This is the tendency in fiction for exposure to nuclear radiation or other sci-fi hazards to result in a character gaining super-powers when an unpleasant death by radiation poisoning or a slow, agonizing demise by cancer would be a more likely outcome.
Unsurprisingly, this trope seems to have been at its peak in the atom-crazed 1950s, when anything "atomic" was seen as cutting-edge, but is now falling out of favor as the common person's changed perception of the negative effects of radiation make it increasingly less believable as a source for superhero mutation. A few superhero characters whose backstory involved gaining powers though irradiation have since been re-written into genetic engineering being responsible to capitalize on a new area of scientific ignorance for viewers.
Godzilla movies aside, this is not a particularly common trope in Japan as, due to World War II, the Japanese are much better acquainted with the effects that atomic radiation has on human physiology than most. In fact, the Japanese Kaiju genre (which includes Godzilla) was known for highlighting the negative effects of radiation, rather than the positive effects often seen in American fiction of that era.
A Super-Trope to Nuclear Mutant, which specifically talks about monsters created by radiation. Frequently this trope needs Radiation-Immune Mutants as a Required Secondary Power. The predecessors to this trope are Lightning Can Do Anything and Chemistry Can Do Anything; before the discovery of nuclear power, electricity and chemicals were the go-to source for magical do-anything phlebotinum. One of its successors is Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything. Sometimes overlaps with Toxic Waste Can Do Anything when we're talking about nuclear waste. A sister trope to Atomic Superpower, which is when a being has powers over atomic radiation, though it is possible for someone to be an example of both tropes.
- Many of the Marvel Universe origins are given a kind-of explanation in Earth X, in that certain people have the ability to gain superpowers. What those powers are is determined by how they get them, but because of this innate "spark", they do indeed gain abilities from things that would kill people without it.
- The Atom: The Golden Age Atom from Justice Society of America was originally just a short guy who worked out a lot, but when he came out of retirement in The Silver Age of Comic Books he had super-strength because the writer who brought him back didn't read the history. It was later retconned that he absorbed energy from a nuclear-powered supervillain, which somehow allowed him to survive an atomic bomb blast, after which he gained his powers.
- Black Canary: In the late 1960s, Black Canary gained her iconic Super-Scream due to radiation. This was later deconstructed when it was revealed several (both in-series and meta) years later that she was terminally ill due to the lingering effects of the radiation.
- Captain Atom: Taken to its uttermost extreme, as the titular character, rather than merely being irradiated, was actually vaporized by being at ground zero of a thermonuclear explosion. His mind or soul was somehow able to form a new body for itself, one with superpowers. In the Post-Crisis remake of the character, the writers explained this as an effect of the extra-dimensional substance in which he was encased at the time of the blast.
- Cosmo Cat: The protagonist of the short-lived series got his powers when he worked at a munitions plant. He accidentally tripped and dropped a U-235 bomb he was carrying.
- Daredevil: When Matt Murdock got toxic waste spilled on him, he gained superpowers but also got blinded. Lampshaded in one of the comics; when the empowering accident is discussed, a character points out, "You know what would happen to me if I got hit in the face with a radioactive isotope? I would get leukemia and die."
- Doom: Averted in the comic. The Doomguy is very displeased with the fact that radioactive waste is carelessly left lying around. Because now he's radioactive. And that can't be good.
- Fantastic Four: The Puppet Master has dolls made out of 'radioactive clay' which allow him to control the person who the doll resembles. This was clearly inspired by Hollywood Voodoo, making it arguably the most blatant example of "radiation = magic" in comics. However, this was later retconned so that the dolls' properties are due to actual magic, instead of their negligible radioactivity.
- Firestorm: Firestorm's origin involves terrorists leaving Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein to die when they blow up the latter's nuclear plant. The explosion ends up fusing them into a superpowered being instead. Later averted when Stein is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor as a result of being one half of the nuclear man midway through the second series.
- The Flash:
- Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, gained his powers when he accidentally inhaled fumes of heavy water, a rare non-radiation-based version of nuclear superpowers.
- A minor recurring adversary is named Fallout, a former blue-collar worker who was hired to do work on a nuclear power plant, fell into the reactor, and emerged with translucent green skin and radioactive powers that caused him to inadvertently kill his wife and son. After Flash apprehended him, he agreed to act as a living power source for the prison in which he was incarcerated as penance.
- The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk, the Leader, the Abomination, and all the other people mutated by gamma radiation.
- In the case of She-Hulk, apparently deadly radiation can turn you into a 6'7" green supermodel who can bench a train. However, She-Hulk didn't get her powers from direct exposure to radiation, but rather a transfusion of radioactive blood from Bruce Banner, her cousin...
- And they're only the most famous. The Hulk comics have seen a whole horde of people mutated by gamma radiation over the years.
- Most of the Leader's schemes revolve around trying to mutate humanity with gamma radiation, most recently in Fall of the Hulks.
- There's also the Red Hulk, who even absorbs radiation. Combining gamma radiation and cosmic power will let you do that, apparently.
- Subverted when Rick Jones exposes himself to gamma rays to try to develop Hulk-like powers and gets cancer instead. He gets better, though. Later, he gets turned into a gamma-powered superhuman for real.
- As Science Marched On and it became increasingly difficult for readers to accept this trope straight, Bruce and other Gamma mutates were retconned to have inherited a special genetic trigger. Bruce, his relatives, and a few others are all descendants of the original carrier. The guy who discovered said trigger found a way to copy it and used it to become a Gamma mutate too.
- Immortal Hulk postulates a parallel explanation: in the Marvel universe, gamma radiation is equal parts science and magic. It works like science expects it to work... until it doesn't, until it starts turning people into metaphors for their psychology, because a multiversal cosmic horror that's the antithesis of the omnibenevolent One Above All hates all creation and wants to corrupt it until all is destroyed.
