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Frightening Power Usage

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Superpowers are cool, right? Not always.

At their best, superpowers can be flashy like energy blasts and super-strength impress audiences with sound effects and spectacle of the hero activating powers to fight. However, most stories involving superpowers ignore the nasty and frightening effects of superpowers on people.

Some highlights include:

  • Fire powers actually causing third degree burns on people. Better if shown in loving detail.
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  • Super Strength users tearing people from limb to limb, or dismembering (or even decapitating) them just by punches.
  • Hand Blast and other kind of energy shots that actually tear holes in people's bodies.
  • Users of Mind over Matter telekinetically choking, ripping, or even bursting people apart.
  • Ice powers that do not cause Harmless Freezing.

Deconstructions and Beware the Superman stories often invokes this trope to point out the dark implications and frightening consequences of superpowers.

Subtrope to Violence Is Disturbing. Compare Reality Ensues, Lovecraftian Superpower, Power Perversion Potential and Lethal Harmless Powers. See also, Bystander Action-Horror Dissonance. Contrast Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality, where writers use to avoid encountering the implications of this trope. May cause Mook Horror Show.

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Bad Powers, Bad People are about powers that are inherently frightening (and thus often wind up in the hands of the bad guys), while this trope are about powers that are otherwise normal (or even stereotypically good) being used to frightening effect. Person of Mass Destruction is frightening by way of how much/widely their power can destroy/affect things, not necessarily by its effects.

Related to Required Secondary Powers, which deals with the realistic consequences and Fridge Logic regarding the physics behind superpowers.

Spoilers ahoy. Discussed examples go to Fridge Horror or Could Have Been Messy.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Elfen Lied: Lucy is a pink-haired girl with horns and powerful telekinesis. Unlike Jean Grey, she uses her telekinesis to enact gory rampages and dismemberments, especially in the very beginning of the series and Tomoo who killed Lucy's puppy.
  • In My Hero Academia, Uraraka wants to use her Gravity Master Quirk to become a rescue specialist who floats away debris and catches falling people. The most dangerous usage of her Quirk seen has her set a trap for Bakugo by having the bits of concrete he blew up while fighting her float into the air before bringing them all down like a small meteor shower. When her Quirk gets used by Toga, she sends all of her opponents flying to lethal heights before having them all fall back to Earth with a sickening and bloody crunch.

    Comic Books 
  • One arc of Daken: Dark Wolverine sees the titular sociopath try and break into an old Pride safehouse, only to suddenly get blinded by a light show, tangled up in vines, and then punched across the room, with the panels never showing his assailants. And then the proverbial camera pulls back, and it turns out he barged in on the Runaways and got a beatdown from Karolina, Klara, and Molly.
  • This is pretty much the shtick of Eobard Thawne from The Flash, who finds out about and uses every horrifying application of Super Speed. He can vibrate his hands through other people’s organs, punch at the speed of sound and higher, create devastating sonic booms, and run back in time to Ret Gone people.
  • Miracleman: Kid Miracleman, a violent, sadistic superhuman with a child alter-ego, rampages all over London and massacres tens of thousands with him desecrating their corpses by using his superhuman strength and energy blasts.
  • The Ultimates: Dr. Hank Pym (Giant-Man) in this continuity uses his power to telepathically control ants to swarm his wife, Janet Pym (The Wasp) as an act of Domestic Abuse.
  • Rising Stars:
    • One girl's power is manipulating small objects. Doesn't sound too impressive, until you remember the carotid is a small object. In adulthood she works as an assassin.
    • Towards the end of the series, several of the supers are killed simultaneously. This results in their powers being redistributed to all the other supers, making each a Flying Brick, in full view of the public, who gets to see what happens when superheroes are pissed at the government.
  • Irredeemable: The Plutonian, after he snaps, destroys Sky City, sinks Singapore because of an ambassador's lies, and murdered millions of people across the globe with his powers using superhuman strength and eye lasers which later turns out to be a manifestation of his real power: Reality Warping.

    Films — Animation 
  • Superman vs. the Elite: Superman shows really how dangerous he is towards the titular Elite by seemingly killing them in frightening ways by using his powers. Only to be revealed that Superman removed their powers and staged killing the members of the Elite.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Brightburn is a horror film about a boy named Brandon Breyer with the powerset of Superman. Unlike the Big Blue Boyscout, he showcases how frightening and dangerous his powers are when put to use without a noble cause or morality.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice we see the climactic fight between General Zod and Superman from Bruce Wayne's point-of-view, with their heat-vision casually cutting large swaths of entire buildings down without any trouble, leading to a large amount of wanton devastation in Metropolis and the deaths of thousands of innocents.
  • Chronicle: Andrew Detmer, in his Protagonist Journey to Villain caused by abuse from his dad and constant bullying, uses his telekinetic powers in frightening ways like attempting to kill his father by dropping him (Dismembering him in the original script), extracting bullies' teeth and attempting to destroy Seattle in agony.
  • Hollow Man: Sebastian Caine, after using a serum that renders him invisible, slowly gives in to his darker inhibitions by pranks at first, then escalation to attempting to violate an attractive neighbor and murdering his colleagues slasher-style and destroying the laboratory when he finds out his mentor Kramer is told about his activities.

