We all know this type of guy. He wears an unusual outfit and shows up to fight villains or monsters. He's probably got a Secret Identity and a mild-mannered alter ego to keep his private and crimefighting life separate.
Sounds like a Superhero, right? He probably will get called that, too. But in this case he hasn't got any superpowers. He's probably an expert fighter, sure, and he may have all sorts of gadgets or other unusual advantages, but there's nothing more superhuman about him than perhaps unrealistically good human skills or abilities. (Being good at it isn't a requirement, though... just highly preferable for survival.) So he's a Non-Powered Costumed Hero.
If the setting has proper superheroes or other individuals with powers and the non-super can keep up with them, then the character is a Badass Normal as well. Don't confuse the two tropes, though; Badass Normal is about having no powers but matching those who do, this is about having no powers and wearing a costume. So, for example:
- The Phantom is a Non-Powered Costumed Hero but not Badass Normal, because while there is some magic in his world, there are no powered superheroes in his stories to compare to.
- Ajax does without powers in a setting filled with divine influences, but obviously isn't a costumed crimefighter, so he's Badass Normal but not Non-Powered Costumed Hero.
- Batman is both, working alongside Superheroes and fighting Supervillains.
The character is probably Super Weight Class 1 (unpowered but formidable), although they could be lower if they're just, you know, bad at what they do. They tend towards being The Cowl. The Proto-Superhero is likely to be this, as many pre-date the assumption that superheroes needed special powers.
The actual type of costume varies, but may involve Cool Mask, Coat, Hat, Mask, Badass Longcoat, Superheroes Wear Tights and/or Superheroes Wear Capes. Due to the nature of the trope, tropes about superheroes wearing stuff usually apply here too.
The trope is not about villains, at least not traditional ones (no Joker), but the character doesn't need to be "genuinely" heroic. As long as someone, even if just the character themselves, sees them as fulfilling the "costumed hero" role, that suffices. An Anti-Hero or Knight Templar could qualify.
Contrast with Clothes Make the Superman, where the character becomes powered when wearing the costume.
- At the end of Tiger & Bunny Kotetsu decides that he's going to be one of these once his powers run out completely.
- Mumen Rider from One-Punch Man would qualify as one, being only equipped with his bike, his helmet, and an near insane determination to protect innocent people from evil, even when it is clear he has absolutely no chance of success. Which is borderline sad when he is put up against the Deep Sea King.
- Batman, and most of his supporting cast - Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Oracle, Huntress, Spoiler, Red Robin, Black Bat, Orpheus, etc.
- In Watchmen, all the costumed crimefighters are ordinary people — except for Dr. Manhattan, who's on another level altogether. Also the Trope Namer, though the phrase "non-powered costumed hero" is only used once in passing (chapter V, page 13, of Under the Hood).
- The Question.
- Superduck/Paperinik, the costumed hero alter ego of Donald Duck, who's popular in European Disney comics. He's basically the Batman of Duckburg: he has no powers, he fights crime in a costume, few people know he's actually Donald, and he uses all sorts of gadgets developed by Gyro Gearloose. The stories where Donald appears in this guise seem to be in a whole different continuity from all others, as his becoming a badass with a Secret Identity would have huge ramifications for his character.
- Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher who has a costume, but not a mask or Secret Identity.
- Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle (but not Dan Garret or Jaime Reyes).
- Also from Charlton Comics, Judomaster and Peacemaker.
- Karate Kid of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Since the Legion's bylaws require each member to have a unique superpower, yet Karate Kid is an ordinary human, fans joke that his "power" is being able to put Superboy in a headlock.
- Avenger (formerly the Pink Avenger) from Gold Digger — one of the few super-heroes in that Verse who continues to do her thing publicly and in costume instead of joining the MIB organization Agency Zero.
- Many heroes in The Tick, aside from those Blessed with Suck such as 4-Legged Man. Arthur is the most prominent (and least capable) example.
- Green Arrow and most of his sidekicks (Roy Harper, Connor Hawke, Mia Dearden).
- Hawkeye: A former Circus Brat who, after seeing Iron Man in action, decided he could do it better. Arguably, since Tony was born into the Fiction 500 while Clint just has Trick Arrows and pure stubbornness, he does.
- Kate Bishop / Hawkeye II, The Team Normal of the Young Avengers.
- Mockingbird: Though she was originally a spy, she dipped into costumed heroing when she discovered high levels of corruption within SHIELD and had her professional reputation tarnished trying to expose it And after being put ito a coma, dropped her civilian alias to protect her family.
- DC's The Seven Soldiers of Victory. (The Original Lineup, none of this Grant Morrison nonsense): Shining Knight, Vigilante, the aforementioned Green Arrow, Speedy, Star-Spangled Kid, STRIPE, and Crimson Avenger. Then they joined the All Star Squadron, with powered heroes like the Flash (Jay Garrick), Superman, and Firebrand II
- Colt from Femforce.
