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Punchclock Hero

"I didn't kill that Yoma to save you; I killed it because it's my job."
Teresa, Claymore

The Punch Clock Hero isn't fighting for peace, revenge, or because it's the right thing to do. He's only going against the Big Bad because he has to. In some cases, he is destined to do so but refused the call, only to find out that You Can't Fight Fate. In other cases, he gets involved only because he has bills to pay.

This is usually what happens when a hero is True Neutral. Compare Heroic Neutral, where the heroic character wants to be left alone and only allies with a group (usually the heroes) when their isolation is threatened by an outside source. If the culture becomes toxic, the heroic character can become a Punch Clock Villain.

Only in It for the Money is a subtrope, as is Not in This for Your Revolution.

May overlap with I Was Just Passing Through.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Masane Amaha in Witchblade starts as this, albeit not realizing the full scope of her decision. After about the halfway point, the horrifying truth that Because Destiny Says So kicks in, she jumps full force in being a full on hero to the point of Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Break Blade's Girge is one Psycho for Hire example.
    "I might start killing people because I feel like it again. That fine with you guys?"
  • The whole Cowboy Bebop crew, most of the time. Illustrated well during an early scene in the movie when a robber holds an old woman at gunpoint. Spike's reaction? "Well, that's a real shame. But, we're not cops and we're not from some charity organization. Sorry lady, we don't protect or serve. This is strictly business." (This distracts the robber — and enrages the hostage — sufficiently for him to get a clean shot off).
    • Jet weakly protests "I know you don't mean that, Spike!" and whether or not the crew as a whole are good for the sake of goodness or just for the cash is left ambiguous throughout.
  • L and Near in Death Note seem to be this, although that information is mainly gleaned from a sequel manga chapter which may not even be canon and a spin-off novel by a different author. Near more so than L - while L will say that he is hunting Kira because of "justice", Near is doing it just because he is the one who do it.
    • And If you consider the spinoff canon, then technically, L's doing it because he's bored, not for justice.
  • The Claymores officially claim to be like this. It's not usually true, however.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!'s Jack Rakan claims this. It's quite possibly true as well, since he doesn't seem to actually care about good and evil, he just does his own thing, which happens to be extorting people for lots of money for his help with their problems. Plus, fighting is fun!
  • Bleach's Ichigo claims to be like this, only caring about protecting the people close to him. His track record, however, suggests otherwise. He never walks away from someone in need, and he usually considers it his duty to do whatever he can to stop the bad guys, shown in the Hueco Mundo arc where he wants to stop Aizen even after rescuing Orihime.
    • Also Mayuri Kurotsuchi. He doesn't really care about helping people. He just follows his orders and does what he can For Science!.
    • Kenpachi Zaraki is this too. He doesn't care about anyone except Yachiru. The only thing he wants to do is fight.
  • Panty and Stocking only do their job of hunting Ghosts in order to acquire more Heaven Coins, which allow for passage between heaven and earth so as to continue their hedonistic existence of random sex with men and eating desserts.
  • Tiger & Bunny is built around the idea of superheroes as corporate-sponsored celebrities, but at the beginning, Barnaby is the most blatant textbook example. The other heroes subvert this to certain degrees in that they genuinely want to help others. Even Barnaby has a deeper motive besides fame and fortune namely taking revenge on his parents' killer.
  • Rurouni Kenshin Saitou claims that he is this, stating he's only taking out Shishio because "he happens to be on the opposite side". While he is motivated by his personal justice, he's not always willing to help Kenshin and his group.
  • Ratman features these in spades. In this world, most 'heroes' are sponsored by big-name companies for the sake of publicity, and fight using expensive suits of Powered Armor or other variations on Clothes Make the Superman. Some of the heroes are good people, others not so much. The best example of the latter would be Ankaiser, who once sabotaged the sprinkler system in a burning building full of innocent people, just so he would look more heroic once he caught the criminal that caused the fire. As the story progresses, all of the heroes, even Ankaiser, become more genuinely heroic.
  • Ayumu Mikoshiba from Otasuke Miko Miko-chan doesn't want to take on the role of Miko-chan, mostly because she's a Magical Girl and he's a very effeminate guy. He's forced to, however, or else his family's shrine will close down from bankruptcy.
  • The titular character in Sailor Moon becomes this briefly in the 2nd season, until she realizes her lack of enthusiasm is causing her powers to suffer.

