So many long hours spent around sick people, and I got numb to it, I stopped caring. Do you know how many hours I've spent awake at night, wishing my powers would just go away, or that some circumstance would come up where I'd make some excusable mistake where they would eventually forgive me, but where I couldn't visit the hospitals anymore?Exactly What It Says on the Tin, this is a trope where The Hero, suffering from (or enjoying, depending on the mood of the story) Chronic Hero Syndrome, spends so much of his time and effort helping people, that it is physically and emotionally wearing him down to the breaking point. It can be even worse for him if he has something akin to super hearing or telepathy, so he can always hear people calling for help, even when he's trying to get an hour or two of sleep before clocking in for his Stock Super hero Day Job and chugging coffee for the entire day. This may lead sooner or later to Passing the Torch and Retired Badass, or in more cynical works, a Heroic B.S.O.D. or a Despair Event Horizon, as the increasingly strung-out and hopeless hero just loses it because he can't save all those people who need him. This could of course apply to the villain, for many of the same reasons (well, presumably not the strain of constantly having to save people, but certainly the stresses of dealing with the superheros and law enforcement would be an issue). For the physical counterpart, where the mind is willing but the body is failing, see Feeling Their Age.
open/close all folders
- Spider-Man has gone through this more than once. He got his powers as a teen, had no adult guidance and was trying to fight crime, help Aunt May with bills, keep up school work and try to have something resembling a social life all while being the quintessential Hero with Bad Publicity. He's been shown quitting, trying to get rid of his powers and even resorting to crime (albeit influenced by a malevolent being or force) to get a form of compensation.
- Batman has a tendency to go through this anytime he (temporarily) gains super powers. Engineering this was Bane's goal in Knightfall, and it worked. Notable in that Batman never mentally tires of the job; in his case, it's always physical exhaustion.
- Happened to The Plutonian prior to his massive Face–Heel Turn in Irredeemable, part of his powerset was Super Senses that he couldn't turn off, so he always heard everyone suffering everywhere. When he decided to go into space for a little while, where the vacuum would prevent him from hearing anything, his absence coincided with an alien virus breaking loose and causing the horrible deaths of hundreds of children.
Films — Animated
- In Megamind, Metroman gets so tired of being a hero all the time he fakes his death.
Films — Live-Action
- Daredevil: We see the hero going through his before-bed routine, getting everything put away in just the right place, climbing into the sound-proof casket (necessary due to his super hearing), only for him to hear a woman somewhere nearby crying for help. He only lets out an exhausted sigh before slowly closing the casket to close out the sound.
- As with the comics, this is a recurring theme in the Spider-Man Trilogy films. Its most pronounced in the second movie where the stress of his chosen life causes his powers to start failing. By the beginning of the third film, he seems to have found some balance and Mary Jane being in his life helps.
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2 uses this trope as well, being about Spider-Man and all. Gwen Stacy's death and being forced to fight a good friend of his drove Peter to despair, and he stopped being Spidey for five months.
- It is not uncommon for Heralds of Valdemar to experience this, however Vanyel suffers worse than most. Throughout the second two books he is in almost constant state of overwork, starting with returning after an entire year of simultaneously filling in for five other Herald-Mages on the battlelines.
- The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden goes through this all the time. Often he will forget to eat, or sleep when he's on a case and the world needs saving from supernatural doom. By the time he manages to solve everything he's usually so strung out that he often ends up just blacking out from exhaustion.
- Alaric Morgan is particularly prone to this in regards his Deryni powers. He is apt to use use his powers literally to the point of falling over at times, unless he he is prevented from doing so. Kelson scolds him for it in The King's Justice, and Azim forbids him from helping with Derry after he and Dhugal have just spent themselves Healing Mátyás in King Kelson's Bride.
- The Curse of Chalion: Poor Cazaril! To list all his tribulations would be a massive wall of text, but to sum up: in the novel, he rides 800 miles on horseback with a demon-infested tumor in his stomach. Before the novel takes place, he holds a fortress against an extended siege, and the starvation and disease that go along with that. Then he's sold into slavery aboard a galley, where he nearly dies to save Chekhov's Oarman. By the end of the novel he has literally almost hero'ed himself to death.
- The protagonist of Beachwalker develops a bad case of this partway through the book as she tries to juggle treating her patient, surviving the aftermath of an earthquake, and a bullet wound all at the same time.
- In World War Z, the American President during the latter part of the zombie outbreak is described like this. Though he is, by all accounts, an incredible leader who kept his country from collapsing from depression and fatigue, it's mentioned that he suffered from extreme stress during his time in office and died soon after stepping down.
"I have heard that hard times make great men. I do not know if that is true. But I do know that hard times will break great men."
