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Story-Breaker Team-Up

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And then everybody that survived had a hearty chuckle!

"Angel Summoner... and BMX Bandit!
One can summon angels... the other rides a BMX!
They're a crime-fighting duo, doo-doo-doo, oh yeah!"

Who doesn't love character team-ups? Be it in comic books, cartoons, literature, TV or other media, putting two heroes (or villains!) together can make for exciting stories. However, care should go into this "matchmaking", since not every team up is thematically appropriate or compatible power-wise. If the creative teams go ahead with the team up anyway (the pull of Wolverine Publicity and Money, Dear Boy are strong), the result is a Story Breaker Team-Up.

This can happen due to a few different (sometimes overlapping) factors. Firstly is premise. If the characters are from different ends of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, either one will have to tough it out as an "inserted" character in the other's verse (suffering the equivalent of morality whiplash) or they'll have to risk meeting in morality neutral ground and hope the Grey-and-Gray Morality based story is of good quality.


The above can get complicated if one hero (like The Punisher above) routinely deals with his "Rogues Gallery" by killing them on sight, while the other firmly refuses to kill or doesn't even fight at all (like Archie above)note . If the relative pacifist has favor, the militant hero will be severely nerfed; whereas if the militant one is shown right, it may risk invalidating the other's morals or making them seem irrelevant.

Similarly, another potential problem is their relative power. If one is vastly more powerful, the other will become The Load, so one or both character may have to undergo Power Creep, Power Seep to avoid one being made irrelevant while the other becomes a god. This doesn't just happen when there's a wide difference on the scale of a character with the Superpower Lottery and a Muggle teaming up; even a simple power like one way Telepathy can cripple a crossover. Imagine how Murder on the Orient Express (or any other detective story) would go if Hercule Poirot was teamed up with a Telepath.


Another factor is the seriousness of the setting and the temperament of the character. Teaming up a highly Genre Savvy character, or competent person from a world where everything is Like Reality, Unless Noted, with a Genre Blind one in a cliche bound world won't end well, nor would the reverse be kind. In a similar vein, putting a stand up comedian in a show about international politics or similar won't usually go over well but oddly, the reverse probably isn't the case.

Because of these issues, avoiding this trope may require that Superman Stays Out of Gotham for no adequately explained reason.

For a variation of the same basic challenge to writing a compelling narrative that doesn't necessarily involve a crossover, see Outside-Context Problem.

For examples of crossovers that combine family-friendly works with mature works, see Demographic-Dissonant Crossover.

See also Weird Crossover


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    Comic Books 
  • Whenever Superman is involved in a crossover, he often has to be weakened or somehow disabled for the plot to work. The best ones simply gave the guest stars something to do in the story that Superman could not do, but Sturgeon's Law dictates that this is not always done elegantly. Like the time he met the Quik Bunny or the entire DC verse crossover with the Looney Tunes.
    • Superman/Batman can be considered a case study in successfully teaming up very different heroes. Both are on equal grounds, and they face challenges each can contribute to solving, making a team far more effective than the sum of its parts. However, this trope was fully in force in their first crossover, where Batman's contribution consists of confirming that the only man on the cruise ship hiding a gun in his pocket is suspicious and having Superman throw Batman at the escaping helicopter because he was busy towing the disabled cruise ship back to port.
    • In his second intercompany crossover with Spider-Man, Spidey saves the day with his Spider-Sense (while Supes is busy holding a massive explosive gizmo together with his bare hands).
  • Yes, the above Archie Meets The Punisher cover is real. But it's probably easy to guess that it was mostly Played for Laughs. If you were wondering, the plot involves the Punisher hunting a criminal with a marked resemblance to Archie... who happens to be hiding in Riverdale. The original pitch had Archie hiring The Punisher to avenge the murder of his parents. It didn't have the right tonal balance, to say the least.
  • Likewise, Eminem/Punisher. Yes, Eminem.
  • Some of The Punisher's adventures in the mainstream Marvel Universe feature him loading his gun with rubber bullets out of respect for his temporary partner's sensibilities. Others take the conflict between his deadly force policy and theirs and make a plot point of it, such as the TV adaptation of Daredevil which made him an outright antagonist, albeit a well-meaning one. And a few crossovers deal with it simply by picking a villain who's Nigh-Invulnerable so the Punisher's guns aren't up to the task anyway.
  • A comic book actually featured a character from Guiding Light who had become a superhero, team up with Spider-Man and Iron Man, inspired by an episode where she gained superpowers from an accident involving Halloween decorations.
  • Addressed during Civil War when Punisher shows up to Captain America's resistance movement. Cap gives him a chance and when he steps out of line, clocks him and tells him to leave.
  • Addressed when Spider-Man teams up with the original cast of Saturday Night Live. Spidey does all the heroing, while the comedians have the less spectacular (but still vital) task of keeping the audience from realizing anything's wrong.
  • James T. Kirk's Enterprise has been on both sides of this equation. In their brief team-up with the X-Men, the latter's mutant powers were clearly no match for Federation technology (and, in the only one-on-one fight between the teams, Spock took out Wolverine effortlessly). When they crossed over with DC Comics instead, the Enterprise was helpless against a pack of hostile Red, Orange, and Yellow Lanterns, and the crew had to receive power rings of their own to even compete.

