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Perpetually Protean

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The Impossible Man — shapeshifting showoff extraordinaire.

"I wish you'd stop changing shape like that..."
The Silver Surfer (witnessing Impossible Man in action), Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos

Some shapeshifters just can't sit still.

In most depictions of Voluntary Shapeshifting, the power is usually left idle until needed while the character goes about their daily lives in a single Shapeshifter Default Form; at the very least, they only make use of this power to take a single form per occasion. However, some shapeshifters have this power in use all the time, shifting wildly from form to form over the course of a scene, perhaps due to Power Incontinence or simply due to personal taste.

In the case of individuals who constantly shapeshift by choice, characters with this brand of shapeshifting tend to have few (if any) drawbacks to using their powers, and may possess bizarre personalities to match their constantly-changing bodies — from the harmlessly eccentric to the unabashedly mischievous. Some may even possess utterly alien viewpoints as a result of their powers, and rarely ever return to their true form — if they even have one.


If their shapeshifting is involuntary, however, they may not have a choice. In more fortunate cases, something may trigger their shapeshifting, such as people's perception of them. In the absolute worst-case scenario, their bodies may simply shift wildly without any obvious cause/trigger, and this can be played either for drama or laughs.

Whatever the case, the shapeshifter is either unable or unwilling to retain a single form for very long — unless absolutely necessary.

A possible hallmark of the Blob Monster. Compare Shapeshifter Showdown, which is essentially this trope utilized in combat.

Contrast Shapeshifter Swan Song, which usually only happens when the shapeshifter is either horribly wounded or dying, and Shapeshifter Mode Lock, where the shapeshifter is unable to change at all.



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    Comic Books 
  • Downplayed in Captain Britain: A Crooked World. When Mad Jim Jaspers finally unveils himself as the Reality Warper behind the ongoing apocalypse, his hat keeps changing to fit his mood — and given how demented Jaspers is, he ends up wearing something new on every single panel. Later played straight in the case of his main universe counterpart — who in one scene shapeshifts from a giant-sized version of himself, his ordinary size, The Grim Reaper, the Devil, a stereotypical Sadist Teacher and a farmer driving a combine harvester.
  • Morph of Exiles is essentially a wisecracking Blob Monster with the power to transform into just about anything. Thanks to his hyperactive demeanor and childish sense of humor, he rarely retains a single look from frame to frame, regularly changing his face, his build, his costume, his gender and his species at the drop of a hat. Plus, he's in the habit of doing it both in combat and in simple conversation. Needless to say, if he's seen remaining in a single form for long periods of time, he's either in disguise or the situation has gotten very grim.
  • Fantastic Four character Impossible Man has a particular flair for this. A cosmic Attention Whore with the powers of both reality-manipulation and shapeshifting, he can turn into literally anything from inanimate objects to all-powerful threats to humanity, his only limitation being the inability to change colors. Combined with his low tolerance for boredom, this often results in him shapeshifting on a near-constant basis, unless of course he's gotten more interested in futzing with the nature of reality. Case in point, his meeting with the Silver Surfer in Rebirth of Thanos, in which he spends almost every single frame turning into something new — much to the Surfer's annoyance.
  • Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits reveals that the Third of the Fallen exists in this state: unlike the First and the Second, he is constantly transforming into different shapes, often taking wildly different forms from panel to panel. In this first appearance alone, he appears as a Blob Monster, a flaming serpent, a floating brain with eyeballs, an armoured warrior, a skeleton, Elvis Presley, and many more — though it's later revealed he's capable of disguising himself for long periods of time if need be as one of John Constantine's friends finds out the hard way. For this reason, he's known as the Lord of a Billion Faces.
  • Franco-Belgian Comics: In the Mélusine series, book 22 introduces a shapeshifter as Mélusine's lawyer. Because it has a cold, though, it Involuntary Shapeshifts every time it sneezes, cycling from a duck-headed humanoid to a filing cabinet, an octopus, a puddle of water, a giant mushroom, a bugbear, a giant snail, a scarecrow, a shark, an ogre, a werewolf, etc.
  • Warlock of the New Mutants is a techno-organic being that exists in a constant state of transformation; lacking a default form, he instead alters his body to fit the situation at hand — meaning almost always — often demonstrating a wacky, anarchic sense of style in the process. Hilarity Ensues when the team runs into Impossible Man and Warlock takes issue with the fellow shapeshifter's attitude, both of them shapeshifting on autopilot as they get angrier until the whole argument turns into an epic Shapeshifter Showdown in which the two duel in progressively more destructive forms until they end up duking it out as Uatu the Watcher and Galactus.
  • In Secret Invasion, as the Skrull goddess of change, Sl'gur't never stays in the same form for more than a few seconds.

