Characters are overpowered for all kinds of reasons, but the effect is always the same. Either the character overcomes challenges way too easily or the author has to insert a massive contrivance to keep the conflict going. Neither outcome is satisfying, so if you ever end up with overpowered characters, it’s important that you know how to fix them. That’s why today we’re looking at some famously overpowered characters and figuring out how they might be rectified. It’s too late for these stories to correct their problems,* but there’s a lot we can learn from them.
Spoiler Notice: Season 4 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
1. Miroku: InuYasha
If you grew up watching anime in the ’90s and early ’00s, there’s a good chance you remember Miroku, the monk cursed with a black hole in his hand that will one day consume him.* Technically, it’s called a “wind tunnel” in the show, but either way, it can pull in just about anything Miroku points it at. There’s no way to dodge or evade it, short of holding on for dear life, and since there’s no limit on the black hole’s use, Miroku can easily hoover up anything he doesn’t like.
This is a pretty serious problem, as it means Miroku can defeat nearly any bad guy in the show. Worse, he’s not even the main hero; he’s meant to be an ally at most. At first, the writers try to limit the black hole by establishing that if he uses it too much, the curse will consume him faster. But that kind of far-off problem will always take a back seat to life-threatening battles happening in the present, so it isn’t an effective limit.
Finally, the show just gave up and introduced demonic bees that could clog up the black hole. Why bees? I have no idea. It’s something about them being poisonous, which only raises more questions, since it’s not like the black hole actually opens up inside Miroku. If it did, poison would be the least of his problems. Nevertheless, the writers must have liked this solution because soon they were handing out demon bees to every enemy in the show.
This is a classic problem with overpowered abilities. The story shows us an interesting ability, but then the hero is never allowed to use it properly because if they did, the story would end. It’s obviously contrived, and it robs us of a cool power.
How to Fix It
The big problem with Miroku’s black hole is there’s no way to avoid it, which makes it a very boring power to use in a fight. We could make it weaker, but that wouldn’t solve the problem, as then enemies could just ignore it, which is a pretty lousy ability.
The best solution is actually to invert it. Instead of a black hole that sucks people in, Miroku should have some kind of attack that projects outward. Perhaps his hand is a gateway to the fire plane, or he’s possessed by a lightning demon. If Miroku had a ranged attack, then villains could defend against it the same way they would against any other attack: by dodging or putting up barriers. Stronger enemies would be hurt less, just like they are with other characters.
This way, we can even keep the curse element. If Miroku is connected to the fire plane, then it’ll only be a matter of time until the opening widens enough to consume him in flames.*
2. Barry Allen: The Flash
As I’ve covered before, super speed is one of those powers that will break your story if you’re not really careful, but The Flash’s writers apparently didn’t read my post.* Barry is the titular Flash, and his connection to the aptly named “speed force” allows him to break the sound barrier with the greatest of ease.
This immediately creates some problems. If Barry can move that fast, how can any villain survive his attacks? Even if Barry can’t punch anyone without shattering his bones, he should be able to throw rocks like a living machine gun. Or just run around the bad guys with a rope until they’re trussed up for the police.
Of course, superhero stories are notoriously bad at exploring their implications, so let’s look at how Barry actually uses his powers. Mainly, he can easily dodge any attack unless it catches him completely by surprise. Even then, he can sometimes zip out of the way, though it’s a little inconsistent.
This makes it really hard to get invested in Barry’s fights. It feels like he can just dodge forever, no matter how strong his enemy is. At worst, Barry will get a draw. That’s not very exciting, so the writers sometimes have Barry become inexplicably bad at dodging. My favorite example of this is in the episode Tricksters, when a bad guy* slowly reaches over and handcuffs a bomb to Barry’s wrist. I’m pretty sure I could have dodged that.
How to Fix It
This time we don’t have to come up with anything from scratch because The Flash has already provided us with a template: the villain called Peek-a-Boo. She can teleport short distances, which is functionally the same as limited super speed. This enables her to dodge attacks like The Flash, but she still has to think at the same speed as the rest of us, and we don’t have to ask why she doesn’t kill her enemies with thrown rocks.
