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In Superhero stories, there are many, many ways to give the lead super powers. However, sometimes it becomes cost efficient in terms of descriptive effort or setting construction to give every character the same super hero/villain origin story in a Mass Super Empowering Event.
The Mass Empowering Event serves to kick start the series (The Event usually happens in act 1 or 2 of the pilot) and provide a handy reason for the entire cast to get super powers. The Event can be technological, mystical, accidental, deliberate or unexplained, but it always serves as a tangible link between the heroes and villains. Often, it also kills a great number of people in the process, both to discourage repeated usage and/or give the resulting superheroes an aura of pathos - "I got all these cool powers while all those others died".
So why do authors use this trope? After all, one valid criticism of this trope is that it takes the "inventiveness" and diversity out of a Super-Hero Origin story by repeating it across several characters. Well, it turns out that having fifty ways a Freak Lab Accident can give you super powers got old, fast, forcing quite a few Meta Origins to be applied to tidy up the place. Another is that it frees the author from having to give exposition on the source of the powers to focus on the characters themselves and the way that they use their new powers, effectively giving more Character Development and characterization by showing how they react to getting great power -- be it betrayal, smugness or responsibility. Lastly, the cause for The Event can be a major plot hook for the hero(es) to unravel throughout the season.
Anime & Manga
- The anime Darker Than Black fits this rather neatly, having a mysterious event which opened two mystical singularities known as "Heaven's Gate" and "Hell's Gate" -- in South America and Tokyo, respectively -- resulting in people from around the world being transformed into either Contractors (those with special powers who are stripped of their emotions/morality) or Dolls (people left almost completely non-sapient who are used as living tracking devices), and the atmosphere around the earth being replaced by an Alien Sky that cut off Earth from the rest of the universe.
- NEEDLESS has a WWIII level event causing a 'black spot'. Many of the people within this area have superhuman powers. Late in the anime, it's revealed that originally there existed a Crystal Dragon Jesus Figure existed previously within the area and his death caused the powers to spread throughout the black spot.
- Calumon from Digimon Tamers is something of a sentient version of this. It's hinted throughout the series that he's the power of digivolution incarnate, with reactions and shows of power from him whenever the Tamers' digimon needed to evolve. Calumon is then captured by one of the Digimon Sovereign, and after being rescued and his captor beat around by one of his peers (as well as the Tamers), he fully 'awakens' and summons an army of Digimon to warp them all to Mega-level in order to fight the D-Reaper.
- Full Metal Panic has 1150 GMT, 24 December 1981, in which babies born at that time become a Whispered.
- In the Tiger and Bunny universe, people started developing or being born with many and varied superpowers about forty-five years before the time the show's set in. No one is quite sure why this happened -- they just roll with it.
- During the DC Comics crossover "Invasion", the Dominators set off a "gene bomb" which activates a lot of people's dormant metagenes.
- The White Event from The New Universe.
- The X-Men have the detonation of the Atom Bomb as the cause for the explosion in their birth rates, having been a very tiny percentage of the human population beforehand. They ain't called "The Children Of The Atom" for nothing.
- In Malibu Comics' Ultraverse, the only sources of superhuman powers were magic, technology ("wetware") or "the Jump Start" -- an alien artifact located on the moon that every so often sent out bursts of energy that granted humans superpowers, at first theorized to be intended to advance humanity to the point where we could reach the moon and free it, but later revealed as attempts to gather its scattered components including the Nanomachines that had long ago infected all life on Earth including humans.
- J. Michael Straczynski's comic Rising Stars has a version of this, where all the supers on Earth were in utero in a small midwestern town on the day of a bright flash of light. The first powers manifested when they were in elementary school. The government put them in a camp under military control until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. They did have a normal-as-possible high school experience after that, but all the heroes and villains have already known each other since childhood.
- In another of his comics, Supreme Power, all superpowers (except Hyperion and Zarda's) were caused by a nanovirus that came to Earth along with Hyperion.
- The Elementals comics by Bill Willingham had the Shadowspear, a mass of supernatural energy collected by Big Bad Saker to help him conquer the world; when Saker is defeated by the Elementals, the Shadowspear spell runs wild and becomes attracted to pain and death, causing various people and animals all over the world who have died in especially weird ways to be resurrected as supernatural beings, most of whom fought the Elementals.
- What's more, an extremist religious group learns how the Shadowspear works and sacrifices hundreds of its followers in gruesome ways, trying to create their own superhumans. And it worked. The vast majority of these "martyrs" died, but enough were empowered to create the Rapture super-team.
