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Disposable Superhero Maker

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A stock Super Hero origin story has the hero gain his powers via Freak Lab Accident, lightning, or some other accident. This is of course a non-reproducible and once-in-a-lifetime event, so others can't reliably use those methods to gain the same powers (though writers love to have lightning strike twice and recycle the origin for another character). The other half of the heroic community got their powers thanks to a scientific experiment gone right, usually funded by academia, big business or a government program.


So, it worked once, why not again? That was what the dean/CEO/government paid for, right? Well, it won't be used again. Ever.

Once the Super Prototype rolls off the Supersoldier assembly line, the researchers will be more interested in running tests on what he can do than on perfecting the process used to make him. This may be justified if they want to determine how having Stock Superpowers affects a person in the long term, so they probably feel ethically uncomfortable with using a large testing population (which would be statistically ideal, but hey, ethics). But the more common reason is that Reed Richards Is Useless and everyone is now more interested in seeing how many tons the prototype can bench press or what other potential applications his Super Senses have. That, and super powers are supposed to make you special. You can't be special if there are hundreds of you.


Often used to have a character continue to remain Cursed With Awesome. If he particularly dislikes being the subject of an Emergency Transformation and wants to go into the machine in reverse, this trope will be applied to keep that from happening.

Then again, there may be reasons why this was done, here are the usual:

However, this may be just a temporary delay when this technology becomes common and obsolete. Especially in series that have some continuity. At some time, unexpectedly, prototype Super Soldiers may form a Redshirt Army of Super Powered Mooks or The Chosen Many, or unique superpowers turn into common abilities.

See also Super Empowering. Contrast Mass Super-Empowering Event.