A less overpowered version of the Flash might have actual teleportation, or he might only be able to use his speed in short bursts. That way he’d have to be tactical about it, rather than just zipping around forever. There could even be a visual indicator of how much speed he has saved up, making it easy for viewers to tell how dangerous a fight is. Perhaps he’s surrounded by golden sparks when he uses his power, and those sparks vanish as his reserves run out.
3. Momo: My Hero Academia
In the first two seasons of My Hero Academia, there’s a pretty clear gender bias when it comes to the distribution of powers. Nearly all of the strongest abilities go to dudes, from super strength to cryomancy to explosions on demand. However, there’s one major exception: Momo Yaoyorozu, who is actually considered to have the strongest power in the class.
Momo’s ability is to fabricate anything that isn’t alive out of thin air. The only downside is that her creations materialize out of her skin, which is an incredibly transparent attempt to justify her skimpy costume. Gross. That aside, Momo’s ability is so strong, it creates a host of problems. First, why does she even want to be a hero? It seems like she could become absurdly wealthy by creating a bunch of gold or a more practical substance if she wants to serve the public good.
But assuming Momo’s heart is set on battling villainy, she should completely dominate. Remember, she can create anything, including complex machinery. The My Hero setting is full of advanced weapons and armor, so her options are many indeed. She could create a suit of powered armor, or some of those advanced capture-weapons that the pro-heroes have. Heck, she could create a regular gun, and that would be more than enough to stop most villains.
Instead, her most common creation is… a bo staff. In season two, she gets really wild and creates a shield! You might recognize these as objects that just about anyone could get their hands on. She does eventually get a little more creative, making flash grenades and even a cannon at one point, but it’s too late by then. She’s already been through way too many fights where she apparently forgot how her own power worked.
How to Fix It
So long as Momo can create objects from thin air, she’ll have problems. There are just too many things she can do with that ability, especially if she has even a little time to prepare. Worse, this power will always raise questions of why fighting villains is even worth Momo’s time when there are so many better uses for an endless supply of raw material.
That’s why the best way to fix the problem is by giving Momo a different power entirely – something that matches what she does in the show without the story-breaking power of a living replicator.
One good option would be to make her the equivalent of a metalbender from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The most common way Momo uses her power is to generate objects to defend herself or to strike at her enemies, and metalbending could do that handily. Instead of conjuring a shield and staff from nowhere, she could manipulate the metal already present in her environment. As a side benefit, this would kill the idea that she has to have a super revealing costume to use her power.
4. The Princesses: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
The new She-Ra show is a fantastic piece of storytelling, with strong plotting, compelling character arcs, and deep worldbuilding. However, it does have one recurring problem: the heroes are more powerful than the villains.
This isn’t due to a single character, but rather the princesses as a group. Glimmer, probably the weakest of them, can teleport and shoot magic blasts out of her hands. In later seasons, her blasts get stronger and she learns how to cast multiple spells. Then there’s She-Ra herself, who is just a really strong fighter. The remaining three princesses are even stronger. Mermista, Perfuma, and Frosta can all manipulate their chosen elements to both defeat multiple enemies at once and create defensive barriers.
To counter this, the Evil Horde has a bunch of fairly useless soldiers, along with some robots that are either equally useless or only show up for a single episode. Their heavy hitters include Catra, who is pretty agile, and Scorpia, who is pretty strong and has a poison stinger. Finally, Hordak himself is fairly powerful when he’s wearing his armor, but he can be easily defeated by attacking the armor’s vulnerable systems, and he rarely takes the field.
The mismatch is pretty obvious, and so whenever the two sides clash, the princesses almost always emerge victorious. At one point, the heroes spend an entire episode* agonizing over their plan to attack a Horde base, but then they end up winging it and do fine because they can easily overwhelm their enemy with brute strength. This is before we consider the good guys’ secondary combatants like Bow, Spinnerella, and Netossa, all of whom can easily hold their own against the Horde. Our heroes even have foot soldiers of their own.