- Legion of Super-Heroes: Reoccurring enemy Radiation Roy has this marked in his name. His ability to emit paralyzing radiation was paid for with an inheritance he gained so he could specifically join the Legion. Roy was rejected because his uncontrolled powers could harm the other Legionnaires, though a later retcon states that he was also rejected because Saturn Girl's mental profile revealed he had a number of psychotic tendencies. Saturn Girl was supposedly so disturbed by what she saw in Roy's mind that she couldn't sleep for two nights. As he got older, it became clear Roy's powers were having an effect on his body when he came back bald. When Geoff Johns brought the original Legion's continuity back, Roy had to wear a full-body containment suit because his powers were causing him to grow giant tumors and his teeth were falling out. Though for some reason he had hair again.
- The Mighty: Alpha One was once a normal sailor who had ended up floating in irritated waters for hours after testing an atom bomb. It took place in 1952. Or at least that's the official story. He's actually a centuries-old Human Alien.
- The Mighty Thor: Chen Lu was turned into the Radioactive Man in a Chinese attempt to create a human weapon. Pity they didn't check if he had plans for world domination first...
- Quantum and Woody: The titular pair got their powers after they were accidentally bombarded with quantum energy.
- Ruins: The Marvel Comics Elseworld Miniseries subverts this repeatedly. In its vision of a darker, bleaker Marvel Universe, it imagines the "realistic" effects that the numerous radiation-fueled Freak Lab Accidents that gave many of their comic book superheroes their powers (gamma radiation bursts, "cosmic" rays, irradiated spider-bites, etc.) could have — specifically, painful disfigurements and horrible deaths. However, the series often leaves in the other unrealistic elements; for instance, Bruce Banner becomes a mass of tumors, but still violates conservation of mass in doing so.
- The Simpsons: In one issue, a meltdown at the Springfield Nuclear Plant triggers a Mass Super-Empowering Event that affects almost everyone in town except for Bart. Parodied when Bart immediately and sincerely declares that gaining superpowers is the obvious, logical outcome to radiation exposure.
- Sleeper: Genocide Jones had a job at a "weird government research plant" that features a pair of iconic nuclear cooling towers. Being a loner, he took his lunch in an isolated area of the plant, prominently marked with radiation warnings. He somehow doesn't notice he's getting bigger and stronger.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): Knuckles the Echidna had his egg irradiated with Chaos Energy from the Master Emerald by his father Locke (himself self-subjected to radiation and genetic testing), granting him powers and abilities far beyond even his own lineage had as the crystal's guardian. Likewise, his ancestor Dimitri, aka Enerjak, became a near-god from excess radiation siphoned off of the Master Emerald. In fact, if a character doesn't have a natural affinity for powering up with the Chaos Emeralds (like Sonic or Shadow), any Chaos-imbued powers they gain are usually a result of this trope.
- Spidey himself famously acquired his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Just about every adaptation since has veered away from this, making it a genetically modified test subject instead.
- Many of Spidey's classic foes gained their powers from some type of radiation accident as well, but special mention goes to Doctor Octopus. Not only was the good doctor an actual atomic scientist who would later use this knowledge in several of his evil schemes, but in one retelling of his origin, Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One, he considers himself and Spider-Man to be twins of their "mother", nuclear power. Ock generally seems to take this trope's title literally.
- Turns out that irradiating the beehive you were studying will mutate the insects and cause them to eat you alive! Don't worry, though — you'll live on in their new-formed Hive Mind, your new body composed of bones and bees! Now you have to use this new power to go into supervillainy, fighting Spider-Man as the sinister Swarm! At least, if you happen to be a Nazi scientist in the Marvel Universe.
- Strontium Dog: Johnny Alpha gained the ability to read minds, see through solid objects, and emit alpha rays from his eyes following strontium-90 fallout during a nuclear war. However, most other mutants in the series are merely disfigured.
- Averted in the comics Post-Crisis (albeit played straight elsewhere in The DCU). The chronic health problems that plague Lex Luthor in both his comic book and cartoon series appearances are a result of exposure to the Kryptonite ring he wore for quite some time. While it certainly hurts Superman very quickly, having it around you for years will have the same effect any kind of radiation will.
- In Krypton No More, Superman villain's Radion's powers were caused by a nuclear accident at an atomic power plant. He possesses radioactive powers and the ability to cause atomic decay.
- Both the Superman villain Neutron and the Supergirl villain Reactron have the ability to control and project nuclear radiation.
- Deconstructed in the origin of the Cyborg Superman. In a pastiche of the Fantastic Four, a space shuttle crew is exposed to cosmic radiation but suffer vastly detrimental effects. Two are killed immediately and resurrected in painful or dangerous forms, eventually leading them to suicide, and one is nearly drawn into an alternate dimension. The fourth member of the crew, Hank Henshaw, suffers an accelerated radiation poisoning which rots away his body. However, Henshaw's mind quickly returns to life with technopathic abilities (and rampaging sociopathy).
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: Atomia uses nuclear radiation as part of her process of creating super-strong but essentially mindless mooks out of kidnapped humans.
- X-Men: The exact cause of mutant powers is rarely discussed. However, in the '60s, Professor X explained his powers as the result of his parents working on the first atom bomb. The Beast's powers have been explained as the result of his father being exposed to radiation, while Sunfire was born in Hiroshima on the day when they dropped the atom bomb. (Even the comic book series as a whole, back in the 1960s, used to bear the subtitle "children of the atom".) All of these explanations have later been either retconned or completely ignored. A more recent explanation is that the detonation of the atomic bombs merely triggered an explosion in mutant birth rates.
- Parodied in a Dilbert strip sequence, in which Dilbert decides to make himself a superhero costume and stand outside the local nuclear plant, in the hope that an accident will occur and give him superpowers. When he gets there, he finds a dozen other guys, all in various designs of spandex, who apparently all had the same idea.