    Fan Works 
  • This is a very common occurrence in Dragon Ball crossover fics; while the Dragon Ball universe is not the most powerful by any means, it is still a very powerful universe. As a result, many inexperienced fanfic writers would cross it over with fictional universes whose characters were significantly weaker. This was most common in the nineties, as the really well-known anime (Ranma ½, Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion) were leagues beneath the power levels in the Dragon Ball universe, while universes that could compete with or even dominate Dragon Ball (Tenchi Muyo!, Saint Seiya, Marvel Comics) were unknown or underutilised. This has gotten even worse with the sequels introducing even more powerful characters, techniques, and transformations.
  • The Pretty Cure Fanfic Features, due to crossing over a ton of stories on varying points of the Scale, tend to do this. If Perfume Preppy is in a feature with a bunch of casts from series that are as child-friendly as the source material, no mention will be made of its various Family Unfriendly Deaths and rather disgusting moments like Ashley's cannibalistic mass murder spree. If Heavy Metal is in there too, since it's even less child-friendly, the other fics in the pile will be made Darker and Edgier.
  • A Dark Knight over Sin City has a mild example. Batman and his rogues operate on a slightly different level than the Sin City characters. The anti-heroes and villains in Sin City still serve important roles in the plot but when it comes to, say, explaining Scarecrow's weapons or Joker's toxin, they resort to Buffy Speak.
  • While on it, between 2003 and 2007 there were many crossovers between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter. While many of them were very well written, they were extremely prone to this trope, in both directions: If early seasons of BTVS were depicted, then a team of one physical fighter (Buffy), one slow (and then weak) witch (Willow) and two Badass Normal's (Giles/Xander) could not really make a difference against all Death Eaters, with their apparition, direct magic etc. By contrast, if BTVS was depicted post S7, then there was the simple fact that all Death Eaters combined could not match the power of Willow, not even taking hundreds of slayers, Giles, and rest into account.
  • While Shirou Emiya appears in Justice Society of Japan, the fic is explicitly stated to take place before the fifth grail war, as the presence of Saber or Shirou mastering Unlimited Blade Works would break the story's balance like a pinata.
  • Touken Danshi and The Order Of The Phoenix: Setting aside the fact the two crossed continuities are set 3 centuries apart and feature completely different worldbuilding and cultures, the fic seems to forget Touken Ranbu swords' fighting style would be at a logical disadvantage to that of Harry Potter's spell-casting and constantly has the swords physically assault the wizards, while the wizards stand around doing nothing.
  • In Opening Dangerous Gates, Lucy of Fairy Tail gains the ability to summon characters from Bleach. The story establishes that even minor Bleach characters can solo all but the most top-tier Fairy Tail characters. To keep a balance, the story follows the Fairy Tail rule that a summoner is drained of magic proportional to the summoned being's strength and the summoned being returns to their world when the summoner's magic runs out. Also, just like Celestial Spirits, the Bleach characters cannot survive in Earthland indefinitely.
  • Oddly averted with crossovers between the anime universes of Pokémon, Digimon, and Bakugan, which often ignore that canonically, the power levels of the three are very far apart.
  • Downplayed in The Mountain and the Wolf: While his available powers are far beyond what anyone in Westeros can muster (teleportation and Chaos magic, for starters) and there's only been two enemies the Wolf hasn't been able to curbstomp thus far (the Night King and Drogon, the former killed by someone else and the latter leaving him for dead), the fact that he only targets specific individuals (and though he doesn't know it, kills them around the same time that they died in the series canon) means he's not singlehandedly changing the course of history. The fact that his ideals are utterly insufferable to Daenerys and her court means there's little possibility of a teamup.
  • Also usually averted with Super Mario Bros. crossovers. Mario characters are usually just scaled to whatever power level is needed for the story. It helps that their limits aren't very well defined and tend to change from one game to the next.
  • In The Bridge, despite there being a large difference in power between the strongest kaiju and the strongest Equestrians, measures were taken to avoid this. The Equestrians are still presented as very competent and having unique skill sets that complement the heroic kaiju's. And the situation the core group of kaiju are in require the Equestrians to get back to full strength. This was actively defied by the creator, as part of the inspiration for the fic was to do something different than a lot of other Godzilla crossovers that consisted of 'drop Godzilla into the other series and let him kill everything'.
  • The Dresden Fillies has the problem that, while Harry Dresden is a match for any non-alicorn, the foe he's up against — Discord — can only be taken out by the Elements of Harmony. Harry has to bodyguard the main cast safely past his own rogue's gallery to that confrontation.
  • XCOM: RWBY Within: Discussed in the author's note at the start of the story, which comments on the fact that bringing Team RWBY into the world of XCOM: Long War with all their supernatural abilities at full strength would fall afoul of this trope to the point of making the story boring to read... So that's not going to happen in this story, and the girls are Brought Down to Normal as a consequence of being Trapped in Another World. Temporarily.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Justice League: The movie keeps finding reasons not to have Superman around. First he's dead, then he's disoriented from being resurrected, then he's just goofing off with Lois and Martha. As soon as he does join the battle, though, the reasoning immediately becomes clear — Steppenwolf is no match for Superman, despite being able to fight off every other member of the league simultaneously.
    • Mitigated a great deal in Zack Snyder's Justice League. Superman does show up and kicks Steppenwolf's ass, but the Flash and Cyborg have paramount importance to stop the Unity, and Aquaman and Wonder Woman finish Steppenwolf off.


