Super Serum

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
And be sure to drink it all, because sometimes the good stuff is on the bottom.

Victor Mancha: Wait, Back up. Your secret origin is drugs? Doesn't that kinda set a bad example for little kids?
Cloak: I am not your ROLE MODEL!

A hero who doesn't have his powers or abilities naturally, but has to get them from a process of digestion or injection of a specialized compound. For obvious reasons, depictions of this took a nosedive due to Media Watchdogs, as depicting heroes taking what seemed to be drugs became a strict no-no.

Heroes nowadays may get such treatments only once, often involuntarily (due to evil experimentation) or as formal medical treatments. You're most likely to see this being done by villains, with an Anvilicious addiction metaphor in effect.

Power-Up Food is the case when the abilities come from common foodstuffs. Applied to enough people at once, and it becomes a Mass Super-Empowering Event. If (as in the case of Captain America (comics), pictured left) only one person gets it, it's a Disposable Superhero Maker. A Superhuman Transfusion (especially if it's from someone who drank Super Serum) usually has the same effects.

Compare Psycho Serum and Bottled Heroic Resolve. See also Power Source and Spice of Life. For a similar trope in commercials, see Cereal-Induced Superpowers.

Examples of Super Serum include:

Anime and Manga

  • Eighth Man was a Cyberpunk Superhero who recharged himself (and his powers) through special cigarettes. His were the only cybernetics that didn't eat ones soul in the series. The OVA Revival Eight Man After used plain old experimental Super Serum—in contrast to the Psycho Serum all the other cyborgs had to use.
  • Naruto: Although his abilities don't center around them, Chouji's food pills can increase his chakra supply dramatically, allowing him to use more powerful attacks more often. These leave him burnt out afterwards at best, in critical condition at worst.
    • As do Kiba and Akamaru's battle pills, which had been mostly abandoned by the ninja corps due to the side effect of not being able to move for three days after a ten-minute dose.
  • Osamu Tezuka's superhero Big X (best known in the West for various cameo appearances he put in in various Astro Boy productions) got his powers from a Super Soldier serum his father was forced to develop for the Axis Powers during WWII. The drug was injected & came in two stages, one shot to make him Nigh Invulnerable & another turned him into a giant. In the anime this was changed to a pendant that emitted special EM waves due to Media Watchdogs concerns about the similarity to the then-emerging Heroin epidemic.
  • One Piece, of course. There are badass normals everywhere, and they can frequently match up against the likes of the super powered individuals just fine. But after consumption of a Devil Fruit, you get some sort of super power. Logia allow you to control and turn yourself into an element, Zoans give you shapeshifting and increased physical abilites, and Paramecia grant random, often strange powers such as the ability to produce wax or soap bubbles. But occasionally extremely powerful ones like Whitebeards Quake Quake fruit show up as well.
    • The Fishman Island arc has the Fantastic Drug, Energy Steroid. One pill doubles the user's strength but cuts years off their life. That last part is quite literal: constant abuse ages Hody's crew from their prime to old men within a day.
  • The origin story of the hero of City Hunter is a bizarre instance of attributing cool powers to an actual illegal drug. According to the story, Ryo was born in poverty in Central America, and ended up used as a test subject and injected with a form of LSD. Rather than screwing with his mind, this instead gave him superhuman reflexes and a heightened sex drive, including Gag Penis.
  • Ako's artefact as revealed in chapter 304 of Mahou Sensei Negima.
  • The drugs used by the Extended in Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny, which also double as a Psycho Serum. It has profoundly negative effects on the user, including fatal withdrawal symptoms.
  • In Kurozuka, the blood of the immortal vampire Kuromitsu can give both immortality and Super Strength to those who take it--if they survive, which most don't.