- In the Fallout: Equestria universe, as in the original Fallout franchise, the radiation in the Equestrian Wasteland causes all manner of crazy mutations in animals and ponies alike. This is actually more Justified than in the original, seeing as the "radiation" originated from magical superweapons.
- Hinamori attempts to invoke this trope in Please Stop Eating The Hell Butterflies. Why? Well, she's crazy, so there's that.
Stop playing in the runoff from the twelfth division. That is not the way to go about gaining superpowers. You are a Shinigami. You already have superpowers.
- In The Fall Louise, while already having magic before arriving in the Mojave. begins to experience some changes to it due to the radiation of the world.
- In Single Parents Night, it's believed that Tails having the ability to fly has to do with him being found by a chemical plant.
- In Amazing Fantasy, Izuku is bitten by a radioactive spider like his mentor, Peter Parker. As a result, he gives off intense amounts of unknown radiation while using his Intangibility powers that fry any electronics he passes through. This also exposes the true nature of his abilities to U.A., who decides to question him about them not long after he gets his admission letter.
- Sky High (2005):
- Referenced by the school nurse; "The kids who get bit by radioactive insects or fall into a vat of toxic waste, their powers usually show up the next day. Or - they die."
- Will's mom mentions this when they find out he doesn't have powers.
Jetstream: We can't change who he is... not without dropping him in a vat of toxic waste.
[Beat while the Commander gets an idea]
Commander: I wasn't going to... where would I even find a vat of...
- Also by Layla and Magenta.
Magenta: I forget. Did Tigerman get bit by a radioactive tiger, or was he bit by a regular tiger and then exposed to radiation?
- At the very end, Ron Wilson (Bus Driver) falls into a vat of toxic waste and receives powers.
- Something similar in Dark Storm: Exposure to dark matter causes anything to disintegrate. Except if it's a human. Then he gets dark matter-controlling superpowers. Somehow.
- In X-Men: First Class, Sebastian Shaw believes that mutants are the "Children of the Atom" and believes all mutants are immune to radiation because of this. This is why he plans to turn the Cold War nuclear, believing that the radiation will wipe humanity out but spare mutants.
- In Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Lex Luthor says that nuclear power mixed with genetic material will create a being more powerful than Superman.
- Modern Problems: Max is given superpowers (specifically, telekinesis) when a nuclear waste truck dumps nuclear waste on him and his car.
- In Our Friend Power 5, Hyuk gets struck with gamma rays in a laboratory accident, and winds up with Psychic Powers, such as the power to shoot energy from his hands.
- In The Million Dollar Duck, the titular duck gains the ability to lay golden eggs by escaping from the animal lab and wandering into the radiology lab, where she hops into a machine and into a beam of radiation.
- In Teeth, it's implied that Dawn's "power" is a side-effect of living next door to a nuclear power plant (thanks to said power plant being the subject of many, many, MANY shots). More mundanely, Dawn's mother's illness is implied to have something to do with this too.
- Zack Snyder's Justice League: Upon landing in the Ghost City of Pozharnov, Russia, the New God Steppenwolf sets up his lair there. The town has been abandoned because of a nuclear meltdown ala Chernobyl, and upon feeling the radiations, Steppenwolf says "It's toxic. That's good."
- Super Fuzz is an Italian comedy movie set and filmed in Miami where policeman Dave Speed gains all kinds of super powers (invulnerability, super speed and reflexes, precognitive abilities, telekinesis and so on) by being exposed to the radiations of a nuclear missile test.
- In The Dire Sage, since Tesla won the electricity transmission war, there is no need for nuclear power plants and all the use for nuclear material is weaponsmaking. Or mutating people into metahumans, using Eastman-Laird radiation.
- In Gone, people can die from radioactivity (and some of them nearly do), but it's also a potential cause for the superpowers that some of the kids have. It's also what the local monster feeds on. Justified, because Gone takes place in an Alternate Universe where the laws of science have been rewritten.
- Hothouse: Traveling from the Earth to the Moon exposes you to radiation, causing humans to mutate and begin transforming into flymen.
- Our Dumb Century: Parodied in The Onion's book, where a headline from 1963 declares "Boy Bitten by Radioactive Spider Dies of Leukemia". The body of the article mentions Peter Parker as being the sixth atomic accident fatality in the last month, referring to Dr. Bruce Banner and Reed Richards and friends.
- In Perry Rhodan, the first Mutant Corps consisted almost solely of individuals endowed with various Psychic Powers due to their parents' exposure to radiation — including, though not limited to, the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Super Filete: Filete and Tocino got their powers by eating radioactive steak and bacon, respectively.
- In the Jakub Wędrowycz stories, the Chernobyl power plant incident released radiation since used as a handy explanation or theory for the appearance of psychic trees, talking wolves or dinosaurs.
- Wing Commander: In the Confederation Handbook, mutations from cosmic radiation are said to be the cause of Pilgrim powers, though not in the short term as often depicted by this trope, taking multiple generations.
- The pulp 1980's series Doomsday Warrior is set After the End in a Soviet-occupied America with La Résistance operating out of hidden conclaves. Somehow the Americans have got the best of the deal — mutation has developed these Freefighters into Super Soldiers who can run faster, fight harder and sustain more damage, all the while boasting a manly physique. Of course, this doesn't stop them having the required Nuclear Mutant monsters for the protagonists to fight. Needless to say, realism is not a priority in these books.
- Dolphin Trilogy: Early in her pregnancy, John's mother Raye is briefly exposed to nuclear radiation, giving her son more efficient lungs than other humans and glands in his skin that cause him to be covered in oil when he's in the water for a certain period of time. These adaptations allow him to survive life with the dolphins.
- Scorch from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is theorized to have received his powers from a nuclear accident that occurred at a Chinese power plant. However, at the same time it's mentioned that no one else involved got any powers, so in the end, the source remains ambiguous.