- The gems of knowledge in The 99.
- In The End League, most superpowers are a result of the Green Event, wherein
SupermanAstonishman was tricked by Lex LuthorDead Lexington into blowing up a crashed alien spaceship, releasing exotic radiation from the ship's power core. The radiation killed around 3 billion people but empowered several hundred thousand.
- Wildstorm Universe had several - the Comet Effect, Gen Factor, being a partially human from one of the alien races that masquaraded their way through Earth's history, whatever it was that created Century Babies, exposure to the Snowflake... that should about cover it.
- In Project Superpowers Pandora's Urn didn't so much mass-empower the heroes as it twisted their existing powers and/or skills in bizarre ways.
- Inverted in JLA: Act of God, which involved a mass depowering event.
- Transformers: Generation 2: Redux (otherwise known as the comic book that was distributed at BotCon 2010) revolved around the Decepticons experimenting with forestonite. Eventually, an attempt to destroy it to keep it out of the Autobots' hands results instead in forestonite gas granting superpowers to all the Transformers present (along with the occasional new look).
- In the "Ultimate" Marvel Universe, mutants appeared in the world thanks to Super Soldier experiments performed on Wolverine, the first true mutant.
- The miniseries North 40 has this happen to a small Midwestern town after someone reads from the library's resident Tome of Eldritch Lore. Lovecraftian Superpower Lottery ensues.
- In a Bartman comic, every human in Springfield except Bart(man) got hit with a nuclear blast. Not only did they gain diverse powers, but they started fighting each other for no particular reason. Bart(man) observed, "With great power comes even greater irresponsibility!"
- Minor but awesome cross-company example: when the young Matt Murdock saved an old man of being run over by a truck, a tube of mysterious chemical ooze from said truck hit his eyes, granting him Super Senses. That same tube of ooze fell then into the gutters, covering four turtles an a rat. Yes. No, I'm not kidding. This means that the same Freak Lab Accident created six superheroes.
- DC Nation, in their version of Blackest Night, had hundreds of rings in every color of the emotional spectrum descend on Earth for the final fight. This included black ones.
- The Nucleus Incident, a very popular Team Fortress 2 fanfic, involves the RED team being exposed to a blinding light the glowing machine in the center of the Nucleus map gives off one day. Each team member wakes up some time later to find out they've acquired strange superpowers and the BLU team have superpowers of their own.
- In Poke Wars, Ho-oh uses the orb of creation to substantially boost the power of Pokémon attacks and make them lethal. In addition, Lugia uses his own orb of creation to remove the dampeners of humans, granting them the ability to perform superhuman physical feats.
- My Little Avengers has three: the first happened in the distant past, when Asgard was destroyed, and the magic released by it created Celestia and Luna, as well as the first Unicorns and Pegasi. The second occurs when Celestia is forced to release most of her own magic when Loki attacks her; this causes random mutations across Equestria. The third occurs at the end of the story, when Loki dies, and his magic is released in the same way. According to him, this will insure that everypony (and every other species) will all be mutants within a few generations.
- In Fantastic Four movie, the cosmic storm served as the Mass Super-Empowering Event for The Four and Von Doom
- The Wild Cards book series has an alien virus that grants superpowers to about 1% of victims, while the other 99% either die horribly or become grotesque mutants. In 1946 it is released in the atmosphere over Manhattan, killing thousands and creating a few dozen supers.
- In Philip José Farmer's "biographies" of Tarzan and Doc Savage (and the Massively Multiplayer Crossover "Wold Newton Universe" based on Phillip's stories), the Event is the titular Wold Newton meteorite. The radiation of the meteorite affected the passengers of a passing coach (and several animals in the area); their descendants were endowed with unusual strength, intelligence, and ambition, becoming the inspiration for many of the heroes and villains of fiction. (See the other wiki for more details.
- Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie has 1001 children born at midnight on the day India gained its independence acquiring low-level superpowers and a telepathic network as a result.
- The creation of The Maze in Gary Gibson's Against Gravity novel marked the beginning of a rather long and drawn out empowering event; as an Elaborate Underground Base dedicated to researching how to make Super Soldiers via the use of Nanomachines, it processed hundreds or perhaps thousands of people. Many eventually escaped and spread across the world, with enhanced speed, increased strength, regeneration, superior reflexes, sensing and control of electronics, enhanced vision and hearing... you get the idea.
- In Scorpion Shards, the protagonists' superpowers are triggered by the supernova of a distant star. The shards of the star's soul enter the bodies of all six of the infants born at the exact moment of its destruction.
