The One-Time Use Power

Back when I wrote my topic list, I had a bunch of examples for what I’m talking about here, but I forgot them.  Sorry about that.  I did remember one that really brings the general idea to the forefront.  Couldn’t find a video though, so let me example:

In the original ‘Teen Titans’ cartoon, one of the heroes fights the big villain at the end of the season and his body is badly damaged.  Don’t worry because he’s a cyborg . . . named Cyborg.  Not the point.  He’s unable to move until he suddenly realizes the reason the psychic villain can’t control him isn’t because of the tech, but his human will.  So, he suddenly repairs himself by absorbing the surrounding evil, full robot copies of himself and saves the day.  When asked if he’s got new powers, he states that he’s pretty sure it was a one time thing.  In other words, this incredible regeneration ability appeared and will never return.

This is a common trick in stories where the character stumbles onto a power, skill, or tool that is exactly what they need.  It might not be what they use right away, but it comes in handy at a climactic moment.  Once it’s used, the ability or tool disappears.  Sometimes there’s an explanation like it’s a potion or certain environmental factors allowed it to occur this once.  There are also stories where it’s used . . . and nobody ever mentions what happened again.  That guy just unloaded a massive energy wave that turned every zombie into a harmless Go-Go Dancer?  Let’s not talk about such things because then it might have to happen again.

Don’t get me wrong though.  It isn’t always a bad thing and you can make it work if it fits the character.  Being a natural evolution or addition to their already established set of abilities means it’s a possibility.  They could simply not have any idea how to do it again or decide it’s too dangerous.  Again, we find that a reason really should be given.  These are great set pieces to create that ‘awesome’ moment, but some authors tend to forget that things happen afterwards.  Only way to avoid it is if you do this at the finale and never return to the characters.  Totally fair, but it is a shame if there ends up being more that you can tell.

Kind of related is something with video games too.  Ever see a character do something killer attacks in a cut scene or they’re insanely difficult when you fight against them?  Then, you get to use them and they aren’t able to do anything of the things that you either saw or had trouble with.  It’s a major inconsistency and I’m starting to see it in movies recently.  That exhilarating scene in the trailer might not be in the movie, which can be very disappointing.  Sadly, I think many people do focus so much on flash and one-upping the previous big move that they forget to reuse things or carry them over when the situation changes.

So, what do you think about one-time use powers?  Have any examples?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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27 Responses to The One-Time Use Power

  1. We watched the first “Iron Man” as a family, and I remembered Pepper Potts got superpowers in one i of the others -what happened with that?
    Also wondered if your in favor of the one-time use. I’d expect you not to be, since that idea seems inconsistent and messy.

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    • Gah! Tablet editing! You’re*

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    • She got them in Iron Man 3, but they were barely controlled. Think they would have killed her too, so Tony cured her after she saved his butt . . . again. I don’t think he beat any of his movie villains on his own.

      I’m okay with the one-time use of it works for the story. It could be built up as such and the character is saving it. There could be a downside in that using it means you’re weakened, so it’s impossible to do again. So there are situations where it works. Nyx in my first series has a spell that she only does once because it’s utterly gross and too risky.

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    • Like Charles says, it was Iron Man 3. The thing I most remember is that he basically says, “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll get rid of your powers for you” without actually asking if that’s what she wanted. Sure, she was dismayed. Her line was something like, “That was so violent!” But could she have adjusted? Since she’s in a relationship with a guy who has a big shiny target on his back, would it maybe be a good idea for her to have her own means of defense? But no, they gave her the powers and then yoinked them away so she could be menaced again whenever the script called for it.

      I was very glad to see that 30-second bit at the finale of End Game where Pepper has her own suit of armor. The character is strong in many ways, but she needed some way to defend herself when Tony couldn’t be there.

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      • Your “gave her the powers and then yoinked them away so she could be menaced again whenever the script called for it” is how I felt about it! 😀

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      • Looked more into it after I responded to Deby. The extremis powers Pepper got were actually a side effect of the virus Killian infected her with. This means:

        1. She didn’t want them in the first place. Hence her being scared and upset after killing the bad guy.

        2. The virus was stated to still be unstable. While she had powers, Pepper was still at risk of exploding. Especially since the angrier one gets, the hotter and more in danger she is. Killian handled it by keeping his temper in check, but you saw him start losing control near the end.

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      • While it wasn’t done well, it was established that her powers had big downsides. One was difficulty in controlling and the other was it came with a big rage. Also, the powers were forced upon her, so she never wanted them. In fact, she didn’t seem to like them at all and only used them out of berserker mode. Pepper Potts in the comics is supposed to get her own suit as Rescue, which makes more sense considering her resources and contacts.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    The only example I can offer is a guy fro the first season of Heroes who absorbed the ability of someone else and became a human time bomb on the edge of exploding. Definitely a one-time only power in that respect (though his ability to absorb the powers of others was a season-long thing). And yes, this happened at the end of the season.

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  3. I never thought of this one-time power thing but can tell you if I saw a trailer with something spectacular in it and it didn’t show up the movie, I would be ticked off for sure.

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  4. I’ve done this, but always in the form of an item. One use, and gone forever. I kind of need to do it again, but haven’t gotten the right idea yet. Doesn’t matter right now, because that story is a couple of years out.

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  5. V.M.Sang says:

    A one-time item is OK. It can vanish once used. A one-time ability is something different, though. How about if it also damages the person using it, but if the damage is repaired, the ability is lost. Hmm. I must think about that one. Perhaps I can use it myself somewhere.

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    • The move causing damage to the user is a good way to do it. Sacrificing ones life for a big move is fairly common in action anime/manga too. Just finished one where the big move requires the user dies afterwards.

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  6. Authors and screenwriters can be under tremendous pressure to finish stories under a deadline, or to cap things off with some sort of amazing effect. But a really good writer will figure out a way to explain where the power comes from and why it could never work again.

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