All this makes it difficult to take the Horde seriously as villains. They’re supposed to be a threat to all of Etheria, but it feels like the princesses could easily defeat them at any time. Unlike most other entries on this list, the writers don’t usually create contrived reasons for the princesses to lose. Instead, they simply clean the Horde’s clock at every meeting, which is even worse.
How to Fix It
She-Ra’s writers are probably aware of this problem, because they take steps to fix it in season four. Their main method is to put the princesses’ friendship in danger, which makes it more difficult for the good guys to act as a team. The writers also have the heroes lose battles offscreen, and even give Hordak a fancy new laser cannon, though he never actually uses it against the princesses.
That’s better than nothing, but it’s definitely patching a hole rather than making an actual repair. The main thing is that the Horde simply needs to be more powerful. This could be done through minions, but that would be really difficult in a show like She-Ra, which likes to treat minions as minor obstacles. Instead, characters like Catra, Scorpia, and even Hordak need a real boost. It wouldn’t hurt to add a few more of them too, especially since this show loves to have bad guys defect to team good.
But that’s only half the equation. For the Horde to be threatening villains, it’s best if they actually win onscreen sometimes. The writers clearly aren’t afraid to make their show dark when necessary, so this wouldn’t be incompatible with She-Ra’s overall mood. The heroes don’t have to lose every time, even a few onscreen victories would do wonders for the Horde. Who knows, maybe we’ll get something like this with Horde Prime in season five.
5. Korra: The Legend of Korra
In this world of martial-arts-based elemental magic, most benders can control either air, water, fire, or earth. Not Korra, though. She’s the Avatar, which means she can control all four elements, at least with the proper training. And a good thing, too, since it’s her job to keep the world in balance, which can be quite challenging at times.
Korra’s elemental magic isn’t what makes her overpowered. Rather, it’s the Avatar State, a special power she can use to channel the power of her past lives* to become nearly unstoppable. This problem actually originates in Legend of Korra’s predecessor, The Last Airbender. In that show, we learn that the Avatar State is essentially god mode, allowing the Avatar to defeat the strongest villains or even an entire army.
Last Airbender deals with this problem by saying that its protagonist never got proper training, so he can’t actually control the Avatar State. But that implies that under normal circumstances, an Avatar can control it. At first, Legend of Korra’s explanation is that Korra hasn’t learned how to use the Avatar State at all, but that only lasts until the end of season one. After that, they either make the Avatar State bizarrely weak or just forget that Korra has it. Finally, in season four, Korra’s past trauma makes it impossible for her to use the Avatar State.
That’s not a terrible solution, but it still leaves us with two seasons that had no idea what to do with a character who could become an unstoppable juggernaut at will. At the same time, the Avatar State will continue to be a problem for any other stories set in this universe. Turns out it’s rarely a good idea to introduce an ability so strong that your only option is not letting the characters use it properly.
How to Fix It
In a perfect world, we’d fix this problem in Last Airbender. That show needed a powerful ability that its protagonist couldn’t use at will, something that would illustrate how the Avatar is a reincarnation of every other Avatar before them. My solution to that would be to make the Avatar State something that lets the Avatar access the skills of their past lives, rather than their raw power.
That way, the Avatar State could still be used to get an inexperienced Avatar out of trouble, but it would have a much lower ceiling. A powerful villain could still be threatening, provided they were good enough to defeat whatever past life was channeled through the Avatar State. Eventually, an Avatar wouldn’t need to rely on it anymore, as their own skill meets or exceeds their past lives’.
If changing the canon of Last Airbender isn’t an option, then Korra would need something to limit her use of the Avatar State in seasons two and three. My solution would be to make the Avatar State harmful in some way, so Korra can’t use it too often or for too long. Since season two is about spirit shenanigans anyway, this would fit well. Perhaps some kind of corrupting influence has settled over Korra’s connection to her past lives, something she’d need a season or two to deal with.