    Fan Works 
  • This is a state of being to which all members of the Amorphous League aspire to in The Land of What Might-Have-Been: known simply as "shapelessness", it is a level of existence in which no further potion is needed to maintain their powers and transformation is as easy as breathing — and just as frequent. The leader and founder of the society, the First of the Shapeless, has attained this state and spends most of his scenes changing from shape to shape, only taking on specific forms for practical purposes or simply for amusement. It also hides the fact that he used to be the Cowardly Lion. Attempting to attain this state early by macrodosing on the potion results in the Perpetually Protean effect turning into a full-blown Shapeshifter Swan Song, followed by a messy collapse.
  • With Apologies to Harlan Ellison features the Administrator subjecting the Team Fortress 2 team to decades of torture a la I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Apparently despising Spy worst of all, she inflicts the worst fate on him by making him into a real shapeshifter: not only is he perpetually transforming and unable to control it, but the constant process of growing, shrinking, expanding, contracting melting and morphing causes him agonizing pain — to the point that he avoids walking because his legs break and reset with every step. Also, making eye contact with him is extremely difficult, for not only is his face changing constantly into everything from Richard Nixon to Frank Sinatra, but his eyes are described as "runny."

    Films — Animation 
  • The Genie from Aladdin transforms constantly, usually to impersonate various real life celebrities but also changing his size and shape in other ways — from objects to animals to other humans; sometimes this is for specific practical purposes, but usually just for the sake of a gag (he's played by Robin Williams after all). He tamps down on it for the more serious scenes, though.
  • Hexxus exhibits this during his earliest scenes in FernGully: The Last Rainforest: starting out as a minuscule Blob Monster composed of pollution, he's constantly reshaping himself to travel more effectively, sprouting tendrils to haul himself up the side of pipes, sprouting mouths to feed on exhaust, and growing steadily bigger. Even when Hexxus is sitting still, he's shaping himself into a new form — either sprouting a long neck to look around the Leveller or shrinking back down so he can pour himself into the ventilation duct. At one point, he even shapes himself into the form of a cobra for no apparent reason. And then after shaping himself into a solid human skeleton, he uses the Leveller's electrical systems to convert himself into a gaseous wraith — which doesn't shapeshift at all outside of the Disney Acid Sequence / Villain Song.
  • From The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi is not a minifig but made entirely of LEGO bricks. If at first she appears as a horse for a Bait-and-Switch, she soon enough demonstrates her shapeshifting power constantly. In fact, the Queen pretty much change shape just to move around. Especially during her Most Definitely Not a Villain Song, "Not Evil", where she transforms for about every verse.
  • In Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure one of the stranger characters featured is the Greedy, a huge shapeshifting blob of taffy and other confections so massive he counts as a landscape unto himself. Always hungry, the Greedy is constantly shaping his mass into new desserts and eating himself, or sculpting himself into an almost-human body before melting back into the ooze — usually while eating something.
  • Ekh, the main villain of the short Soviet cartoon Wow, a Talking Fish, shapeshifts on a near-constant basis in a manner as bizarre as the general atmosphere of the movie. At first appearing in the form of a Draconic Humanoid with two mouths, he randomly sprouts the face of Santa Claus and becomes a snowy hillside, then appears as himself again, inverts his body so that his hindquarters become his head, transforms into an ape, then unzips his own skin to reveal himself as a dragon again!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • When Dave Bowman finally appears in physical form during 2010: The Year We Make Contact, he's constantly shifting between different states of being during the short conversation he has with Dr Floyd: at first appearing exactly as he was when he vanished in the previous movie, Dave then takes the form of his older persona from the alien mansion, his ancient dying self, and his true form — the Star Child.
  • In Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the shapeshifting burlesque dancer Bubble introduces herself in a memorable performance that features her adopting a wide variety of fetishistic styles; even once the show's over, she reveals a habit of transforming on a whim until a standoff with Valerian forces her to revert to her true form. Justified, as she's an entertainer.

  • In the Lone Wolf series (and its spin-off World of Lone Wolf), the Chaos-master is an Eldritch Abomination that is pretty much chaos personified. As such, its appearance is that of a vaguely humanoid giant composed of the many parts of various animals... which keeps moving and changing shape unceasingly.

