person to be experimented on by Adam Kane and the first known new mutant. Unlike all other new mutants, which are separated into categories (elementals, ferals, moleculars, and psionics), Ashcroft has powers from all four categories (although not all possible powers). He's also a murderous psychopath. However, so many powers cause his cells to slowly destabilize. When his plan to summon an ancient goddess to cure him was thwarted by the titular team, his body exploded, taking out his entire base.
- The 1980's revival of "The Twilight Zone" had a story about a traumatized Vietnam War veteran with the power to make his thoughts come to life. It worked best when he was dreaming, but all his dreams were about horrific battles. It got messy.
- Subverted in Charmed. Prue comes dangerously close to having one of these when she accidentally becomes an Empath in season 3 but following a pep talk from Leo promptly gets her shit together.
- Scorch is defeated in this manner in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Melinda May injects him with a serum that boosts his pyrokinetic abilities, but as a result they become too powerful for him to control, and he explodes.
- Extremely common in psykers in Warhammer 40,000, and one reason why psykers are feared by normal humans. The omnipresent risk of daemonic possession being another.
- The Orks have (or at least had) psykers of their own, called Weirdboyz. Being an extremely psychic race to begin with, Ork Psykers tended to cause other nearby Orks heads to explode. It got worse when Weirdboyz got near each other. Of course Orks think this is funny as hell
- The Eversor Assassin, whose body is so laden with strength and reflex-enhancing combat drugs that upon death they react violently and cause his corpse to explode.
- In the spin-off game Necromunda, rogue psykers known as Wyrds are prone to this, usually of the Your Head Asplode or spontaneously combust.
- Mega-Juicers in Rifts start to become consumed by their power when they near the end of their lives. First their eyes start to glow, then their whole bodies, and eventually they just burst into flame. If/when they die at any point during this period, they explode.
- Cthulhu Tech 's parapsychics have a non-zero chance of going into "Burn" every time they use their powers.
- Mage: The Awakening has the phenomenon known as The False Awakening, wherein a Sleepwalker who's studied under a mage believes that not only have they Awakened, they've discovered a magical path that no one else has before. In reality, they've become infected with a strange form of magical energy that pretty much allows them to go from initiate to godhood in the space of a week... before they pretty much explode from all the power and take out a city block.
- BIONICLE: the Bohrok-Kal were defeated simply by the Toa Nuva overloading them with power, causing each one to be destroyed by their own powers.
- Gorast's mask, the Mask of Disruption, has a similar effect. And is complete Nightmare Fuel. Brrr, Icarax and Krika...
- Manbot in Freedom Force had this as his Fatal Flaw: his power made him prone to causing violent explosions, one of which killed his brother after making him a containment suit.
- Ultima, the Big Bad of Final Fantasy Tactics, tries to once again go One-Winged Angel on Ramza's team after having its prior seraphim and skeleton-angel forms trashed. Too bad large explosions aren't exactly Energy Beings.
- A mild version happens to Iris in the original Sakura Taisen videogame, although she only blows the roof off a movie theater.
- In the MMORPG City of Heroes, a sector of Paragon City, known as Siren's Call, was sealed off for several years due to a hero with radioactive powers supposedly going 'boom' there, conveniently allowing the villainous Evil Overlord Lord Recluse to establish a beachhead there.
- The trope itself is averted, however, in that the real reason for the explosion is either an android replica of the hero specifically made to explode by the Evil Overlord, or (according to the canonically-dubious Strategy Guide) a major villain disguising himself as a small-time crook to lure the hero into the area, before detonating a specially-made bomb and using the hero as a scapegoat.
- Of course, with the recently added Cyborg Booster Pack, players can now have access to a Self Destruct power, causing them to explode violently after a ten second countdown, doing immense damage to anything unlucky enough to be in range. It will usually wipe out anything below boss level. The down side? You just died. And it takes an hour to recharge.
- In the game's backstory, Overbrook (now called "Faultline") was supposedly leveled by the earthquake machines of an archvillain known as Faultine. In truth, though, Faultline was a mutant hero who wouldn't have needed them; a villain named Psy Curse used a gadget known as the Psycho Chrono Metron to rewrite Faultline into a villain. Unfortunately, feedback from the Psycho Chrono Metron caused Faultline to lose control of his powers, resulting in the earthquake that leveled Overbrook. .
- A game signature hero and Author Avatar of the current head of design, Positron, like Man-Bot wears a power suit to keep his powers from doing this. Eventually he was cured, and can now finally remove his helmet.
- In the Soul Calibur III start-up trailer, Nightmare seems to have one of these because he consumed the souls of a whole army, all at once. It didn't seem to hurt him though.
- Xenogears opens with Fei as a peaceful painter in a quiet village helping his best friend to get ready for a wedding. Unfortunately, after Grahf repeatedly Hits the Berserk Button, he goes on a frenzy of Unstoppable Rage in his newly-acquired Gear and destroys his home village.
- This happens several times throughout the game, due to the fact that Fei has a super-powered hidden personality called Id with a penchant for wanton destruction.
- Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis ends with the Nazi scientist being tricked into getting into a god-making machine and putting far too much fuel in it, transforming him into a glowing, horned Energy Being. Then he explodes.
- In Galerians, if Rion uses the drugs that fuel his powers too much, he will suffer from "shorting" which is instant death to all nonbosses within the radius but does damage to him over time. It can be stopped by using a specific drug. Notably there's another drug which can trigger this instantly.
- Inverted in Mega Man Zero 4. The Big Bad Dr. Weil tries to crash his Kill Sat into Earth, destroying the only naturally habitable place left on the planet. When Zero tries to stop him, he merges with the kill-sat's computer core for the final boss fight. This trope forms the premise of the last stage of the fight (the boss's second form); if Zero destroys him, the resulting superpower meltdown will destroy the kill sat, averting the crisis. The fact that Zero would (and does) also get blown to smithereens in the process is a mere trifling technicality.
- A plot point in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. After getting infected with Phazon, Samus has the ability to go into Hyper Mode and use Phazon powered attacks, which is powerful, but causes the Corruption to spread, and if the PED Suit malfunctions, the process can be irreversible, leading to devastating consequences to those around them, as seen with other hunters like Ghor, whose own corruption devastated Elysia.
- Every human who has tried a direct human/demon fusion in Shin Megami Tensei has ended up like this. Evil Is Not a Toy, after all.
- Almost every human. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey's Jiminez fuses directly with Bugaboo successfully, though he did go crazy afterwards.
- SMTIV mostly averts it, with about half of the population of Infernal Tokyo becoming "demonoids" through demon fusion. A few unlucky ones do suffer from a version of this, though.
- In World of Warcraft, Deathwing, the former Dragon Aspect of the Earth, had stolen power from the other four Dragon Aspects. However, this much power nearly rips apart his body, forcing him to have goblins weld adamantium plates to his body in order to keep it intact.
- At the end of Heavens Feel route in Fate/stay night Sakura loses the ability to control the Grail's energy, resulting in a potentially world destroying... thingy... requiring first the use of Rule Breaker to separate Sakura from the Grail and then either Shirou or Ilya's Heroic Sacrifice to keep from getting worse.
- Also in Heavens Feel, there's Archer's arm. Once the seal is removed so Shirou can use its power, his body and mind begin to break down because he can't withstand its innate magic.
- Near the end of Bob and George, Bob attempts to detonate himself to kill the Author once and for all. He makes a Shout-Out to Heroes as he does so.
- In El Goonish Shive, the supervillain Damien triggers his own Superpower Meltdown when his failure to defeat Fallen Grace makes him realize that he may not be a god after all.
- In Kid Radd, this is why Radd is the most powerful being in cyberspace. Given a long enough charge time, he could wipe out every computer connected to the internet. Best of all, it's all the result of a very minor bug in his programming.
- When Sollux from Homestuck gets all Brainwashed and Crazy as a result of Vriska's Mind Manipulation, he's forced to brutally murder Aradia, his girlfriend, and raze her home to the ground by causing a major, explosive Superpower Meltdown with a drug that changes his regular Eye Beams into Wave Motion Gun-Eye Beams. What happens when he wakes up from his... uh, misadventure, is never explicitly shown, but he struggles with major depressing and self-loathing, as well as never really smiling for almost the rest of the series.
- A story line in Spinnerette involves the titular heroine going into one after an altercation with two supervillains stealing a "Genetic Infusion Chamber" powered by a "Cherenkov-Kirby Reactor.
- Note that in this case the trope is completely literal - with the way superpowers work in Spinnerette-verse, a super can go into an actual meltdown, causing a local nuclear disaster.
- Lightning Lad in Legion of Super Heroes - the episode 'Lightning Storm' where his powers leaked out of the hole previously occupied by one of his arms.
- Terra in Teen Titans.
- The hero Red Star from the same series also tended to do this, complete with Heroic Sacrifice at the end of his first appearance. ( He got better.)
- In Batman Beyond, Blight, described as a walking meltdown, meets his end when his son's betrayal throws him into rage. He was heavily implied to have survived, but didn't have appearances for the rest of the series.
- He does reappear in the comics, having apparently lost his mind due to the degrading effects of his powers.
- Also, there's Ace in "Epilogue," who might suffer a major aneurysm, causing a psychic backlash capable of killing thousands. It doesn't happen.
- Firefly in The Batman gained super fire powers that went beyond his control to the point that if he kept on going, he will become a living embodiment of a meltdown and melt down to the Earth's core and destroy Gotham City in the process.
- In Ben 10, the Omnitrix has been involved in a few of these.
- In an episode of ReBoot, Bob removes Hexadecimal's mask in an effort to get her to stop. As it turns out, doing that causes an explosion of energy from the hole in her face, which threatens to overload and destroy everything. Oops.
- An episode of Transformers Animated sees Wasp talked into using a transwarp generator by Blackarachnia to gain incredible power, turning him into the technorganic Waspinator. His transwarp mutation goes critical soon after.
- Blackarachnia cocoons herself and Waspinator in webbing before he goes off. Both of them survive, albeit heavily damaged. Waspinator was pulling himself together because he still has plans.