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     Comic Books  

  • One Silver Age Batman/Superman crossover had a Mad Scientist invent a device that would give anyone a copy of Superman's power's for one day, and a second device that would negate Superman's powers. Naturally, Batman ends up getting the superpowers while Superman is reduced to a Badass Normal. In a small aversion of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, the criminal works on building another copy of the superpower machine after the first is accidentally destroyed... but it's still never mentioned again after that story.
  • Superman writers have to come up with reasons why more Kryptonians didn't leave their dying planet and find another one with a yellow sun that would give them Flying Brick powers;
    • Pre-Crisis said that they'd been so busy developing other science that they neglected space travel.
    • It was later said that space travel was banned after Jax-Ur blew up a lunar colony.
    • Post-Crisis had a device called the Eradicator that killed all alien invaders that set foot on Krypton with a side effect of killing Kryptonians who left the planet. (Baby Superman left when he was too young for it to affect him)
    • New 52 said it was near impossible for spaceships to leave Krypton due to its high gravity.
  • Supergirl's super-villain Shyla Kor-Onn created a device that can drain Supergirl's powers in Superman Family #183. You would expect that more villains would try to build a copy of Shyla's machine in order to steal the powers of Superman or Supergirl, but it was never mentioned again.
  • The Super Serum that created Captain America is an obvious example... in various continuities and at various times, there have been given different explanations for why Cap was the only one produced - and several other heroes and villains have been produced with the same Serum, or various further-developed variants/Psycho Serum knockoffs. In the original story, a Nazi spy destroyed the machine, all the data, and killed the scientist responsible for it, just moments after Steve Rogers had become Captain America. (One might wonder why he didn't do it a bit earlier, and save the Nazis a load of trouble...) But the serum keeps popping up, with various effects, although it's rarely used to its fullest.
    • The scientist who invented the Super Soldier serum intentionally kept part of the process in his head so it couldn't be used without his approval. His death caused the full formula to be lost.
      • However Spider-Man: The Animated Series has a different explanation. The spy did kill the doctor, but a thief hired by other Nazis had a complete copy in his photographic memory before it was destroyed. He turned out to be Black Cat's estranged father, captured by SHIELD to protect the secret and then broken out by Wilson Fisk. Then it got complicated.
      • Nightcrawler asks Logan this question in X-Men: Evolution. The answer is that the procedure caused cellular breakdown in normal humans, but worked fine for mutants. Wolverine and Captain America blew up the device, but there was a backup. In the present Wolverine destroys that one, but not before it's utilized by Magneto to restore his youth and vitality. Captain America's body is in cryogenic sleep until a cure is found.
    • The Army first later tested the Super Soldier Serum on black soldiers in an analogue to the Tuskegee Experiments, only one of which survived with no negative side effects, Isaiah Bradley. Josiah X, Isaiah's son, retained the powers through his blood. Then Isaiah's grandson Eli (whose mother was conceived before Isaiah was experimented on) went on to become Patriot of the Young Avengers, using Mutant Growth Hormone to replicate the super soldier abilities until his grandfather provided a blood transfusion that acted as a Super Serum. The writers' intention was that this was done before Captain America was created, but they got the dates wrong in the story and later issues have clarified that Steve Rogers was dosed before Isaiah Bradley.
    • Protocide, a soldier with a record for disobedience, was spared charges in exchange for him willingly becoming a subject of the Super Soldier program, since the general in charge didn't like the scrawny, underweight, and untrained Steve Rogers being initially chosen.
    • Man-Thing was created partly due to an attempt to recreate Cap's serum (plus the magic of a cursed swamp).
    • Notably, this same experiment also happened in the The DCU as well as Marvel; the difference is, rather than being tested on a human during and then destroyed, it was tested on a dog and then destroyed. The dog went on to become Rex The Wonderdog, and the serum was never heard from again. The story in which this happened was written in 1990 and is very parodic (the scientist "forgot" to write the formula down) but Rex was never given any other origin, so it's canon.
  • Norman Osborn's "Goblin Serum" was an intelligence-enhancing serum that ended up giving him Super Strength and driving him insane, and has been utilized by several Goblin-themed villains over the years, Norman included. In one storyline during Dark Reign, Osborn tried to combine the Goblin and Super Soldier serums into one, perfect soldier, with... less than satisfactory results.
  • Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan was created by a botched experiment. All attempts to recreate the circumstances have resulted only in dead test subjects. Naturally, there haven't been very many attempts, since it gets progressively harder to find suitable volunteers for an experiment with such a high mortality rate, and you can't exactly use condemned criminals when there's a chance they could gain godlike power. Manhattan himself says that such attempts will never succeed, though he does not say why. The reader is left to wonder whether this is because of the nature of the universe, or some random circumstance of the first incident, or whether Dr. M is using his own godlike powers to prevent the creation of others like him. Or if his ability to perceive time differently means that he just knows that the attempts will continue to fail.
    • Arguably, the missing ingredient is the mindset of the volunteer—the comic implies that Manhattan gained the powers as a side-effect of learning how to piece himself back together, which required his knowledge of particle physics and his painstakingly careful watch-maker's attitude to the process.
  • This is subverted with The Flash, who originally got his powers in a one-in-a-million accident (lightning striking a cabinet full of chemicals that sprayed on him.) The exact same accident happened to his nephew Wally, right when Barry was telling him about it! Years later this was retconned as being a manifestation of a cosmic force called the Speed Force.
  • A Canadian tried to recreate Bruce Banner's accident but an Eldritch Abomination interfered and he ended up with a fraction of the creature's power instead, turning him into the hero Sasquatch.
    • Note, however, that the Hulk's powers come from gamma rays, which are produced in-setting in the same way that they're produced in real life, albeit with very different properties (as in, there's a chance they'll give you superpowers instead of just killing you.) This means that several characters, like Doc Samson and the Abomination, have obtained abilities from the same source.