- The Big Bang Theory: Discussed in the episode "The Alien Parasite Hypothesis":
Howard: They were injecting rats with radioactive isotopes and one of the techs got bit.
Raj: Did he get superpowers?
Howard: No, he got five stitches and a tetanus shot.
- Zig-zagged in The Boys (2019) when the Dirty Communists attempt to invoke this trope on someone who already had powers, which ends up giving him a Deadly Upgrade that turns him into a Walking Wasteland.
- Parodied in The Daily Show, with a Public Service Announcement stating that exposure to radioactive mist and substances will, in fact, not give you superpowers. Radioactive animal bites, on the other hand, assure them.
- Elementary references the comic-book usage of this trope while investigating a crime adjacent to a superhero comics publisher. Sherlock pours scorn on it, naturally ("in what universe are these characters not all dead from cancer?"), and when asked how he got so good at his job, he deadpans:
Sherlock: I was bitten by a radioactive detective.
- "Nuclear Babies" by Oingo Boingo.
- Timbuk 3's The Future's So Bright. Bit of a Misaimed Fandom for this one as the band wrote it to protest nuclear power.
- "Cat With 2 Heads!" by The Aquabats! is about a cat turned into "a two-headed man-eating monster" by "the power of atomic energy".
- "She Glows in the Dark" by The Bagazoid Brothers, a novelty song about a girl from Three Mile Island "who looks just like her mom but has more radiation than a nuclear bomb", and with the unforgettable line, "It's nice to have a lover who can be your night light!" This was a limited release from a radio station, on "WEBN Album Project 5" (Cincinnati, 1980), but you can hear it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNBKD5G_KXE
- Viciously averted in GURPS where too much radiation will cause all sorts of horrible things to happen to you even if you successfully make a save against the effect. In fact radiation damage causes a build up of genetic damage that is incurable without special powers or advanced technology. However, "weird radiation" can result in powers.
- Embraced lovingly by every edition of Gamma World and its sister setting, Metamorphosis Alpha.
- Promethean: The Created has the Zeka, named after the Russian gulag prisoners who worked the uranium mines. They're the result of several demiurges who exposed corpses to nuclear power, triggering the Azoth to reanimate them. They may have the worst luck of any Promethean - they're living fallout, doomed to exist only in radiation-filled hellholes. And if they pull off the Great Work and become human? They have an excellent chance of dying from radiation poisoning thanks to their innate radioactive contamination. No wonder so many of them turn to The Dark Side.
- In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, being exposed to supernaturally-charged radiation could potentially give useful mutations (like an extra mouth that consumes the life essence of all that die near you), or it could give you a horrible deformity (like an extra mouth that never SHUTS up), or it could just kill you. Then, there are the rad-priests called Doomsayers, who prove that, if you love radiation enough, it just might return the favor.
- Some superheroes (and villains) in Champions received their powers from nuclear radiation or being descended from people exposed to radiation.
- Also, older editions of the game allowed players to completely redesign their character if the plot would allow for it and the GM agreed - the rules refer to this as a 'Radiation Accident', even if nuclear energy had nothing to do with it.
- This may or may not be the cause of the mutation of every last citizen of Alpha Complex in Paranoia.
- One possible Origin in Super Munchkin involves stubbing one's toe on a "super enriched radioactive block of stuff". In the base game, the Plutonium Dragon is one of the highest level monsters.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, servants of the Wyrm revere radiation. Nuclear explosions are sacred to Furmas, the elemental Wyrm of Balefire. The balefire burning in Black Spiral Dancer caverns is radioactive, producing mutations in some of the werewolves who reside therein.
- One of the Black Spiral Dancers' holiest caerns is a nuclear testing site in Alamagordo, New Mexico, where a colossal Thunderwyrm named Grammaw nests underground. The original nuclear blast blinded one of the Trinity Hive's elders, and hive members who guard Grammaw are hairless and pale due to the effects of residual radiation.
- The area for ten kilometers around Chernobyl, meanwhile, is a spawning ground for Wyrm-servants. The radiation is bad enough that even some of the non-Black Spiral Dancer werewolves are born deformed and infertile (a condition that, in the rest of the world, is only caused by two werewolves mating).
- Practically everything in Rocket Age is powered by Radium. Despite being retro sci-fi, it is not advisable to get too close to the glowing rocks. However, radiation may have a link to psychic powers.
- Radio Zombies in Bleak World were created by the atomic bomb tests in the 50's and are generally get the short end of the stick. While it IS technically possible for them to assume a human disguise and get their lives back, it requires a perfect 10 out of 10 in humanity to achieve. Meaning that even the slightest misdemeanor will strip off all their skin and cause a nuclear eruption. However they are truly gifted with random acts of violence as well as combat, making them more inclined to the dark side of the karma meter.
- d20 Modern sourcebooks d20 Future and d20 Apocalypse provide rules for giving characters mutations, with the soft-SF Handwave of radiation or other mutagens. d20 Modern is explicitly a "cinematic" game, meaning everything can be justified by Rule of Cool, meaning this trope is meant to be in full play. However, the two books also offer sidebars discussing a sliding scale of more realistic treatments of mutation and exposure to radiation.
- In Heroes Unlimited, Mutants and Experiments can potentially get their powers through exposure to radiation. Even prolonged exposure to small amounts of radiation can do the trick, as shown with the supervillain Gold Falcon in the "One Dam Thing" adventure: spend enough time standing next to a leaky microwave and you too can gain the power to fly and shoot blasts of electricity!
- Action Fish plays with this trope. The protagonist, Fishbo, turns into Action Fish due to the radioactive waste poured into the ocean, however, his friends and family perish when the radioactive waste gets dumped into the ocean. Also, you can gain bonus points by collecting radioactive waste buckets.
