"You just had to be a hero, didn't you?"There's a strange Double Standard regarding superheroics. Most superheroes get their powers by accident and choose to use them for good with little to no training beforehand. This is what makes them Heroes. However, if a Muggle, Side Kick, or some other "mundane" gains superpowers and tries to be a Hero for a Day it will end badly. Only the starring hero is allowed to beat up crooks and save the day. Why? Because he says so. But Superheroes don't exist in this world, so why is it wrong to try to be one in a fantasy world? The justification (if any is given) for this Fantastic Aesop can be any or all of the following:
- Muggles are all useless, and if they were meant to be a hero, why, then, destiny would have chosen them.
- Only the hero has the moral fiber to resist succumbing to The Dark Side. Anyone else will quickly get Drunk with Power and become a Villain Of The Week.
- Powers are dangerous, and only the hero has enough practice using them to rescue people without making an accident into a natural disaster. Rather than coaching the new superhero on how to use their powers effectively and safely, the hero will try to get them to quit or give the powers up.
- Attempts to gain super powers are seen as rank ambition, and dangerous in and of themselves. This carries the Family-Unfriendly Aesop that we shouldn't try to rise above our stations. Superheroes are special, and we should just be content to be Red Shirts and Cannon Fodder.
- Two other superhero universal constants: Could Have Been Messy and Thou Shalt Not Kill. The untrained can't pull off the infallible dodging, and since they don't have Improbable Aiming Skills their attacks will kill criminals.
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Anime and Manga
- In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Kuroko Shirai constantly scolds Mikoto Misaka and the others whenever they save the day, saying civilians should stay back and leave the heroics to members of Judgment or Anti-Skill. Mikoto and the others just ignore her, since Judgment and Anti-Skill are almost always late to crimes and disasters. Also, Mikoto is more powerful and mature than Kuroko and her help is often essential.
- In A Certain Magical Index, a plane gets hijacked by terrorists. Touma Kamijou defeats one of them and prepares to go after the others, but the pilot tells him to cut it out, saying interference from amateurs will only make the situation worse. Of course, Touma is the hero and far from an amateur. He defeats the others while the pilot does nothing useful and even hinders him at points. Touma gets fed up with him and clocks him with a metal rod to get him to shut up.
- Completely averted by John Henry Irons, AKA Steel. When Superman saved his life he asked how he could repay him and got the answer "live a life worth saving". So he builds Powered Armor and uses it to become a Superhero. He remains a respected member of the superhero community to this day. Although when John Henry's niece gained powers through the Everyman Project and became leader of Infinity, Inc., he complained she hadn't "earned" them. This was less about "you shouldn't be a hero" and more about the fact that Infinity Inc. was sponsored by Lex 'reformed this time, honest' Luthor. There was a little bit of "you're not mature or responsible enough to be a hero yet", before she went to Luthor, in Steel's actions, but in his defense Natasha herself demonstrated that he wasn't entirely wrong about this. For example, she seemed to only be interested in the "beating up the bad guys" part of being a superhero and considered helping civilians rebuilt a wrecked city to be a waste of a hero's time. On the other hand, when he was at one point thought dead, Natasha picked up his hammer and triggered a fantastic recorded message saying "I don't want you to be a superhero like me, it's too dangerous, but since you'll probably ignore me, I rigged all my gear to answer to you. You'll be great." But then, taking up the mantle is a slightly different situation in The DCU.
- Played with in the Silver Age. When Kara Zor-El arrived on Earth, Superman insisted that his cousin kept her existence secret for a while during which he trained her. And she wasn't to operate openly until he gave his say-so. However he was kind of justified: she was a recently-orphaned teen Physical God who needed desperately some kind of stability as she got used to her new life and learnt to use her godlike powers, several -imaginary and canonical- stories showed why being Superman's secret emergency-weapon was a good idea, and when he finally revealed her existence to the world, he stressed that his cousin was his partner, no his sidekick.
- In Many Happy Returns, Post-Crisis Superman meets Pre-Crisis Kara. Unfortunately he believes she is an obsessed fan playing super-heroes, so he tells her to go home and flies away before she can explain she is his cousin. Ironically she is way more powerful than him.
Superman: I see your type all the time. Friends of mine have suffered because of fans who developed unhealthy fixations. If you really look up to Superman, then you'll do yourself a favor and give up your ideas of partnership or adventuring. Trust me: If you keep it up, you'll get yourself killed.
