Created By: KingZeal on September 5, 2012 Last Edited By: KingZeal on November 22, 2012

Small Steps Hero

The hero prefers to defeat evil through small steps, often ignoring the greater good.

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This sort of hero will always choose saving an innocent versus stopping the Big Bad here and now. Said Big Bad may retaliate by harming more innocents than they saved later on, but this hero is only concerned with the problem that's right in front of them. They won't stop doing what's right just because they're told something bad will happen in the future, even if it brings cataclysmic disaster. What's important is that there's some good that can be done today, and whatever obscure threats arise from it are Someone Else's Problem. Or maybe it will be theirs. But just not right now.

To this hero, either doing good is always morally right, even if you can't see the benefit, or there IS no moral right, so you might as well only do good you can see. Similarly, this hero is usually Lawful and/or Good, and may be Vitriolic Best Buds with the Heroic Neutral. The Heroic Neutral is only interested in saving those to whom they feel personal loyalty; the Small Steps Hero agrees--except they feel personal loyalty to anyone in immediate, corporeal danger.

Not uncommonly, this hero is very confident in their principles and tends not to blame themselves over their decision. If the time they spend saving one Innocent Bystander allows the bad guy to kill a Bus Full of Innocents, the person they blame is the antagonist that forced their hand. Once that innocent is safe, however, the next step is to bring that Omnicidal Maniac to justice.

The reasons for this vary. The hero may be too stupid or too incompetent to do anything else, tied to a personal code or sense of honor, too cynical to believe in a greater good, unable to cope with the guilt of directly watching someone die, or under the belief that they will become a Well-Intentioned Extremist if they ignore an innocent For The Greater Good. A Martyr Without a Cause may reason this way, being willing to sacrifice themselves to save one person while ignoring the fact it would leave no one around to stop the villain. If the Dangerously Genre Savvy villain catches on, they can easily keep the Small Steps Hero at bay in this way by having no end of kittens to threaten whenever they're going to get caught.

How this pays off varies.

This hero, by definition, always faces a To Be Lawful or Good situation, although which one it counts as depends on whether they themselves are Lawful or Good. May overlap with Always Save the Girl, in which the small good the hero does relates to someone they're personally connected to. See also Chronic Hero Syndrome, which is almost always fueled by this personality.

As mentioned before, a common target for a Sadistic Choice.

The polar opposite of the Well-Intentioned Extremist, Unscrupulous Hero, and Tautological Templar. This hero shuns Omniscient Morality License. If The Hero changes their mind from moment-to-moment, this may turn in to a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow. This trope Enforces the "Unavoidable" side of the Sliding Scale of Unavoidable vs. Unforgivable.

Anime & Manga
  • Goku from Dragonball Z is a fine example. The only time Goku is willing to let someone die for his cause is when he's sure they can come Back from the Dead, if they've made up their own minds to do so, or if he has no other choice. Other than that, he will try to save everyone.

Comic books
  • Superman embodies this trope. If he chose to, he could solve every problem on the planet if he risked a Zero-Approval Gambit or invoked Might Makes Right. But he chooses not to because he doesn't see himself as any more of a man than the earthlings he protects. He will gladly sacrifice himself or let a God of Evil like Darkseid escape justice if it means he can save just one human life.
    • In Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Superman actually rejects this philosophy in the end, accepting that pretending to be a man is wrong when it's clear you aren't one, and that with great power . . . yadda yadda.
    • This was combined with Super Dickery in the classic The Death of Superman story. Superman is chasing Doomsday (an unstoppable juggernaut that can level cities in seconds flat) while a family is trapped in the burning ruins of their house. The issue ends with Superman intentionally blocking out a boy's pleas for help to continue his pursuit. The next issue, however, opens with Superman stating that he was hoping one of the Justice League members would have woken up from their Doomsday-delivered ass-beating. He's about to turn around and go help the family anyway when Doomsday sucker punches him. Luckily, the League does wake up.
  • Batman. This trope is actually one of the things he looks up to Superman for, and as the richest man on the planet, he could potentially solve even more problems than his friend if he would ignore being Batman for a significant amount of time. Whether he embraces this trope or not in a given story, however, is a case of Depending on the Writer.
  • Captain America, more often than not. He thinks more like a soldier than your typical superhero, though he puts The Men First and is quite unwilling to sacrifice anyone.
  • Nova. Examples include: ignoring warnings about changing time just to save one life, refusing to save himself (or the collective intelligence of his galactic order) just to give a population enough time to evacuate before Galactus ate their planet, and refusing a Re-Power chance because the person who offered it works for HYDRA part-time. In the last case, keep in mind that he he was dying without his powers, Ego The Living Planet had taken over the Nova Corps, and the scientist crushing on him desperately wanted to save his life.
  • Spider-man is usually this. An example comes in Ultimatum, where Ultimate Spiderman stays behind in Manhattan, rescuing any civilians drowning from the flooding of New York. Virtually every other hero quickly left New York to fight Magneto and Doctor Doom and save the world. Spider-man was diving fathoms deep into the flooded streets of New York just to find one person to save and then diving right back down to find another.
  • Originally, this was what separated Reed Richards from his Arch-Nemesis, Doctor Doom. In most Alternate Timelines in which Doom has conquered the Earth, he eventually creates a Utopia. However, he initially creates it through fear, tyranny and sometimes outright atrocities. Reed refuses to take this method and usually acts heroically even when he knows it's logically unsound (sometimes at the coaxing of his wife). However, later depictions of Reed have abandoned this outlook.

  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, the eponymous hero was fully prepared to let an escaping Nazi get away with the Super Serum that created him, just to save a drowning child. Subverted when the child yells, "I can swim! Go get 'im!"
  • John Conner in Terminator 2. When his mother turns Vigilante and decides to kill the man responsible for the foretold Robot Apocalypse, John demands that the Terminator take him to stop her, even if his death could save billions.
    Terminator: This is tactically dangerous.
    John: Drive faster.
    Terminator: The T-1000 has the same files that I do. It knows what I know. It might anticipate this move.
    John: I don't care. We gotta stop her.
    Terminator: Killing Dyson might actually prevent the war.
    John: I don't care! Haven't you learned anything yet? Haven't you figured out why you can't kill people?

Tabletop RPG
  • Dungeons & Dragons' "Book of Exalted Deeds" (a 3.5 Edition supplement) explicitly states that it's the duty of a Lawful Good character to never do an evil act. Any evil act. Period. The rules state unambiguously that ends never, ever, justify the means, no matter how small the evil was and how beneficial the results were.
  • Both Champions and DC Heroes stated that heroes were expected to rescue innocents even if it meant letting the villain(s) get away.

  • It must be noted: Despite providing the page quote, Mordin Solus of Mass Effect is Not an Example of the trope, though he describes it succinctly. Mordin is perfectly fine with making sacrifices if necessary, but he simply believes he made a mistake before and sacrificed too much.
  • The protagonist of Tales of Vesperia, Yuri Lowell. Don't get it wrong--Yuri is a shining example of Good Is Not Nice and will gladly say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! even if it means Paying Evil Unto Evil. However, if he's faced with sacrificing just one innocent life to save the world, he will not do it.
  • This is the entire gameplay mechanic that Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar resolves around. The Player Character is forced to commit performing small amounts of good and avoiding bad deeds in order to fulfill the Eight Virtues. Future games, especially Pagan, deconstruct the hell out of this trope.
  • Vyse of Skies of Arcadia. In particular, he will willingly give up the Mac Guffins that control the Doomsday Device to protect innocent people.

Western Animation
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