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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 supertrope of Not Quite Flight. 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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    Anime & Manga 
  • A Certain Magical Index:
    • Kaori Kanzaki can swing her sword once and make seven slashes. Touma Kamijou assumes her sword is magical, thus the attack is something his Anti-Magic right hand, Imagine Breaker, can block. When he tries it, his hand gets mutilated. She reveals the real way she made those slashes was that she was controlling non-magical Razor Floss like a marionette.
    • Shokuhou "Mental Out" Misaki is renowned as Academy City's most powerful Telepath, capable of completely altering peoples' memories, personalities or perception of their surroundings, as well as implanting commands to be triggered later. It's revealed much later that she achieves this through precise application of an ability to control moisture — she is capable of other things (like creating ice) but rarely explores them because her power is already so complex that she needs props and numbered techniques just to focus on a particular task.
  • The protagonist of Charlotte believes that his power is to possess another person for five seconds. However, he later finds out that his actual ability is stealing the powers of other superpowered individuals; the five-second possession is just a side effect.
  • When Rolo was first introduced in Code Geass R2, many assumed that his Geass actually allowed him to stop time, but it quickly turned out that he merely paralyzes and freezes people's perception in a certain radius around him.
  • Darker Than Black: Unbeknownst even to him, Hei's Shock and Awe contractor powers actually involve quantum manipulation of matter, which makes him the keystone of the two factions' plans to destroy or alter the Eldritch Location of Hell's Gate. It's also revealed that he's not actually a contractor himself: he absorbed his sister's powers, giving him the abilities of a contractor with none of the drawbacks.
  • Fairy Tail: Racer pretends his magic gives him Super Speed, but it actually slows down time within a certain distance of him. This makes a functional difference—a projectile fired beyond his range doesn't slow down before hitting him—but Racer does it more because he's obsessed with being fast.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: When the heroes first encounter DIO, it seems that he has the power of teleportation or Flash Step. It's not until Kakyoin throws a clue before his death at DIO's hands (throwing his Emerald Splash to a clock's face) that the heroes start to figure out DIO's real power: Time Stands Still.
  • In My Hero Academia, it is mentioned that when a child with a Quirk makes a request for a uniform, he can later request a change in case of this trope — for example, the power to eject water from one's body turns out to actually be condensing water vapor into liquid form.
  • Naruto: When introduced, the Power Copying abilities of Kakashi's Sharingan are apparently so strong that not only can he copy Zabuza's water techniques in real time as they're being performed, he can finish them before Zabuza does. After initially panicking at Kakashi's ability to "see into the future", Zabuza figures out that it's just a trick — Kakashi is a Jack-of-All-Trades who already knew some of the same techniques as Zabuza, and used his Sharingan to hypnotize him into using ones that he could pretend to copy.
  • One Piece:
    • While it's established early on that Absalom has the power to turn invisible, he also seemingly has another ability that lets him fire powerful blasts from his hands. As it turns out, said hand blasts come from Arm Cannons that he made invisible.
    • When Luffy first fights Franky in Water Seven, Franky's ability to breathe fire is initially taken to be a Devil Fruit power of some kind. This is proven wrong when Franky shows himself able to go in and out of water without issue, which Devil Fruit users can not do. Franky soon after reveals his nature as a cyborg (which should raise other questions since he should be too dense to swim, but doesn't because it's One Piece).
    • During the Time Skip, Brook realized he misidentified his own powers: he'd long assumed it just let his soul return to his body to Auto-Revive a single time (which took so long his body had since been reduced to a skeleton). Further training lead him to discover he could separate his body and soul at will, and manipulate the latter's ghostly powers to his advantage.
    • "Thousand Arms" Charlotte Cracker, is initially believed to have the power to multiply his limbs. During his fight with Luffy, however, it's revealed that his true power is creating and manipulating biscuits. The 'Cracker' that Luffy fought was actually a biscuit Mini-Mecha, and he was using his biscuit creation powers to add more arms.
    • Charlotte Katakuri's Mochi-Mochi Fruit is initially assumed to be a Logia type because, while it doesn't fit the Elemental Powers theme common to Logias, Katakuri can transform his body to dodge and absorb attacks and displays a weakness to a specific substance, liquids to wash away the mochi his body generates, which are typical of the type. A major turning point in Luffy's battle with him is his realizing this is wrong and that Katakuri's a Paramythia type like Luffy himself. Katakuri's ability to dodge by transforming isn't the reflex of a Logia changing into his element, it's due to his extreme Combat Clairvoyance telling him exactly where an incoming attack will come from. Luffy realizes this means Katakuri is as vulnerable to attack as anyone else, provided he can be hit in the first place.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho: Kurama assumes Karasu has the power to make anything he touches explode and tries to counter by fighting at a distance. Karasu reveals his real power is to make invisible bombs that he can control and levitate, meaning you aren't safe no matter the distance.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Flash, Wally'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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Izuku starts growing hairs that stick to things on his hands after surviving a venomous spider bite. He tries to rationalize this as a latent Quirk that the venom awakened, since it would be impossible for him to be getting the powers of a fictional character like Spider-Man. But when he discovers his Super Strength, Spider-Sense, and Wall Crawling, he soon realizes that this can't be a Quirk. He ends up trying to pass them off as one anyways to avoid unwanted attention. The police also mistake Peter's web-shooters for his "Quirk", when in actuality they're his only power not inherent to him.
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Guldo uses his ability to stop time at the very beginning of his fight against Krillin and Gohan, and while time is stopped, he arranges to drop a steamroller on Krillin (to no effect). Afterward Krillin is convinced that Guldo's power is to summon steamrollers.
    Krillin: Gohan. Did you see it? His power?! He can-
    Gohan: Stop time?
    Krillin: Summon steamrollers!
    Gohan: ... you... you sure about that?
    Krillin: Positive!
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku passes off his Kryptonian Combo Platter Powers as an exceptional Quirk to avoid arousing suspicion. Given how common Quirks are in the setting, it works for the most part. It helps that he first got his Super Strength when he was four years old, right after he'd been told that he was Quirkless, making it look like a misdiagnosis.
  • In Refrain for Justice, Miss Martian takes a mental look at Reality Warper Alice's mindscape and quickly realizes it doesn't feel psychic or metahuman. Alice was actually a Homo Magi.
  • Worm Grand Order: Most of the Earth Bet inhabitants think that Taylor's power is to create projections, beings from her imagination, rather than her actually summoning Heroic Spirits as her Servants.
  • Point Me At The Skyrim is a crossover between The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Ward, a Fantasy and Superhero world respectively. Victoria Dallon, aka Antares, comes from a world where superpowers are given by Starfish Aliens and believes magic to be an alternative expression of that. The inhabitants of Tamriel simply believe her to be a very powerful Mage who focuses on Telekinesis and illegal Levitation spells. She's had many confusing discussions about the differences between the two abilities.