      • Arguably it is not so much the properties of the gamma rays themselves that are different from real life but how certain organic beings make use of them.
    • It was later revealed that those who received the Gamma-mutations all have a certain mutant genetic code, with the stated conclusion that they all had a common ancestor.
    • In the runup to Fall of The Hulks, the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. discovered how to combine gamma radiation and cosmic energy so that anyone could be given Hulk-like powers. However, if not properly calibrated, the process leads to total physiological meltdown within 24 hours.
  • The Incredible Hulk's enemies, the U-Foes, were created as a deliberate attempt to recreate the same accident that created the Fantastic Four. One of the Fantastic Four's own foes, a Russian scientist by the name of Ivan Kragoff, also managed to get superpowers by recreating their circumstances. He took three apes and went into space with an unshielded ship. Thus was born the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes!
  • X-Men villains the U-Men are a group of people who don't think it's fair that some people are born with superpowers and abilities, and they weren't. So they wear special suits, grab loads of mutant neutralizing gear, hunt them down, kidnap them, and dissect them in the back of their special vans. They then take the parts from dead mutants that the powers are related to (For example, they'd cut out Cyclops' eyes, or Angel's wings) and then transplant the part into themselves to use the powers. That's right, they want to cut out Cyclops' eyes, remove their own eyes so they can implant his eyes, so they can have energy blast vision. The procedure is not without risk; if the graft is rejected, tissue necrosis of the transplanted part sets in and the recipient dies of blood poisoning.
  • A repeated trope in Astro City. Variations include a superpower-making scientist's body being recovered after being killed by a darkness-powered hero, Steeljack's superpowered vending machine wanting to keep to individual and unique results, Mock Turtle being the crazed mad scientist who finds out it'd be better to keep his work to himself...
  • The Psycho limited series takes place in a universe where there is a Superhero Arms race rather than a Nuclear Arms race. Taking the drug to become a Superhero still has a high failure rate usually resulting in death.
  • The Marvel Universe actually has a company that sells Super Strength, Power Broker, Inc. There's at least a 50% chance of severe physical and/or mental deformity, but that's not in the advertising brochure...
  • The MU also has the Brand Corporation, a division of a corrupt oil company that manufactures supervillains either as enforcers for Corrupt Corporate Executives, or in return for a cut of their profits.
  • Ultimate Marvel eventually reveals that all super-powers that are not alien in origin come from various attempts to replicate or better the Captain America program. Even the mutants.
    • The Ultimates themselves subvert this whenever possible particularly in volume 2. The Giant man formula is used on a dozen or so marines (and he gives some to his ex-wife), Iron Man's earlier prototypes are reproduced to arm soldiers (and he builds a suit for Black Widow).
    • Ultimate Spider-Man: Norman Osborn used a serum that was a derivative of Cap's Super Soldier Serum. The Marvel universe version had a different origin, however.
    • The Ultimates: the Super Soldier Serum wasn't totally lost during WWII. Problem is that it's invariably lethal, with only two exceptions besides Cap. The prototype turned out to be Nick Fury, leading Erskine to realize that it only works on Determinators. Steve Rogers got picked the very next day, due to his relentless attempts to enlist despite his polio-damaged physique. The next success wouldn't be for over fifty years, when Loki chooses an Iraqi youth whose father was killed by American soldiers.
  • Back in the 1950's, when Slade Wilson (Deathstroke) volunteered for the experiments that gave him his superhuman abilities, the serum eventually plunged him into a coma. The scientists decided to destroy the serum formula. Months later, Slade Wilson woke up with superhuman powers.
  • It was revealed in "What If The Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?" (What If? v1 #6) that the cosmic radiation which gave the Fantastic Four their powers affected them in a certain way based on their personalities. Mr. Fantastic developed stretching powers because of his desire to go to any [ethical] lengths to acquire scientific knowledge. The Invisible Woman developed invisibility because she thought she was ignored by others. The Human Torch's powers were a result of his "flame-headed" personality. The Thing became a super-strong, rocky-skinned person as a result of his tough guy personality. That issue also revealed an alternate version of the Fantastic Four composed of the same members, but whose powers were based on different aspects of their personalities: Reed "Big Brain" Richard's intelligence turned him into a disembodied brain with incredible psionic powers; Sue "Ultra-Woman" Richards' "pliable personality" gave her stretching powers like Mr. Fantastic; Johnny "Mandroid" Storm's interest in machinery gave him the power to turn his body into living metal; and Ben "Dragonfly" Grimm's love of flying caused him to grow a pair of dragon-like wings.
  • The late Firestorm/Suicide Squad villain Steel Wolf gained his super-strength through Soviet scientists' attempts to create an army of super-soldiers during World War II. Stalin didn't trust the idea of so many super-soldiers, so he had all the scientists killed.
  • In Garth Ennis' The Boys, all superpowers are derived from exposure to the V-Compound. At full power, the V-Compound costs $19 billion per person. With around 200,000 superhumans in this world, many of the superhumans got their superpowers from a watered-down version of the compound.
  • The Authority: Subverted in the first arc, where the evil dictator Kaizen Gamorra uses a bioreactor to pump out hundreds of superpowered clones (who have, at minimum, flight and heat vision abilities) every minute, launching them on Moscow, London and Los Angeles. Kaizen himself doesn't seem to have given himself any superpowers, so maybe there was a downside that doesn't get shown.
  • Golden Age Shazam had a Disposable Superhero Sidekick Maker with Tawky Tawny, a talking tiger who likes to walk around in tweed suits. For a long time he had no backstory; when he finally got one, it came down to "some missionary's kid raised a tiger as a pet, then some random guy showed up for like two panels with a potion that made it sapient." It's never even explained if the potion was some kind of scientific or magical explanation. (For the record, Post-Crisis stories either make Tawny a totally normal tiger or some kind of magical spirit.)
  • The radioactive spider that turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man died from radiation poisoning shortly after biting him, but not before it bit one other person.
  • Invasion! retcons a lot of DC's heroes into having the metagene that gives people powers when exposed to radiation or similar stresses. Implying that most people would have died if exposed to Freak Lab Accidents or other superhero origins.

