Not every superhero wears a cape. Likewise, not every superhero has actual superpowers. Some — many in fact — are ordinary human beings with no mutations or alien DNA to give them super strength or the ability to fly.
For a variety of reasons, these people have taken up the mantle of “Hero” and have sought to make their world a better, safer, place. The heroes on this list are people like the firefighters and rescue workers of our world, who simply risk their lives to be the difference they wish to see in the world.
Here are 14 Superheroes without any superpowers.
Let's start with the obvious. Arguably the most famous superhero on the planet, The Dark Knight is well known the world over. His origin story is equally well-known. Young Bruce Wayne is accompanying his parents on a family night out when they are mugged and his parents shot dead in front of him. He spends the next few decades honing his mind and body to near superhuman levels until he has become the ultimate crime fighter.
While his knowledge of the criminal mind is unequalled, he possesses the mind of a normal, if genius, human. Physically, he has honed his body to the very peak of what a human is capable of. His strength, agility, endurance and martial arts skills allow him to battle powered foes, but remain at human levels.
While Batman possesses no super powers, his dedication and skill set makes him one of the most formidable heroes in the DC universe, both feared and respected by heroes and villains alike.
13 Dick Grayson and the Bat Family
Batman, while incredible on his own, has taken on various protégés and partners over the years. His most famous sidekick, Robin, is a mantle that has been taken on by several young men and women over the years. The most famous, and successful, of these being Dick Grayson. The acrobat turned orphan becomes both Bruce Wayne’s ward and Batman’s sidekick, and is in many ways the equal to his mentor. Striking out on his own, he becomes the hero Nightwing, and like his mentor, he has no actual superpowers, but he uses his comprehensive training to become an incredible crime fighter. His natural agility, alongside his acrobatic training and Batman’s tutelage, makes him a superhero, if not super powered.
Other young men to take the mantle of Robin — Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Batman’s son Damian Wayne — are all likewise sans-super powers. Each brings their own unique element to the role though. Where Dick was an acrobat, Jason is a born fighter. Tim excels at the detective work, and Damien brings a dangerous edge to the mantle, having trained with the League of Assassins. Not all “Robins” have been men, though; Stephanie Brown, aka “Spoiler” once took the role also.
Besides Batman and Robin, the extended Bat-Family has included, but not been limited to, people such as Catwoman, various Batwomen and Batgirls, and stand-in Batman Jean Paul Valley.
While there is the argument that Gotham occasionally needs bigger guns such as Superman or Green Lantern to keep the peace, nobody understands the city of Gotham like Batman and the Bat-Family — or could ever be more effective.
12 Iron Man
“Take away the suit, what are you?”
“Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist.”
Iron Man is all that and more. Tony Stark, former weapons developer, builds a technological suit while in captivity and later continues to develop more and more powerful versions once released. Never one to stand still, the Marvel Comics version has developed well over 50 suits, each containing a wide variety of repulsor blasts, rocket boots, force fields, and even roller skates at one point.
Over time, Tony Stark’s armours have gotten so advanced that he interfaced with the technology of the suit via the “Extremis” virus. This merger of man and machine gave him the ability to interface not only with the suit, or even just Starktech, but with any computer system. While it could be argued this constitutes a superpower, it’s essentially an element of his suit that resides within his body, as opposed to outside it.
11 Captain America
Before the screaming starts, yes, he does possess a body enhanced by the super-soldier serum. However, it’s been stated numerous times, both in the comics and by the creators, that Captain America is at the theoretical peak of human physical ability. The serum took a frail young man with Polio and made him a perfect soldier, but it didn’t actually make him “super.”
One small, but notable, exception to this is that the serum does allow him a level of endurance beyond normal humans. He doesn’t build up fatigue toxins as quickly due to his metabolism, therefore he is capable of running at full sprint for longer than a regular human, or lifting greater weights for longer.
Like Batman, his real strengths come from his training and his character. He has trained with the very best martial artists and has developed a style of fighting that is totally unique to him. He also uses his nigh-indestructible shield to lethal effect. While his skill with the shield has been considered superhuman, both Hawkeye and Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes have used it effectively as well.
10 Black Widow
Like Captain America, The Black Widow has undergone some modifications. She has been exposed to certain treatments which have allowed her to live an extended lifespan without aging past her prime. She is also highly resistant to disease and infection, and heals at a slightly faster rate. Her ability to heal isn’t considered a superpower though, and it's nowhere close to the healing factors possessed by the mutants Wolverine or Deadpool.
Her skill set is a combination of her Olympic-level training and her psychological conditioning as part of the Soviet “Red Room.” Her training has made her as agile as a world-class ballerina and as lethal as any assassin on the planet. She has even taken shots with a sniper rifle that equal the best that expert marksmen such as Hawkeye or Bullseye could achieve.