Comic Books

  • In the Marvel Universe:
    • Captain America (comics) got his powers this way, and failed attempts to recreate the Super-Soldier serum are common plot points in both the regular and Ultimate universes.
      • For instance, the 1950s impostor Captain America used a Nazi German variant of the formula to enhance his body. However, he learned the hard way that is not enough; the subject taking the serum then has to have it activated and stabilized in his body by a radiological treatment using "Vita-Rays" in order to take it into his system safely.
      • Omega Red was a failed Soviet attempt at making the serum as well as giving Red tendrils in his arms made of carbonadium (an alloy of adamantium). While Omega Red did gain most of Caps powers, he is basically constantly dying and has to drain the life-force of others in order to live (fortunately for him his mutant powers along with his tendrils can do just that). Apparently something called the "C-Synthesizer" will cure him of his condition.
      • Interestingly, in Avengers: The Initiative, the original doctor who created the Super-Soldier Serum discovered similar results could be achieved with a perfect diet and an extremely specialized exercise program, which resulted in his grandson Michael Van Patrick having the same peak physical condition naturally. The research was not classified or ever used by the military because they wanted a quick fix; the natural super soldier would take a lifetime of dedication to produce. Unless you get your hands on one and just clone him over and over, of course.
    • The Sentry is a metafictional send-up of many Comic Book Tropes. Not only did he get his powers by taking "the Professor's secret serum", but comics-that-never-happened from the 1980s showed it blossoming into a full addiction metaphor. Later, it's revealed that he originally drank it hoping to get high.
    • Patriot (Elijah Bradley) from Young Avengers is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, the "first" Captain America, but his mother was conceived before Isaiah was experimented on, so he did not inherit his grandfather's powers. When Iron Lad came to recruit Elijah's brother, Elijah claimed to have gained superpowers through an emergency blood transfusion, but really was gaining powers artificially with MGH (Mutant Growth Hormone), an illegal street drug that causes brief periods of super-human abilities. Once discovered he stopped taking the MGH but went into battle anyway, was grievously wounded... and got an emergency blood transfusion from his grandfather, thus gaining superpowers.
    • Vintage Heroes Cloak and Dagger were phased out for a while because their back story involved pharmaceutical testing (of the extremely involuntary kind). This is Lampshaded brutally in every scene they appear in when they make a comeback in the Runaways series. Every time they explain their back story another character says "So you got your powers from drugs, I bet the parent groups love you" to which Cloak usually declares that he is not supposed to be a role model. This is brought up again later where a modified version of the drug that gave Cloak his powers is mixed with mutant growth hormone and sold on the black market as the drug Darkforce, with the slogan "You wanna go night flying?" Superpowers are quite the buzz, apparently.
    • A recent Retcon in Ultimate X-Men is that this version of Colossus needs the mutant enhancement drug "Banshee" to be able to so much as move his limbs in his organic steel form.
    • More in the superpower-causers-equalling-drugs: There was an article in one issue of Year In Review, a tongue-in-cheek in-universe magazine, about Pym poppers, kids who took Pym particles to shrink and grow. This always backfired.
    • As far as anyone at this point is able to understand, pretty much everything in the Ultimate Marvel universe involving superpowers are derived from attempted recreations of Captain America's Super Serum. Which in turn was reverse engineered from Wolverine, in the same experiments that created mutants.
  • The various Green Goblins and Hobgoblins from Spider-Man comics used a serum that involved this trope mixed with a little bit of Psycho Serum since the Goblin formula increased a person's strength and intellect but also made them Ax Crazy.
  • In The DCU:
    • Hourman got his powers from the "miraculous vitamin" Miraclo, which gave those who took it superhuman strength and speed for exactly one hour. Miraclo turned out to be addictive, and both the Golden Age Hourman and his son who took up his mantle had to fight the addiction. (He currently takes a non-addictive "homeopathic" version of Miraclo.)
    • Batman villain Bane (who also appeared in Batman: The Animated Series) got his superhuman strength from Venom, a steroid-like chemical. In a Continuity Nod, it later appears in Batman Beyond as a street drug and future-Bane has become a wheelchair-bound invalid due to the damage a lifetime of Venom use wrought on his body. In the comics, he also suffered severe problems from continued Venom use, but eventually got himself clean and now relies solely on his (considerable) natural strength.
    • Elongated Man gets his stretchy power from a substance called Gingold—usually fatal in its pure form, Elongated Man's metagene fortunately allowed him to drink it as much as he wanted.
    • Johnny Quick, The Mirror Universe Evil Twin of the Flash, uses an extract of his predecessor's blood to give him super-speed powers.
    • B'Wana Beast used a mystic elixir from somewhere in Africa, though his 'base' was at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. His mask-slash-helmet allowed him to control animals, though the elixir allowed him to fuse two animals into one... which he could control with the helmet.
    • Also The Creeper got his strength and agility from a super serum, later changed into nanocell serum. In Batman: The Animated Series his powers came from the very same acid bath that created the Joker.
  • The French Asterix books concern an entire Gallic town which fends off Roman domination by use of a magic potion which grants superhuman strength. In one entry, Asterix entered the (original Greek) Olympic games, only to be penalised for use of the potion (rather like steroid use in the modern Olympics, which is sort of funny since the original Olympics encouraged the use of performance enhancing drugs since it made for more interesting competitions). He finally won a race by tricking all opponents into using the potion previously mixed with a blue food colorant.
  • The Top Ten comic series, which is a Homage to comic book tropes to begin with, has a whole subculture of power-granting drugs, such as "goose juice" that gives Super Speed.
  • Bamse gets his super-ursine strength from "dunderhonung", thunderhoney, which is disqualified from being Power-Up Food because it is not just regular honey, but has to be mixed correctly with various herbs and spices (the working ingredient is appearently a rare flower that only grows on a single island in the Aegean, guarded by a seven-headed monster). However, something like Ralph Dibney's metagene above must also be involved, since most people just gets three days of stomach cramps from eating dunderhonung, and it seems to run in the family.
  • One of the ongoing plot threads in Empire centers around discovering the secret of the production of Eucharist, a highly addictive substance that supercharges the abilities of those who take it. People under its influence can dodge bullets, and the high is described as being "Better Than Sex."
  • Daniel Clowes Captain America parody "The Battlin' American" has horrible addiction problems requiring him to take regular doses of the super serum. The street thugs who steal it from him find this out the hard way.
  • In the comic prequel to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Doctor Horrible makes a super-serum using Captain Hammer's DNA. However, while he does gain Hammer's Super Strength and endurance, his intelligence is reduced to his level as well, resulting in a mindless series of Megaton Punches, until Horrible takes the antidote, becoming smart again but also scrawny and weak.