     Film — Animated  
  • Averted in 9, where the scientist uses his machine to make not just one, but nine different ragdoll androids, each one containing a separate piece of his soul. Of course, the device used to power that machine also powers the evil machine that manufactures more evil robots (and sucks out the dolls' souls for more power). Kind of a problem there.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles swats and kills the spider after it bites him. When he goes back to examine the dead spider the next day, it does an Ominous Visual Glitch which implies that it was accidentally pulled into this dimension by Kingpin's particle collider. Liv confirms that dimensional travellers degrade after a few days.

     Film — Live-Action 
  • In Deadpool, the group responsible for giving Wade his powers utilize chemical solutions to activate "dormant mutant genes" that are (apparently) in all people, and exposing the subject's body to increasing levels of "stress" — which amounts to pumping a person full of experimental drugs, then torturing them until either noticeable super-power spontaneously generate, or the subject dies.
  • Fantastic Four (2005): Reed invents a machine that removes The Thing's powers and makes him look normal. He later uses it to get his powers back to fight Doctor Doom but the idea of using the machine to give other people superpowers or having The Thing change back and forth before and after missions is never brought up.
  • Accidentally averted in the Spider-Man Trilogy. Here Peter is not bitten by a spider that has accidentally become radioactive, but rather by a genetically engineered spider. The writers don't seem to have noticed the Fridge Logic, so it is unlikely that this will ever be revisited.
  • JUSTIFIED in The Amazing Spiderman 2. Turns out? The spider ONLY works on people who are related to Peter Parker's dad, as it's gene-coded. Using it when NOT related leads to...issues. Specifically? The Lizard and Green Goblin. So, it's perfectly repeatable. Just...really dangerous.
  • Averted in the finale of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, when Captain Jack Sparrow takes a piece of the gold to become undead himself to help defeat Barbosa.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Justified in Captain America: The First Avenger: HYDRA had sabotaged the supersoldier project from the start. Their goal was to see if this project would actually work as intended. When it did, the HYDRA moles then destroyed everything and killed everyone related to the project, including themselves. Well, except for the man who would become Captain America anyway.
    • Averted in Captain America: Civil War: a side plot involves Cap and Bucky racing to Siberia before Baron Zemo can unleash the five other Winter Soldiers that were created after the success of Bucky. It wasn't a perfect process, though - what we see of the other Winter Soldiers shows that they were far more aggressive and less obedient than Bucky.
    • The Incredible Hulk: The government tried to recreate the super-soldier serum that created Captain America. They tried it on Emil Blonsky, successfully making him stronger, faster, and giving him accelerated healing, allowing him to recover from near-fatal injuries in a day. However, he is still weaker that Captain America, and the serum makes him more deranged and bloodthirsty. Blonsky later tries to add the power of Hulk's blood, resulting in him becoming the Abomnation.
    • In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ned asks Peter if the spider that gave him powers is still alive because he wants them too but Peter explains that it died afterwards, similar to the comics.

