Personal Gain Hurts
We stepped up on our important things
So we could reach the highest apple
We realized how precious they were after we lost them
Just another mistake we made when we were young
Whenever a character consciously goes against the rule of Comes Great Responsibility
, he soon finds out that personal gain can be very bad for you. Karma seems to have it in for people who want to use their powers for something other than saving people or fighting crime
. This seems to be limited to The Hero
, as the Big Bad
is able to get away with anything.
If you suddenly found out you had superpowers, wouldn't you use them for, shall we say, questionable ends? Well, don't, because Personal Gain Hurts!
A Fantastic Aesop
See also Reed Richards Is Useless
, Ambition Is Evil
- The definitive example is of course Spider-Man's origin story — very soon after using his new powers to earn some cash in a wrestling ring, Spidey's uncle dies. Harsh. Might not directly count, however — Spider-Man could have conceivably had both a profitable wrestling career and Uncle Ben still being alive if only he'd bothered to stop that thief running right past him....
- Which is explored in a What If?? story, where Spider-Man realizes that stopping the thief would be good for his publicity. He later becomes a manager for other costumed heroes wanting a taste of the superstar life, including the X-Men who gains a much better public image as a result. Unfortunately, ignoring the crime-fighting and neglecting their combat skills gets them killed.
- He does continue to make some money on the side by selling pictures of himself to the Bugle... which uses those photos to tarnish Spidey's reputation.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spidey can't control his image to such a degree that footage of him actually doing stunts is cheaper than CGI because they didn't have to pay the stuntman. Spidey is annoyed. Later down the line, the Kingpin gains controlling interest of the movie studio that made the Spider-Man movie and all related merchandise, setting up the simple problem that if Spider-Man does nothing about his criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of crime. If he does something about the criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of tourists buying Spidey-shirts.
- Averted in Spider-Girl. Mary Jane realizes that all of that time Peter spent wishing he could use his face for some sort of profit could be averted with their daughter, so she opens up the Spider-Girl Store to sell Spider-Girl merchandise. Mayday's initially angry when she finds out about the store (thinking someone else was profiting on her image), but when MJ revealed the truth (and that the proceeds were going towards college), she was actually thrilled.
- In contrast, Tony Stark and Reed Richards have made a ton of money selling Iron Man and Fantastic Four merchandise, movies, comics, etc. Spidey has tried to get legal control of his image, but he has no recourse unless he reveals his secret identity.
- Marvel's Civil War story arc opens on a group of supers with a reality TV show. Sweet Christmas, does this ever end badly. Borders on Diabolus ex Machina given that the ensuing disaster was predicated on a villain who'd previously been C-List Fodder at best suddenly becoming a Person of Mass Destruction.
- Booster Gold initially became a "hero" because he wanted to make money off the fame and the endorsements that would follow. It didn't go so well. After decades of being a Butt Monkey, comic relief, and going through Break the Haughty on more than one occasion, he has finally given up on this idea. Instead he's now the protector of time itself; to avoid being erased from history by his enemies he can't let anyone else think that he's anything more than a stupid greedy coward.
- Averted with the Zatara family, who use their powers both as superheroes and stage magicians.
- In Back to the Future Part II, Marty decides to take a sports almanac back to the past for financial gain. He doesn't manage to use it, because Doc berates him that he did not invent the time machine for financial gain. However, Biff overhears and then he steals the almanac, returns to the past and makes himself rich, murdering Marty's father and marrying his mother.
- Still played straight though in that while Biff becomes a very wealthy and powerful man, this eventually gets him killed at a much younger age that he would have when Marty's mother ends up murdering him when she can't take him anymore, deleting old Biff from existence and proving he would have a much longer and healthier life without being rich.
- In Jumper, teleporting teenager David draws the attentions of the anti-Jumper Paladins because of the "impossible" bank robberies he performed using his abilities in order to fund his hedonistic lifestyle. Teleporting a guy you have a beef with into one of the locked vaults you robbed when you already have Paladins on your trail, but they don't yet know where your family is, was another ill-thought out selfish act that didn't work out well for him.
- In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl opens a digression from the story to describe the inventive Karmic Death he would have given Henry Sugar for using his powers for personal gain, "had this been a made-up story instead of a true one."
- In the novel Powers by Deborah Lynn Jacobs, Gwen and Adrian both have Psychic Powers and generally use them for heroic purposes. However, Gwen is prone to using her heroism to her advantage as a photographer for her school newspaper. Near the end of the novel, she's horrified to realize that the price of benefitting from her heroism is that the original heroic act gets undone, meaning that a man she saved ultimately died anyway because of her.
- Played with in Mage: The Awakening, where using one's powers for self-indulgence and gain can ding the old Karma Meter... except really most characters start at Wisdom 7 (out of a maximum of 10) and lower levels are more relaxed about such things. A Wisdom 10 mage would get hit with a degeneration roll for using his magic for personal gain (but you have to be almost a living saint to get Wisdom 10 in the first place), but for most starting characters dabbling in alchemy to cover your bills won't hurt unless you perform vulgar magic around a Sleeper and suffer Paradox as a result.
- A constant threat in Dead Inside. Selfish acts strongly risk further soul decay, which puts your life at risk. That said, if you do anything selfless or giving to cultivate soul growth, growing a new soul point is a wonderful, invigorating feeling. (And soul points are usable as currency and power in the Spirit World, meaning in this case Personal Gain Is Pleasant.)
- In Transformers Animated, Sari Sumdac often treats the powerful Allspark Key like a toy - powering up garbage cans and toy planes with it. It's gotten her into a lot of trouble - especially regarding the time she used it to accidentally evolve Soundwave into a fully fledged Dance Dance (Robot) Revolution machine—though that last was actually something Megatron directly tricked her into doing.
- The titular character of Ben 10 frequently follows this trope. It also frequently leads to him meeting the Villain of the week.
- Parodied in The Cleveland Show when they meet a homeless man with magical powers, but he tells his family he can't use his powers for personal gain.