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You're Nothing Without Your Phlebotinum
A stock phrase (prone to variations) uttered by the villain whenever the hero suffers a case of Phlebotinum Breakdown, We Have Forgotten the Phlebotinum, Brought Down to Normal or Useless Superpowers, in which they take the time to enjoy some evil gloating about the heroes' reduced effectiveness.

A form of Tempting Fate, as the hero will usually promptly prove that no, they are in fact not nothing without their phlebotinum, usually making use of their wits and improvisational skills to make up the difference.

Alternatively, it may take the form of I'm Nothing Without My Phlebotinum, when the hero himself is left feeling inadequate due to his depowering, triggering either a Heroic Blue Screen of Death or a 10-Minute Retirement.

This usually works out the same with the hero again proving it's not true, and getting over his inadequacy, minus any Kick the Dog on the villains part.

Sometimes spoken to a Gadgeteer Genius or Mad Scientist even without a breakdown.

Please note that this is strictly a dialogue/characterisation trope- if a hero is merely deprived of his usual powers/gear/resources, but is not mocked for it by the villain, then it's not this trope- it's one of the above mentioned.

Also note that it can be reversed.

Compare Amulet of Dependency; Contrast Magic Feather, where the "phlebotinum" is just a psychological aid: the power was in the character all along.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the event that a Humongous Mecha pilot is caught without said mecha, this trope will likely come into play. Depending on the type of series, the results can differ.
  • Naruto gets this from Kabuto, who claims that Naruto's only saving grace is the Nine-Tailed Fox sealed inside of him, a not unfair accusation, seeing as most of Naruto's victories up until that point were due to the power-boost from the Fox. Naruto would shortly after prove him wrong, sending Kabuto flying with naught but his wits and the new attack he just learned. Much later on, Kabuto would express admiration that Naruto was able to overcome the stigma of being the Nine-Tails' container.
  • Alessi in Jojos Bizarre Adventure Part III gloats when he manages to turn Jotaro into a kid with his Stand. He's confident he can beat Jotaro since Jotaro didn't have his Stand Star Platinum when he was a child. Seven year old Jotaro pummels Alessi anyway. Hilariously, this means that Jotaro's mother Holly was wrong about Jotaro being a sweet kid who only recently turned bad. He was always a badass.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, King Cold takes Trunks' sword and says he is nothing without it, then attacks him with it. Trucks catches the sword and kills him.
    Trunks: You should know that a weapon doesn't make the man!
  • In Rave Master, a demon prevents Haru from getting to his magical sword and says he can't possibly defeat him without it. Haru punches right through his metal armor and kills him instantly. Haru notes that carrying that heavy sword and fighting with it for so long was what made him strong enough to do that.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, enemies sometimes say that Touma is nothing without his Anti-Magic right hand, Imagine Breaker.
    • Aureolus Izzard says Imagine Breaker is the only reason why Touma can ward off his Reality Warper powers, and chops it off with a sword. Touma proceeds to terrify him into submission with an Evil Laugh. Being able to warp reality is useless if you don't believe you can beat your opponent.
    • Fiamma of the Right chops off Imagine Breaker, then declares Touma is now nothing more than a purposeless mass of flesh. Touma then reveals he has a dragon inside him, which is magnitudes more powerful than Fiamma and scares him half to death. However, before it can kill Fiamma, Touma reseals it, regenerates his arm, and punches Fiamma out.
    • Othinus tears off Imagine Breaker and says it was the only thing she feared, while Touma himself is an insignificant nobody. However, she proceeds to completely curb-stomp the dragon that emerges from him, and would have killed him if he hadn't been rescued at the last second.
  • Blackbeard of One Piece tends to do this with his opponents, since he specifically got ahold of a Devil Fruit gives him the power to negate the powers of anyone he has physical contact with. Of course, he then tried it on Whitebeard, quite forgetting that the guy was the World's Strongest Man, frikken huge, and carries a rather large bisento. Whitebeard turns the situation around quickly, very nearly kills Blackbeard when he has access to his powers again, and only fails to do so because Blackbeard called in his entire crew to back him up at the last second.

    Comicbooks 
  • The only reason the people of Astérix's village are able to fend off the larger, better equipped Roman Legions is due to Getafix's magic potion. In Asterix At The Olympic Games, when Asterix is forced to compete without the potion's help, he comes in last in every event. There have been several stories in which the Romans attempt to stop production of the potion by either neutralizing Getafix or one of the potion's ingredients. In the animated film Asterix Conquers America, a Roman Centurion even states, "You are nothing without your magic potion!"