  • Subverted in Animorphs—their powers come from Elfangor's Escafil Device, but shortly afterward he is killed and all the wreckage of his ship destroyed by the Yeerks. However, twenty books later a random kid named David finds the device at the site where Elfangor crashed, and the Animorphs get it back. This would have major repercussions for the series, especially when they use it to create an army of Auxiliary Animorphs and the Yeerks get the device.
  • David Brin's The Postman averts this trope. The super-soldier villain (subjects were chosen for aggression and willpower rather than mental stability) is eventually defeated by a super-duper-soldier hero who was created specifically to counter the super-soldier threat. The novel implies that many soldiers of both types were created pre-apocalypse.
  • Completely subverted in Fine Structure, where a major ongoing problem is that Flying Brick superheroes are created, at random, once a year. And each Power is twice as powerful as the last one. And they're Born violently insane, at least temporarily. Turns out you can kill a lot of people if you're as fast as the Flash and as strong as Superman. Later on, the Americans figure out how to create arbitrary numbers of 6th and 7th level Powers by tapping some of Xio's power.
  • In Wild Cards, it's mentioned that certain extremist groups voluntarily expose themselves to the Wild Card virus in hopes of getting powers, despite the 99% failure rate and 90% death rate.

     Live Action TV  
  • The 1950s British Invisible Man series subverted it. They knew it was possible to create more invisible humans (and they created invisible experimental rabbits) but since they could not yet make the subjects visible again...
  • In The 4400, promicin is discovered as the source of the 4400's powers. Eventually, it was replicated and used to enhance one faction's soldiers, then later made available to the public, although demand for it was somewhat reduced by the fact that half of the people who took it died soon after. Towards the end of the series, however, one person's promicin power was to spread promicin to everyone in a massive radius. Including the side effect of a 50% death rate.
  • In some Power Rangers series the Rangers powers have been created through technology rather than coming from some more mystical sources. One might question why those generations don't make more rangers and give them the same or similar tech. One subverts this in that they have more ranger teams while another has a good reason why there aren't more.
  • In many Showa era Kamen Rider series, the villainous organizations attempt to create another Rider to take out the hero. The original series had Shocker create a stronger version of Kamen Rider to eliminate him. The plan is ruined when Kamen Rider shows up and rescues the newly created cyborg before he could be brainwashed, effectively doubling Shocker's problems!
    • Also, actually justified. Rider technology, is pretty much the same as the technology used to use the mooks...just with minor differences. So, they ARE using the tech, just not in the same way.
  • In the universe of The Six Million Dollar Man, only five or six people in history have been fitted with bionic limbs, despite the thousands of amputees and paraplegics that could benefit from such technology. The excuses are that (A) bionic parts are horrifically expensive, and (B) the technology is still a closely-guarded government secret.
  • The knowledge to make a quicksilver gland in The Invisible Man died with its creator, the protagonist's brother. However, the Big Bad Arnaud, who helped create the original, is eventually able to make another for himself, although it doesn't quite work as intended (he's permanently invisible). Slightly subverted in another episode where it's implied that the gland was originally reverse-engineered from an invisible bigfoot.
  • The machine that made Ray indestructible in Henry Danger only worked on Ray as the variables surrounding Henry's specific physiology at the age he was were the x-factor that made it happen. Everyone else just gets Body Horror.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The most valuable loot in Base Raiders tends to be superpower sources, in which case it's justified in that the superheroes or villains that created them vanished during Ragnarok. On the other hand, the DIY Superpowers movement tries to recreate the origins of superheroes, but success is somewhat rare.
  • In Heroes Unlimited, any tech that gives humans genuine superpowers somehow only works once or a handful of times. There's a lot of groups that are experimenting and trying to find the magic formula, but nobody can mass produce superhumans in large quantities yet. The few cases where they do have reliable results either use bionic reconstruction or another understood technology, or are expensive and super-secret, so no Supersoldier program has expanded beyond a couple of elite Super-Squads.