    Films — Animation 
  • The crux of Syndrome's plan in The Incredibles: he pretended to easily beat up the Omnidroid while actually controlling it so that it looks as though it's being defeated. Unfortunately for him, the Omnidroid's AI realizes what's going on, and actually starts fighting back.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • In Alfred Bester's "Disappearing Act", the government, during a war, investigates a bunch of near-catatonic patients who have apparent Teleportation abilities. However, analysis of their mumbling soon reveals the ability is actually Time Travel all the way to Ancient Rome at least. So they bring in a historian, he takes a look at the reports... all the mumbling is horrible pieces of Anachronism Stew. And since the patients are definitely disappearing and reappearing, the only possible conclusion is they are dealing with two dozen Reality Warpers.
  • Graceling:
    • Throughout the story, and her entire life in general, Katsa's grace was believed to be the power of killing. She was made into the personal hitman of the king, able to easily take down any opponent with any tactic. Only when she was traveling through the mountains did it eventually come to light that her true grace was one of survival, with killing being a self-defense aspect instead of her full talent.
    • Katsa represents an unintentional example. In the same book, Po's misidentification is intentional. He and Katsa initially bond over having similar graces since she thinks hers is killing while he tells everyone that his is fighting. In fact, his grace is perception, which covers both senses and telepathy. He uses this telepathy to read the mind of his opponent when fighting. He hides it because people with mind-reading Graces are often shunned for their power.
  • The Infected: Proxy has the power to take the places of people who are about to die. This is axiomatic for the first half of the series, but later turns out to be the first expressions of a much deeper combination of precognition and space/time warping.
  • A lot of this in the superhero novel Playing for Keeps, about various D-list superhero rejects pooling their talents. Then again, maybe not as the powers are correctly identified, it is merely their extent and implications that are poorly thought through. For example, the protagonist, Keepsie, has a power which paralyzes anyone who tries to steal from her, or more specifically "take what's hers without her blessing" until they give up. Later, she realizes this extends to conceptual things like her life, health, safety and freedom, and that she can claim a wide variety of things as her own.
  • Soulfinder Series: This is a major plot point in the third book, Seeking Crystal. Crystal has always felt like a failure because she's the seventh child of a savant family, but instead of having an impressive power like seventh children are supposed to, she's only got the ability to find things. It turns out she's actually a soulseeker, with the power to help other savants find their soulmates, which is extremely rare. However, the combination of that rarity and that telepathy (an otherwise universal savant power) causes her physical pain to the point that she can't usually do it resulted in no one realizing what her power was until the events of the book. It's indicated that Crystal's problem with telepathy is unique to her, as the antagonistic soulseeker in the book takes advantage of her lack of telepathic ability as part of her plan but is surprised when she learns that Crystal has the same power as her.
  • Super Powereds:
    • It's not unusual for HCP students to keep a certain aspect of their power hidden or disguise it as another power. For example, Camille spends the entire first year as a healer. It's not until Year 2 that she finally reveals that she's an injury absorber: she can absorb, store, and give back any injury with a touch. This makes her extremely dangerous in close combat, as she can take down even opponents with Super Toughness by breaking their bones and giving them concussions with a light touch (anywhere on the body is fine). Plus, she had a whole year to amass a varied arsenal of injuries to use.
    • Roy/Hershel's father Titan is known throughout the world as the "world's strongest man" and is assumed to have Super Strength and Super Toughness. However, he actually has an Adaptive Ability that he's simply used to become incredibly strong and tough (so, in his case, what doesn't kill him will definitely make him stronger and immune to that type of attack). Similarly, Roy and Hershel are also thought to be shifters, with Hershel shifting into Roy, who has Super Strength and Super Toughness. In fact, Hershel has a variation of Titan's ability, with Roy being a manifestation of Hershel's ideal self, and Roy's top strength being determined by Hershel's need.
    • Few people know what Globe's true power is, since he's been seen exhibiting Super Strength, Mind over Matter, and a whole smorgasbord of abilities at various times. He's a Reality Warper within a certain spherical area from him, hence the name.
    • In Year 4, during the intramurals, Alice deliberately makes it seem to others that she is a telekinetic, while her real power is Gravity Mastery. The others catch on eventually, though.
    • Another student from a rival school appears to blast fire from his hands. Vince figures it'll be easy for him to absorb the fire (Vince can absorb any type of energy), except the student is actually an oxygen manipulator and uses special gloves to ignite the oxygen he directs.