    Fan Works 
  • More or less said by Brox in With Strings Attached after she, Grunnel, and the Raleka wizards render both George and Ringo powerless and kidnap the other two. George rescues John and they get their magic back, and Brox still sneers at their relative powerlessness.
  • In Kyon Big Damn Hero, Wataru tends to taunt Kyon for being unable to do anything without "his dolls" (Haruhi, Yuki, etc). To be fair, Wataru has already met some Alternate Universe incarnations of Kyon so Wataru is probably talking from experience here (and, much like in his own canon, Kyon at the beginning of the fic isn't a fighter; the fic hints the current combined skills of the SOS Brigade are an unique occurrence).
  • In Shadowchasers Torment, Ben suggests Yami Marik isn't that good a duelist without the Winged Dragon of Ra. Though Ben wins their duel, Marik proved he was a competent duelist without it.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Monsters vs. Aliens, Gallaxhar taunts the depowered Susan with "if you wanted to stop me, you should have done it when you possessed the Quantonium. Now you're nothing!" He comes to regret his words later.
  • In Aladdin, Snake-Jafar tells Aladdin that he's nothing without the Genie. Aladdin promptly proves how wrong he is by using the same response on Jafar in order to trick him into becoming a genie himself.
  • Hercules, when Hades takes Herc's powers away: "Now you know how it feels to be just like everyone else. Isn't it just peachy?" Hercules uses his wits to defeat the Cyclops.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • BASEketball had one of these in the end when Coop was trying to hit a home run.
  • Austin Powers: "I've lost my mojo!" The horrified words Austin's states when he realizes his mojo has been stolen, rendering him perpetually flaccid. Later in the movie, Austin's nemesis Dr. Evil mocks his rival's impotence by claiming, "You can't stop me now, Mr. Powers. I have your mojo!"
  • During the climactic battle of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Motaro tears off one of Jax's bionic arm enhancements, leaving Jax with only his original arms since the other arm enhancement is now useless as well.
    Motaro: Without your weapons, you are NO match for Motaro!
    (beats Jax up)
    Jax: I still have... my fists! (tide of battle turns)
  • From The Avengers: Iron Man and Captain America trade these:
    • Steve Rogers sneers at Stark, "Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away and what are you?" Stark immediately responds, "A genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist." However, the question of whether Stark has the heart of a hero is not concluded until the finale.
    • Stark eventually returns the favor by telling Captain America, "Everything special about you came from a bottle," implying that Captain America hasn't really earned his spot among the team like the rest have.
  • In Green Lantern, Hal Jordan has been deprived of his ring and Parallax grabs him with his telekinesis. Parallax admits that he's slightly impressed that Hal's willpower is strong enough to stop him from killing him instantly, but Hal's nonetheless nothing without the ring. The villain has a point, as there's nothing Hal can do to break free, and he would have been killed if Carol hadn't distracted Parallax and then thrown him his ring.
  • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Batroc taunts Captain America with, "I thought you were more than just a shield." The Captain puts his shield away and kicks his ass.

     Literature 
  • Played with at the end of the Incarnations of Immortality novel On A Pale Horse, Satan bluntly tells the incarnation of Death that Death is nothing without his magic. So, the person who assumed the role of Death takes off all of the magic items (cloak, gloves, boots, etc). But, Death's powers are part of him and cannot be taken by Satan, or by taking the items — Satan was lying.
  • In the Codex Alera series, the main character Tavi has spent his entire life without the Phlebotinum everyone else in Alera has — entities called furies which grant power over various elements (water, earth, air, fire, metal). Alera's technology completely relies on them, down to the level of turning on a light. He learns to survive and prosper through his native wit. He starts gaining the abilities at the end of the third book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in Power Rangers Ninja Storm. Big Bad Lothor mocks the titular rangers for having lost their ranger powers. They then kindly remind him that they are still trained ninjas with Elemental Powers, which they use to knock him into the Abyss of Evil five feet behind him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: answering whether or not she's anything without her powers is the premise of a test the Watcher's council tries to put Buffy through in the third season, by hypnotizing and doping her, they bring her down to the level of an ordinary girl in order to make her prove herself against a vampire without her powers.
    • And in the Season 8 comics we get a truly awesome example of this when one vamp makes the mistake of taunting a depowered Dracula. "The vampire's the least of your concerns. It's the old man you need to worry about."
    • In "Becoming, Part 2," Angelus taunts Buffy that he's fought her to the position of having no weapons, no friends, and no hope. What's left? Buffy replies simply "Me," and proceeds to kick his ass. Perhaps an inversion, in that the phleobotinum, her super-strength, is what she hasn't lost.
  • An odd subversion of the self-inflicted version happens in the Doctor Who episode "The Eleventh Hour," where the newly regenerated Doctor muses that he has no TARDIS (it's busy rebuilding itself) and no sonic screwdriver (it was destroyed). However, rather than feeling emasculated, he uses it as a sort of self Dare to Be Badass.