6. Thanos: Avengers
Okay, this one is going to be a problem, but I know we can face it together. All on his own, Thanos is apparently super strong and tough, but with the Infinity Stones, he has a whole bucket load of powers to draw on, so I’m just going to lay them out.
- Soul Stone: This one doesn’t seem to do anything except cause arguments about whether Thanos can be said to “love” Gamora.
- Mind Stone: Another stone that doesn’t seem to do anything, or at least nothing Thanos ever uses.
- Power Stone: Lets him punch even harder than before and gives him a ranged attack.
- Time Stone: He can reverse the passage of time, but only in isolated areas, and it takes a lot of concentration.
- Space Stone: Allows Thanos to open portals and either stop or crush anything he can see. (This is how he stops Loki’s knife.)
- Reality Stone: Grants Thanos total control over reality. He can do whatever he wants, including turn people into slinkies.
This is an absolutely wild assortment of powers. First, we have two stones that don’t do anything, which is pretty disappointing considering what a big deal Thanos made about getting them. Then the Power Stone and Time Stone are mostly fine. Thanos should have a ranged attack if he’s going to fight the Avengers, and limited temporal control isn’t a big deal, since he’s vulnerable when he does it.
The first overpowered entry is the Space Stone. The portals are fine, and they give Thanos a lot of interesting options in combat. But the ranged crush attack is a serious problem. It doesn’t seem to have any limits, and it doesn’t look like it can miss, so we’re left wondering why he doesn’t just use it to deal with all his enemies.
But that’s nothing compared to the Reality Stone. I’m honestly curious who thought this was a good idea. Thanos can literally reshape reality however he likes. He could have turned each and every one of the Avengers into marbles and just taken the remaining stones for himself. Or I guess he could use it once to set up a harsh burn on his daughter’s boyfriend. Either one really.
Thanos is a villain, so he can accommodate more power than a hero, but even villains have limits. He’s so strong that he should end any fight before it starts. The only explanation for why he doesn’t is that he just didn’t feel like it.
How to Fix It
First, we’re actually going to increase the strength of the Soul and Mind Stones. It’s just disappointing that two of the all-powerful Infinity Stones don’t do anything. The Mind stone is easy: he can mind-control people the same way Loki did in The Avengers. This would give Thanos some needed flexibility, even if we limit the effect to being temporary. As a limitation, he would presumably need physical contact.
The Soul Stone is trickier, since most of its conceivable uses would already be covered by the Mind Stone. However, we also see that the Soul Stone is somehow connected to death, so I’d give it the ability to summon ghost-minions. That would give Thanos an incentive to fight in places where there’s been a lot of death, which is cool and creepy. Having more minions would also make it easier for multiple good guys to battle Thanos at once. In the current films, it often looks like the heroes are taking turns to fight him one on one.
The Power and Time Stones can stay just the way they are. They’re good stones. For the Space Stone, let’s take out that insta-kill crush attack. It’s a pain, and Thanos already has a ranged attack from the Power Stone. Instead, Thanos should make more use of his portals. Those could be really useful in combat, but he employs them almost exclusively for fast travel.
Finally, there’s the Reality Stone. The ability to shape reality can stay, but it needs to be way more limited. I would say that he can only alter whatever he can touch, and that it’s a slow process. So he could use the Reality Stone to prepare a battlefield to his liking, but he couldn’t turn all his enemies into slinkies. In battle, if he could get hold of someone, he could also use the Reality Stone to slowly disintegrate them or what have you. That’s powerful, but not story-breaking, since Thanos can already crush nearly anything he gets his hands on.
The more powers you include in your story, the more likely it is that at least one of them will be overpowered. You might notice that every entry on this list comes from stories where powers are super common. The superhero genre alone accounts for half of them. Not only are overpowered abilities more likely in these genres, but they can be especially annoying. Fans of these stories tune in to watch heroes clashing with their supernatural abilities. When those battles are one sided, they aren’t any fun to watch.
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