- Super with Rainn Wilson and Defendor were built on the same premise, but got overshadowed by the more mainstream Kick-Ass.
- Most of the Mystery Men.
- Scarlet Leon in Baśń O Ludziach Stąd, though he's taken seriously by total of two people. One, if you don't count himself.
- The two movies Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 show quite ordinary people who want to make New York safer, and for this reason dress themselves as superheroes to beat criminals. But it does not take long until there are the first supervillains.
- Zorro: Don Diego de la Vega fights corruption and crime in Spanish California, with only his wealth, wits, rapier, and trusty horse. He uses the alias Zorro to deflect attention away from him.
- In After The Golden Age, the Hawk is a vigilante costumed hero, and is famous for being the only superhero in Commerce City with no actual superpowers.
- Called "costumed adventurers" in the works of Simon R. Green, who's used quite a few of them in his urban fantasy novels. Most notably, there's Ms. Fate from the Nightside, Indigo Spirit from the Secret Histories, and pulp Proto-Superhero Lester Gold from Shadows Fall.
- Justice Jack from the Sammy Keyes series. His heroism tends to be ineffectual at best, but he does try.
- The heroes in Relativity don't have super powers, but some of the villains do.
- Averted in Super Powereds, where vigilantism is strictly illegal with serious consequences for anyone caught doing that. Only Supers, who have gone through the tough four-year Hero Certification Program, offered at 5 US colleges, can become certified Heroes. Normal humans are simply outclassed against Super criminals.
- Domino Lady
- "Northwestward": Invoked Trope, because Mr Wayne, tonights dinner guest, claims that the character Batman (of Batman) is "restricted to entirely human abilities" because of his insistence.
- Arrow Based on the DC Comics, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen returns home to Starling City five years after being presumed lost at sea along with his father when the family's yacht supposedly sinks in a storm in the North China Sea. Upon his return, Oliver embarks on a crusade against crime in Starling City using a set of skills he obtained during his years away; archery, hand to hand combat and a wide variety of martial arts; all while under the hooded (and later masked) persona known publicly at first as "The Hood" and "The Vigilante", then as "The Arrow" and finally (and currently) as "The Green Arrow". He gradually amasses a team of fellow hooded/masked/otherwise disguised vigilantes, with members joining and exiting the group throughout the series, including his bodyguard and best friend John Diggle as 'Spartan', his younger sister Thea as 'Speedy', his ex-girlfriend Laurel as 'The Black Canary' and Thea's boyfriend Roy Harper as 'Arsenal'.
- Padre Coraje from a telenovela by the same name: A hooded man in the 1950s Argentina, making justice among the rural workers of the village of La Cruz.
- Bones has a variation of this. One of the victims was a teenage amateur comic book writer, having his own Author Avatar as the hero. He was found dead in the costume of the hero he created. The kid died trying to protect an abused woman he had a crush on from her husband. The husband killed the kid, fully aware of the fact that he was dying of cancer.
- Black Scorpion
- An episode of iZombie involved a man pretending to be a superhero. He stops a group of thugs from attacking a woman and is later found dead. After eating his brain, Liv starts to think in comic book speak, mentally monologueing her actions, and even makes a costume for herself. She doesn't count as this trope, though, given that she's a zombie. She does get to meet a few other "superheroes" from the dead guy's team. She finds out that the killer was the woman he was trying to save. She was a thief, and he ended up discovering what she stole.
- The Cape is one, although he doesn't really have a secret identity, since Vince Faraday is supposed to be dead. While he doesn't have powers, he has excellent hand-to-hand combat skills, as well as "magic" skills taught to him by carnies (such as vanishing in a cloud of smoke). He also has a special cape made of super-strong and super-stretchable spider silk, which he learns to use to great effect.
- The Phantom. Even his "civilian" attire — long coat, shades and hat on top of his bodysuit — practically counts as a costume of this sort, and since he has no proper civilian identity, it really is more a disguise than his superhero outfit is.
- The Spirit. He only wore a mask as a concession to the editor, who felt audiences wouldn't buy a crimefighter who didn't wear a costume.
- Human-Man, from Tom the Dancing Bug, is a superhero with human powers: "Bipedal locomotion; Functioning nervous system; Opposable thumbs". Human-Man always loses his fights, because he has no powers. Human-Man makes a contrast with God-Man, a superhero who has God powers but is too stupid to use them well.
- The "Techno" class in Super Munchkin.
- In City of Heroes, Manticore and his Evil Twin Chimera. Also, any Player Character could have been this if the player chose, typically involving taking the Natural origin and powers that are less-obviously super, like Martial Arts, Willpower, Gadgets, Devices, the various weapon sets, and many Mastermind summon sets (particularly Robots, Thugs, Mercenaries, and Ninjas). The unfinished Utility Belt and Gadgetry power pools would have played into this trope, too.