  • The Camp Half-Blood Series: Aphrodite is an Empathic Shapeshifter whose appearance is constantly changing to fit someone's perception of ideal beauty.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past from A Christmas Carol is described as shifting constantly between various humanoid forms, most notably having a fluctuating number of limbs and somehow managing to look like a child and an old man at the exact same time. Allegedly, the description was so mind-bendingly weird that Dickens' illustrator at the time didn't even try to draw it, making it the only ghost in the cast to not have been illustrated by him.
  • In Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion works, this is the condition of recurring villain Gaynor the Damned beneath his armour. At one point, Corum tears his faceplate off to reveal a constantly shifting series of agonized faces, including (briefly) Corum's own.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Haggunenons of Vicissitus Three possess the most impatient chromosomes in the galaxy, meaning that evolve into new forms at the drop of a hat. This is terribly inconvenient in their daily lives; if a Hagguenon can't reach their coffee mug, they will immediately mutate into a form with long enough limbs... but their new body will probably not be able to actually drink the coffee. Because of this, they harbor serious Fantastic Racism towards those who do not shapeshift; it's mostly jealousy, but they justify it by saying that as they have personally experienced what it's like to be every race in the galaxy, leaving them in good positions to appreciate their worst points.
  • A hallmark of Darklord Amon in The Nekropolis Archives: as the king of the city's Shapeshifters, he can transform in ways that most werefolk can only dream of. His introductory scene features him transforming into a different shape on almost every page, each one concerned with hunting in some way — an English foxhunter, a gun-toting redneck, a fur-trapper, a prehistoric hunter...
  • Undercover police officers in A Scanner Darkly are required to exist in an electronic version of this state: in order to protect their identities while in public or at headquarters, they wear full-body "scramble suits" that constantly cycle their appearances through a million and a half fractal identities — noses, eyes, mouths, etc. Consequently, the wearer is impossible to identify and is said to resemble a "vague blur."
  • In the Septimus Heap books, shapeshifters end up spending more time in a state of transformation the older and more powerful they get — to the point that they soon find themselves forced to spend less and less time in their natural form before they absolutely must turn into something else. And eventually, they always end up stuck in one specific form and unable to ever change again; Septimus' own shapeshifter grandfather ended up stuck as a sentient tree, and his granduncle settled on being a storm petrel.
  • String City eventually reveals that the nameless gumshoe's predecessor, Jimmy the Griff, is suffering from this as a result of losing a game of chess with the Titan Cronos: his temporal proteins have been scrambled and his state of being is now warping constantly through time, leaving him continuously changing from paragraph to paragraph — sometimes aging into a skeleton, sometimes regressing to childhood, sometimes growing extra arms or flippers as he evolves or devolves... and more disturbingly, it's impossible for any of this to kill him, no matter how old or young he gets. Worse still, getting too close to him can result in the effect spreading.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Red Dwarf features this in play whenever a Polymorph shows up; when not taking on forms designed to provoke emotions from its victims, it shapeshifts wildly into a huge variety of different bodies for the simple act of travelling down a corridor, only retaining a stable shape when it needs to remain hidden.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Trope Namer is of course Proteus, a demigod from Classical Mythology; all members of the Greek pantheon had the power to shapeshift, but Proteus made a gimmick out of being able to turn into anything, often in succession and at a moment's notice. He also became famous for agreeing to reveal hidden truths to anyone who could catch and hold him down until he stopped shapeshifting and yielded — no easy task considering that Proteus could transform into water or even fire. As such, some depictions portray him in a state of constant transformation, like so.

  • Josh Crayton from Welcome to Night Vale is a shapeshifter whose appearance keeps changing unpredictably because of his fluctuating emotions, though he has enough control over his powers to sometimes change into older-looking people so he can cut class.