    Live-Action TV 
  • This issue comes up fairly often in crossovers between Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, since Sentai teams fight giant monsters every episode with their Humongous Mecha while Riders usually only fight human-sized foesnote .
  • Parodied on the first episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, with the superhero team of BMX Bandit and Angel Summoner. BMX Bandit can ride a BMX really well, while Angel Summoner can summon and control a horde of invincible celestial superbeings. For obvious reasons, BMX Bandit has a bit of an inferiority complex and feels he doesn't add much to the team.
  • The Adam West Batman (1966) show had a crossover with The Green Hornet, despite the fact that the former is very silly and the latter is quite serious. This is proof that tropes are not bad - it's considered one of the best TV crossovers ever made.
  • In Legends of Tomorrow, the Legion of Doom consists of a time-traveling speedster (Eobard Thawne) and two trained assassins (Malcolm Merlyn and Damian Darhk). Thawne has no problem treating the other two like lackeys, outright bragging that he could kill them faster than they could blink. They eventually join forces to coerce him into an actual partnership - with a little "help" from the Clock Roach hunting Thawne.
  • The Muppets from Sesame Street never broke character which created problems when Big Bird appeared on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Rogers wanted Carroll Spinney to break character, but he refused so they compromised by only having Big Bird appear in the Land Of Make Believe segments and Spinney himself appear in the regular segments.
  • Done deliberately when Supernatural had its characters sucked into an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. The Winchesters deal with things much nastier than Mystery Inc's Scooby Doo Hoaxes, so the former try to shield the latter from as much as possible and when Scooby and his friends do encounter gruesome murders and actual paranormal entities, they completely freak out.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The players can cause this in any given table role-playing game, almost all of which begin with a team-up of brand new characters. The GM can deal with conflicting power levels by enforcing balance. The players may come to the table with different assumptions about what the genre's conventions are. They may play characters with vastly different ethical stances that simply can't reconcile. They may come with vastly different levels of knowledge of the rules of the game and different tolerances for bending those rules. They may be the only Loony in a group which quickly tires of their antics or the only Real Man when everyone else is in deep immersion gaming. Preventing these differences both in and out of character from becoming a Story Breaker Team-Up is important for making sure everyone has fun. The obvious example is from Dungeons & Dragons, with its infamous trope-naming Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid, and Stupid Evil characters.
  • While it can be done, mixing the different character types from Exalted or World of Darkness will also be... challenging.
  • This trope pretty well spelled the downfall of Ani-Mayhem. When the game started off with shows like Ranma ½, Tenchi Muyo!, and Bubblegum Crisis, everything worked out pretty well; some characters were better at straight-up fights, while others had better skills and could be brought up to equal footing with equipment and enhancement effects. But then the second expansion added Dragon Ball Z, and suddenly characters like Leona Ozaki couldn't do squat against the likes of Super Saiyan Goku.