Her hand to hand combat skills allow her to face off against powered, and equally skilled, combatants such as Wolverine or Iron Fist in training without fear of permanent injury.
The greatest archer in the Marvel Universe, it's said that Clint Barton never misses. Truthfully, this is an exaggeration, but it’s not too far wrong, either. He is an expert marksman, having been trained from childhood by the villain Trickshot. He is also an expert acrobat and fencer, having trained under Swordsman and Captain America.
Like most of the others on this list, he is at the very peak of human conditioning due to his training and lifestyle. His strength is impressive and seen most commonly when he draws his bow — the 250 pounds-force (1,100 newtons) necessary to draw back the string is more than most men could ever hope accomplish.
Alongside his skill with the bow, he has been seen to have uncanny accuracy with other objects too. He is one of the few capable of wielding Captain America’s shield as well as Cap can. During his time as Ronin, he abandoned the bow and relied on his martial arts skills and a sword primarily, although he did opt to use conventional firearms when confronting the Dark Avengers.
At one time he did technically become super-powered when he used Hank Pym’s “Pym Particles” to become The Goliath. He abandoned this persona, and as he had not been exposed to the particles for too long, they wore off and he cannot access this power set anymore.
8 Green Arrow
As Hawkeye is to Marvel, Green Arrow is the greatest archer in the DC universe. That’s where the similarities end however. Unlike the criminal origins of Hawkeye, Green Arrow is the alter-ego of billionaire Oliver Queen.
Capable of firing 29 arrows per minute with near-pinpoint accuracy, Oliver Queen has trained alongside the very best archers and martial artists in the DC universe. He has been seen to routinely fire an arrow down the barrel of a gun, and on one occasion he even managed to shoot two arrows down two separate gun barrels while upside down and doing a somersault.
He is also an expert close-range combatant. He is proficient in Judo, Wing Chun and Taekwondo and has fought Deathstroke hand to hand, something few do and live to talk about. While he isn’t the martial artist Batman is, he is capable of sparring with him and picking up new tricks. He also trained with Natas, the person who trained Deathstroke, although he lacks Deathstroke’s killer instinct.
He used to favor numerous trick arrows, particularly the boxing-glove one used to subdue an enemy without lethal force, and a variety of exploding arrows. In modern stories, he has opted to use the more lethal straight arrows, perhaps as a sign that his foes have evolved, and so too must his methods.
7 Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier)
James Buchanan Barnes, known as Bucky and The Winter Soldier, started his career as an adventurer as the wartime sidekick of Captain America. Originally he was simply a sidekick, though in modern tellings of the story (starting with Ed Brubaker’s run) he has been seen to have been Captain America’s “Secret Weapon” trained to infiltrate the enemy, and at times perform subtle demolitions and assassinations.
After his supposed “Death” he was kidnapped by Russian forces and brainwashed to be a perfect soldier and assassin. He was frozen between missions, only used when an assignment required the very best operative. During this time, he received his metal arm to replace the one he lost in the accident in which he was believed to have died. He also received the best training and conditioning the KGB had to offer.
Having been frozen so many times, he’s leapfrogged through the decades, having aged only a decade in the last 70 years. While highly trained in espionage and assassinations, he remains a non-powered individual. He’s still considered one of the most lethal men in the Marvel world, however.
6 The Punisher
Easily the most brutal person on this list, The Punisher isn’t even technically a superhero, he’s an anti-hero. He lost his entire family in a mob shootout and used his exceptional skill set to become a one-man army to enact his revenge and “punish” both those responsible — and anyone else he considers a villain.
Initially a Marine, he received training with the Navy SEALS and the Australian S.A.S. After Vietnam, he became a black ops soldier of the highest calibre, having received training in spy craft, demolitions, assassinations, and martial arts. Since becoming The Punisher, he has expanded his abilities to incorporate infiltration and the use of non-military weapons too. He has even amassed an arsenal of weapons taken from enemies, and uses a stolen goblin-glider taken from Norman Osborn and a tentacle taken from Doctor Octopus.
Besides his military training and his arsenal of conventional and non-conventional weapons, he has an impressive control of his mental faculties. His mind is so disciplined that he is able to resist all but the strongest forms of mind-control and can overcome extreme pain, never using painkillers due to feeling that they reduce his reflexes and dull his senses too much to be of use.
