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Power Misidentification

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Hey, look, that man is lifting a large boulder over his head, he must be incredibly strong, right? Little do you know, he is actually lifting it with telekinesis; he is just putting his hands up for show.

Power Misidentification is when a character's power is not how it seems. This might occur when their power is easily confused with other powers, ranging from something not quite functionally the same to something completely different, and it is either intentional or unintentional.

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  • Intentional — A character doesn't want others to know their real power and is putting up a facade, often to cover up the truth of their real power and therefore its weakness and prevent their enemies from coming up with any viable counter measure. Contrast Explaining Your Powers to the Enemy.
  • Unintentional — A character's power is confused with something else that is somewhat similar because as far as everyone is concerned, they're functionally the same. Sometimes the character themselves may not even know the difference.

The real power of the character in question will almost always be revealed somewhere in the story, or else it wouldn't make sense to have a difference in the first place. It's often revealed as a plot twist at a heated moment to tilt the odds toward that character or their enemies' favor.

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The character's true power might be revealed by themselves, somebody with impeccable perception, or the predicament that they're stuck in.

Either way, it's usually a big plot twist in the story, so spoilers in the example section are to be expected.

Might be a Super-Trope of Not Quite Flight. Sub-Trope of Mistaken for Superpowered. See also: Paper Tiger where a character with weak power is pretending to have stronger power than they actually have, Willfully Weak is when a strong character only showing some extent of their full power kit, and maybe Fake Weakness when a character intentionally covering up the weakness of their true ability.


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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In The Flash, Wally West's Evil Counterpart Zoom seems to have super-speed, but it's actually a form of time manipulation that allows him to change his relative time to seem faster or slower, thus being immune to Wally's speed-stealing powers.
  • Irredeemable:
    • At one point Qubit, the local Insufferable Genius for the good guys, (Doctor Who fans, basically think the Tenth Doctor in a superhero world) figures out that a lot of his companions have either misidentified or misunderstood the nature of their powers and are thus not fulfilling anything close to their true potential. For example, Bette Noir's only power seems to be that she's a literally perfect markswoman and she will always hit what she shoots at. Qubit realizes that her real power has nothing to do with guns or her aim, it's that she's subconsciously manipulating gravity along the bullet's trajectory and essentially guiding it to the target.
    • For years, Superman Substitute the Plutonian has been assumed to be the ultimate Flying Brick. It turns out he's actually a minor Reality Warper, and that's the real reason he's always as Strong as He Needs to Be, and can accomplish so much that simple strength alone shouldn't be capable of.
  • A Silver Age Justice League of America story had a fan writing in to the JLA about a fictional villain he created, the Maestro, who purposely misled the League about his power and trapped them inescapably. After thinking over the scenario, the League realized the Atom was the key to recognizing his actual power and used the knowledge to prepare accordingly and defeat him.
  • Superman:
    • As a way to "mimic" the strength of the Man of Steel, the clone known as Superboy utilizes "tactile telekinesis" to lift stones, fly and enhance durability. Later Conner/Kon-El learns other uses for this superpower, like generating waves to nullify others' powers.
    • Supergirl (2011): Kara's friend Siobhan Smythe/Silver Banshee gets attacked by her abusive father, Black Banshee. Supergirl tries to help, but he is unaffected by her heat vision. He mistakes her for a fellow practitioner of magic and mocks her for her weak spells.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: In Spider-Man's second fight with the Ultimate Marvel incarnation of Doctor Octopus, it turns out that the mechanical parts of his iconic mechanical arms were redundant — since their last encounter, he's realized that he actually has control over metal and can construct arms from surrounding debris whenever he needs them.
  • X-Men: Cyclops once posed as Eric the Red.note  His Hand Blast is actually his Eye Beams being collected by his eyepieces and conducted to blasters in his gloves.

    Films — Animation 
  • The crux of Syndrome's Heroism Addict plan in The Incredibles. After he unleashes his giant Omnidroid robot on the city of Metroville, he comes and presents himself to the people as a new superhero who will save them from it. Syndrome doesn't have any natural superpowers, but he has his various futuristic gadgets, and more importantly he's got a remote control to make the robot do whatever he wants. His rocket boots make it pretty obvious that he doesn't have flying powers, and it's unclear whether the people are supposed to mistake his zero-point energy gauntlets for telekinesis, but one thing he definitely does intend to deceive the people about is the power of his fists. When he pretends to knock one of the robot's limbs off, what he actually does is command the robot to detach the limb from its socket right after he "punches" it. Unfortunately for him, the Omnidroid's AI is trying to fight back for real, and Syndrome is defeated when the Omnidroid recognizes and shoots the remote.
  • In Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, Quake told her partner Patriot that her shockwave powers came from her gauntlets. In truth she is an Inhuman, and the gauntlets were just a (not especially important) Power Crutch.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Mutant X, there is a Power Incontinence plague spreading throughout the mutant population. One of the mutants introduced has what is described as invulnerability. Adam has an "Eureka!" Moment upon learning the ability is actually a Healing Factor so fast it's hard to notice there was a wound in the first place. Sampling his blood provide the opportunity to cure the plague.
  • Smallville: In "Spell", Clark Kent finds himself facing a trio of evil witches. When they see his superpowers in action, they mistake him for a rival sorcerer.

