When visualizing a superhero, an image of rippling abs and bulging biceps is often the first to leap to mind. The most well-known superheroes are specimens of physical perfection. Although they can differ drastically in personality and goals, one thing heroes like Captain America and Wolverine do have in common is their sculpted torsos.
A life of fighting crime lends itself to physical fitness and athletic prowess. Even those whose powers are not supernaturally enhanced, such as billionaire vigilante Batman, are athletes who look like they could crunch boulders.
The most popular superheroines are also known for their bodily strength and skill. Wonder Woman is considered physically flawless, acknowledged to be “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, strong as Hercules, and as swift as Hermes.”
You might be forgiven for forgetting that there are plenty of superheroes and superheroines who are not famous for their martial skills. Old-fashioned cerebral talents and occasionally a touch of magic can be the most effective weapons in the arsenal of many successful crime-fighters. There are also plenty of heroes who are physically weak but also incredibly skilled and powerful.
Here are the 15 Powerful Superheroes (Who Are Actually 'Weak').
15 Dick Grayson (Robin)
The Boy Wonder does not always get the respect he deserves as he stands in Batman’s considerable shadow.
Dick Grayson is both Bruce Wayne’s ward and the original Robin. Later in his arc is a different story as he assumes the identity Nightwing; now Batman’s partner and equal. During his original adventures with the Caped Crusader, Robin is very young. Although a trained acrobat, and later a skilled martial artist, Robin is just 8 years old in the original comics (adjusted to 12 in later versions).
Like Batman, he possesses no enhanced powers. His skill with technology, his combat strategy and his advanced martial arts knowledge are all learned. It is easy to underestimate the Boy Wonder on first impression but he proves himself an invaluable asset to the Batman.
Mantis is both a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers. In appearance she is a young woman with green skin, dark hair, and antennae. At first, she does not strike anyone as a physical threat.
However, Mantis is a skilled martial artists with complex mental abilities as well. She can astral project, manipulate plants, and has strong telepathic and emphatic abilities.
As a child, she was trained by the alien Priests of Pama with a celestial destiny in mind. Then she was mind wiped and raised with false memories as an orphan in Vietnam.
Although physically Mantis only has the strength of a normal woman of her size, she is a master martial artist and has complete nervous system control. This means that, through her force of will, she can heal quickly after injury.
13 Molly Hayes
Molly Hayes is one of the Runaways. Like all of this teenage group, Molly's parents were members of the Pride, a group of human-hating villains. After witnessing them performing their annual sacrifice to their leaders, the Gibborim, the children ran away. To make up for her parents' actions, the group pledge themselves to fight crime.
Molly is the youngest Runaway and at only 4’ 1’’ she is far from threatening in appearance. Despite her small frame, her powers include superhuman strength and invulnerability. However, when Molly uses her power, it drains her physically, often causing her to fall asleep until she recharges.
She sometimes goes by the alias Princess Powerful and thought of running away as a great adventure. She may look, and at times behave, like a child but she has the strength of a hero.
12 Tony Stark
Tony Stark is many things: “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Quite apart from the Iron Man suit, Tony Stark was already an engineering prodigy and a business magnate.
Yet, at heart, Tony Stark is only human. Although he does receive combat training as an Avenger and receives some upgrades along the way, it is the suit which possesses the extreme superhuman strength and abilities we recognise. Without it, he is relatively physically vulnerable to attack.
Tony’s true powers are mostly cerebral. He is an expert tactician and one of the world’s greatest multitaskers. He can fix almost anything and engineer advanced technology. On top of this, he has a powerful personality and is a well-respected businessman. The only thing he needs to work on is his modesty.
Scott Lang is a human man who can manipulate sub-atomic particles to make himself the size of an ant.
His power stems from Pym Particles and the Ant-Man suit. Scott stole the suit from Hank Pym, who let him take up the mantle of Ant-Man when he found out Scott only stole it to help his sick daughter. Using the cybernetic helmet, he has rudimentary communication with insects and even rides them for transport.
When at his normal size, Scott has the strength of an average man but at his ant size, his strength remains that of a full-sized man. However, many of Scott’s greatest skills are not martial. He already possessed a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and is a skilled thief. Physically, he is only as athletic as a moderately fit human.
10 Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel)
Kamala Khan is the fourth character to take up the Ms. Marvel mantle. A 16-year-old Pakistani-American who idolizes the first Ms, Marvel, Carol Danvers, Kamala appears to be just a normal human girl. She enjoys video games, fanfiction, and superheroes, while struggling to meet the expectations her family and society have of her.
To her surprise, she learns that she has latent Inhuman heritage when her powers are awakened by the Terrigen Mists. Her newly discovered powers differ from her hero and include shapeshifting, stretching, and self-healing. She can enlarge and shrink parts of her body but she particularly tends to increase the size of her fists.
Kamala desperately wants to be like her idols and uses her powers to help others, becoming a beloved role model herself.
John Constantine is an occult detective and comes from a long line of magic users.
Although undeniably a cynical, chain-smoking, morally ambiguous character, Constantine answers the call to join the Justice League Dark when they are charged with bringing down the Enchantress and uses his particular set of skills for good.
He is definitely not a physical character. He is far more comfortable using his powers of manipulation to outsmart his enemy. If he engages in a fight, he invariably fights dirty or uses his magic.
His magical abilities include divination, curses, necromancy, illusions, and demon summoning. Yet it is his negotiation skills that define him. Constantine is widely considered the world’s greatest con-man. He also has supernaturally good luck, which is possibly the main reasons he is still alive.
