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No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.
Rule 22, The Evil Overlord List

A major danger of energy sensors, Energy Absorption and Deflector Shields is the risk of a Phlebotinum Overload. Too much energy thrown at a given piece of Applied Phlebotinum can cause a catastrophic Phlebotinum Breakdown. If enough energy was thrown at the target in the first place, the resulting explosion can resemble a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Differs from Explosive Overclocking in that the Applied Phlebotinum is here being used to protect against the incoming energy (from an outside source such as Energy Weapons or Ki Attacks), rather than having Tim Taylor Technology applied to it.

May cause a Heroic RROD and/or Superpower Meltdown.

Not to be confused with Phlebotinum Overdose.

Overclocking Attack is a specific subtrope.

Examples of Phlebotinum Overload include:

Anime & Manga

  • Yu Yu Hakusho: Kuwabara vs. Byakko. Kuwabara repeatedly attacks Byakko with his spirit sword, the beast absorbing the spirit energy and growing with each attack. Eventually, he absorbs so much that he bloats up and gets propelled away by the "worst case of gas [Yusuke's] ever seen!"
  • Beyblade: Michael, the american team captain loses when his weaponised spinning top builds up more power than it can handle.
  • Dragonball Z: Goku vs. Yakon. Goku feeds Yakon so much "pure light" (the aura of his ki when he is transformed into a Super Saiyajin) that the monster explodes.
  • In One Piece, if anybody eats more then one Devil's fruit, they explode. This info is very important as probable Big Bad above all BigBads in the show Blackbeard is able to do it, albeit via unknown means.
  • The Super Dimension Fortress Macross has this happen when its omni-directional barrier overloaded.
  • In Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, the shadows can overload synchro cannons.
  • The first confrontation between Arika and Nina in Mai-Otome, and the one between Nina and Miyu.
  • When Naruto is captured by the chakra-absorbing Pain's body and has his chakra drained, he cleverly starts gathering sage chakra, knowing that it will be absorbed. The result? Pain's body turns into a stone frog.
  • There was one battle in Pokémon where the opposing trainer's Kingdra gets ready to launch a Hydro Pump, only to be countered by Ash's Totodile by biting the Kingdra on the mouth until the water that was supposed to be shot out overloads and sends Kingdra flying like a Jigglypuff filled with gas.
  • The first instance of this in Witchblade causes Shiori to turn into a crystalline statue, and then shatter into a pile of glittery dust.
  • Kinnikuman has Buffaloman trying to absorb the main character's Burning Inner Strength. It proves to be too much for his body to handle and he quickly reinserts it into his victim.


  • Marvel Universe character Sebastian Shaw's mutant power of absorbing kinetic energy is pretty useful, but can be circumvented if you drop something on him quick and hard enough.
  • Bishop, the X-Men's resident Energy Absorber, can be overloaded given enough time and fuel. This usually results in a fairly splashy explosion, though he himself is rarely injured from it... well, except maybe his uniform.
    • In the Havok/Wolverine 4-part graphic novel, Havok almost experiences a Phlebotinum Overload when he absorbs the radiation from inside a nuclear reactor. He has to shoot all the absorbed energy out into space to prevent it.
      • In a later storyline, Havok gets dropped into a star. He absorbs a ridiculous amount of energy and uses some of it to propel himself out. Luckily, the Big Bad of the story is right in front of him afterward, providing a convenient target for all that energy.
  • The Parasite, an energy vampire in Superman comics, is normally able to absorb Superman's energy with no ill-effects, but there have been a few occasions when an overpowered Superman caused him to lose control.
    • Marvel's Expy of the Parasite in Squadron Supreme, the Lamprey, actually exploded after this happened to him. He didn't get better.
  • The Absorbing Man, in his first battle with Thor, tried to absorb the power of the Earth. He blew up.
  • Starfire and her sister got most of their powers from an alien race experimenting with when the phlebotinum actually overloads. They were stopped at the last moment.
  • X Factor's Strong Guy can absorb the kinetic energy from anything that strikes him and add it to his own strength. When he was punched by the Hulk, the power was too great for his body to handle and he had a heart attack.
  • Subverted in Marvel Universe: The End, when Thanos finds that the only way to win is to absorb the Heart of the Universe, but it's noted and warned that this might happen, however he actually does manage to control it (although he gives it up later)