  • The lead character in the film Senseless gained Super Senses through a regimen of injections given to him as part of a pharmaceutical test.
  • The protagonist John Grimm of Doom film adaptation injects himself with a 24th chromosome which boosts his physical capabilities enormously, enabling him to plough his way through a building full of ravenous mutated monsters.
  • In 2008's The Incredible Hulk, the source of the Abomination's powers is a double dose of the Marvel Universe's fabled Rebirth Project super-soldier serum , combined with a blood transfusion from Bruce Banner. This appears to have been done as part of an effort to provide visible ties between Marvel Studios' adaptations of their canon characters - in this case, laying groundwork for the Captain America film.
    • Actually, even Banner's mutation into the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is due to his experimentation with the original serum. A combination of the fact that he didn't know what he was doing (the military had told him the work was for radiation resistance) and his replacing Vita-Rays with Gamma radiation led to his transformation.
  • In the |Bowery Boys movie Hold That Line, Sach mixes a bunch of random chemicals together and drinks down the mixture. The potion turns Sach into a super-athlete. Inverted later in the movie when Slip tries to replicate the formula. Slip gives the potion to the college Dean, who shrinks in size.
  • In the 2011 movie Limitless the main character uses a drug to become super smart.
  • After defeating his arch-nemesis Metro Man, Megamind decides to give Metro Man's superpowers to a random guy who would become the next champion of Metro City. He extracts Metro Man's DNA from some dandruff on his cape and accidentally injects it into Hal the cameraman.
  • In Big Trouble in Little China, Egg Shen gives the heroes a potion just before the final showdown that will make them more heroic. It seems to work. Wang, at least, is able to jump superhuman distances.