- Silver Age Lois Lane and Lana Lang used to get powers all the time, and every time there was an Aesop that they couldn't use them properly, with a huge unspoken "Because she's a girl".
- Jimmy Olsen got silly superpowers the whole time. It never ended well for him.
- Similarly, Johnny Quick once gained a Distaff Counterpart called Joanie Swift whom he seriously resented, but who couldn't be dissuaded from trying to help, until she had to deal with mice, after which she agreed to let him take away her powers.
- In what was perhaps a deliberate bit of irony by writers, Johnny Quick's daughter Jesse would inherit his powers as well as that of his wife Liberty Belle, super-strength. So the speedster who saw no problems in taking the powers of another person for essentially being a girl is now represented in the comics by a girl who can also bend steel.
- No one but Batman or the Bat-Family are ever supposed to be working in Gotham City. Anyone else will invariably get things wrong, such as by being very slightly more brutal than Batman on interrogation, or risking getting people killed somehow, or accidentally interfering in the one crime per year that the Gotham PD is actually doing something about. How contrived this feels varies from case-to-case.
- Stephanie Brown especially: for years, she was being told time and again not just by Batman, but (eventually) by nearly everyone associated with him that she should stop crimefighting, but she never backed down. It even went so far that she got herself killed' trying to prove that she was worthy. Eventually, she got better (in more ways than one); now, she's an accepted member of Batman's inner circle. And most ironically, there's a new guy in her own title who she is telling to Never Be A Hero.
- A major part of it is that Batman is a major control freak who considers Gotham to be "his" city, and doesn't even allow established heroes from outside his band of sidekicks to work the city without getting permission beforehand. Any new heroes deliberately defying Batman in that regard are probably going to be reckless in other ways.
- There are also occasional exceptions to this rule, such as the Huntress (who moves in and out of Batman's orbit, and isn't happy about being defined in such terms). Perhaps the most notable was the Cavalier, who Batman gave the "this is my city" talk to before actually accepting that the guy was skilled enough and honest enough to make it work. Then It Got Worse.
- And then it got better, since after Battle for the Cowl the Cavalier has been going by his real name, Mortimer Drake (no relation to Tim Drake), and is acting as the bodyguard for Dr. Leslie Thompkins after she provided him with emergency medical assistance. He still uses the sword, though.
- Interestingly, there was one case where he did this not because of his "This is My City" but because of the sad circumstances of the guise the person was taking. During a team-up with Deathstroke, a former GCPD officer named Pat Trayce came into possession of the costume of the Vigilante, a The Punisher-styled vigilante whose last name bearer, Adrian Chase, ended up being Driven to Suicide in his mission. Batman suggested that she just dump the costume and the name in some sewer and let it rot before it took her, too. She didn't and, surprisingly, she's still alive.
- Other stories involving Batman will actually invert this trope to a limited extent. Batman frightens criminals, but most of Gotham's normal, law-abiding citizens take him as an inspiration to be courageous in smaller ways, such as standing up to corruption and violence found all around the city. One memorable moment from The Dark Knight Returns shows an older man who's not sure how to feel about the stories of Batman's vigilantism in the newspaper... and then to his own surprise feels emboldened enough to help a woman being mugged outside his store.
- A Man Of Iron: Ned Stark disapproves of Iron Man's vigilante actions. Not only is it illegal, but he's worried that people, especially untrained peasants, will be inspired to imitate him, which will lead them getting killed. Ned says the proper procedure to dealing with crimes is to report them to the king or lord so that they and their knights can deal with it.
Films — Animated
- Syndrome from The Incredibles. Tries to be a superhero using technology, turns into the Big Bad. Really, this trope is what "Incrediboy" thinks Mr. Incredible is invoking on him when all that's actually happened is that he's caught his idol at the worst possible time to introduce himself as his new sidekick without asking and messed up said introduction to boot. And then he in turn decides to take that rejection in the worst possible way. He still had his technological genius and all, he could simply have tried again under better circumstances...but no, he simply decided to rage quit right then and there.
