"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 Unfortunate Implications 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.
- Another aspect of this comes from 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 actually kill criminals. Which is wrong.
The worst uses of this trope won't even come with a reason why it's wrong. If someone suddenly gains super powers and
does the same good
the hero does, it's still considered wrong if this trope is applied. By story's end the Contagious Powers
will be gone, the Sidekick Glass Ceiling
will be bumped against, and Status Quo Is God
shall be reaffirmed.
The real reason for the existence of this trope is that if lots of people gain powers and become superheroes, then it steals some of the main characters thunder. They become less special, unique, and one-of-a-kind. Never mind that even if everyone in the setting had powers or gadgets
it can be a compelling read, some authors must have felt insecure enough about this that they kept reusing this trope. Averting this often leads to an expanding cast that might turn into a Heroes Unlimited
or The Chosen Many
, or even grounds for a spinoff.
It should be noted that when the subject of this aesop doesn't have any powers and seeks to emulate a Badass Normal
, Non-Powered Costumed Hero
or a hero with Charles Atlas Superpowers
, this overlaps with Don't Try This at Home
and does make sense. When the subject gains the powers and skills of the hero, then it turns into a Fantastic Aesop
, since people don't spontaneously become firefighters and paramedics in Real Life
So basically, this aesop is logical when both the hero and muggle are low on the Super Weight
scale... but gets really iffy when someone who by all rights ought to have been treated as a young hero in need of guidance, isn't.
Compare The Team Wannabe
, Pretender Diss
Contrast The Paragon
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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. 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.
- Silver Age Lois Lane used to get powers all the time, and every time there was an Aesop that she couldn't use them properly, with a huge unspoken "Because she's a girl". In fact, check out Super Dickery or the picture in Contagious Powers for an idea of what Lois (and Lana) would typically do when they got powers.
- 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.
- An argument can be made that Gotham is not a city that most heroes can operate in, however. This is not a city with people like Lex Luthor, who causes collateral damage, or Gorilla Grodd with his temporary and easily-fixed Mind Control. Gotham has villains like the Joker, who kidnaps dozens of babies just because he enjoys screwing with Batman, or Killer Croc, a cannibal with monstrous strength. Batman's villains may not be high on the totem pole of supervillain power, but they're the reigning champions as far as terrifying and squick-inducing go. There's the added bonus that it typically requires intelligence to stop their plans in time. Sure, Superman could catch Joker—but if the Joker knew he would be facing off against Superman ahead of time, could the Big Blue Boyscout do it quickly enough to stop his plan or save the hostages?
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.
- 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 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 and 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.
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 goes to town with this trope. 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.
- 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.
- 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.