  • Captain Underpants didn't have superpowers initially, but gained them after drinking some literal Super Serum off of an alien spaceship in book three. This simply complicated things further, naturally.
  • Wild Cards plays the "Super Serum = drugs" thing for all it's worth with Captain Trips, a genius biochemist, "the world's last hippie," and one of the most powerful Aces on the planet. He manages to bring each of his "friends" (alternate personalities each with their owns set of superpowers) out with "special concoctions" he makes himself. His first accidental transformation was primarily fueled by his first hit of acid.
  • Melange, or spice, drives the Dune series—it not only extends lifespans, it enables FTL Travel and, in large doses, triggers precognition.
    • Not entirely. FTL Travel is enabled by the Holtzmann generator and is possible without spice, but you're running the risk of ending up inside a star or a planet 1 out of 5 times. It's the above-mentioned precognition that allows the Nagigators to plot a safe course through space.
  • The 39 Clues series is all about gathering 39 ingredients, or "Clues", to create a Super Serum that gives you the abilities of each of the four "branches" of the family searching for it - the cunning of the Lucians, the intelligence of the Ekaterinas, the strength of the Tomas, and the artistic talent of the Janus - feasibly allowing you to rule the world. These Clues include all kinds of ingredients, from harmless ones you can find in a grocery store such as honey, salt, and mint to highly toxic substances like mercury, lead, and king cobra venom.

Live Action TV

  • Late in the third series of The 4400, the Government trained up a squad of superpowered soldiers through a programme of injections of promicin, the neurotransmitter that gives the 4400 their abilities.
  • A live TV example would be the sixties show Mr. Terrific - essentially Hourman again (not related to the comic book Mr. Terrific). A government agency came up with a pill that made 99% of humans sick, but gave nerdy Stanley Beamish the buffs (BFS - bulletproof flying strongman). Whenever a secret mission came along, Stanley would be given the 1 hour main pill and 2 15 minute boosters - one of which he would need in every episode due to power cutout.
  • By Season 3 of Heroes Mohinder has developed a serum that gives people powers and used it to give himself Super Strength.
  • In The Secret World of Alex Mack, Alex is doused in the chemical GC-161, which not only gives her the power to melt, levitate things and shoot lightning bolts, but also sets the Corrupt Corporate Executive to hunting her down.
  • The Henshin One-Shot in Kamen Rider Faiz's movie Paradise Lost allows the user to be able to use Kamen Rider Kaixa's Rider Gear. But, like it's name states, it's only good once. After that, it causes the Kaixa Gear to dissolve into dust.
  • An episode of Series\The Invisible Man had a scientist rob a sperm bank full of sperm of geniuses and make a serum out of it that gives anyone he injects with it enormous intelligence. Of course, it turns out that people weren't meant to be so smart, as all of them end up burning out within days.

Tabletop Games

  • In the Rifts pen-and-paper RPG, the "Juicer" character class gain their superhuman abilities from a constant feed of intravenous drugs. The drawbacks are addiction, permanent organ damage in two years (making removal problematic), and death within seven. Of course, as most are shock troops and mercenaries, many die in combat long before that.
  • Part of the extensive, complex, long and dangerous process of creating Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines is being steadily injected with a serum derived from the gene-seed of the chapter's Primarch- in turn derived from The Emperor himself (the other steps include bionics, numerous organ implants, and Training from Hell).
    • In James Swallow's Red Fury, Rafen and his company come up against foes who inject themselves; Rafen is familiar with Bottled Heroic Resolve, and explicitly aware that this is far more. For one thing, they rise up from apparent death with them.

