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A stock Superhero origin story has the hero gain his powers via Freak Lab Accident, Lightning Can Do Anything, or some other accident. This is of course a non-reproducible and once-in-a-lifetime event, so others can't reliably use those methods to gain the same powers (though writers love to have lightning strike twice and recycle the origin for another character). The other half of the heroic community got their powers thanks to a scientific experiment gone right, usually funded by academia, big business or a government program.

So, it worked once, why not again? That was what the dean/CEO/government paid for, right? Well, it won't be used again. Ever.

Once the Super Prototype rolls off the Super Soldier assembly line, the researchers will be more interested in running tests on what he can do than on perfecting the process used to make him. This may be justified if they want to determine how having Stock Super Powers affects a person in the long term, so they probably feel ethically uncomfortable with using a large testing population (which would be statistically ideal, but hey, ethics). But the more common reason is that Reed Richards Is Useless and everyone is now more interested in seeing how many tons the prototype can bench press or what other Potential Applications his Super Senses have. That, and super powers are supposed to make you special. You can't be special if there are hundreds of you.

Often used to have a character continue to remain Cursed with Awesome. If he particularly dislikes being the subject of an Emergency Transformation and wants to go into the machine in reverse, this trope will be applied to keep that from happening.

Then again, there may be reasons why this was done, here are the usual:

However, this may be just a temporary delay when this technology becomes common and obsolete. Especially in series that have some continuity. At some time, unexpectedly, prototype Super Soldiers may form a Redshirt Army of Superpowered Mooks or The Chosen Many, or unique superpowers turn into common abilities.

See also Super Empowering. Contrast Mass Super-Empowering Event.

Examples of Disposable Superhero Maker include:


Comic Books

  • One Silver Age Batman/Superman crossover had a Mad Scientist invent a device that would give anyone a copy of Superman's power's for one day, and a second device that would negate Superman's powers. Naturally, Batman ends up getting the superpowers while Superman is reduced to a Badass Normal. In a small aversion of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, the criminal works on building another copy of the superpower machine after the first is accidentally destroyed... but it's still never mentioned again after that story.
  • The Super Serum that created Captain America is an obvious example... in various continuities and at various times, there have been given different explanations for why Cap was the only one produced - and several other heroes and villains have been produced with the same Serum, or various further-developed variants/PsychoSerum knockoffs. In the original story, a Nazi spy destroyed the machine, all the data, and killed the scientist responsible for it, just moments after Steve Rogers had become Captain America. (One might wonder why he didn't do it a bit earlier, and save the Nazis a load of trouble...) But the serum keeps popping up, with various effects, although it's rarely used to its fullest.
    • The scientist who invented the Super Soldier serum intentionally kept part of the process on his head so it couldn't be used without his approval. His death caused the full formula to be lost.
      • However Spider-Man the Animated Series had a different explanation. The spy did kill the doctor, but a thief hired by other Nazis had a complete copy before it was destroyed. He turned out to be Black Cat's estranged father, captured by SHIELD to protect the secret and then broken out by Wilson Fisk. Then it got complicated.
      • Nightcrawler asks Logan this question in X-Men Evolution. The answer is that the procedure caused cellular breakdown in humans. Wolverine and Captain America blew up the device, but there was a backup. In the present Wolverine destroys that one, but not before its utilized by Magneto. Capt America's body is in cryogenic sleep until a cure is found.
    • The Army first later tested the Super Soldier Serum on black soldiers in an analogue to the Tuskegee Experiments, only one of which survived with no negative side effects, Isaiah Bradley. Josiah X, Isaiah's son, retained the powers through his blood. Then Isaiah's grandson Eli (whose mother was conceived before Isaiah was experimented on) went on to become Patriot of the Young Avengers, using Mutant Growth Hormone to replicate the super soldier abilities until his grandfather provided a blood transfusion that acted as a Super Serum. The writers' intention was that this was done before Captain America was created, but they got the dates wrong in the story and later issues have clarified that Steve Rogers was dosed before Isaiah Bradley.
    • Protocide, a soldier with a record for disobedience, was spared charges in exchange for him willingly becoming a subject of the Super Soldier program, since the general in charge didn't like the scrawny, underweight, and untrained Steve Rogers being initially chosen.
    • The Ultimate Marvel version of Norman Osborn used a serum that was a derivative of Cap's Super Soldier Serum. The Marvel universe version had a different origin, however.
    • Then there's the Ultimate Marvel version of the Super Soldier Serum, which wasn't totally lost during WWII. Problem is that it's invariably lethal, with only two exceptions besides Cap. The prototype turned out to be Nick Fury, leading Erskine to realize that it only works on Determinators. Steve Rogers got picked the very next day, due to his relentless attempts to enlist despite his polio-damaged physique. The next success wouldn't be for over fifty years, when Loki chooses an Iraqi youth whose father was killed by American soldiers.
    • Man-Thing was created partly due to an attempt to recreate Cap's serum (plus the magic of a cursed swamp).
  • Norman Osborn's "Goblin Serum" was an intelligence-enhancing serum that ended up giving him Super Strength and driving him insane, and has been utilized by several Goblin-themed villains over the years, Norman included. In one storyline during Dark Reign, Osborn tried to combine the Goblin and Super Soldier serums into one, perfect soldier, with... less than satisfactory results.
  • Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan was created by a botched experiment. All attempts to recreate the circumstances have resulted only in dead test subjects. Naturally, there haven't been very many attempts, since it gets progressively harder to find suitable volunteers for an experiment with such a high mortality rate, and you can't exactly use condemned criminals when there's a chance they could gain godlike power. Manhattan himself says that such attempts will never succeed, though he does not say why. The reader is left to wonder whether this is because of the nature of the universe, or some random circumstance of the first incident, or whether Dr. M is using his own godlike powers to prevent the creation of others like him. Or if his ability to perceive time differently means that he just knows that the attempts will continue to fail.
    • Arguably, the missing ingredient is the mindset of the volunteer - the comic implies that Manhattan gained the powers as a side-effect of learning how to piece himself back together, which required his knowledge of particle physics and his painstakingly careful watch-maker's attitude to the process.
  • This is subverted with The Flash, who originally got his powers in a one-in-a-million accident (lightning striking a cabinet full of chemicals that sprayed on him.) The exact same accident happened to his nephew Wally, right when Barry was telling him about it! Years later this was retconned as being a manifestation of a cosmic force called the Speed Force.
  • A Canadian tried to recreate Bruce Banner's accident but an Eldritch Abomination interfered and he ended up with a fraction of the creature's power instead, turning him into the hero Sasquatch.
    • Note, however, that the Hulk's powers come from gamma rays, which are produced in-setting in the same way that they're produced in real life, albeit with very different properties (as in, there's a chance they'll give you superpowers instead of just killing you.) This means that several characters, like Doc Samson and the Abomination, have obtained abilities from the same source.
    • It was later revealed that the persons who received the Gamma-mutations all have a certain mutant genetic code, with the stated conclusion that they all had a common ancestor.
    • In the runup to Fall of the Hulks, the Leader and MODOK discovered how to combine gamma radiation and cosmic energy so that anyone could be given Hulk-like powers. However, if not properly calibrated, the process leads to total physiological meltdown within 24 hours.
  • The Incredible Hulk's enemies, the U-Foes, were created as a deliberate attempt to recreate the same accident that created the Fantastic Four.
    • One of the Fantastic Four's own foes, a Russian scientist by the name of Ivan Kragoff, also managed to get superpowers by recreating their circumstances. He took three apes and went into space with an unshielded ship. Thus was born the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes!
  • X-Men villains the U-Men are a group of people who don't think it's fair that some people are born with super powers and abilities, and they weren't. So they wear special suits, grab loads of mutant neutralizing gear, hunt them down, kidnap them, and dissect them in the back of their special vans. They then take the parts from dead mutants that the powers are related to (For example, they'd cut out Cyclops' eyes, or Angel's wings), and then create biotech that allows them to use the powers. That's right, they want to cut out Cyclops' eyes, and attach them to a pair of goggles with an external switch and a solar panel, so they can be that much closer to having laser vision.
  • A repeated trope in Astro City. Variations include a superpower-making scientist's body being recovered after being killed by a darkness-powered hero, Steeljack's superpowered vending machine wanting to keep to individual and unique results, Mock Turtle being the crazed mad scientist who finds out it'd be better to keep his work to himself...
  • The Marvel Universe actually has a company that sells Super Strength, Power Broker, Inc. There's at least a 50% chance of severe physical and/or mental deformity, but that's not in the advertising brochure...
  • The MU also has the Brand Corporation, a division of a corrupt oil company that manufactures supervillains either as enforcers for Corrupt Corporate Executives, or in return for a cut of their profits.
  • Ultimate Marvel eventually reveals that all super-powers that are not alien in origin come from various attempts to replicate or better the Captain America program. Even the mutants.
    • The Ultimates themselves subvert this whenever possible particularly in volume 2. The Giant man formula is used on a dozen or so marines (and he gives some to his ex-wife), Iron Man's earlier prototypes are reproduced to arm soldiers (and he builds a suit for Black Widow).
  • Back in the 1950's, when Slade Wilson (Deathstroke) volunteered for the experiments that gave him his superhuman abilities, the serum eventually plunged him into a coma. The scientists decided to destroy the serum formula. Months later, Slade Wilson woke up with superhuman powers.
  • It was revealed in "What If The Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers" that the cosmic radiation which gave the Fantastic Four their powers affected them in a certain way based on their personalities. Mr. Fantastic developed stretching powers because of his desire to go to any [ethical] lengths to acquire scientific knowledge. The Invisible Woman developed invisibility because she thought she was ignored by others. The Human Torch's powers were a result of his "flame-headed" personality. The Thing became a super-strong, rocky-skinned person as a result of his tough guy personality.
  • The late Firestorm/Suicide Squad villain Steel Wolf gained his super-strength through Soviet scientists' attempts to create an army of super-soldiers during World War II. Stalin didn't trust the idea of so many super-soldiers, so he had all the scientists killed.
  • Averted with Green Lantern. The Guardians can make as many rings as they need, they're just careful about who they give them too.
  • In Garth Ennis' The Boys, all superpowers are derived from exposure to the V-Compound. At full power, the V-Compound costs $19 billion per person. With around 200,000 superhumans in this world, many of the superhumans got their superpowers from a watered-down version of the compound.
  • Averted with the Fantastic Four villain the Super Skrull. The process that allowed Skrulls to mimic the powers of Earth based heroes has been used many times over the years. The most recent and largest usage of this technology was in Secret Invasion.