  • Following the trip to Milliways in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the heroes end up unwittingly stealing the flagship of a death fleet owned by the Haggunenons, an alien race whose bodies are in a state of constant and barely-controlled evolutionary flux as a result of having "The most impatient chromosomes of any lifeform in the galaxy". This instability has rendered them extremely resentful of all non-shapeshifter lifeforms and not above launching unprovoked military strikes on the "samelings." Thankfully, Zaphod and Trillian end up accidentally tricking the Haggunenons into thinking that they are both the admiral of the fleet in different forms. Unfortunately, the admiral is already on board, having fallen asleep in the form of Zaphod's chair — and is not at all amused.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • From the 3rd Edition Monster Manual II, the Grimalkin is a shapeshifter whose true form is a large blue-gray housecat, but which can turn into any animal close in size. Their chosen form depends on the situation, but in combat they will change shape every round to confuse the opponent and make it difficult to adopt a strategy.
    • One of the many monsters featured in the Epic Level Handbook is the Hagunemnon, a pretty obvious Shout-Out to the Haggunenons of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Like their inspiration, they are constantly taking on new shapes and possess a xenophobic hatred of all non-shapeshifters. More worryingly, they are known to travel extensively in search of new shapes to copy — and they prefer to kill their targets once they've finished acquiring their forms...
    • The Homebrew Shapeshifter Class can eventually achieve this state: at the 20th level, the power of transformation is always active and the Shapeshifter becomes "an amorphous, mutating wonder" capable of casually taking on any form for any duration of time at the drop of a hat. For good measure, the Shapeshifter's ceaselessly protean nature allows players to flow through narrow gaps and manacles like water, regenerate or resist a huge range of injuries, and cease aging altogether.
  • Chaos Beasts from Pathfinder have no set form except a single eye and a maw with More Teeth than the Osmond Family. They shapeshift every turn, and are actually immune to Baleful Polymorph of any stripe, including Flesh-to-Stone and the like.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade:
    • In the Gehenna event book, the Withering of vampire blood begins to have some rather unusual effects on the Tzimisce Clan: more specifically, in the scenario "Fair Is Foul," Vicissitude becomes simultaneously more powerful and significantly harder to control, prompting random displays of mutation in both the wielders and their targets. Towards the end, Tzimisce may lose their ability to maintain a single shape for even the briefest period of time, constantly sprouting new claws, tentacles, jaws and eyeballs; as a result, breaking the Masquerade becomes practically inevitable.
    • In another Gehenna scenario, "The Crucible Of God," the Tzimisce Antediluvian manifests as a gigantic blob of ever-changing flesh, constantly sculpting itself new appendages or sprouting secondary bodies to attack or feed.
  • Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000:
    • Chaos Spawn are wandering masses of ever-shifting organs, limbs and perpetually-warping flesh, most commonly created when a Chaos champion or mutant receives too many "rewards" from their patron god, causing their bodies to collapse into an unending series of random mutations. Reduced to feral madness by the experience, Chaos Spawn will eventually die from their condition as the Chaotic energy mutating will quite literally rip them apart — though most tend to die in battle first.
    • In some editions of Warhammer, according to White Dwarf, champions of Tzeentch can earn the gift of a protean form: characters with this ability are perpetually mutating and warping beyond recognition, constantly becoming more unusual, more attractive or more nightmarish. Though quite useless for disguise, it's very handy in combat for the Healing Factor it confers on the bearer.
    • As one of the greatest of Tzeentch's daemons, the Changeling is capable of taking any form imaginable in order to advance his many pranks and schemes. However, according to his fellow daemons, he's changed so many times that he's long since forgotten his original appearance: whenever he appears undisguised, he wears a hooded cloak to hide the fact that he's constantly cycling through different forms in a desperate attempt to rediscover his old self — or so the rumors claim.

    Web Original 
  • Mortasheen:
    • The garbage-type Decompoglob never stops mutating, sometimes to the point of spontaneously decaying into a heap of mush and regenerating back to normal. Less pleasantly, it's prone to cause mutation in others as well: its tissues are highly infectious and often cause those around it to sprout fish heads.
    • The Ectozyme's body is constantly shapeshifting and is prone to absorbing anyone or anything it makes contact with; consequently, mimicries of past victims may occasionally be seen emerging from its body, though they are quickly reabsorbed and replaced by new appendages. Its only consistent features are its udders — which leak a noxious fluid that causes instant random mutation in anyone touching it.

    Western Animation 
  • As master of time, Clockwork of Danny Phantom is constantly cycling between different ages, appearing as a child, an adult and an old man — all wearing perfectly-fitting versions of his costume and all speaking in the same voice.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: While perfectly capable of remaining in a single form if they choose, Double Trouble has a habit of switching between forms while delivering breaking speeches to people in order to add a certain punch to a line delivery.


Video Example(s):


Ekh's Introduction

The shapeshifting sorcerer Ekh appears before a luckless fisherman, constantly transforming as he does so.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / PerpetuallyProtean

Media sources:

Main / PerpetuallyProtean