Fan Works

Films — Live Action

  • The Ang Lee Hulk features the Absorbing Man (who is also Banner's father) trying to absorb all the power of the Hulk. Banner gladly lets him do so, and Absorbing Man is ecstatic, until he explodes from... something.
  • In Firestarter 2: Rekindled, the boy Cody has the ability to absorb energy. He uses this against Charlie but finds out too late that he can't absorb everything she gives him and explodes.


  • In Dune, hitting a shield with a lasgun beam results in a nuclear explosion. It will always result in the destruction of the shield and the lasgun in question, but the resulting explosion can vary from merely killing the users to stronger-than-nuclear.
  • In the Keith Laumer book Rogue Bolo, the phlebotimum in question is a "universal catalyst" — used to make an alien crystalline beast so big that it breaks under its own weight, burying the titular Bolo in the process. This of course is done completely by the Bolo itself, from escaping its testing area, to fabricating the catalyst, to getting to the Moon, etc. As a Bolo is a intelligent supertank weighing in at around 30,000 TONS, how it's able to do all this covertly AND without notifying the humans that supposedly control it, is a handwaved mystery. It does account for the "rogue" in the title, though.
  • Warships in the Niven/Pournelle ~Mote In God's Eye~ stories are protected by shields that absorb all energy directed at them — up to a point. Go beyond the capacity, and all the absorbed energy is released. Inward.

Live Action TV

  • Mahou Sentai Magiranger and its American adaptation, Power Rangers Mystic Force: In the final episode, the Big Bad, who feeds on the magic of others, is finally defeated when the Rangers draw on the strength of their "infinite courage" (Magiranger) or the faith of the citizens and magical forest dwellers (Mystic Force) to feed him more magic than he can handle. Result: kerblooey.
  • In Star Trek, every time a panel explodes or the warp core breaches when phasers or torpedoes hit the shields. Lampshaded in the subtitle commentary for the Directors Cut of Star Trek II with Micheal Okuda idly wondering if Starfleet ships even have surge protectors or circuit breakers.
  • One word: Naquadriah. In Stargate SG-1, it is an isotope of extreme power and even more extreme unreliability. Before the advent of ZPMs, it was generally considered the most potent power source in the galaxy, but no-one could harness the power for anything other than rather nasty explosions (which might be seen as a metaphor for nuclear fusion — everyone knows nuclear fusion would be incredibly powerful, but right now the only fusion we can reliably produce is in bombs).
  • After the discovery of ZPMs, the heroes of Stargate Atlantis found a source that was even more powerful. Unfortunately, activating it would inherently create exotic particles that violate the laws of physics. Attempts to use the technology destroyed five sixth of a solar system and permanently damaged a parallel universe whose fate is unknown.
  • In the Smallville episode "Persona", the blue kryptonite that was establised to remove Clarks powers in a previous episode instead increases the powers of Bizarro, too much and...
  • In the final battle of Kamen Rider Double, the Utopia Dopant tries to absorb the power of CycloneJokerXtreme; it actually causes scarring on the hand he attempts to use.