Film

  • Fantastic Four: The machine that is used to take away and then return the Thing's powers.
  • Averted in Nine, where the scientist uses his machine to make not just one, but nine different ragdoll androids, each one containing a separate piece of his soul. Of course, the device used to power that machine also powers the evil machine that manufactures more evil robots (and sucks out the dolls' souls for more power). Kind of a problem there.
  • Accidentally averted in the Spider-Man movie franchise. Here Peter is not bitten by a spider that has been accidentally become radioactive, but rather by a genetically engineered spider. The writers don't seem to have noticed the Fridge Logic, so it is unlikely that this will ever be revisited.
  • Averted in the finale of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when Captain Jack Sparrow takes a piece of the gold to become undead himself to help defeat Barbosa.
    • Double Subversion in the Kingdom Hearts II level based on that movie; Luxord gets a heartless to steal ALL the gold to make an invincible undead Heartless. One (surprisingly easy) Puzzle Boss, the gang decides to send the gold to the bottom of the ocean to prevent someone from doing that again.

Literature

  • Subverted Trope in Animorphs--their powers come from Elfangor's Escafil Device, but shortly afterward he is killed and all the wreckage of his ship destroyed by the Yeerks. However, twenty books later a random kid named David finds the device at the site where Elfangor crashed, and the Animorphs get it back. This would have major repercussions for the series, especially when they use it to create an army of Auxiliary Animorphs and the Yeerks get the device.
  • David Brin's The Postman averts this trope. The super-soldier villain (subjects were chosen for aggression and willpower rather than mental stability) is eventually defeated by a super-duper-soldier hero who was created specifically to counter the super-soldier threat. The novel implies that many soldiers of both types were created pre-apocalypse.
  • Completely subverted in Fine Structure, where a major ongoing problem is that Flying Brick superheros are created, at random, once a year. And each Power is twice as powerful as the last one. And they're Born violently insane, at least temporarily. Turns out you can kill a lot of people if you're as fast as the Flash and as strong as Superman. Later on, the Americans figure out how to create arbitrary numbers of 6th and 7th level Powers by tapping some of Xio's power.
  • In Wild Cards, it's mentioned that certain extremist groups voluntarily expose themselves to the Wild Card virus in hopes of getting powers, despite the 99% failure rate and 90% death rate.
  • There was this one short story from the 1970's about a Superboy-like superhero whose masturbation (giving off super-fast, invulnerable sperm) caused many of the women in his town to give birth to human/alien hybrids. This troper doesn't know the name or author of the story.