    Theme Parks 

     Video Games  
  • Subverted in Final Fantasy VI, where the machines in the Magitek Research Facility are used to grant magical powers to pretty much the entire Imperial Army, until the heroes destroy the machines for ethical reasons. This makes things much, much worse.
  • In the F.E.A.R. universe it seem super reactions can be gained though a certain procedure, but given what happened afterwards...
  • Subverted in Luminous Arc 2, where the prototype Runic Engine works fine (except the bit where it becomes fused to the main character's hand right at the start and continues to do so throughout the game, but the more powerful copies mass-produced for an entire battalion of soldiers using its data slowly corrupts the user's body due to their lack of ability to control it and eventually crystallises them.
  • Justified in Dragon Age: Origins, where a drop of an Archdemon's blood is required for the Joining, and the Ferelden Grey Wardens are fresh out of it.
  • Mega Man:
    • If Mega Man's design is so good, why doesn't Dr. Light build an army of them to counter Dr. Wily's Robot Masters?
    • Justified in the Mega Man X series, where main characters X and Zero are "relics" created by the long-dead Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, respectively. The Reploids of the future are — as the name implies — imperfect replicas that are vastly less powerful and subject to going murderously insane.
  • Double Subversion in the Kingdom Hearts II level based on the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie; Luxord gets a Heartless to steal ALL the gold to make an invincible undead Heartless. One (surprisingly easy) Puzzle Boss later, the gang decides to send the gold to the bottom of the ocean to prevent someone from doing that again.

     Web Original  
  • The origin story of Hive in the Whateley Universe: a one-of-a-kind nanite artificial intelligence is ready for testing, but criminals try to steal it first. The only survivor of the resulting battle and explosion is the night guard, Sam Everheart. The nanites survive by remaking his body. So... no surviving researchers, no surviving equipment, no surviving notes or records, and the rebuilt nanite body is ex-military who can't make nanites. Unfortunately for Hive, all other attempts at making nanite-superhumans have failed horribly, so now everyone is interested.
  • Justified in Worm, where it is possible for someone to gain powers from an incredibly traumatic event. Not everyone who goes through such an event gets superpowers, and any further criteria is unknown. Anyone traumatizing someone to induce superpowers would wind up Hoist by His Own Petard if they succeed with their victim. Averted with Cauldron, who have refined the process and sell the treatment.
    • This is later revealed to be because Scion had preselected humans to give powers to, which would only awaken during a suitably traumatic event. Cauldron's formulas are stripped from Scion's partner, who is now dead. This makes their formulas a finite resource as well.

     Western Animation  
  • Danny Phantom: After Samantha alters history and prevents Danny from getting his powers, they fix things by having him enter the Ghost Portal and then turning it on.
  • This was brought up in The Spectacular Spider Man, although most of Spider-Man's villains are products of mistakes or malfunctions. Rhino was a perfect success, so after enough time to avoid a paper trail, Norman Osborn attempts to sell the Rhino armor schematics to the highest bidder. However, no explanation is made of why Vulture, once he teams up with Master Planner, doesn't build an army of Vultures instead of doing everything himself. This was later expanded on and explained in the comic adaption.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • There doesn't appear to be a limit to the amount of Chemical X available. It can even be found in the toilet! The girls did create another girl to help them out, but she turned out to be unstable and exploded. Since the Professor was successful the first time, maybe more heroes could be created that didn't suffer from that problem.
    • One episode featured a Mad Scientist getting his hands on the formula used to create the girls and using it to mass produce knockoffs of them. Surprisingly, it actually worked, with the only flaws being the result of the bad guy not using the correct amounts to save money (at one point he even has one recycled for being "too perfect").
    • The accident that created Mojo Jojo, on the other hand, could be replicated, and Mojo indeed used it again and again to create more hyperintelligent primates as his first big scheme. However, every single one of said primates went rogue and attacked everyone equally, including Mojo, which is why he hasn't tried it again since.


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