10 Marvel Heroes Who Became Better Without Powers

Split image: The Thing and Spinneret in Marvel Comics


Whenever a Marvel Comics superhero lost their superpowers, it was usually depicted as their lowest moment and the story’s darkest hour. But in some rare cases, this was actually a good thing. This was either because these superheroes had nowhere else to go but up, or they were actually freed from a burden.


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When these heroes got a new power or had their pre-existing ones strengthened beyond their wildest dreams, they either broke the story’s suspension of internal logic or they lost themselves. Because of this, suddenly losing their newfound powers was actually a godsend that saved both the story and the hero’s lives.

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10 Aunt May

Created by: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

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Aunt May is the last person anyone would expect to get superpowers, and yet it’s happened more than once. Even though Aunt May only gained superpowers in non-canon stories such as the What If? comics that were done in jest, her adventures were still too ridiculous even for experienced readers to accept as a joke.

Aunt May’s superhero identities included Spider-Ma’am (Aunt May with spider powers) and the Golden Oldie (Aunt May as Galactus’ herald). She even has an evil Carnage-infected variant. Aunt May’s empowered states were fun but temporary. Readers usually breathed a sigh of relief when she went back to her usual self.

9 Mary Jane Watson

Created by: Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Mary-Jane draws energy-based powers in Mary-Jane and Black Cat (2022)

Mary Jane Watson is just as popular and adored as her longtime lover, Peter Parker. Fans loved how she was a strong woman who asserted herself and even helped Spider-Man despite her lack of superpowers. But sometimes, Mary Jane was inexplicably given superpowers even though they went against her characterization.

Recent examples include Mary Jane’s time as Spinneret, her turn as Ultimate Demogoblin, and her new ability to have a temporary ability depending on what cosmic “slots” she pulled. Mary Jane getting powers was a fun gimmick that still watered down everything that made her one of the superhero genre’s strongest women.

8 Spider-Man

Created by: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Spider-Man becomes Captain Universe in Acts of Vengeance

Even though he could do whatever a spider can, Spider-Man’s main appeal was that—despite some retcons and changes—he was always the ordinary Peter Parker. Readers loved Spider-Man because his shortcomings and weaknesses made him more human. Despite this, Marvel kept trying to make him stronger than he should be.

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Once in a while, Spider-Man would get a ridiculously overpowered upgrade that contradicted his core. From the black Symbiote suit to his brief tenure as Captain Universe, Spider-Man often got more powerful but lost his relatability in exchange. Spider-Man returning to his original power levels was always a cause for celebration.

7 Iron Man

Created by: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Tony Stark reveals his new suit in Superior Iron Man

Since he’s a genius billionaire and inventor with a massive ego, it only made sense that Tony Stark Jr. would often create “world-saving” devices that conveniently granted him godlike powers. Whether it was Extremis or the Endo-Sym Armor, Iron Man’s self-made armor upgrades made him stronger, but more amoral and cruel as well.

Although these powers let Stark momentarily bring his utopian dreams to life, they always came at the expense of others’ free will and safety. The heroes always had to destroy Stark’s latest invention and drag him down to Earth to save the day. Stark was better off as his imperfect and powerless yet more human self.

6 The Punisher

Created by: Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., and Ross Andru

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Frank Castle leads The Hand's forces in Punisher (2022)

Marvel tried to spice up the Punisher by giving him superpowers. Sometimes Frank Castle added a suit of power armor to his arsenal, or he was blessed with supernatural powers (see: his current demonic self). Every time this happened, the Punisher accidentally became a self-parody.

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For better and worse, the Punisher’s appeal came from his being an ordinary human vigilante operating in a superhero world. There’s a reason why his super-powered phases were always temporary. It’s also worth noting that whenever he got superpowers, Frank was clearly not himself and somehow more brutal than usual.

5 Hawkeye/Goliath (Clint Barton)

Created by: Stan Lee and Don Heck

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Hawkeye fights Skrulls in Captain America: Reborn

Despite his lack of superpowers, Clint Barton is recognized and feared as one of the deadliest people in the Marvel Universe. Clint’s archery skills (plus being an expert martial artist, spy, tactician, and more) made him an irreplaceable Avenger. But in the late 60s, Clint doubted himself so much he inexplicably became Goliath.

After his bow broke in combat, Clint replaced his weapon with Pym Particles to become the giant Avenger. Clint’s time as Goliath didn’t last long, since he regained his confidence and readers didn’t like the change. Clint stuck to his archery and other skills from this point onwards, but he still kept some Pym Particles for emergency purposes.

4 Black Cat

Created by: Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard, and Dave Cockrum

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Black Cat sides with Doctor Tramma in Web of Spider-Man (2009)

True to her moniker, Black Cat had the ability to passively and unintentionally impose bad luck on whoever was in her vicinity. This was great for combat, but terrible for her personal life. By simply being near Spider-Man, Felicia Hardy accidentally jinxed Peter Parker. Doctor Strange depowered her, and she lived a normal life for a time.

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Without her luck-altering powers, Black Cat was able to stick with Spider-Man, other heroes, and her loved ones longer than usual. Though she wouldn’t admit it, Felicia liked this sense of normalcy. This change of heart and powers didn’t last long since the perpetually greedy Black Cat had Doctor Tramma restore her powers.

3 Ben Grimm (The Thing)

Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Ben Grimm punches a loan shark in Fantastic Four (1961)

As the Thing, Ben Grimm was incredibly strong and impervious to almost all harm. However, he was stuck in his hulking rock form for what seemed to be the rest of his life. Ben only ever wanted to be normal again, and he actually got his wish a few times. Even if such moments were temporary, Ben proved himself to be better than the Thing.

Even without the Thing’s powers, Ben was still just as headstrong and capable as ever. He may have been more vulnerable to certain attacks, but Ben could still handle himself well in a fight. Ben was also notably happier whenever he got to live as his old self, but he always knew that he had to return as the Thing.

2 Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk)

Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Bruce Banner uses his self-made shield in Incredible Hulk (1968)

If the Incredible Hulk was one of the Marvel Universe’s strongest heroes, Bruce Banner was one of its smartest scientists. The latter tends to get overlooked because Banner’s intellect is only occasionally used during the Hulk’s mindless rampages. But when Banner gets the chance to use his knowledge, he’s a force to be reckoned with.

After the Red Hulk temporarily robbed Banner of his Hulk powers, he enjoyed life as a relatively powerless genius. Banner got to his wits and created “Bannertech” to defend himself. Banner was actually more dangerous and threatening as himself than the Hulk ever was. He begrudgingly left this peaceful life to return as Hulk later.

1 Jean Grey

Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Jean Grey leads the X-Men in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey

The problematic Jean Grey was already one of Marvel’s most powerful mutants and psychics, but she became a fiery god when she came back from the dead as the Phoenix. For a time, Jean used the Phoenix Force’s powers for good. But after she lost control of it, Jean had to be killed just to stop the Phoenix from destroying the universe.

Jean resurrected more than once thanks to the Phoenix Force, but she was determined to be free of it. Jean came to sympathize with the lonely Phoenix Force, but she sacrificed the chance to become an almighty god to be her own person. Although Jean wasn’t as powerful as she was with the Phoenix in her, she was much happier after its departure.

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