Films — Live-Action
- The Dark Knight. Were those vigilantes wrong for trying to be heroes? No. Although Batman just made a snarky comment about hockey pads, it was clear what they were doing wrong was using his persona for outright violence (and guns), which was not at all what he stood for. There's an element of Do Not Do This Cool Thing in his attitude towards them. He wants to inspire the citizens of Gotham to believe the city can be made better, but he doesn't want them following in his vigilante footsteps. Hence his hope that Harvey Dent, Gotham's "White Knight", can essentially replace him as Gotham's public hero.
- In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by Disney, Peter is met with this line... "Just because some guy in a red suit gives you a sword, it doesn't make you a hero!", hoping he's not dumb enough to try and fight the wolves and die trying. He does, since the alternatives are even dumber. (Fight the wolves, that is. He lives.)
- The premise of Sky High (2005) is this trope being applied to high school cliques— the popular kids with the cool powers get to be heroes, the freaks and geeks get swept under the Hero Support Glass Ceiling.
- One of Columbus' biggest rules in Zombieland is Don't be a hero. But he breaks his own rule in the end.
- Averted in The Bible, book of Mark 9:38-41. When told by John that the apostles had stopped a man driving out demons in his name, Jesus tells them not to.
- And then played straight with Simon Magus in Acts 8:9-24, because he wanted to buy that kind of power.
- Sam Vimes of the Night Watch in Terry Pratchett's Discworld doesn't care for it when other people try to do the things he does. Because they're not him.
- Here's a subverted/averted example. In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Other Guys", Dr. Felger is a real fanboy of SG1. When he sees SG1 is getting captured by Jaffa, he insists on rescuing them. He quotes their motto "Never leave a man behind", so he takes another scientist with him and they beam themselves on the Ha'tak to rescue them. Turns out SG1 was deliberately letting themselves be captured and they now screwed them up. O'Neill is very angry at them for doing this. In the end though, the two are indeed responsible for rescuing SG1 (as the undercover operative they were supposed to meet up with had been found out and executed) and they both get a medal (although that particular part about getting a free kiss was All Just a Dream of Dr. Felger).
- Another aversion in Lois & Clark: When Superman's powers are transferred to Lois Lane, he (and his parents) spend most of the episode coaching her with her newfound abilities and turning her into a proper superhero. She acquits herself pretty well, though she becomes normal again at the end of the episode. This would be Status Quo Is God, but she also accepts Clark's marriage proposal, perhaps due to the experience she had as a hero. On the other hand, in another episode a dumpy old guy gains superpowers and decides to adopt the moniker of "Resplendent Man" and save people... for money. Usually haggling over the price with the victim while they were still in danger, and seeing nothing wrong with this because, hey, your own life's gotta be worth a lot, right? When Superman shows up and rescues the victim, Resplendent Man berates him for "horning in on his territory". In the end he loses his powers and status quo is reasserted with an actually palatable aesop: it takes more than superpowers to make a hero.
- In the third season of Heroes, a Super Serum is introduced, as is a Big Bad whose goal is to make it generally available to the populace. Time Travel and precognitive visions reveal that this eventually causes the end of the world.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy's little sister Dawn asks to help out with the slaying.
Buffy: Dawn, I work very hard to keep you away from that stuff. I don't want you around dangerous things that can kill you.
Dawn: Which would be a perfectly reasonable argument, if my sister was chosen to protect the world from tax audits? But, see, my sister is you, and ... dangerous things that want to kill me seem to find me.
- Buffy does start training Dawn the following year, and in one episode Dawn even thinks she might be a potential Slayer herself. When Dawn finds out she's not however, Xander points out that they both have an important if unheralded role in helping Buffy do her job.
- Mass Effect has the recurring character Conrad Verner, who really wants to help his idol Shepard save the galaxy. Thing is, Conrad is a civilian without Shepard's military training, and is an idiot high on hero worship and doesn't realize his limitations. After a brief stint at trying to be a badass Bounty Hunter or Alliance officer, the trope is subverted when it's revealed Conrad's doing genuine good without being a badass. Shepard inspired him to set up a charity which is really helping all the orphans and people hurt in the wake of the first game's Final Battle.
- Valkyria Chronicles has this trope going hand-in-hand with Ambition Is Evil, which means being born with power makes you evil and you can only redeem yourself by giving it up completely and never bringing it up again or dying to make up for it. And if you should happen to find a way to give yourself that power, you will be destroyed. Everyone else gets the power of teamwork, which is superior, (but they'll still need to depend on a Valkyria once in a while anyway).