    Comic Books 
  • The comic book Capes (a spinoff of Invincible) is about a company of mostly punch-clock superheroes.
  • The Marvel character The Sentry, intended to be a Deconstruction of Superman. He's so dispassionate that he responds to natural disasters by having a computer calculate who he rescues instead of deciding it himself. He explains that he can't decide who to save himself because he values everyone.
    "There's fifty things going on in this city every second of the day that the Sentry could do something about. And that's just in this city. A bank robbery in Queens is less or more important than a hurricane in Louisiana? How can I choose? I can't. I can't always be where I'm most needed."
    • To drive the point further one way to beat him is by hacking into said computer to tell him everything that's going on.
      • The Sentry's case is made even more complicated by the fact that, for every life he saves or every bit of good he does, bad things tend to happen.
  • Super Temp in Wildguard, who's just doing this hero thing as a side job until his band gets heir big break, man. It actually does.
  • The Power Company operates similarly to Capes, Inc, mentioned above.
  • As did Hero Hotline.
  • And the Superbuddies, former members of the Justice League fighting crime for cash.
  • And the Conglomerate, who have corporate sponsorship.
    • In the introduction to Power Company, Joshiah Power is asked what distinguishes his team from the Conglomerate or Hero Hotline. His reply is "I hope we'll be more successful."
  • At different times Booster Gold was a member of both the Superbuddies and the Conglomerate. This is not a coincidence; originally, being a corporate hero was his big hook.
  • Speaking of corporate heroes, Watchmen had Dollar Bill, who was a "costumed adventurer" hired by a bank to combat bank robbers during the Depression, as well as being the mascot of the bank. Hollis Mason mentions however that he was a friendly guy to be around in spite of his origins.
  • The Post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes had the Workforce. Most of them eventually left to join the Legion, though.
  • Done in Damage Control with the superheroes who work for the company, usually as cleanup crew. Members include Speedball (as an intern in his civilian identity), Hercules (community service), Goliath, Monstro, and Visioneer.
  • Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Heroes for Hire! Cage is so dedicated to his job that he once shook down Dr. Doom himself for just $200 owed to him. Throughout the various other incarnations of the team, the dynamic has shifted a little now and then - to the point that in the latest version, "for hire" means "available to do a favor for Misty Knight".

    Films — Animated 
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Much like how the bad guy characters are just actors playing a role, their good guy counterparts are just doing their jobs. However, at the very least we know that Felix is heroic in real life, and it's likely that many of the other good guy characters are the same.
  • The entire plot of Megamind is kicked off because Metro Man has become this and fakes his own death so he can quit and become a musician.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This is the Film Noir Defective Detective in a nutshell. If they do good, it's because the mysterious woman in the slinky dress hired them. If they get emotionally involved, it's because the villain hurt someone they love.
  • Star Wars: Han Solo started out this way, though half the climax of the first movie was his overcoming this.
    "Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money."
  • Ghostbusters are, well, an extermination (exorcism) company.
  • Most of the members of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are only in it because they've been promised a full pardon for their past crimes and misdeeds. Only Quatermain, who wants to prevent world war from corrupting his beloved Africa, and Tom Sawyer, who wants vengeance for the murder of his best friend, have other agendas.
  • In House II: The Second Story, John Ratzenberger appears as Bill, an "electrician and adventurer" who carries a sword in his toolbox.
  • In Mystery Men, Captain Amazing is definitely this, what with the corporate sponsorship and all.
  • Terminator: For the exact same reason that Terminators are normally Punch Clock Villains, Terminators reprogrammed by humans are also Punch Clock Heroes. They'll literally die for you (or kill those who try to harm you), because that's what their programming says to do. God help you if their programming runs the other way....
    • Although their adaptive programming is flexible enough to provide at least some degree of character growth.
  • Played straight and for laughs (sometimes simultaneously) in Grosse Pointe Blank.
    Martin Blank: They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they've all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?"
  • G-Girl in My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a superhero, but not terribly heroic. She gives every appearance that her decision to save people and fight crime was made just because that's what's expected of people with superpowers.
  • Humorously in Star Trek: First Contact, the crew of the Enterprise learn that their icon, Zefram Cochrane, inventor and pilot of the first warpship, was this. When Riker is trying to explain the historical importance of the flight, Cochrane angrily states he doesn't care about ushering in a new era for humanity, in fact he hates flying (he'd rather take trains)! He built the Phoenix to make money.
  • The Troll Hunter: While Hans is certainly a good man at heart, he makes it no secret that he hates his job. He takes no pleasure in what he does.