- Overwatch gleefully dances the line with this trope. Very few of the heroes have powers themselves, but all of them have and wear tech that grants them special abilities. The ones that do have powers are the results of experiments, cybernetically enhanced, or robots; even then, it's not entirely clear whether the character is the source of the power or just using something else. McCree is probably the closest example. Every other character has some form of superhuman ability, be it Powers From Technology, using magic dragons, or being a Super Soldier, robot, or Gorilla scientist from the moon. McCree? He's really good with a revolver.
- In Heroes Rise, there is a briefly-mentioned Super Team known as the Everyman Brigade, composed entirely of non-Powered heroes. In the second game, there are two non-Powered contestants. Both of them use suits that allow them to fly and fire all manner of weapons. One of them represents the Meek, an organization spouting anti-Powered slogans, and the other is an undercover agent, sent to investigate corruption within the competition.
- Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich introduces three World War II-era heroes. Since they haven't been struck by Energy X, none of them have superpowers. Jack St. John Spade (AKA Black Jack) is a British scientist, who uses a good old-fashioned pistol and various gadgets to fight Nazis. Sabrinne Tricolette (AKA Tricolour) is a French fencing champion, who primarily uses her skill with a sword for combat. Ace Gunner (AKA Sky King) is a former Hollywood star, who uses his Jet Pack-equipped suit (armed with chain guns and grenade launchers) to become a genuine hero.
- Pulp Adventures includes some of the previously mentioned characters in its long roster of available party members (The Phantom, The Spirit, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and Zorro).
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
"What's your superpower anyway?"
- Invincible Man, who was faking being a superhero until someone tried to shoot him and succeeded. (Or before the votey was added, just didn't have powers.)
- The Iron Sociopath, who fights crime to get to commit more violence. His other job is as a politician.
- Doctor McNinja sort of counts, but the Rule of Cool nature of the setting and his skills as a McNinja (including harming ghosts by humming the theme to Ghostbusters make it less reliable. He also is very much a fan of Batman.
- In the Sluggy Freelance filler story "Stick-Figure Tales of Cotton", parodying the superhero genre, Riff becomes "Science Guy", fighting bad guys with gadgets, although actually he only ever uses the bazooka. In his origin story, which is a parody of Batman's, his parents get shot and he first becomes "Orphan-Boy", with the proportional speed, strength and dexterity of someone without parents. His superhero outfit is the same as Riff's normal outfit (insofar as you can tell on a stick figure), except that he wears the Badass Longcoat as a cape.
- Athleta and Ms. Terial in The KA Mics.
- In this El Goonish Shive guest comic, Tedd and Sarah fit this role being unpowered but part of a superhero team.
- The Munchkin Man has James Andrews, alias Rocketman. His "gadgets" include a big gun and what may or may not be jet shoes.
- Justice Squad: Nightflyer, being an Expy of Batman, acts as one of these to the titular team.
- Brigand of the Whateley Universe. While considered in-universe to be a supervillain, he's an anti-hero who fights crime by stopping and exposing corporate crime, in his efforts to track down the monsters who long ago forced him to kill his own father.
- In the Red Panda Adventures, the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel are regularly shown to be on par, if not far better than, heroes and villains wielding superpowers, magic, and superscience. All while they have only cunning, guile, martial arts training, and plenty of gadgets like Wall Crawl enabling static shoes. The Red Panda does have one advantage in that he's trained himself to be a master of hypnosis, which he often uses in misdirection and interrogation. Even if that disqualifies the Panda, however, the Flying Squirrel lacks that ability and is considered by some to be the more dangerous of the two. At one point the Red Panda wipes the floor with a Superman expy with his greater skill, hypnosis, and gauntlets that provide his punches more power all while trying to teach him an actual lesson.
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh:
- Winnie-the-Pooh becomes one of these in the Show Within a Show in the episode "Paw and Order", appearing to fight Nasty Jack and his gang of horse thieves (as in, they're horses) as "the Masked Bear". Eeyore, too, gets a mask as the "faithful steed".
- In "The Masked Offender", Tigger is inspired to try to be one by stories about "the Masked Avenger", though as you can see from the episode title, he doesn't quite get the name right.
- The Blue Spirit on Avatar: The Last Airbender serves his country and sees his goals as honorable despite being an antagonist within the context of the story. He actually invokes this trope willingly, since he uses Elemental Powers under his Secret Identity but Fights Like a Normal while in costume.
- In Phantom Investigators, Daemona is the only member of the team without powers, but she wears a mask and uniform (not to mention a different hairstyle) while on the job. Notably, nobody else on the team wears a costume.
- There are about 300 registered superheroes in the United States. Presumably, they don't have powers.