- City of Heroes explicitly uses this; by taking a mission to save the local nuclear reactor from villains, you mutate and get to re-organize your powers.
- And inverted with the Radiation powersets, which use green radiation to weaken and harm enemies and buff allies (likely based on a bit of Rule of Cool in regards to real world radiotherapy). The signature character Positron is well-known for his radiation powers, and (until recently) having to wear a containment suit of Powered Armor all the time so he doesn't blow up.
- The Fallout series started off as a deconstruction of the 1950s "atom craze". The nuclear war gave rise to giant insects and rats, and a few (un)lucky humans exposed to it without dying became ghouls, who live for centuries but many of them have lost their humanity. Meanwhile the player character being exposed to radiation will only result in radiation sickness (though it is easy to treat). However, ghouls are healed by radiation.
- Fallout 3 became a straighter example of this trope, with the player character able to gain healing from being irradiated. The game also made the pre-war world a lot more Atom Punk than earlier games, with nuclear-powered cars.
- Fallout: New Vegas reverts many of the Atom Punk elements, but you can make your character stronger from absorbing radiation with the Atomic! perk (though you still get sick from it).
- In Fallout 4 the player can choose a dialogue option joking that they'll run through a heavily irradiated area in their underwear in the hopes of gaining superpowers. Doctor Amari feels the need to remind the Sole Survivor that this would only kill them, though there may be a few players out there that did so anyway. Though you can get a perk that effectively lets you metabolize radiation, lowering your radiation level while regenerating your health.
- Fallout 76 introduced mutations, which are Exactly What It Says on the Tin: mutations, usually beneficial but not always particularly useful, that are gained from being overexposed to radiation. Like radiation poisoning, they can be removed with RadAway.
- Team Fortress 2 invokes this trope (parodiously, as always) with the 'Bonk!' energy drink for the Scout. As the advertisement tells us, "Bonk! is fulla radiation, which as we all know is pretty great for giving people super powers."
- The Zebesian Space Pirates in Metroid Prime use Phazon, a radioactive substance, to create elite troops. If the player reads the Pirate Data entries from your scan visor, it is learned that some of those exposed to Phazon radiation go insane and attack their allies.
- Human biotics (people able to manipulate dark energy, granting them telekinesis and other fun powers) in Mass Effect are stated in the in-game Encyclopedia Exposita to result from intrauterine exposure to "element zero," the game's particular flavor of Applied Phlebotinum. Any given element zero exposure is several orders of magnitude more likely to result in terminal brain cancer or other fatal congenital defects, so pregnant women aren't exactly lining up outside the eezo refineries.
- The Hierarchy in Universe at War love radiological weapons. This may be because radiation heals purebred hierarchs, and they get to use the dead and dying indigenous population as zombies.
- The TEC in Sins of a Solar Empire never leave home without a truckload of nukes for siege purposes. The Marza dreadnought can also be upgraded to re-purpose one for ship-to-ship warfare. Their superweapon, the Novalith Cannon, fires a massive, high-yield nuclear bomb at their hapless enemies' planets. One shot reduces the planets' population by 90%, and makes the rest die of radiation poisoning, two completely sterilizes the planet and makes it unusable for 5 minutes in real-time, which works out to several weeks game-time.
- The UEF in Supreme Commander. They have two types of nuclear reactor, and one of their experimental weapons fires mini-nukes. Their Hero Unit can be armed with a backpack missile silo which can build one each nuke and counter-missile.
- Touhou has Utsuho Reiuji, a hell raven with the power of manipulation of nuclear fusion, a control rod that doubles as an Arm Cannon that would make Samus Aran jealous, a concrete boot on one foot and "electrons" orbiting the other.
- She also plays this trope literally—in one of the fighting game spinoffs, she's surprised to learn there are people beyond the barrier who don't like nuclear power.
- Also, the kappa and a couple of mountain goddesses seem to have a strange love for this new power.
- It was those goddesses who allowed Utsuho to gain that power in the first place as part of their plan to gather faith by advancing the technology of Gensokyo.
- The "Frei" line of spells in Persona, Persona 2 and Persona 5. In the early titles, they're described as "Nuclear Fire" and used in tandem with Fire skills. Yukino Mayuzumi, Tatsuya Suou and Katsuya Suou specialize in them. In 5, they cause extra damage to enemies who are afflicted with the status effects Burn, Freeze, or Shock, and the game's specialist is Makoto Nijima.
- Many factions throughout the Command & Conquer series employ nuclear power to one degree or another. The power plants in the first Tiberium game are implied to be nuclear, along with Nod getting a nuclear missile as their superweapon; the Soviets use nuclear reactors and nuclear missiles in the Red Alert series; and the Chinese are big on nuclear energy and weapons in Generals. One particular Chinese general in Zero Hour, Shi Tao, likes nukes, and gets nuclear tanks as standard. The americans also employ Fusion reactors, though they're generally not as powerful as Chinese reactors.
- Played with in Final Fantasy XII. Mist is magical energy that is as prevalent in the game's world as background radiation is in reality. However, in some areas of the game, mist is concentrated enough to interfere with airships and mutate wildlife. One of the ways to get this effect is to use nethicite as a weapon.
- The Roguelike Elona has Etherwind, which starts blowing every 3 months, and unless you find shelter, induces horrible mutations. As opposed to normal mutations, which can be good or bad.
- Late in Starcraft II Heart Of The Swarm, during a bonus mission to upgrade the Ultralisk, Mengsk orders his men to drop an experimental nuclear weapon over a group of Ultralisks. The Ultralisks start suffering radiation poisoning, but Abathur, thinking quickly, alters the genetic sequences of the Ultralisks to allow them to assimilate the radioactive particles and use them to change further. The result? The Ultralisks turn into Torrasques, beasts capable of resurrecting themselves when killed. Nice job there, Mengsk!