- Disgaea 3: Almaz wants to be a hero, so he makes a fake "Hero" title in his name. Mao, a demon, wants to be a hero solely because he thinks that heroes have the power to defeat any enemy, so he steals Almaz's title and is disappointed when it doesn't actually make him any more powerful.
- The City of Nexus in Captain SNES: The Game Masta actually has laws against hero work not done via the police, mostly because the citizens of Nexus come from such a staggering variety of games that they all have very, very different ideas about what they are and aren't allowed to do during such tasks. It is also pointed out that heroes tend to draw villains and show up at world-endangering times, to the extent that a world-weary Mega Man comments that a genuine hero is the absolute worst thing to ever encounter.
- This was, for the most, completely avoided in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe. It was even remarked upon by in-universe scientists studying the hows and whys of superpowers that only about a half of the people who ended up empowered possessed powers that were... well... powerful enough to become superheroes or villains, and out of that half, only about a third ever did. The rest either did nothing with the powers, or found some other purpose for them (like the super-strong "forklift operator" who didn't need a forklift, or the faith-healing televangelist who could actually heal) than superheroics.
- In The New Adventures of He-Man, where a kid was given Powered Armor. The kid used the power to save someone's life. Know what the adults told him? He was abusing the suit, and he should tone it down.
- There was an example of this in the She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon, where one episode centered around a "lesser" rebellion member thinking she could be a real hero and stepping above her station, with disastrous results and explicit end of the show Aesop. The scariest thing was, the character had actually formed the rebellion when She-Ra's alter ego was still working for the Big Bad, but now she's apologizing for "getting a big head" and thinking she could actually contribute.
- Superman: The Animated Series had a case of this. As Supergirl has all the powers of Superman, and a love for the big city, yet Superman still forces her to live her life on the Smallville farm under a secret identity (even though such an identity is even MORE useless for her).
- On the other hand, the series' version of Steel's origins (see Comics section above) had Superman being quite receptive to the idea of having someone around to help, even after the Power Armor prototype in the episode that introduced John Henry Irons gave its user a serious God Complex, and encouraged him to keep trying.
- There was perhaps some justification for Superman getting her to sit things out for a while- she wasn't nearly as powerful as him, and came uncomfortably close to getting herself killed on multiple occasions. After she had gotten a bit more acclimated to her powers and Earth in general, she did get into the game in Justice League Unlimited, and with her cousin's full support.
- There was an episode of the Sunbow G.I. Joe cartoon where Quick Kick's girlfriend successfully sneaked into the heart of Joe Headquarters to try and join the Joe team. Duke tells her to go to her local army recruiter. This from the team that recruited Shipwreck in the middle of desert and Quick Kick himself from the middle of the Arctic.
- Danny Phantom. Poor, poor Tucker. He's been given superpowers at least twice, each time ending badly. The first instance occured when Desiree granted his wish to have ghost powers like Danny, which gave him rapidly evolving abilities that quickly surpassed Danny's own in everything except control. By the end of the episode he was Brought Down to Normal again. The second time happened when he was recognized by a mummy as an ancient pharaoh, and given a magic scepter that gave him total control over the Sphinx and several ghostly minions. His evil abilities were once again demonstrated by beating up on Danny.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Futurama, when the Planet Express crew is being held hostage by the crazed robot criminal Roberto. Fry, who has previously been psychologically broken into believing himself to be an invulnerable robot, steps in to save the day, but Hermes shouts:
"Don't be a hero, Fry! It's not covered by the health plan!"
- Turns out that actually did end up saving the day. Fry believes he's an invincible combat robot and slowly twirls his arms around while whirring and makes a slow walk towards this opponent. Roberto, being the neurotic nutcase he is, becomes intimidated and stabs Fry in the chest only to hit him in the oil can he stashed in his jacket. Fry "bleeds" but doesn't stop his approach leading to Roberto believe he really is a combat robot and jumps out the window to escape, only to land on the pavement and be arrested by the cops.
- In Exosquad, Captain Butler prefaces each deployment of his jumptrooper squad by calling out any heroes in their ranks—with the intention of leaving anyone who answered at the base, because "The only heroes I saw weren't breathing!" His squad, of course, knows that and consistently denies having any heroes among them.