Live Action TV

  • The 1950s British Invisible Man series subverted it. They knew it was possible to create more invisible humans (and they created invisible experimental rabbits) but since they could not yet make the subjects visible again...
  • In The 4400, promicin is discovered as the source of the 4400's powers. Eventually, it was replicated and used to enhance one faction's soldiers, then later made available to the public, although demand for it was somewhat reduced by the fact that half of the people who took it died soon after. Towards the end of the series, however, one person's promicin power was to spread promicin to everyone in a massive radius. Including the side effect of a 50% death rate.
  • In some Power Rangers series the Rangers powers have been created through technology rather than coming from some more mystical sources. One might question why those generations don't make more rangers and give them the same or similar tech. One subverts this in that they have more ranger teams while another has a good reason why there aren't more.

Video Games

  • Subverted in Final Fantasy VI, where the machines in the Magitek Research Facility are used to grant magical powers to pretty much the entire Imperial Army, until the heroes destroy the machines for ethical reasons. This makes things much, much worse.
  • In the F.E.A.R. universe it seem super reactions can be gained though a certain procedure, but given what happened afterwards...
  • Subverted in Luminous Arc 2, where the prototype Runic Engine works fine (except the bit where it becomes fused to the main character's hand right at the start and continues to do so throughout the game, but the more powerful copies mass-produced for an entire battalion of soldiers using its data slowly corrupts the user's body due to their lack of ability to control it and eventually crystallises them.
  • Justified in Dragon Age, where a drop of an Archdemon's blood is required for the Joining, and the Ferelden Grey Wardens are fresh out of it.
  • If Mega Man's design is so good, why doesn't Dr. Light build an army of them to counter Dr. Wily's Robot Masters?
  • Justified in the Mega Man X series, where main characters X and Zero are "relics" created by the long-dead Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, respectively. The Reploids of the future are -- as the name implies -- imperfect replicas that are vastly less powerful and subject to going murderously insane.

Western Animation

  • Danny Phantom: After Samantha alters history and prevents Danny from getting his powers, they fix things by having him enter the Ghost Portal and then turning it on.
    • Which makes you wonder why Tuck made a wish with a Literal Genie instead of just, well, doing that. It could be that they forgot... except this episode was the second appearance of the genie in question, who was responsible for said history alteration in the first place.
      • Knowing the consequences of such an experiment, Danny would have likely prevented Tucker from ever trying the experiment. Plus only Sam, and possibly Vlad, knew it would work twice.
    • A similar question arises when Vlad tries to clone Danny in order to have the "perfect half-ghost son." Given how much time and money he's spent spying on Danny and/or sneaking into the Fenton's lab, you'd think he could just adopt some kid and recreate the experiment.
      • Vlad is in love with Danny's mom, and part of his fantasy of winning her over includes replacing Jack as Danny's and Jasmine's father. The ghost powers Danny has are icing on the cake for Vlad. Somewhere along the line he must have figured (rightly) that it would be easier make a clone of Danny and program him to think of Vlad as a father than to win over Danny. So, he could just adopt a kid and give him ghost powers, but it wouldn't be satisfying his delusions and urge to humiliate Jack.
      • He could clone Jazz and give the clone superpowers. Hell, he could take Maddie's DNA and engineer their own biological child.
    • Theory on why Vlad didn't do either of the above suggestions: He's seen slipping into insanity towards the end of the series. So the insanity interfered with his logic...that and the above would be really REALLY creepy.
  • This was brought up in The Spectacular Spider Man, although most of Spider-Man's villains are products of mistakes or malfunctions. Rhino was a perfect success, so after enough time to avoid a paper trail, Norman Osborn attempts to sell the Rhino armor schematics to the highest bidder. However, no explanation is made of why Vulture, once he teams up with Master Planner, doesn't build an army of Vultures instead of doing everything himself.
    • In the comics, Blackie Drago stole the Vulture's wings while he was dying in jail. Spider-Man kicked his sorry ass back to prison. When the original Vulture got better, he again gave his suit to Drago so he can fly away from jail... and then the Vulture kicks his sorry ass and takes his wings again. Yes, he gave him a pair of Vulture's wings just to show that there can be only one Vulture. So that's the cause.
    • Who would want The Rhino's armor? In this continuity it doesn't come off and has poor ventilation.
      • It's doubtful any of the auctioneers wanted it for themselves, but an army of Rhinos would effectively end the power struggle between the various factions. Presumably they'd just get Mooks like Rhino himself: Dumb Muscle who want to get stronger and won't think of the long-term consequences.
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