- In The Grimnoir Chronicles books, at some point before the American Civil War, people all over the world suddenly started gaining superpowers.
- In Wearing the Cape, the Event changes the world as we know it. For 3.2 seconds everyone in the world experiences complete sensory deprivation, along with a worldwide power outage. Since the Event, a small percentage of people who experience great trauma or stress become "breakthroughs," manifesting superhuman powers. The cause of the Event and source of these powers is never explained.
- Perry Rhodan explains the sudden turn up of mutants with radioactivity because of the A-Bomb.
- In the Mistborn books, the only way for a potential Allomancer of any kind to unlock their abilities is to face a near-death experience, resulting in an event called "Snapping." Late in second book and all through the third one, the mist sickness is a deliberate attempt by Preservation to forcibly unlock the Allomancy inherent in the entire human population by deliberately push anyone who has inherent Allomantic powers to near-death.
Live Action TV
- The eclipse in Heroes at least looked like one of these at first, but it's not completely clear. The eclipse didn't grant everyone's powers, certainly not all at once, but it did remove everybody's powers once.
- The cast of Misfits and most of the Monsters Of The Week are empowered by a mysterious storm that included misshapen black clouds and hailstones the size of dogs. Anyone struck by lightning got superpowers.
- The Kryptonite meteor shower of Smallville in which Clark first arrived to Earth and at the same time giving many of the locals odd powers and/or altering their personality sometimes and causing them to become the Monster of the Week. There are a few humans empowered by Kryptonian technology, and it's vaguely implied that there's some Kryptonian ancestry among humanity.
- The powers manifested by The 4400 are eventually revealed to stem from a "fifth neurotransmitter" called "Promicin". It can be injected into normal humans to give them powers. Or kill them, it's about even odds.
- The series has arguably had three Mass Super-Empowering Events, the first being the infusion of the initial 4400 returnees with promicin. Many non-returnees later get powers when Well-Intentioned Extremists make promicin shots available to the public. The series ends with thousands of people in Seattle, including almost all of the remaining protagonists, getting powers as a result of the Power Incontinence of a character with the ability to release promicin into the atmosphere.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer ends with a mass superempowering event, with Willow using the power of the Slayer Scythe to make all the Potential Slayers around the world into full Slayers.
- The Hellstorm in GURPS Technomancer, which generated a wave of magical radiation which imbued magical abilities in hundreds of thousands of people in the fallout zone.
- GURPS International Super Teams describes the Seeders, Precursors who, well, seed planets with the potential for both intelligence and a racial super-power, to be determined by random expression combined with natural selection. In Earth's case, radiation from a stellar event suppressed the power genes until another one turned them back on in 1929... at which point they begin expressing random powers just as they were designed to.
- In White Wolf's supers RPG Aberrant, super-powered "novas" come about after a massive release of quantum energy into the atmosphere begins to trigger the "eruption" of heretofore unknown nodes of the human brain that allow the novas to manipulate the very building blocks of the universe in certain ways.
- In the Pulp Action game Adventure, which is a prequel to Aberrant, The Hammersmith Incident released waves of "telluric energy" across the globe, allowing for the appearance of low powered individuals to appear (and laying the seeds for the later explosion of Novas).
- Godlike, a supers Tabletop RPG set in World War Two, posits the appearance of superpowered "Talents" starting in 1936. Talents may believe they got their powers from magical artifacts or radioactive spiders or alien rays, but all are psychics with the power to warp reality to their will. Because they all share the same origin, all Talents can detect other Talent powers in use, and can attempt to interfere with other Talents in a contest of wills.
- In the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons psionics is a result of an incursion on reality by The Far Realm.
- Champions The New Millenium had the Wildstrike, in which millions of people around the world developed superpowers at once. In a partial subversion, these powers often came with horrific drawbacks or were very weak.
- Exalted has a variation: the titular Exalted have always been a part of the setting, but after the breaking of the Jade Prison, Solars began reappearing in numbers unheard of since the Usurpation, and the brand-new Abyssal and Infernal Exalted showed up as well.
- Also expressed in the origins of the Exalted, as the Exaltations were created by the gods to imbue their chosen mortal champions with the power to defeat the Primordials. They might have different flavors, but all have the same original reason for existing.
- The Mutants and Masterminds setting Paragons deals with superpowered individuals appearing in a world Like Reality Unless Noted. The point when the paragons first started appearing is called "The Breakout." Depending on the Game Master, the Breakout can be overt or subtle and a backstory event or the focus of the first session.