- There's also the slightly psychologically unstable special ops Ghost units who, aside from being the only units who can call in nuke drops, also seem to enjoy doing so a great deal... Like, a really great deal. Way too much, in fact... If it wasn't for their Restraining Bolt, it might've actually been the source of quite a few big problems...
Ghost: Whenever I see a world untouched by war, a world of innocence, a world of lush forests and clear rivers... I really just wanna nuke the crap out of it!
- There's also the slightly psychologically unstable special ops Ghost units who, aside from being the only units who can call in nuke drops, also seem to enjoy doing so a great deal... Like, a really great deal. Way too much, in fact... If it wasn't for their Restraining Bolt, it might've actually been the source of quite a few big problems...
- Metro 2033 has giant, highly aggressive mutant rats, bats, moles and other animals created by nuclear war, and the race of psychic mutants known as the Dark Ones who may or may not be human. It's implied the Dark Ones, at least, are actually the result of genetic engineering by the military, though.
- The final mission of Saints Row: The Third DLC "The Trouble with Clones" has the Boss temporarily gain superpowers after Jimmy gives them irradiated Saints Flow.
- Seen, strangely, in the wild west-themed Alone in the Dark 3. It's revealed that the Big Bad discovered uranium back in the 19th century, used it to create monstrous mutants, and was planning to build a nuclear bomb to crack the San Andreas fault and sink California into the ocean.
- Taking place in the 1970s as imagined by the 1940s, characters in Space Age have a very casual attitude about radiation exposure, both from their own nuclear-powered gadgets, and from the radioactive ore they've found on the planet Kepler-16. The latter nearly kills two characters before giving them super-powers.
- The premise of the Nuclear type introduced in Pokémon Uranium.
- Deconstructed with the Furons of Destroy All Humans!. Untold years of gratuitous nuke usage ended up degrading their genes to the point where they can't reproduce naturally, forcing them to resort to cloning for survival. And even then, Clone Degeneration is starting to set in.
- Played straight with the Blisk, which developed the ability to feed on radiation in order to survive after the Furons nuked the crap out of their planet. In this universe, the Cold War was in fact an attempt by Blisk, disguised as Soviet leaders, to terraform Earth to their liking by irradiating it.
- Player characters in DC Universe Online can have atomic powers.
- In We Happy Restaurant, you feed your customers radioactive food which lets them mutate while boasting about how environment-friendly your radiator is. And they completely fall for it.
- Nuclear Throne:
- Radiation is the name of the game: all enemies drop it except for the IDPD before the third loop, and it functions as the game's exp system with you being able to select a new mutation with each level. All of the mutations are beneficial to some degree. In addition, the Ultra weapons all drain radiation on use but are insanely powerful as a result. Horror takes it even further by being literally living radiation and having the ability to blast enemies with it.
- Melting zig-zags this a bit. Radiation exposure didn't mutate him like the other characters, but instead forced his skin to start melting off of his body, making every living second agonizing. In-game, he's a One-Hit-Point Wonder, but also gains more rads from all sources - thus why he isn't a complete aversion.
- The titular Yars of Yars' Revenge, as revealed in the included comic, used to be ordinary houseflies until the rocket they stowed away on was destroyed by the Qotile. The flies were the only survivors, and the radioactive wreckage mutated them into Insectoids capable of unaided interplanetary flight and converting any matter into powerful Energy Weapons by eating it.
- Dark Secrets of Garry's Mod: "Super Boss" is a made-up teaser where Boss gains superpowers from eating a radioactive bean pottage. It got deleted but it is reuploaded into a compilation.
- If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device pokes fun at the idea of radiation causing random mutations when Uriah is accusing the Emperor of encouraging the Imperium's worship of himself:
Uriah: For God's sake, Revelation, Sanguinius literally has angel wings! How could you have accidentally done that!?
Rogal Dorn: I believe those were caused by radiation on his homeworld.
Uriah: Radiation does not cause anyone to grow angel wings if they were not genetically predisposed to!
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, "crazy space radiation" seems to do a lot of crazy things, like grant superintelligence to dinosaurs and create "NASAGHASTS", malevolent astronaut ghosts. It's not surprising, considering how the comic is influenced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other '80s nostalgia full of this trope.
- Both played straight and parodied in this A Softer World.
- Chiasmata: Misanthrope, a friendly, social girl who is so radioactive that can't even be in the same room as anyone without some serious detriments to their health.
- In Freefall, not only is the ship run on fusion, dislike of it is allowed to run to rampant paranoia.
Florence: When ionization occurs in a living cell, it can alter how the cellular machinery works.
- Referenced later on here:
Sam: That's how radiation gives you superpowers!
Florence: I suppose from a individual cell's point of view, cancer is a superpower.
- Apparently the most popular way to gain powers in Heroine Chic:
- Superhero Khatie was hit by a "radioactive rubber ball," which gave her the power to store up kinetic energy when she bounces.
- Amp was bitten by a radioactive eel, granting her the ability to generate electricity.
- Dyna's husband Gareth, who operated under the superhero name Big Kahuna in the 1990's, "ate some bad poke" after atomic testing done in Pacific Ocean. The radioactive seafood he consumed gave him the ability to shoot force beams out of his eyes.
- Parodied in Kong Tower, in which this is described as the Sklodowska Reaction, and the professor describing it to his students has to lock the door and won't open it until he's assured they won't kill themselves trying to give themselves superpowers by exposing themselves to radiation.
- Double subverted in M9 Girls! Their Freak Lab Accident exposes the M9 Girls to lethal radiation. Their mentor then injects them with a substance that allows their bodies to absorb cosmic radiation, thus curing them and giving them powers as a side effect.
- Parodied in The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, where Wonderella uses radiation to accelerate fermentation of some beer that she's brewing... radiation from her cell phone. This naturally creates a beer monster, and then things get weird. Well, weirder.