Video Games

  • The video game Galerians was centred around a boy named Rion, who had powerful latent psychic abilities he needed to consume drugs to use. His addiction caused him to waste away slowly.
  • Another video game example—before Adaptation Decay set in, Final Fantasy VII's SOLDIERs were 'showered with Mako energy', and injected with cells from Jenova, an alien being—which gave them strength enough to lift their favoured BFSes, as well as Glowing Eyes of Doom, a hallmark side effect. Other side-effects involve the hearing of voices and general loss of sanity. As Adaptation Decay took hold, however, the process became less semi-scientific and progressively more magical.
    • It actually does retain the semi-scientific stance; the only significant change between the original game and Crisis Core (for example) is that Jenova cells are not injected as a matter of course. The mako energy process was also changed from "showered with" to "infused with". It doesn't necessarily make the SOLDIER operative super-strong, but it does allow them to do things that normal humans are not capable of (jumping really high, summoning magic without materia, etc).
      • And the Jenova cells are a normal part of the procedure. The only exception I can think of is Weiss of Deepground. Super Strength is also pretty much standard, though third class operatives aren't that much stronger than the average fighter. Not sure where in the games (or the movie the "magic without materia" thing comes from. The closest is Zack being able to call up summons without the materia being equipped.
    • Not to mention that the original game was a victim of Blind Idiot Translation, which makes using the English version as a source for canon info problematic, to say the least.
  • In Resident Evil 5, Wesker needs a frequent and precise dose of the virus running through his body in order to keep his superpowers and still stay (relatively) human-looking. This becomes the major gimmick of the penultimate boss fight, where the protagonists give Wesker an intentional overdose of the serum, and send him into a Villainous Breakdown.
  • In City of Heroes the enemy group The Freakshow are cyberpunks powered by a drug called Excelsior, the Troll gang by massive overdoses of street drug Superadyne (or superdyne, or just 'Dyne), and with the release of the Superscience booster pack, players can change their costume by way of emotes that have them either drinking a potion from an Erlenmeyer flask or shooting up in the arm with a vial of the titular trope.
  • Mario's Fire Flower.
  • Prototype's Super Soldiers get their superhuman abilities from being injected with a strain of The Virus that has beneficial properties and none of the downsides.
  • Runescape has the Combat Potion made from Harralander herbs which can improve your stregth and reflexes but most of all the herb in general has energy stimulating properties.
  • Inazuma Eleven has Aquas of the Gods (Ambrosia) is the Super Serum drink final bosses use to power themselves up to god level by making them able to uses skills without costing TP. This cranks up even more in the anime as they were almost invicible themselves without that drink.
  • Deus Ex has "physiopharmaceutical" augmentation for the Men in Black, which among others makes them seriously Made of Iron.
  • In Freedom Force, the Domain's secret weapon is Energy X, which they have used to conquer all dimensions except this one. In order to have some fun, Lord Dominion decides to give Energy X canisters to Earth's worst criminals and watch them tear apart the planet. An alien named Mentor steals the ship containing the canisters and takes it to Earth, hoping to give it to good people to defend themselves and the others. The ship is shot down in orbit, and the canisters fall all over Patriot City and other parts of the world (Bullet is exposed all the way in Vietnam). Both good and bad people get hit with Energy X and transformed into superheroes and supervillains, respectively. Apparently, a super's blood can also act as super-serum, as Liberty Lad gets his powers from a transfusion of Minuteman's blood.


  • Most of the heroes from Heroes Inc, a popular webcomic that makes use of public domain Golden Age characters, have taken serums that give them various powers and slow down their aging process.
  • In Girl Genius, the Jägermonsters are created by drinking a concoction invented by Vlad "The Blasphemous" Heterodyne, which remains a secret of the House Heterodyne, the only known component is the waters of a strange wellspring (implied to be a damaged relic of some Ancient God-Queen) that they built their castle over. The resulting "Jägerdraught" kills most humans who drank it, and those who survived claim that it was the worst thing they'd ever felt, but they "got der goot end ov der deal" — became nearly unkillable, immortal Super Soldiers.
    • The water of the river itself can also grant superhuman strength and stamina, but it's even more likely to kill anyone who bathes in it, let alone drinks it.

Web Original

  • Several characters from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe gained their powers through one of these. Most noable would be Achilles, leader of the titular superteam, and Alloy, a shiny metal supervillain with superhuman strength.
  • Every single character in Survival of the Fittest Evolution that takes part in the game gets their power via an injection of chemicals. Some of the powers are... questionably useful, though.