    Podcasts 
  • Red Panda Adventures: "The Doctor is In" features a superhero misidentifying his own powers. Doctor Improbable initially believes himself to be surrounded by an "improbability field" that causes events around him to become more certain the less likely they are. It's why he traded gambling for superheroics. As Doctor Improbable became more confident in his powers, they began to work against him; by changing the odds and making a long-shot a sure thing, his powers kicked in to make that sure thing less likely, and turned gambling back into a gamble. The episode itself proves this false as he, the Red Panda, and the Flying Squirrel are trying to escape an underground Nazi labyrinth. They encounter over a dozen incredibly clever death traps that are inexplicably inoperable for one reason or another and wouldn't kill a determined mouse, only to suddenly start encountering extremely dangerous death traps every few feet when they find a vehicle they can use to escape. Upon hearing how Doctor Improbable regards his powers, the Red Panda realizes the problem: What Doctor Improbable believes to be Winds of Destiny, Change! is in fact, Reality Warping. The Doctor's personal confidence levels do not affect the actual odds of anything occurring, what his powers have been affecting all along is the outcome. The Red Panda proves it by knocking Doctor Improbable unconscious and proceeding to carry him out and complete their escape unhindered.
    Red Panda: [Your powers] influence the outcome of events by directly manipulating reality. You have convinced yourself they have something to do with probability so that is how your subconscious uses them. Inconvenient, but predictable within certain parameters. ... When you put yourself into a situation that held deep terror for you, this maze of tunnels, your subconscious rode to extremes. You were utterly convinced that you were going to die and, since you have developed your powers to work in an opposing fashion, they made the whole thing terribly easy. Failed deathtrap after failed deathtrap, a man-eating tiger who turned out to be adorable and friendly ... And when we finally sighted the Mole at the far end of that corridor you were so relieved at the prospect of living through this that your powers ran a hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction and put a ludicrous number of traps between us and escape. It isn't the Nazis that are trying to kill us, Doctor, it's you.

    Roleplay 
  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • During the empowering event, Amy is struck by a snake and her body appears to dissolve into dust. It's not until later that night that Finn is able to figure out what actually happened to her: she was transformed into a data consciousness that then uploaded itself onto her phone.
    • Ivan's power is to manipulate real-life events by mimicking them via a piece of media. He first uses this when he has a chessboard mimic a real-life battle. Finn barges in on him, sees the chess pieces moving around of their own volition, and mistakenly believes that Ivan has some form of telekinesis.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Zer0 from Borderlands 2 is able to turn invisible while at the same time deploy a hologram decoy at his original position, and when he strikes, his hologram dissipates while he himself become visible once again. From an enemy's perspective, it is as if he teleported, or at the very least, is super fast. But whether causing enemies' confusion is Zer0's intention or the enemies are just plain dumb is up to debate.
  • In City of Heroes, the Clockwork appear to be a bunch of robots led by the Clockwork King, a Brain in a Jar connected to a giant robot. It turns out that the robots are nonfunctional, but the Clockwork King is a powerful psychic, who subconsciously animates his creations via telekinesis. In later missions, the Clockwork King has realized what his actual powers are and embraced them, with his "robots" switching from electrical attacks to psychic ones.
  • Majorita from Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance has a fearsome reputation as the Corpse Master Overlord, commanding a her own army of undead soldiers she raises after killing them. Her actual power is the ability to control bodies that she injected her blood into. Living target can try to resist it, but corpses sure can't.
  • I=MGCM: The main character, Tobio, is told his Mentor Mascot avatar called Omnis has "the power to realize possibilities". Early in the story, he witnesses one of his magical heroines get killed, but then suddenly wakes up a few hours earlier, with her alive. As a result, he believes he has the power to Time Travel and undo his mistakes. He doesn't. What he's actually doing is creating a new parallel world every time he makes a decision/possibility he wants and merges the old universe with that universe which he has created, including the heroines, both alive and dead, so they’ll be merged with living ones. The bad news is the girls who are slain and subsequently corrupted into demons in the universes where he previously screwed-up cannot be merged due to certain merging immunity. Instead, they're replaced by copies from universes he recently created.
  • Mega Man Zero 3: Devilbat Schilt has the ability to mess with Reploids' sensory systems temporarily using sound waves. In gameplay, this makes him look like he's teleporting when he's simply "being undetectable" for a moment.
  • Touhou Project: Going by the character profiles, one might think that the setting runs on One Person, One Power. In fact a good deal of this is Enforced - a character's "ability" is self-declared and most of them prefer declaring something distinctive, even if it's a mundane skill, an application of broader abilities,note  or not that impressive compared to the other things they can do (i.e. if Captain Planet were a Touhou character, his profile would say he has the power of Heart). Conversely, some characters go in the other direction - making themselves sound stronger than they actually are, or even making up abilities from whole-cloth. This has some In-Universe justification in that the majority of the cast are Youkai.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night:
    • In the Heaven's Feel route, Sakura's lack of magical training means that when Rin starts fighting with the Jewel-Sword of Zelretch (a Magic Wand that grants its holder unlimited Mana), she has no idea what's going on and assumes that Rin has somehow created a copy of Excalibur.
    • Shirou is initially thought to be good only at Projection, but his actual power is to manifest weapons from Unlimited Blade Works, which is visually similar but has almost nothing to do with Projection.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Due to the fact that aura grants people a Healing Factor, Nora initially mistakes Jaune's ability to power up other people's aura with his own for Healing Hands.
    • Ruby in training with Harriet who has a speed semblance is informed that there might be something more to her own semblance that makes it more than just super speed. It's later explained by Penny's analysis that Ruby's semblance is dissembling her mass into components and accelerating them across short distances, and that she can take additional mass with her. Essentially, this means that all the petals seen during the use of her semblance are literal, and she can fly groups of people short distances.