- Also parodied in one of the Sluggy Freelance stick-figure fillers where Torg is bitten by a radioactive animal and gains the superpower to lose his teeth and hair. Fortunately, aliens are nearby to cure him and give him real superpowers.
- Wonder Weenies has the main characters gain their powers due to a malfunctioning nuclear hot dog cooker, the Frank-N-Fryer.
- Subverted in Alice and Bob. "For the last fucking time, nuclear power does not give you superpowers."
- Antimatter particles and radioactive rays are legitimate powers in Chaos Fighters. They are considered Non-Elemental in its magic system, though.
- Discussed in Freeman's Mind, with Freeman pointing out that the chances of gaining a beneficial mutation from being exposed to radiation were astronomical, and even if you did get one, you'd still have radiation poisoning.
- In the SuperMarioLogan video "Black Yoshi's SuperPowers!", Black Yoshi finds some green, glowing fried-chicken in the garbage and eats it, which causes him to get Eye Beams and Super-Speed.
- Uncyclopedia's People's Nuclear Program article, affectionately referred to as "the 'What Can We Put a Nuclear Reactor into Today?' program"; a USSR project that resulted in a super-powered assault rifle, sword, child, and toaster.
- At Villain Source (Your Online Source for Everything Evil), you can buy a jarful of a dozen irradiated insects whose serum (well, poison actually) will give you superpowers! It then admits that the chances of this actually happening is 1 in 100,000,000,000. But that's why they give you 12 insects!
- Whateley Universe: While rare, exposure to radiation can indeed cause people to manifest superpowers, part of a larger catch-all category of supers known as 'Batson Factors'. Unreliable Narrator Mephisto mentions that in the 1950s, there were indeed many superheroes and supervillains whose powers came from nuclear radiation (with many of them even having 'Atomic' in their codenames), but most of them had short careers, as many lacked protection from the long-term effects of radiation, meaning that the combination of radiation poisoning and cancer soon caught up with them.
- Listen to the theme-song for the old Spider-Man (1967) animated series: "Is he strong? Listen, bud, he's got radioactive blood!" ...in real life, people with radioactive blood aren't particularly strong.
- Played a bit more logically in Batman Beyond: The radiation that turned Derek Powers, the Big Bad, into the super-powered Blight was actually therapy for a dose of his own experimental nerve gas. Somehow, their combined effects turned him into a glowing green skeleton, possessing explicitly radiation-based superpowers and weaknesses, with a half-life of one season.
- Used in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, as a G Rated Fantastic Drug. Mira gets addicted to phasing through nuclear cores, which ups her power and speed to somewhere in the range of Superman and Flash. It's also a subversion, as she suffers radiation withdrawal, complete with unkempt hair, dark circles under her eyes, and general creepiness.
- The main characters of Toxic Crusaders became super-powerful (as well as hideously deformed) when they were exposed to radioactive waste in five separate unlikely accidents.
- Parodied in the Earthworm Jim cartoon for one episode where Jim, attempting to get superpowers to replace the weak super suit copy he was stuck with, used comic book methods. His efforts include getting trapped in a nuclear reactor, which gives him a glow-in-the-dark rash, and being bitten by a radioactive flea, which causes him to gain out-of-control leaping powers and grow flea legs from his head.
- Played straight and parodied in the Family Guy episode "Family Guy Viewer Mail #1". The Griffins are exposed to radioactive waste, and each gain separate powers (Stewie gets telekinesis, Brian gets super-speed, Chris gets pyrokinesis, Peter gets shapeshifting, Lois gets super-strength, and Meg can... extend and retract her fingernails). They proceed to wreak havoc in Quahog, and in an attempt to gain superpowers to stop them, Mayor Adam West rolls around in radioactive waste:
Dr. Hartman: Mayor West, you have lymphoma.
Adam West: Oh my.
Dr. Hartman: Probably from rolling around in that toxic waste. What in God's name were you trying to prove?
Adam West: I was trying to gain superpowers.
Dr. Hartman: Well that's just silly.
Adam West: Silly, yes... idiotic... yes.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force:
- Subverted humorously in the episode "Super Hero" when Master Shake exposes himself to toxic waste that, instead of giving him superpowers, causes him to slowly melt.
- Another episode featured a nuclear powered grill that through the magic of radiation was able to bring piles of snot to life (and melt the polar ice caps). Well it was sort of a dream, but it took up the entire episode and given the setting...
- Two recurring villains of The Mask: The Animated Series got powers this way. First, they were two stupid teenagers that decided to get superpowers. They go to the nuclear power plant, get radioactive - and realize they forgot to bring a bug to bite them just before passing out by poisoning. As the ambulance is taking them away, an accident causes one to crash into a putty shop (turning him into the shapeshifting Putty Thing) and another into an aquarium (turning him into the harmless Fish Guy). Fish Guy didn't get anything good out of the deal either; even as a fish he still couldn't swim.
- Parodied in The Fairly OddParents!. The Crimson Chin's origin story has him bitten on the chin by a radioactive celebrity.
Charles Hampton Indigo: So has the radioactivity affected your love life?
- Danny Phantom used this trope a little lightly. The hero was radiated by ecto energy that altered his genetic structure.
- The Simpsons:
- The Simpsons has their own Radioactive Man, and arguably the most popular of the two.
- Used to explain how Mike Scioscia can show up in "MoneyBart" despite getting radiation poisoning in "Homer at the Bat" nearly twenty years previously. Apparently, "It gave me super-managing powers. I also demagnetize credit cards."
- SpongeBob SquarePants has The Atomic Flounder, a retired villain originally for a one-off gag. He later appeared in a Show Within a Show episode during his prime. His first appearance followed the more common use of the trope, with atomic breath; however, the second also brought some Body Horror into the mix.
- On Batman: The Brave and the Bold, B'wana Beast gets his powers from drinking water contaminated with nuclear waste (in the comics, it comes from a special elixir and helmet).
