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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.
  • 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, and it's often revealed as a plot twist at a heated moment to tilt the odd toward that character or their enemies' favor.

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

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Either way, it's usually a big plot twist in the story, so spoilers in the example section is 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: 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.
  • 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, including creating a real-looking human-like construct (which he "occupies" like a Mini-Mecha) and adding limbs to it.
    • 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.

    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 along shouldn't be capable of.
  • 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.

    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.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Flechette can empower projectiles to pierce most anything and ignore wind, with a secondary power granting perfect aim. In actuality, she is causing the projectile to exist across the multiverse, ignoring any force that stops only one or a million of its counterparts.
    • 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.
    • Coil is given as an example of a man who both misidentifies his power, and lies about how it works according to his understanding, but this is getting a little long for the details.
    • 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 an enormous control over organic matter in general.

    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, though this counts as a major spoiler for the story.

    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).
  • 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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