    • In the spin-off Corpies, Deadlift can pick up and throw incredibly heavy objects with ease, including things that many Supers with Super Strength would find challenging. He doesn't actually have Super Strength himself. Instead, he can alter the weight (or effective mass) of any object he touches.
  • In Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, Akasha, the first vampire, explains to Lestat that all of their physical abilities such as Super Strength, Super Speed and Super Reflexes are really just manifestations of Mind over Matter. Which is why older, more powerful, vampires can lift objects they should not have the leverage to move or take off and fly.
    Akasha: Whether you take a step or take flight, it is all a matter of degree.
  • Because of the nature of superpowers in Worm and how poorly they are understood, there is a lot of this, as well as the fact that many capes lie or mislead people about their powers, either to keep an ace up their sleeve or to bluff people into running/surrendering.
    • Skitter pretends to be able to transform into a swarm of bugs and back at several points, just to heighten her scare factor. She just made a bunch of bugs fly together and then stepped out of a hiding place through the cloud.
    • Flechette can empower any projectile she touches to be an Armor-Piercing Attack with No "Arc" in "Archery", with a secondary power giving her perfect aim. She's actually causing her projectiles to exist across the entire multiverse, with all versions ignoring any force that isn't affecting at least one of them, such as gravity, wind, or a target being in their way. The aiming power is what it seems to be, though.
    • Scrub makes things disappear, but is actually swapping their places with alternate Earths, which is later exploited to create portals.
    • Tinkers are mentally plugged into technological databases that only leak information a little at a time; precognition is sophisticated modelling of the most probable future(s), etc.
    • Panacea is an exceptional healer who can repair things with a simple touch in minutes that would take even Bonesaw (arguably the world's scariest biotinker) hours and a lot of equipment to fix (if she felt like just doing a fix-up job, that is). In truth, she has enormous control over organic matter in general.
    • Gallant pretends to be a Tinker by wearing power armour and passing off his emotion-affecting lasers as technology rather than an innate ability to mess with people's emotions, as most people are frightened of powers that mess with the mind.
    • Tattletale uses her hyperintuition to figure out incredible details from tiny clues, and pretends to be psychic so nobody can figure out what her power really is.
    • Regent is a Master who can affect the human nervous system. He pretends that just means creating muscle spasms, but with enough time on a specific target, he can completely control their body. He hides this power because it's impractical in a fight and would paint a massive target on his back, both because Masters who control humans tend to be feared, and it would connect him to his horribly nasty father, Heartbreaker.
    • Grue edits his own PHO wiki page to hide certain aspects of his power.
    • Glory Girl deliberately spreads the story of her being invulnerable, to hide the fact that her invincible force-field goes down for a few seconds after every strong hit.
    • Coil is an example of a man who both misidentifies his power, and lies about how it works according to his understanding. He tells people that he can manipulate reality and probability so that events favor him. He thinks that he has the power to create two realities, make different choices in each, and then choose whichever favors him the most and destroy the other. But what his power actually does is show him two hyper-accurate visions of possible futures based on his choices, and allows him to choose which to act out (with perfect faithfulness to the vision).
    • Parian has the power to create golems out of fabric and cloth... or rather, that's what everyone believes. Word of God had long teased readers by saying that her "true power" was something that could even be effective against Endbringers. Late in Ward, her real power was shown: her power isn't meant to be used on fabric, but human skin. If she uses human corpses as her building materials, she can create immensely powerful flesh golems. Since she's a pretty nice person in general, she hates actually doing this; indeed, that's why it took several years for her to figure out how it worked. The power always worked better on leather, but she never stopped to consider using corpses, until Tattletale's intuition lead her to the realization. When the Godzilla Threshold is crossed and she agrees to use her real power, she gets permission from the friends of the deceased before using their bodies.

    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.

    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.
  • 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: 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.

    Web Animation 
  • Due to the fact that aura grants people a Healing Factor in RWBY, Nora initially mistakes Jaune's ability to power up other people's aura with his own for Healing Hands.

    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.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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