  • Made possible in Dark Heresy by the Daemon Hunter sourcebook, which included rules for playing as a Grey Knight — a super-soldier with psychic powers, armour that, combined with his natural toughness, will stop pretty much every weapon the rest of the team might be carrying, and a gun that can blow any normal enemy into chunky salsa. Unless the rest of the team is composed entirely of high-level psychics and tech-priests, pretty much every combat situation the team gets into will either be instantly settled by the Grey Knight, or instantly fatal for everyone but the Grey Knight. The best way to do it is have the regular team go through a whole campaign and get lots and lots of gear, then have a single Grey Knight join as reinforcements against whatever monstrosities accompanying the final boss.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts has the 100 Acre Wood world, which is devoid of heartless and the worst conflict that arises is Pooh getting stuck in a hole in the wall. The franchise in general qualifies, bringing together characters from the Final Fantasy games and the Disney Animated Canon (along with a few outside of canon). For the most part, the two have pretty separate audiences and fanbases, Final Fantasy going for teenagers and young adults while Disney aims for everyone else. Final Fantasy characters also run distinctly more toward the cynical end of the scale than most of the Disney franchises, which necessitated the Final Fantasy characters lighten up—though on the Disney end, that most of the Disney universes were facing a far darker, bleaker problem than their characters are used to (or, in cases like Winnie the Pooh and the 101 Dalmatians, cannot even comprehend) is a major element in the plot.
  • Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe solves this in one sense while being disadvantaged by it in another. The difference in powers between Mortal Kombat and DCU characters is explained by mentioning that the universe merging directly affects the abilities of everyone involved, as well as spreading a Hate Plague in order for Let's You and Him Fight to ensue. However, DC's treatment of their intellectual properties meant that the Mortal Kombat side has to temporarily lose its extreme blood and gore... which, unfortunately for that series, is its entire selling point, period.
    • Also some DC characters, especially Superman, have their abilities weakened from the flux of magical energy while some characters, like Joker are supercharged by it. This is probably the only way Joker could beat Superman in a fair fight realistically.
    • It also helps that Superman is weak to the sorcery used by most Mortal Kombat characters and that the DC cast is holding back because most of the heroes don't like to kill others anyways while the more 'mortal' Mortal Kombat characters show no mercy. It gets averted hard when Joker reappears on Mortal Kombat 11- he can kill anyone he wants there.
    • Likewise, Injustice: Gods Among Us solves the problem in a better way. The non-superpowered characters get ahold of special pills that make their bodies tough enough to go against the superpowered ones. Granted, this still doesn't explain some of the fights that occur before they come upon those pills. In Injustice 2, story battles that pit Superman against less power characters like Batman usually justify it by stating he's in a weakened state usually involving Red Kryptonite.
  • To a minor extent, Super Smash Bros. and Snake. An M-rated character battles heroes who are perfectly OK for the entire family? Wave goodbye to his realistic firearms. He gets to keep explosive arms, though. Ironically, Bayonetta and Joker get to keep their guns, though they still get heavily censored.
  • While Banpresto usually handles this trope quite well, Super Robot Wars has had a few offenders in the past. What immediately comes to mind is Super Robot Wars Judgment, where the plot of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is handled the exact same way despite the crossover drastically altering the circumstances. The most egregious case is Mu La Flaga's Heroic Sacrifice, even though the various Super Robots in the player's group could have easily tanked the positron cannon.