Western Animation

  • Roger Ramjet got his powers from "Proton Energy Pills".
  • Super Chicken, in his segment on George of the Jungle, had even more fun with this. The hero drinks a concoction known as Super Sauce... from a martini glass. Whether it really gives him any powers is also up for debate.
    • The double-strength and triple-strength varieties of Super Sauce definitely have some effect. They cause the mild mannered Henry Cabbot Henhouse the Third to explode, hospitalizing him and any schmuck who happens to be standing at Ground Zero with him.
  • As Underdog tells us, "The secret compartment of my ring I fill / With my Underdog Super Energy Pill." The film, naturally, opted for the Freak Lab Accident origin.
    • Sometimes, Underdog says "Energy Vitamin Pill" instead of "Super Energy Pill." This may have been an exhortation for children to take their daily vitamins. Then, perhaps because the notion of popping pills for speed and strength became bad, later broadcasts omitted the pills and had Underdog spontaneously (without explanation) recovering his superpowers.
  • One episode of Mighty Mouse ends with the titular hero contently smelling a flower. Some over-zealous Self-Appointed Moral Guardians, however, asserted that the Mouse was snorting opium poppies, and this eventually snowballed into the urban legend that Mighty Mouse gets his powers from cocaine (!).
  • In their Merchandise-Driven series, the Gummi Bears are a target for all number of villains because their magical Gummiberry juice temporarily grants superhuman strength to humans who drink it. (The juice allows the bears themselves to bounce much like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.)
  • Parodied in the fourth season episode of Futurama, "Less Than Hero", where an alien "Miracle Cream" temporarily gives Fry and Leela super powers.
  • An explosion of "meta-gas" during a gang feud on Static Shock gave Static and a bunch of other troubled teenagers in Dakota different powers. One Teen Genius Monster of the Week learned how to control it, and could grant himself different short-term powers through short-term exposure.
  • Parodied in the classic Bugs Bunny Wartime Cartoon "Super-Rabbit", among other places.
  • It's not technically Super Serum, but Popeye gets his powers explicitly by eating a can of spinach. Why no one else tries is this is unknown.
    • The movie implies that the ability to get super-strength from spinach was a family trait. In the original comics, the Sea Witch does try it on Alice the Goon. It's uncertain if it actually worked, partly because Popeye added milk to his spinach diet to make himself even stronger and partly because the Goon fell in love with Wimpy shortly after, leading the way to her sympathizing with Popeye and the gang. The last fight she has with Popeye breaks up rather quickly, as he sees the Goon has a child and won't hit a mother.
    • There actually was one episode where after Bluto starts sobbing about how he Popeye always beats him up, Popeye responds by feeding Bluto some of his spinach, causing Bluto to power up, and he immediately launches into a song about what a great guy Popeye is, while pausing to clobber him at every pause in the Melody.
  • In the Tom and Jerry episode Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, Tom tries to do away with Jerry by putting various poisonous substances in his milk, but it makes Jerry strong enough to violently body-slam Tom instead.

Real Life

  • In their origins, steroids were looked as if they were this: some magic serum that gave new soldiers muscles with no training whatsoever.
  • During the War of the Pacific Chilean soldiers developed a toxic drink nicknamed "La Chupilca del Diablo" (The Devil's Booze), which consisted of a mix of strong Aguardiente and black gunpowder. According to that era's records, the unholy mixture caused the Chilean soldiers to go absolutely berserker and able to ignore pain or fatigue, but because of the toxic nature of the drink, this Super Serum was only used on extreme situations. For the record, that war had Peru and Bolivia teaming up against Chile, and Chile won that war.
  • Scientists have actually developed a reliable supersoldier serum. However, it only works on ants.
  • The German military from 1938 throughout World War Two used liberally a compound of the dreaded methamphetamine (then known as Pervitin), under the hope it would give the soldiers and most importantly airmen superhuman performance. While the effects of meth as an insanely strong stimulant are known, the mild concentration used back then led the troopers to stay awake for weeks, raise themselves from total exhaustion, but it did not grant superhuman powers.