    Web Original 
  • Red Panda Adventures: Rookie superhero Doctor Improbable describes his powers as a form of Winds of Destiny, Change!. The longer he perceives the odds against an event occurring are, the more likely they become to happen. In the episode featuring him he, the Red Panda, and the Flying Squirrel encounter over a dozen death traps while trying to navigate a Nazi labyrinth and find all of them inoperable, only to start encountering functional and difficult-to-disarm traps every few feet the instant escape is in sight. Once he learns how Doctor Improbable views his powers, the Red Panda theorizes his powers are not luck based, as he believes, but more in line with general Reality Warping, basing their effects on what he thinks the odds are because he thinks they should. What his powers actually do is make things easier or harder depending on his own fear or confidence levels. The Red Panda knocks the Doctor unconscious so they can escape without further issue. Afterward, learning his powers weren't what Doctor Improbable thought they were causes them to stop working entirely for a time.
  • SCP Foundation: The Foundation never investigated how the Invisibility of SCP-4007-4 worked figuring it was by "anomalous mumbo-jumbo." Their power was erasing themselves from perception and memory. The Foundation missed this because it was so subtle and precise, able to only remove select details at will while they still remembered SCP-4007-4 at all, compared to the dramatically mind-altering things they normally deal with. SCP-4007-4 is also implied to have the erased the memories of anyone who investigated it.
  • Parodied in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Abridged, where Joseph, after an internal monologue in which he goes through Insane Troll Logic deciphering Kakyoin's hint as to the power of Dio's Stand (most of which has absolutely nothing to do with the Stand or even Dio), reveals to Dio that he knows what it is.
    Joseph: That's right, Dio. Thanks to Kakyoin, I now know that your Stand-
    Dio: Can stop time.
    Joseph: Yes. Stop time. Yeah. Totally... can't breathe fire.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In order to get into a prison that holds captive earthbenders, the Gaang come up with a plan to have Katara and Sokka get in a pretend fight in front of Fire Nation guardsman and have Katara pretend to lift a large boulder using earthbending, when in fact, it was Aang who lifted the boulder by sending a powerful air current into an airvent below the boulder.
    • In a couple of cases, a person seems to be able to manipulate something other than one of the four elements — plant-life in one episode, and human bodies in another. Both times, it turned out that the people were actually manipulating the water inside of them.
    • This continues into The Legend of Korra. Amon claims that spirits granted him the mystical power to rob element-benders of their abilities. He's lying, and he's actually doing it by combining multiple known arts (Healing skills associated with waterbending, the normally-difficult act of waterbending someone's bodily fluids, and hitting pressure points to block the flow of chi). Amon also uses bloodbending in combat to throw off his opponents' attack, but subtly enough that they just assume he's evading them normally.
  • Kid Cosmic: The title character misidentifies his own power. He spends the majority of the first season using the green stone to fly, until the alien from the world that became the stone explains that it actually grants telekinesis, and Kid had just been using it on himself without considering its effects weren't limited to the user.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: K.O. assumes that Laserblast's power was his signature Eye Beams, but is later told that the beams came from his helmet, a conduit for his actual power of Energy Absorption.
  • Steven Universe: Rose Quartz was known for controlling plants, mostly using it create Plant Mooks. In truth, she could do the same to (at least certain) non-living materials, but hid this, presumably because Pink Diamond was known to do the same thing.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "Deception", Cyborg goes undercover as a new student at H.I.V.E. Academy. His Holographic Disguise, besides making him look like a different (non-augmented) person, make it seems like his Super Strength and Super Toughness come from being able to turn his body into stone.

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