    • The first appearances of a series tend to stick closer to canon. Later ones get more wiggling room. Compare SEED's appearance in Super Robot Wars W: Mu lives. And so do a lot of other SEED characters.
    • This becomes extremely obvious when the original work that the game is adapted from contains a plot-critical fight that the protagonists lose. Such as the Alliance invasion of Orb from SEED or the Mariemaia insurrection from Endless Waltz. The protagonist team would almost always fail to change the outcome of the battle no matter how overpowered they are. One of the best examples is the Endless Waltz finale in Z3. Despite having robots like Mazinger Z, Gurren Lagann, Unicorn Gundam, and Evangelions on their side, the protagonists are still wiped out by Mariemaia Army's Serpents in a cutscene.
  • The plot of Sonic Generations involves time being rewritten and past and present to be in the same place resulting in two Sonics, one modern, one classic. Problem is Sonic has gained a few powers and skills since the old days, resulting in modern Sonic easily outperforming his classic counterpart. The plot gets around this by having both Sonics have their own stages and bosses. Still it can feel a little patronizing when Classic Sonic has bosses and stages that Modern Sonic could easily defeat, and Classic Sonic could not do anything if he went up against Modern Sonic's bosses. In fact, given that only the "Classic Era" has bosses from Classic games, Classic Sonic only has 1 boss fight and 1 rival fight (not counting the Time Eater since both Sonics fight that in their super forms) in the entire game, Death Egg Robot (3DS version has Big Arm instead) and Metal Sonic. The rest of the bosses and rivals are fought by Modern Sonic.
  • Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney suffered from a bit of a balancing problem. The creator of Professor Layton admitted he basically took Phoenix Wright and made him better in every way to make the Professor. The only way for Phoenix to see any puzzle- or mystery-solving action in the game was for Professor Layton to be incapacitated for half the game.
  • Soulcalibur IV features Guest Fighters from Star Wars — specifically Yoda, Darth Vader, and Galen Marek (referred to as "The Apprentice"). The problems are obvious; if their lightsabers worked the way they should then every character in the game would be sliced in half after the first hit. Instead, they're basically glorified clubs used to whack the opponents until they're knocked out.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Shamus Young of DM of the Rings fame approaches this topic when reviewing Kai Leng from Mass Effect 3, likening him to a D&D player who creates a character so tonally different from the rest of the party that they exist solely to divert all attention to themselves and make everyone else look like sidekicks.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold:
    • One episode had this trope inverted; Batman is transported to 1880s England, where he "teams up" with Sherlock Holmes and outclasses him in most ways. While Sherlock is no slouch (and discovers and reaches the villain's hideout before Batman), Batman fights better, can make Bat Deductions with less informationnote  and can handle the clearly supernatural Gentleman Ghost while Holmes is made a victim.
    • And again with "The Super-Batman of Planet X!", where Batman is stranded on a strange, alien planet and teams up with the local near-identical Batman to foil crime. Then it turns out that thanks to the planet's atmosphere Batman becomes a Flying Brick, much to the local Batman-X's chagrin. That is, until the commonly occurring mineral Quartz renders him worse than powerless and allows Batman-X to save the day.
    • The show also has a crossover with Scooby-Doo that manages to fix the story breaker. How, you ask? Reality Warper Bat-Mite gives Batman, Robin, and the villains the ability to fight (since this is based off of the 60s cartoon, he can't even throw a punch). Then he gives it to Shaggy and Scooby, too. Ass-kicking ensues.