- In the World of Freedom, Emerald City has recently been hit with what's being called the Silver Storm with survivors gaining powers.
- In Famous starts this way, turning the hero and anyone with a specific gene into a Differently-Powered Individual.
- The main characters of Final Fantasy XIII, minus two (who get their powers before the story starts), are branded l'Cie at the same time, after meeting up as strangers in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- In the Freedom Force games, when Mentor's ship is destroyed in Earth's orbit by Lord Dominion's forces, his supply of Energy X (the most powerful substance in the universe!), rains down all over Earth, empowering many heroes and villains.
- In Vagrant Story, simply being within the city of Lea Monde begins to gift you with magical powers and extra senses. The same goes for your enemies, and even the Damsel in Distress, who gains the ability to see the hidden thoughts of the guys capturing her. The extra-sensory perception comes in handy for Ashley Riot to see cutscenes involving the villains when the villains are nowhere near him.
- Lionheart had a cataclysmic magical explosion known as the Disjunction during the crusades. Many people were possessed by spirits this time which granted them magical powers, though such possessed people are shunned and distrusted by normals.
- City of Heroes has a grand total of three Events, two playing it straight and one inverting. The first is Marcus Cole and Stefan Richter drinking from the Well Of Furies, which supposedly opened the Pandora's Box on superpowers of all origins. Similar to the X-Men example above, mutants began appearing with more frequency after the first atom bomb was detonated. Finally, the Event was inverted at the beginning of the comics series when Lord Recluse (alias Stefan Richter) depowered all of Paragon City's extremely numerous heroes. Tying into this is the Event that re-powered all the heroes, the unleashing of Prometheus's Flame.
- Mass Effect has an explosion at a Singapore spaceport that spread Element Zero around the world, affecting many unborn humans exposed to it. If you were lucky, nothing happened. If you were extremely unlucky, you died from radiation poisoning. And if you were extremely lucky, you got biotic powers.
- DC Universe Online has something like this. Lex Luthor comes from the future where he killed the Justice League, only for Brainiac to show up and ruin his party. So he goes back in time to give large numbers of people superpowers to stop his past-self's plans AND Brainiac. The Exobites contain data on all of earths heroes and villains, they are released into the atmosphere infecting random people who can be either good or evil depending on their personality before being infected.
- In the "good"(ish) ending of Deus Ex Invisible War, all of humanity is Augmented with Nanomachines that provide Perfect Health, Universal Education, and a link to a central AI as part of program of "perfect democracy" - not just universal suffrage, but universal intelligence, ensuring that everyone's vote is based on educated opinions. This results in The Singularity - world peace, universal prosperity, rapidly advancing technology, easy space development and nanotech superpowers... for everyone.
- In the Ciem Webcomic Series' shared-universe, the Marlquaan bonds to many characters during an explosion, allowing for Marlquaanites to exist. These characters all seem to follow very different rules for how they work, but they all are deactivated the same way - by being suspended in some sort of phlebotinum jello.
- The Weirding in Yosh! (happened before the story starts).
- The Change in Chisuji (happened before the story starts).
- Wondermark - Spoofed
"You there! Have you seen my son go by? He's infected with a terrible virus that will kill one third of the earth's population, making five eights of those remaining lactose intolerant and while granting amazing superpowers to a quarter of the remainder!"
"Well, come on then, either you've seen him or you haven't."
"Wait, no, start over. I was always bad at math."
- For those interested, approx. 6.85 billion people in the world (as of July 2010 estimates), that would be roughly 430,265,625 individuals with amazing superpowers or about 1-in-11 people (granted that's after 1-in-3 people have died).
- A much smaller-scale version than usual happened in Knowledge Is Power; a Negative Space Wedgie opened up in a cafeteria-type-area on a college campus and granted superpowers to the eight humans currently in it, with the nature of the powers being based on what they were thinking about--their homework.
- In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the Tunguska Event of 1908 released a wave of radiation that encompassed the globe and activated the metagene in humans and apes, allowing for the presence of superpowers.
- The Big Bang from Static Shock (and from the original Milestone Comics line that inspired it) would fall under this: the experimental "radioactive tracer gas" that police used during an apocalyptically large gang war left many of those exposed to it with superpowers.
- The Nanite Event from Generator Rex. Five years ago, there was an explosion in a research facility, and Nanomachines infected every living thing on Earth. Every so often, the Nanomachines turn something into a mutant, usually mindless and aggressive. And it's not just humans--animals and plants can be mutated, too.
- The meteor strike that gives the Loonatics Unleashed (and several members of their Rogues Gallery) their powers.