8 Phil Coulson
Phillip Coulson is a member of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division – better known to most as S.H.I.E.L.D.
To the untrained eye, he looks more like a corporate man than a super spy. His introduction was light-hearted and at first he seemed to be a comic relief character. He was unsurprisingly not immediately taken seriously by the other heroes.
He is certainly unassuming in appearance but it doesn’t take long for Coulson to prove himself well-trained in the field of espionage and the use of advanced technology. He is also a firm but just leader who becomes Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Oh, and there's the whole bionic arm thing - that comes with a bunch of useful tricks.
An unexpected fan favourite, he was created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe but later appeared in the comics. Not a man to be underestimated.
7 Madame Web
Madame Web knows Spider-Man’s true identity and acts as a mentor figure to the young hero.
Struck with an illness that affects the nervous system, Cassandra Web is both paraplegic and blind. She is depicted as an elderly women, connected to a life-support system designed by her later husband, which resembles a spider’s web.
However, Madame Web also possesses telepathy, clairvoyance and the ability to know all possible outcomes of a situation. She can also perform psychic surgery on other minds.
Although she never actively fights any villains, she is intellectually gifted and provides invaluable help to the heroes on numerous occasions. She is eventually killed during the Decimation story line but she manages to pass her powers onto Julia Carpenter, who becomes the next Madame Web.
Zatanna Zatara is a skilled stage illusionist who also just happens to be a real-life magician. A member of the mystical Homo Magi race on her mother’s side, Zatanna can cast powerful magic, speaking spells backwards as a homage to her magician father, Giovanni "John" Zatana.
She discovers her powers while investigating her father’s disappearance and uses her considerable skills to work both as a stage magician and a member of the Justice League.
Sometimes known as the Mistress of Magic, Zatanna's list of powers is impressive: manipulation of elements, telekinesis, teleportation, reality alteration, to name only a few. Yet at first glance, she looks just like a regular woman - well, a regular woman dressed in elaborate stage costume with a magician’s hat and magic wand.
5 Kitty Pryde
Kitty Pryde was the youngest person to join the X-Men. A brunette, standing at 5’6’’, and weighing in at 50kg, she is far from immediately intimidating in appearance.
Her particular ability is phasing. She can pass through solid matter and also become intangible when attacked. If she holds her concentration, she can even use her abilities to manipulate her contact with elements, effectively walking on water or air.
Kitty’s journey is an inspirational one as she goes from a teenager in training to, years later, becoming Madame Headmistress of "The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning." Here she runs a school for mutants, training the next generation of heroes. She might not be the strongest mutant but she has certainly proved one of the most durable, keeping her popularity since her first appearance in 1980.
Barbara Gordon protected Gotham as the original Batgirl until she retired. A subsequent attack by the Joker, while she was in her civilian guise, left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Unrelenting, Barbara continued to put her intellect, computer skills, and photographic memory to use as the Oracle. Setting up the Birds of Prey espionage team, Oracle provided information to aid the fight against anyone who wished to harm others.
Barbara is only human; her power has always come from her mind and her gadgets. She is a skilled hacker, with a knowledge of technology to rival Batman. She also happens to be confined to a wheelchair. She never lets her crippling injuries at the hands of the Joker inhibit her. In her time as Oracle, she transcends being simply a member of the Batfamily and becomes more effective than she ever was as Batgirl.
3 Scarlet Witch
Wanda Maximoff, better known as Scarlet Witch, is a mutant with powers capable of altering reality and probability. Her mother was married to Magneto but, horrified by his mutant powers, she fled while pregnant with Wanda and her twin Pietro (better known as Quicksilver).
Although only possessing the physical strength of a normal human woman, Wanda has diverse supernatural powers. A trained sorceress, she also has the ability to teleport and manipulate objects with her mind. She can create "hex-sphere" which are forces which, in essence, combust targets at will. Later her powers are revealed to be even greater and she can alter reality on a huge scale, creating armies out of nowhere.
Sometimes known as the Gypsy Witch, Scarlet Witch may look harmless but she becomes a powerful member of the Avengers and ultimately causes the Decimation.
2 Professor X
Professor Charles Xavier is indisputably one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful mutants.
Before even touching on his supreme telepathic ability, he is a scientific genius and an authority on genetics. Founder of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X dreams of a peaceful coexistence for mutants and humans. He uses his gifts to teach while also putting his abilities towards building equipment to enhance psionic powers. His true talents lie in his superhuman telepathic power and his ability to create illusions, cause memory loss and perform astral projection.
It is easy to forget that Professor X has been wheelchair-bound for much of his life. Physically speaking, he is one of the most vulnerable of the mutants but few would truly want to a face off against him due to his other, considerable talents.
1 Squirrel Girl
Doreen Green, better known as Squirrel Girl, is a heroine who is not always taken seriously. She has squirrel-like abilities, including a prehensile tail, heightened senses, and powerful claws and teeth.
At the age of 14, she tries to become Iron Man’s sidekick but finds Iron Man less than impressed. Nevertheless, when they are both kidnapped by Doctor Doom, it is Squirrel Girl who defeats the villain. Doom was only the first of many villains to be beaten due to underestimating Squirrel Girl (and her army of squirrels).
Despite her understated size and odd appearance, she has an impressive roster of victories, including her notable defeat of Thanos. Squirrel Girl also works at one point as a nanny to the child of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, because even a superheroine needs pocket money.
Are there any physically weak superheroes who are actually really strong? Let us know in the comments!