With a very simple premise, “Powerless” is about as wacky an episode as A:EMH tends to get. When I first read the slugline before the show aired, I was skeptical at the premise that the Avengers all get stripped of their powers. (It’s not all of them, as it turns out, but anyway). How is that possible when all their powers come from different sources? Thor was born a thunder god and has his powers innately; Tony built his armor with advanced technology; Cap’s super-soldier skill, if you can even call that a power, comes from chemicals; Hawkeye’s a really good archer, Ant-Man and Wasp draw on super-science, and Ms. Marvel got hers from space. But in the wild and wacky world of the Marvel universe, the answer to this conundrum is very simple: a wizard did it.
Or a witch in this case. Enchantress, still in the service of the fire-god Surtur, pays a visit to the imprisoned Loki to make him an offer: she’ll use a spell that will strip the Avengers of their powers, while he will use the Destroyer to take them down while they’re vulnerable. So as the revitalized Avengers engage the Wrecking Crew in battle (sans Piledriver, who I guess is still in prison), the Big Three are struck with the spell, stranding Tony in his clunky Mk-I armor, turning Thor into a strapping human with a sledgehammer, and reverting Cap to his meek 90-pound body that can barely lift his shield. Only Hawkeye is unaffected, and must work frantically to keep his powerless teammates from getting flattened.
Watching our heroes scramble around with no powers while evading the Wrecking Crew and the Destroyer makes for plenty of delicious suspense. Tony is the most interesting; simply leaving him with no armor wouldn’t be enough, as he could just summon another suit from the mansion. Instead, not only is he back in the Mk-I suit, but he has a mental block that keeps him from calling on his super science-y brain, the true source of his power. Cap was my favorite; despite looking like a teenager, he doggedly fights on at every opportunity, deftly dropping an I-beam at the Destroyer before running up and taking a wrench to the mechanoid’s face. (Also I believe Brian Bloom plays scrawny Cap with a slightly higher register than normal.) Showing super-heroes suddenly stripped of their powers is well-worn territory, and I appreciated that the writers don’t hit us over the head with the theme about powers not making a hero or whatever. Hawkeye doesn’t stop every five seconds to whine about how nobody appreciates him because he’s human; instead he does his job and protects his teammates.
My only complaint has to do with the conditions of Enchantress’s spell. She tells Loki that “if Thor learns humility before you complete your task, the spell will be broken.” Loki is sure Thor is far too arrogant for such a thing, except that’s not quite the character we’ve seen on the show, and in fact he appears to show plenty of humility when he laments that his powerless state (and his broken leg) make him a liability. Isn’t that what humility is? Admitting you’re not perfect? There was also a minor contrivance early on: at the beginning when they’re hit by the spell, the guys note that they all lost their Avengers cards in the blast so they can’t call for back-up. We wouldn’t want to make things too easy for them, right? Except wait--can’t they use Hawkeye’s card? Nope, he conveniently forgot to bring his today.
Nonetheless, “Powerless” takes a classic concept and runs with it for a deftly suspenseful action yarn.
SIDENOTE: As has been reported already, the current plan over at Marvel Animation is to let Earth’s Mightiest Heroes end and replace it with the new series Avengers Assemble, though exactly how Assemble will be different from EMH is still as unclear as whether or not Assemble is a continuation of EMH. One assertion by the guys in charge was that Assemble would follow closer to the popular Avengers films, which always sounded like a headscratcher: How much closer? Wasn’t following the films the objective of this show from the start? Case in point, this episode is full of visual references to the movies. Tony’s Mk-I armor is a dead ringer for the one from his origin movie; likewise for Thor in his civilian mode and for Cap as a tiny, scrawny civilian (Cap’s t-shirt notwithstanding). Even the way the Destroyer’s face opens up to fire his energy blast is just like in the film. It’s hard to imagine what Marvel hopes to accomplish with Assemble that EMH can’t already provide.