Marvel's Powerless is a 6-issue miniseries (August, 2004-January, 2005). It was co-written by Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson. The art was done by Michael Gaydos. The setting, in a nutshell, is a re-imagining of the whole Marvel Universe, with a twist consisting of - well, the lack of any superpowers at all. This may be mistaken as both inverting and playing the Recycled In Space trope straight, but there's more than that. Let's just say it turns out to be a Genre Shift from your usual Super Hero comic to some kind of thriller.
People such as Matt Murdock, Peter Parker, Logan, Frank Castle, Bruce Banner and the like are all connected to their therapist, Doctor William Watts; after he awakens from a three-day coma spent dreaming of the main Marvel universe, Watts begins even hallucinating said people's Earth-616 analogues as soon as their name is mentioned.
In this universe, when Peter Parker isn't bullied by a Jerk Jock, he's threatened by Norman Osborn simply for working for Tony Stark instead. And instead of getting superpowers, the spider-bite only made his right arm almost useless.
In this universe, Logan... well... has the same problems as usual.
In this universe, Matt Murdock is a blind, yet brilliant, attorney, whose struggle against Wilson Fisk seems to be Unwinnable due to the latter having blackmailed a Mis-blamed Frank Castle into admitting a crime he didn't commit, in order to get away with it. A particularly traumatic experience is only the first price the man will pay for doing his job.
In this universe, Bruce Banner is simply held captive in an asylum due to... well, you know.
See also Bullet Points for a series that similarly turns the Marvel Universe on its head, and as such, for example, in Italy got reprinted together with Powerless in a single book. The Noir books also tread a lot of the same ground but transfer the setting to the 1930s.
Please be sure to add tropes with spoilers, all ye Tropers who browse.
This Marvel Comics Series provides examples of:
- Adaptational Nationality: All of the characters undergo massive status quo changes from their mainstream counterparts, but Magneto is one of the most drastic examples. Instead of an elderly European Holocaust survivor named Erik Lensherr (born Max Eisenhardt), he's a middle-aged American politician named Eric Magnus.
- Age Lift: Since he lacks slowed aging or a Healing Factors in this continuity, it's safe to assume Logan wasn't born in the 1800's here.
- Bittersweet Ending: Peter manages to save Gwen from Norman (who dies), causing his outlook on life to change for the better. However, Matt Murdock is killed, and even though Frank successfully avenges him, it won't bring him back. And while Logan manages to kill Eric and take back his life, he's likely going to be a fugitive for the rest of his days.
- Butt-Monkey: While, for once, Peter Parker comes out of the crap he's been put through pretty well, Matt Murdock isn't so lucky.
- Cassandra Truth: Gwen just won't believe Peter about Osborn's blackmailing.
- Comes Great Responsibility: Referenced by Peter, when he tells Watts about something his uncle Ben said before dying.
- Crapsack World: This series shows very well what living in the same city where either Osborn or Fisk, in a real world without superpowers, is like. But with this being the Marvel Universe, this is a given.
- Death by Adaptation: Quite a few:
- Logan's plot is kicked off by the murder of Charles Xavier.
- Frank is on trial for killing Leland Owlsley. He was actually framed by Wilson Fisk.
- Logan kills Mystique after she tries to report back to her superiors, and then disposes of her body.
- It's unclear, but it's possible Mort (Toad) was killed in the car accident Logan caused since he's never seen or mentioned again.
- In a rather tragic turn, Matt Murdock is killed by Wilson Fisk after successfully foiling his plan to frame Frank.
- Fisk is then killed by Frank in retaliation, ending his reign of terror once and for all.
- It's heavily implied that Logan strangles Eric to death, though it isn't shown.
- Norman falls off a rooftop while trying to catch the documents on the Iron Man armor. And since he doesn't have a Healing Factor in this continuity, it means he's not coming back this time.
- Demoted to Extra: Reed and Susan Richards, the prison inmates (see Mythology Gag below), Stephen Strange, Henry Pym, Emma Frost, and to a lesser extent, Bruce Banner.