Tabletop Games

  • Happens with regularity when the Warp gets involved in Warhammer 40000, usually to fatal consequences. Unless it goes badly. Then what happens doesn't bear thinking about.
  • This is cited as the reason fire damages Prometheans so badly — the Divine Fire that gives them life is overstimulated when put in direct contact with flame. Electricity can stir up the "like attracts like" quality to heal Prometheans, but exposure to fire is like taking a human's natural tendency to heal all the way into cancer territory.
    • What's more, if a Promethean screws up badly enough while channeling Pyros (the "consumable" form of the Divine Fire), it can touch off a Firestorm. Firestorms have a number of effects, ranging from "burning-hot rain" to "hallucinations of your dead friends" to "raise corpses to attack those in the area", but the end results are rarely if ever even slightly positive for those in the vicinity.
  • Parapsychics in Cthulhu Tech have a minor problem. If they overuse their abilities and Cast From Hit Points, they tend to Burn. And while Burning, their abilities are vastly increased.
  • In the first version of Dungeons & Dragons' Manual of the Planes, any living creature entering the Positive Energy Plane regain 1d20 Hit Points by round, even gaining them above its full total. A quick and efficient way of healing or supercharging oneself, hu? Problem his, if the Hit Points ever reach twice said total... you explode.


  • In Bionicle, the Toa Nuva allow the Bohrok Kal to absorb all of their power. The Kal are unable to control the power, causing them to overload and destroy themselves with their own powers.

Video Games

Web Comics

  • In Fans!, Cassiopeia Chattan the emotion-vampire falls for this twice, gorging herself until she collapses. It's pointed out that she can stop absorbing whenever she feels like it; she's just a glutton.
  • In Drowtales, Sene'kha explains that despite their seed, attempting to summon a Demon God would overwhelm the best of casters. Of course there's an exception...
  • In ~8-Bit Theater~ this is the ultimate fate of Sarda after absorbing the power of the elemental orbs and Black Mage's evil, transforming him into the earthly vessel for Chaos He was not happy about it.

 Sarda: My plans will not be undone by such amateur-hour horseshit as absorbing too much power and exploding.


Web Original

  • In Madness Abrogation, the Auditor suffers this throughout the flash, and as Hank learns to channel the lightning through his organic Power Fist, the Auditor starts absorbing all the dead dudes that Hank killed (as well as several others). Everything goes well until he makes the mistake of absorbing the remains of the Clown, leading to the Auditor's demise.

Western Animation

  • Parodied in Futurama, "Where No Fan Has Gone Before". Leela tries to defeat Melllvar by feeding him too much energy, "like too much air in a balloon," until he explodes. Instead, he just gets more powerful, "like a balloon, and something bad happens!"
  • One of the early animated Superman shows has a plot with a bad guy getting hold of an energy-absorbing cream. After using it to steal the strength of several random people, he's strong enough to take on Superman. He beats him, but absorbing that much strength is too much for his body, and he explodes (inexplicably giving Superman back his strength).
  • Used on Phineas and Ferb, "The Chronicles of Meap", as Isabella overloads Phineas's "cute tracker". Though he knew it would happen, and had it set to ignore her initially.
  • In Transformers Animated, Sari tries to upgrade herself with the Allspark Key... and ends up absorbing all of its energy, which leads to an uncontrolable rampage as she loses control of her upgrades.
  • In Batman the Animated Series, Bane is defeated by breaking the Venom pumping controls.
  • In the Superman the Animated Series episode "Legacy", Superman defeats Darkseid by covering Darkseid's eyes right when he's about to use his Omega Beams. The resulting explosion does far more damage to Darkseid, and it shows.
  • In Wakfu episode 22, Rubilax the major Shushu is freed from the sword to fight Sadlygrove. The hero soon discovers that, the more you hit the demon, the bigger and stronger he becomes. So what does Grovy do? He Use His Head, repeatedly, on Rubilax until the demon is so huge and heavy that he starts sinking in the desert sand. Unwilling to die from suffocation, the Shushu has no choice but to return to his prison.
  • In The New Adventures of Superman, Superman deals with the Parasite by letting him absorb his nigh-infinite powers until he simply explodes, fatally.

Real Life

  • Sonar is subject to this. In World War II one could lose a contact right after dropping a pattern of depth charges because of all the noise spilling around.
  • Caffeine overdose.