- In Kim Possible, Will Du disapproves of Team Possible, calling them amateurs and saying heroism should be left to the professionals.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) episode "Super Irma", Irma gains magnetic superpowers and immediately becomes a costumed crimefighter. April and the Turtles tried to get her to stop, mostly because Irma had become very arrogant, narcissistic, and a Leeroy Jenkins. She refused to work with the Turtles and nearly got herself killed several times because she wasn't minding her surroundings (and didn't thank the Turtles whenever they saved her). Eventually, her powers wore off and the Turtles saved her again, and this time, she thanked them.
- Quite possibly used so that impressionable children don't try to imitate the heroes in real life, going back to the George Reeves Superman series, where there were reports of kids donning red towels and jumping out of their window in an attempt to fly. Live action shows geared to kids in the 90s used this trope, often showing that the stunts were done by actors who knew what they were doing and giving kids ideas to be real heroes in their community by getting involved in picking up litter or something.
- In real-life disaster situations, the first rule for bystanders is, "Avoid increasing the number of people needing to be rescued". In real life, none of us have super powers.
- It's the rule even for people with first aid training - the first step is always to look for environmental hazards that could endanger your own safety before giving assistance. Becoming a victim is not useful for either you or the person you're trying to help.
- One of the most important rules is if you see someone unconscious in a confined space DO NOT ENTER THE SPACE, even to pull them out. Invisible gases that can build up in such spaces like Carbon Monoxide and Hydrogen Sulphide can render a person unconscious in seconds. There have been several instances where 10 or more people have wound up dead inside a confined space because the next guy kept trying to pull people out.
- It's the rule even for people with first aid training - the first step is always to look for environmental hazards that could endanger your own safety before giving assistance. Becoming a victim is not useful for either you or the person you're trying to help.
- The Pinellas County Sheriff's Department in Florida became the subject of controversy for this. To elaborate:
- In the early hours of March 31, 2016, one of their cruisers chased down a car that had been stolen by three teenage girls with lengthy criminal records. Said stolen car went off the road and into a swamp, where it sank rapidly and became mired in the mud and vegetation, and the three girls drowned.
- Many in the public and the media criticized the deputies for not trying to mount a rescue attempt, especially since the media outlets chose what footage to show in order to stir up controversy. The media alleged that deputies failed to make any effort to rescue the teens while deliberately omitting from their coverage dashcam video which confirmed the deputies' statements.
- Sheriff Robert Gualtieri, fed up with how the media were misconstruing things, was forced to hold a press conference and release the unedited dashcam footage directly to the public on his agency's YouTube channel to refute the media's claims.
- The full videos showed that deputies stripped down in an attempt to enter the water. In the edited videos, the deputies were supposedly shown standing or sitting around casually discussing watching the girls struggling in the car. The unedited video showed that the deputies were only doing this once it became apparent that they could not reach the vehicle, and they were explaining the situation to deputies who had just arrived on the scene. The vehicle had been driven into the middle of an overgrown, muddy bottomed 15-foot deep Florida pond at 3:30 in the morning. That is a nearly impossible situation to attempt a rescue from, due to the inability to see and the possibility of alligators being in the area. It took a team of trained divers along with a heavy-duty wrecker several hours in daylight to get the vehicle and the three trapped girls out of the pond. The muddy bottom and the overgrown vegetation made entry into the water by deputies impossible. And even if they had been able to reach the vehicle somehow, by the time they would have been able to make there, the survival prospects for the vehicle occupants was zero.
- Similarly, in situations where civilians have involved themselves in stopping a crime in progress, it's common to hear a police spokesperson cautiously congratulate the person's bravery whilst still stressing that ordinary civilians should leave the crime-fighting to the police, as the police have undergone extensive training to deal with such situations in a way as to make sure that as few people as possible are killed or injured in doing so, and most civilians haven't. The police can't stop every crime in progress, but that is not a license to take rash actions. Although, when taken too far, this leads to Bystander Syndrome.
- This reasoning also applies, with some controversy, to business policies that dictate civilian employees always comply with a robber's demands and don't try to catch them. Employees who fought back and stopped the crime have simultaneously been praised by the media and fired from their jobs, the logic being that while that particular situation might have ended well, rewarding those workers for being heroes (and so implicitly encouraging other employees to do the same) could get somebody seriously hurt, or even killed.