    Video Games 
  • In Kingdom Hearts I, Riku takes the Keyblade from Sora and mocks him by saying he was nothing but a delivery boy for him, then mockingly leaves him a wooden sword to try to defend himself with. Sora's courage, determination, and The Power of Friendship eventually makes him worthier than Riku, causing the Keyblade to return to him.
  • In Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance], Xigbar mocks Sora by pointing out that since he gets his strength from The Power of Friendship, he has no power on his own. Xigbar is shocked when Sora reveals he doesn't mind, and is proud of being part of something bigger.

    Western Animation 
  • Virtually epidemic in the The DCAU.
    • In Part 2 of the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Demon Quest", Batman is captured by Ras Al Ghul and his henchmen, and is stripped of his utility belt (and, oddly enough, his shirt), two henchmen are assigned to lead him off to a cell, one commenting "not so tough without your precious belt". Both henchmen are rendered unconscious by Batman roughly 30 seconds later, as the hero escapes and goes on to thwart Ra's scheme perfectly competently, even sans utility belt (But with help from Talia).
    • In the Justice League episode "The Savage Time", when traveling back to World War II to fix the timeline, Green Lantern's ring loses power in Nazi Germany. He soon finds himself among Easy Company, a group of American commandos. The Big Guy Bulldozer questions what John can do without his ring. John promptly beats Bulldozer down with his bare hands. When asked where he learned that, he tells them The US Marine Corp.
    • In the Justice League Grand Finale "Starcrossed", General Talak comments that Green Lantern is "nothing without his toy", referring to his power ring. When the two later fight, and Talak destroys said doodad, Green Lantern still defeats him by tricking him into slamming his axe into a piece of machinery, electrocuting him into unconsciousness.
  • This also happens to Batman in The Batman, when captured and once again stripped of his belt by Black Mask's thugs, one of those thugs mockingly dangles the belt tantalisingly in front of Batman (who is locked in a cage at this point)- Batman's response? "Utility belt, charge to stun" Cue one electrocuted mook, and one free Batman.
    • Not sure that really applies here. The phlebotinum was right there, and it was conveniently voice-activated.
      • But it was Batman's Crazy Preparedness that freed him as much as the utility belt and he always has that.
    • Averted in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He challenges Darkseid to hand-to-hand combat, telling him to lay off the Omega Beam and call off his army. Darkseid complies and beats Batman silly.
  • In Ben 10, Ben seems to feel this way about the Omnitrix. This comes to a head in the series finale...where Ben also proves he's an awesome fighter even without it. Gwen also mentions and inverts this when trying to comfort her cousin after it is taken away: "You're still a hero, even if you can't go hero."
  • Also used in the Kong: The Animated Series cartoon, wherein the teenage hero confronts the mad scientist villain on an airplane without the titular ape to back him up- the villain snarls "without your ape your are nothing!". He is promptly judo-tossed out the side of the plane.
  • An example of the secondary type is from the Mortal Kombat cartoon, where Jax's bionics are disabled in a fight with Reptile. Initially, he angsts about his perceived uselessness, being "just a strong man". He's forced back into action and as per the trope description, defeats Reptile by outsmarting him.
  • In The Tick, the Carpeted Man refuses to remove his static-electricity-generating carpetsuit despite it making him too hot, claiming "I'm the Carpeted Man! Without my suit, I'm NOTHING!"
  • Said by a hero, about himself, rather than a villain in Darkwing Duck. After showing Darkwing up all over St. Canard for a whole episode, Gizmoduck is trapped by a magnet, making his suit useless. He bemoans the fact that he's useless without his suit - but Darkwing, on the other hand, is not, and he's not shy about proving it, either.
    Darkwing: "Superpowers do not a superhero make!"
  • In an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim destroys Hoss Delgado's mechanical/weaponized hand and mocks him. Hos punches him out with his normal hand.
  • Filmation's 1960's Green Lantern series episode "Evil Is As Evil Does". After Evil Star uses his Star Band to grab Green Lantern's ring off his finger, he says "Without this you are powerless!"
  • Used in SWAT Kats, where resident Big Bad Dark Kat manages to capture the titular feline vigilantes after they have disembarked from their Cool Plane the Turbo-Kat.
    Dark Kat: "What did I tell you? Without the Turbo-Kat, they're nothing".


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