- Disney Villain Death: This time around, Norman Osborn is the one who suffers Gwen Stacy's fate. Though you get to see the outcome instead of turning away.
- Doing In the Wizard: In a world without magic, Stephen Strange makes a living as a street magician.
- Elseworld: No duh.
- In Spite of a Nail: Even in a universe without superpowers, Wolverine is still Weapon X and Frank Castle still becomes the Punisher.
- Heroic BSoD: Poor Watts, when he saw the headlines announcing Matt Murdock's assassination, he didn't take it well. Doubles as Oh, Crap!.
- Important Haircut: More of an Important Mustache cut, but there you go. That's how Watts becomes a carbon copy of The Watcher (as noted below, see "The Watcher"), thus ending the series.
- Karma Houdini: Wilson Fisk, obviously. Until he has to "consider himself punished".
- Kick the Dog: Wilson Fisk does this to a Mis-blamed Frank Castle, but beware...
- The Dog Bites Back: Castle eventually kills Fisk.
- Killed Off for Real: By the end of the miniseries, the body count is as follows: Matt Murdock and Karen Page, Wilson Fisk, Norman Osborn, and heavily implied with Eric Magnus and Mystique.
- Lampshade Hanging: Of a Mythology Gag - when leaving Peter alone, fellow scientist Curt Connors says he has to do experiments with reptiles, about which he comments, "Don't ask".
- Miscarriage of Justice: Frank Castle, very nearly.
- Mythology Gag: All over the place. This trope gets pulled off best when a panel shows a shot of various super-villains (another superimposed hallucination of Watts) and the next one shows their Powerless counterparts, who are simple jailbirds.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Poor Matt Murdock, he didn't survive that one.
- Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Frank Castle's "Consider yourself punished." line, and also Logan when he tells Eric Magnus, "but I was looking forward to meet you."
- Red Right Hand: A whole right arm at that, but still, Peter Parker's epic Butt-Monkey status has reached even this universe, this time with the spider not only giving him problems as usual, but even weakening him instead of giving him superpowers. Poor boy, you'll just want to hug him.
- Reality Ensues
- The prototype Iron Man is much more in line with real-world modern military technology, as it lacks the ability to fly or fire repulsor blasts. It also apparently isn't powered by an arc reactor, meaning it'd likely have a much shorter battery life before shutting down.
- The spider bite that gave Peter incredible superpowers in the original comics just made him sick and disfigured his arm in this version.
- Matt Murdock isn't a Badass Normal ninja vigilante with Super Senses, but just a normal blind man. He actually stumbles and trips during his first appearance, something that would never happen to the mainstream Matt Murdock. When he is finally confronted by the Kingpin at the end, he's beaten to death rather easily.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Fisk shamelessly teases Matt Murdock with photos depicting his Old Shame - namely, Matt doing drugs - right before killing him.
- Shout-Out: Too many to count - but they're more like a certain similar trope you can see above.
- Spared by the Adaptation: It initially seems like history is going to repeat itself and Gwen is going to be killed by Norman Osborn. However, Peter manages to catch her before she falls off the roof.
- Title Drop: As remarked by Watts in the very last panel of the whole series, "Sometimes we're just powerless".
- V-Formation Team Shot: The cover of the first issue, as shown above.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Wilson Fisk, to the point of having the balls to give Matt Murdock, whom he killed without any regret an eulogy.
- The Watcher: Quite fittingly, the audience discovers that Watts is an alternate version of The Watcher when he looks in the mirror.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Iron Man suit.
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Referenced by Peter Parker when he asks Watts one.
- Wolverine Claws: Logan still has them but here they are bladed gauntlets instead of metal laced bone claws. It's the closest thing to a real superpower still existing in this universe. That, and the Iron Man suit (if it will ever be completed).
- You Can't Fight Fate: Matt Murdock; averted with Peter Parker and Logan.