- Averted in one of the New Teen Titans shorts, showing a blooper reel from an in-universe PSA in which the Titans have to say the line "No matter what people tell you, gamma rays will not give you superpowers."
- In one episode of The Flamin' Thongs, Holden gains temporary insect-based superpowers from eating radioactive cockroaches.
- The 50's attitude towards radiation is perhaps best personified in Walt Disney's educational feature Our Friend the Atom, which personifies atomic power as a helpful genie that provides almost unlimited power and such wonders as radio isotopes used for tracking the bloodstream of patients, while downplaying such minor things such as total nuclear annihilation...
- In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Crew", Gumball and Darwin are convinced that in order to join a gang of senior citizens they need to look old, so they try to get wrinkles by wallowing in nuclear waste. They don't get wrinkles, but Gumball gains the power of telepathy and Darwin becomes magnetic.
- In The Powerpuff Girls (2016), one villain is a gnat who was bitten by a radioactive man. He then turned into an abnormally large, lumpy-looking humanoid/gnat hybrid.
- One of the main villains on Captain Planet and the Planeteers was Duke Nukem (no relation to the video game character of the same name), who had been transformed by radiation into a mutant that feeds on nuclear waste and radioactivity.
- In one episode of Back at the Barnyard, the animals believe that the Farmer is planning to sell the farm, and one of their attempts to scare off a family that they think are potential buyers is to disguise Freddy as a mutant antelope and have him shoot lasers out of his eyes, which he explains that he achieved from drinking nuclear waste. Pig attempts to debunk this trope by drinking some himself, which turns him into a pastiche of The Incredible Hulk, then the narrator tries to do the same and shrinks.
- Gaia loves to subvert that trope: Chernobyl has become a wildlife haven. On the other hand, the (perception of the) level of radiation released in the mind of the public is very different than the reality and the animals aren't necessarily going to worry about the level of radiation anyway. It was only after the first few weeks after the disaster that wildlife began to thrive in Chernobyl, after the radiation levels dropped. After that, the radiation was still dangerous for humans, but not for animals- most animals have much shorter lifespans (about ten years or so), and thus do not have enough time for the radiation they've absorbed to turn into cancer. That's not to say that there weren't mutations in the animals (see That Other Wiki's article for an example image; beware of Body Horror), it just simply was not as widespread as fiction or popular perception would have us believe. You still can't eat any animals there.
- Plant life in the exclusion zone has also found a way to flourish, despite some populations being initially decimated by the fallout. Much of the abandoned towns around the power plant are quickly being infiltrated by trees and shrubs native to the region.
- Ironically, some of the birds found in the Exclusion Zone are actually much healthier than other birds. In response to the elevated levels of radiation, the birds produce more antioxidants in their cells, which protect their cells from ionizing radiation, and as a side effect, makes them live longer and healthier lives.
- The best part? We even discovered black mold living inside the Chernobyl reactor chamber that eats radiation. We're still not entirely sure how it works.
- Not a case of Truth in Television. A 10 Sv (1,000 REM) dose of ionizing radiation has a lethality of 100% within 7 days. Death caused by severe diarrhea and intestinal bleeding, due to radiation destroying the quickly-multiplying cells of the intestinal wall, by the way. One of the worst ways to die. And if you manage to survive that, you'd still die a few weeks later from leukemia.
- For a few decades after its discovery, radiation was marketed as some kind of cure-all drug. For those too lazy to click, consider the specific case of Eben Byers, who drank three bottles of radioactive water a day to stay healthy. The Wall Street Journal ran an article after his death titled "The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off".
- Many radioactive quack cures include:
- Radithor◊, mineral water mixed with radium. (The same stuff that Eben Byers drank.)
- Doramad Radioactive Toothpaste, which contained thorium, though its actual radiation level was rather low.
- The Revigator, a ceramic crock for irradiating water. Though it too had rather low radiation levels, the water would often be contaminated by lead.
- You can still buy radioactive rock samples from Japanese hot springs known for very low levels of naturally-occurring radiation, to take a bath with at home (the theory being that exposure to low doses of radiation will trigger the body's natural defenses, and boost overall health).
- There were apparently fraud prosecutions on people who sold 'curative' radium water that didn't contain any radium.
- Many radioactive quack cures include:
- These bacteria are immune to radiation. And certain species of fungi actually eat radiation via the same chemical that gives you a tan! Nature is weird.
- In the late 50s and early 60s, there was a belief among certain scientists that the sudden appearance of a number of children of high intelligence was caused by the recent appearance of Strontium-90 from nuclear testing, which led to a fringe belief that humanity was undergoing an evolutionary leap. This may well have been the inspiration for the X-Men.
- Possibility of radiation causing superpowers in traditional sense is outright impossibility. However there is a possibility of a beneficial mutation. A very, very, very^100 small possibility. In order for beneficial mutation to occur a very specific set of genes must be altered otherwise you get cancer or nothing at all. Because of that using radiation to alter human genes is not very effective (or humane) that however doesn't apply to plants or simpler organisms. For example Dr. Tomoko Abe is using synchrotron to introduce random mutations in plant cells resulting in new strains with desirable traits including salt resistant rice, which is understandably beneficial to food production. Of course instead of alpha, beta or gamma radiation they use heavy atomic ions but it's still a mutation generator.
- Radiation breeding has been a standard method of producing new strains of crops since 1920s, along with chemical mutagenesis and, since the 1980s, genetic modification. In the aftermath of World War II, in the spirit of the era's embracement of the idea that nuclear power could do anything, Atomic Gardens were set up, where plants were dosed with carefully-assigned amounts of radiation to see what mutations might arise. This, surprisingly, actually worked really well - of the approximately 2000 different varieties of plants created by these experiments, the majority of which are still used in agriculture today. So, many of the crops we rely on are actual superpowered mutants!