5 Green Lantern
The Green Lantern, or more specifically, Hal Jordan, is a regular human male in his prime. A skilled fighter pilot and tactician, he actually possesses no superpowers of his own. His “Power Ring” grants him numerous powers of course, including flight, invulnerability, omnilingualism, and the generation of hard-light constructs that can manifest in limitless ways. The hard-light constructs are easily the most famous of his abilities and manifest as telekinetic solid light taking the shape of whatever Hal can imagine, and their strength is dependent entirely on his will.
For a time, Hal was possessed by the entity Parallax and became one of the most powerful beings in the universe. In addition to the ring, he was able to manipulate reality and space-time, as well as grant himself limitless superhuman strength capable of knocking out the incredibly powerful Superman with a single blow.
In addition to a Green Lantern Ring, Hal has wielded a White Ring, and, at one time, a prototype gauntlet which possessed the power of a dozen rings.
The master of Kung Fu is one of the most formidable fighters in the Marvel Universe. His physical and mental discipline is so great that he can go toe-to-toe with superpowered individuals such as Spider-Man and defeat them. Trained from infancy by his father, Fu Manchu, he became his father’s greatest weapon until realizing his dear old dad was in fact evil, and rebelled against him. He has also received training alongside MI-6 and has become an expert in espionage.
It’s never been fully disclosed as to whether Shang Chi has any limits to his martial arts skills, but his title as “The Master of Kung Fu” has never been disputed. While he lacks the more mystical powers of Iron Fist, he does appear to have at least equal skill. He has been seen to deflect bullets with the braces he wears on his wrists, as well as dodge them with uncannily fast reflexes.
While he is considered peerless in unarmed combat, he is also highly trained and lethal with Swords, Shuriken, and Nunchaku also.
3 Booster Gold
Booster Gold possesses the “Powers” of flight, power blasts, force fields, enhanced strength and time-travel. However, he gains all these abilities through use of advanced technology from the future timeline he originated from. A former athlete, Booster was disgraced and decided to re-write history by putting himself in the middle of an age of heroes using stolen artefacts from a museum in place of actual super powers.
His power suit grants him super strength, while his wrist blasters allow him to project his primary offensive weapon, his force blasts. He also uses a belt from the future which generates force fields, which can not only repel objects, but generate a self-contained environment. In addition to his super-suit, he uses a Legion of Super-Heroes flight ring to keep up with airborne members of the Justice League such as Martian Manhunter and Superman. His suit has changed numerous times over the years, and while the source of his powers have varied, the effects are largely the same.
Due to his natural athleticism, Booster is in close to peak human conditioning. He also possesses a willpower close to that of any Green Lantern. He has been seen to use his Legion Flight Ring from a distance, something few others have been seen to do.
2 Blue Beetle (Ted Kord)
While there have been several people to use the name “Blue Beetle,” this article refers to the second Blue Beetle, Ted Kord. Ted was a gifted athlete and genius-level inventor that used a variety of gadgets to fight crime. He didn’t care for personal weaponry though, and only carried a single pistol that made a blinding flash of light and a strong blast of air if he was forced into hand-to-hand combat.
His IQ is stated to be at least 192, making him one of the premier minds of the DC universe. His teammate Guy Gardner stated that Ted was easily as smart as Batman, but nobody ever noticed. This was largely due to Ted’s wise-cracking nature, which meant that people didn’t take him as seriously as they should. Indeed, the villainous Despero once said the Ted’s mind was second only to the Martian Manhunter’s.
He was proficient in numerous sciences but an expert in chemistry, physics, and engineering. He used these skills to build the security systems for the Justice League’s base of operations during his time with the JLI, as it was then. Ted was at times a little lazy and prone to weight gain, but when he was at his peak, he was at Olympic levels in both Karate and Aikido. Dick Grayson respected Ted’s physical aptitudes and once commented that Ted was essentially ambidextrous.
1 The Guys and Gals from Kick-Ass (2010) and Super (2010)
We’ve all wanted to be superheroes at one time or another. To don a cape, and/or a super-suit and go fight crime has been a wish for fanboys and girls for generations. Both Kick-Ass and Super, each released in 2010, explore the concept of what would happen if a normal person were to adopt a secret identity to fight crime, regardless of not having any powers.
Both movies explore the concept in an ultra-violent way and explore the concepts of urban justice and vigilantism as well as the media reactions to “Super Heroes” in the “real” world. Each of the principal heroes, Kick-Ass and The Crimson Bolt, are surprisingly effective, despite being both unpowered and untrained. Neither is especially athletic at the outset, yet both defeat their nemesis by the end, so they must be doing something right.
Real-life heroes like police officers and firefighters aside, we are a world without heroes. Our obsession with them continues to grow, however. Currently, there are over 1,600 billionaires in the world. We can only hope at least one of them is developing an Iron Man armor or training to be Batman.
Do you agree with our list? Sound off in the comments section.