    Literature 
  • Animorphs:
    • The ability to transform into most animals is occasionally abused by the Animorphs (like Cassie getting an embarrassing doodle back from her teacher or Marco scaring girls at a party he wasn't invited to), but Sixth Ranger Traitor uses it for petty thievery and breaking into hotels before acquiring Jake and Rachel's brain-dead cousin after a car crash so he can live his life.
    • Rachel is abducted by Crayak and he offers to make her his agent in the galaxy, giving her immense Combo Platter Powers like changing size or instantly morphing to creatures she's never seen that let her toss Visser One around like a powerless toy. She has an epiphany on realizing what these powers would lead to (even without the price for getting them, murdering Jake in retaliation for beating Crayak).
      An epiphany. A revelation. The lightbulb switching on in my head.
      Face it, Rachel. The power is like a drug. And you are like an addict.
      Would I ever get enough? How long before I turned into a morally decrepit monster like Visser One? And making a deal with Crayak would only accelerate the journey to that inevitable end.
      Suddenly, I had a vision of myself as I would really appear to the world. To my family. Friends. To the other Animorphs. To the Chee. The free Hork-Bajir. To every decent person on this planet.
      Super-Rachel was not beautiful and kind and benevolent. She would not be honored and respected. She was hideous and violent and brutal. She would be feared by everyone. Despised and hated. A tyrant to be plotted against, just like Visser One.
  • The opening scene of Steelheart demonstrates how terrifying it can be to be a normal civilian caught in the middle of a superhuman brawl, as Steelheart and Deathpoint fight over who gets to control a bank, with Deathpoint gleefully vaporizing people while Steelheart burns them.
  • The Wheel of Time: The Battle of Dumai's Wells is the first modern-day deployment of hundreds of battle-trained mages, and even seasoned veterans are appalled to watch as they incinerate and pulverize entire companies of soldiers at a time. In the end, it's less a battle than a slaughter that leaves them soberly aware of the new face of warfare.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Boys (2019): As befitting its status as a Darker and Edgier Deconstruction of the Superhero genre, this trope crops up regularly.
    • A-Train helpfully demonstrates what happens when someone with Super Speed runs into someone who doesn't.
    • Homelander's Eye Beams are a prime source of this. If he's not making his eyes glow to invoke Red Eyes, Take Warning, he's vaporizing people into fountains of flash-heated gore. Because he's a sociopath who hates literally getting his hands dirty.
    • Ezekiel proves how scary the normally-unimpressive Rubber Man power is when he starts strangling Hughie from across the room.
    • More subtle than most, but the fact that Translucent is well-known to use his Invisibility to lurk in women's restrooms, gynecologists offices, and the lack is quite frightening when you think about it.

    Video Games 
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us: Regime Superman, after passing through a Despair Event Horizon caused by the Joker tricking him to kill his pregnant wife Lois Lane and subsequently detonates a nuke that destroys Metropolis and kills millions - decides to kill the Joker by using his enhanced strength to graphically impale the Joker with his own bare hands.
  • In Warframe, the Tenno's superpowers are treated with abject horror by most of the Origin System, as virtually any of them can start a Mook Horror Show. This is particularly played up with Nekros, Banshee, and Saryn, who are shown terrorizing their foes as they wipe them out in their Prime trailers.

    Web Original 
  • Worm: Fuelled by this trope. The characters have been shown to use their powers as either a Mundane Utility, or to engage in gruesome battles.
    • As the main character, Taylor Hebert progresses through the story, she gets more and more creative with her powers, ranging from being able to create her own clothes to spying on people and melting limbs.
    • Jack Slash thrives on this trope. Simply put, he can extend the kinetic range of his blades.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Hama, one of the remaining Southern Waterbenders appears to be a kindly old lady. However, she developed a dark waterbending style called bloodbending. It essentially uses the water inside the bodies of humans, turning the humans into puppets beyond their control.
  • In Justice League, one alternate timeline has the Justice League Take Over the World as the Justice Lords following Flash's murder. They terrorize the populace into obedience, lobotomizing those who would oppose them and threatening to murder the Justice League and take over their world in hopes of imposing their vision of order on it.

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