- Rule 34: Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is realizing that not only has she been Reassigned to Antarctica, but that she has become burnt out by years of policework and just doesn't really care about her career anymore. She still cares about solving the case she's on, but much of that is simply following leads and passing information back and forth with the other cops. It's the big picture she no longer cares about.
- In Worm, Panacea has the power of complete control over the biology of anything she touches. She uses this to simulate Healing Hands, and she can cure virtually any ailment or sickness. From the moment her powers triggered as a child, she spent all her free time visiting hospitals, because she couldn't live with herself if she didn't. As time went by, however, she got sick of seeing illness and sick people around her all the time, to the point that she was almost on the edge of a complete breakdown, so when Tattletale, Bonesaw, and Jack Slash administered successive Breaking Speeches to her, she had a nervous breakdown and accidentally turned her sister into pure Body Horror.
Live Action Television
- As a human, Cordelia was not meant to shoulder the responsibility of Doyle's visions ("a big cosmic whoops", as Skip calls it). She secretly takes powerful painkillers and undergoes CAT scans that indicate the slow deterioration of her brain.
- Yet when presented with the opportunity to pass her visions onto someone else (the gallant Groosalugg, and later Angel in an alternate reality), Cordelia refuses, stating that the visions are a part of her and make her who she is.
- In Smallville, Sneeze, Clark wears himself out trying to fix an entire ruined Metropolis.
- In Heroes season 4, Peter wore himself to the breaking point trying to rescue and heal people in his job as a paramedic using his abilities.
- In an episode of Lois & Clark, Lois was near the breaking point when she realized that even with all of Superman's (borrowed) powers, she could not save everyone.
- In The Listener this turns out to be a plot point. Toby will die if he continues to use his powers and in the second season finale, shuts off his telepathy
- Merlin: Almost every character will at some point suffer this, but Merlin the most.
Table Top Games
- By Mass Effect 3, Commander Shepard really starts getting hit with this. Companions bring it up to him/her fairly often and by the end of the game, even before the final battle, s/he sounds completely exhausted and spent. The player is made to feel his/her exhaustion at the very end when after being injured in the dash to the teleportation beam, Shepard is reduced to a slow stagger for the remainder of the game.
- Aki in Namco High has the problem of having not only superhero responsibilities, but also being possibly the biggest perfectionist workaholic in the history of the world, to ensure a state of permanent exhaustion and being late for things often enough to end up in detention.
- The main character of Contact experiences this after an ignoble defeat about 3/4s through the game. He also has a similarly bad reaction at the end, when he actually tries to fight the player through the screen after realizing he was manipulated.
- Heavily implied to be happening to the player character in Final Fantasy XIV during the Dark Knight job quests. They are so tired of always being the hero and they want to get away from it all so that they can do what they want to do rather than being everyone's knight in shining armor that also does menial tasks for people without a word of thanks in return. It turns out that while the player character does harbor such feelings, it is only their inner darkness/turmoil that's eating them alive and wanting to come out so they can tell everyone how they really feel about them. The NPC that is in charge of teaching the player character new skills turns out to be the player character's inner desires of wanting to abandon the role of hero and it manifests itself as a separate entity, attacking the player character for total dominance since they're still resisting their inner desires.
- A superhero in Mandatory Roller Coaster routinely stands atop buildings in order to curse the city's inhabitants and feel sorry for himself.
- Batman suffers an emotional breakdown like this in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "I Am The Night". He's finally pushed over the edge when Commissioner Gordon is shot during a stakeout he was late to while putting flowers on his parents death site in Crime Alley.
- J'onn J'onzz temporarily quits the Justice League late in the third season of Justice League Unlimited partly due to this. Mostly due to becoming estranged from humanity, which Wonder Woman pointed out. The next time he's seen is in the Grand Finale... with his human wife.
- Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!: By the final episodes of the series, Sprx expresses a great deal of stress and weak will as the team tries to stop Valina and Mandarin from resurrecting Skeleton King, since as he says so himself, despite all the team's efforts and sacrifices, Skeleton King is still a threat. This leaves him vulnerable to the Fire of Hate's corruption, which renders him Brainwashed and Crazy.
- Billy is a hero of epic repute in Adventure Time but, by the time our protagonists meet him, he's long been disillusioned to heroics, seeing the constant rise of new threats as a zero sum conflict. He finds community upkeep a more effective pursuit and encourages our heroes to follow suit. After trying and failing to perform charitable acts, Finn goes back to heroics and proceeds to restores Billy's own faith by showing him the grateful old woman he saved.
- Fifty years with no progress in his quest has really broken Samurai Jack as of Season 5, to the point where he is seriously considering Seppuku to end it all.