    Literature 
  • Rincewind in the Discworld books, on the rare occasion where he has to do something to save the day. He just does it because he knows he will be dragged into it anyway.
    • Or more often, because it's going to kill/maim him and he's unable to run away.
    • Even more frequently, running away causes him to be in the right spot at the right time to save the day. He'd much rather be locked in his room, safely examining boredom. Excitement chases him.
    • In The Last Hero, he even volunteers for a dangerous mission to save the world with the explanation that he'll probably stumble or be dragged into it anyway, and this way saves him the hassle. He still doesn't want to go, though. His companions agree with him, then put him on the mission.
    • He does have moments of genuine heroism, though - notably in Sourcery and the callback to it in Unseen Academicals.
  • Commissar Ciaphas Cain repeatedly pulls some truly heroic stunts despite being, well, himself, not because he wants to do it, but because he has. Either he doesn't want to ruin his reputation and lose all the perks it gives him, or he has learned in a hard way that meeting the danger is actually safer, or he might simply not give a credit where it is due. His editor, Inquisitor Amberley Vail, certainly leans to the third option.
  • Travis McGee takes on new cases when he needs the money, and spends the rest of his time taking his retirement "in installments." If you're a personal friend he might consider helping you out for the hell of it.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch quartet is full of a mixture of this and its direct opposite (people wanting to do something Good but not being allowed, because it'd let the other side do an equal amount of Evil...).
    • However sometimes they manage to subvert it by working with evil on common goals. One minor example was about how a light mage was able to cure a group of children from a lethal illness with the help of a werewolf. First, a werewolf chose three children and bit them (making them werewolves and curing them in the process), then a light mage cured all the other children with magic. They both got away with it because the balance between dark and light stayed unchanged.
  • The Dresden Files' Harry Dresden pretends to be this, but puts himself in harm's way a little too often for it to be credible. His friends call him out on it several times, and he even lampshades it at one point.
    Harry: "I helped to do it and lived to walk away. But there was an unhappy ending."
    Thomas: "What?"
    Harry: "I didn't get paid. For either case. I make more money from flaming demon monkey crap. That's just wrong."
  • The new Doctor Shade in "Cold Snap" by Kim Newman seriously resents the fact he's a Legacy Character, and that his dad's weird friends want him to save the world.
  • Good Omens has Aziraphale, an actual angel, of all things. While he truly believes in Good, he's not much for the flaming sword of vengeance (he gave his away, anyway) or the smiting of the unrighteous, and he's shown to have decidedly unangelic traits, such as materialism (he is incredibly possessive of his books) and going on drinking binges with his best friend. In fact, his best friend is also his eternal and sworn Enemy — a demon who has more or less been his sole opposition for about six thousand years. Said demon's name is Crowley, who is, likewise, a Punch Clock Villain as well as a Noble Demon. They continue to thwart each other's efforts at salvation/temptation to keep up appearances, but they also do each other's work occasionally, with Crowley, after making some people's lives just a bit more unpleasant, spreading the odd bit of goodness nearby (after all, he's already in the area) and Aziraphale doing the opposite by doing his usual angelic business, and then maybe tripping a poodle or something. For example, at one point Aziraphale accidentally smothered a pigeon up his sleeve during a botched magic show and it was Crowley who resurrected the poor bird!
  • The Nameless Bard from the Forgotten Realms Finder's Stone Trilogy. He initially falls in with the heroes by default in order to (a) escape from the villains who were holding him prisoner, (b) revenge himself on said villains, and (c) rescue his creation/daughter Alias. More generally, he doesn't mind helping people in need so long as it doesn't put him to great inconvenience, especially if furthers his real goals (fame and artistic immortality). But he is ultimately an amoral and highly narcissistic person who cares very little about matters of good versus evil. The heroes tend to forget this, given what a tremendous asset he is when he puts his mind to helping them. This is especially true for his erstwhile apprentice Olive, who idolizes him most of the time, only to be brutally reminded of his true nature whenever he decides that his own interests take priority over doing the right thing. He doesn't make a purely morally-based decision until the very end of the trilogy, when he chooses to risk his own life to destroy the evil god Moander.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, Penny's parents imply that most supers on both sides are just in it for the brawl, rather than an actual desire to do good or evil. Lucyfar, especially, is noted to switch between hero and villain on the fly.
  • Harry Vincent in The Shadow pulp novels starts out as one — his life is saved by The Shadow and he's put up in cushy comfort in the swank Metropole Hotel on the condition that he work unceasingly for The Shadow as an agent. Originally, that is his whole reason for being on the side of good. However, he graduates to full hero, as he undergoes countless Distressed Dude moments that would have made people less morally committed quit long ago, lap of luxury or no.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team television series specifically states in the Opening Narration that the team is for hire.
  • Firefly's Jayne Cobb generally only fights the bad guys because, well, that's what The Captain is paying him to do. He was even a bad guy until Mal made him a better offer (his fair share and a room all to himself).
  • Get Smart
    • In an episode, Max joins a secret agent's strike in the middle of an assignment.
    • In the first few episodes there's actually a punch clock in the Chief's office for agents to punch in and out.
  • Unlike the other Star Trek crews whose mission is to "boldy go where no man has gone before", the crew of the USS Voyager didn't even like each other and simply wanted to go home. They subvert this later on by becoming a true family and kicking the shit out of the bad guys they encounter, many times choosing to help the helpless rather than themselves.
  • Unlike his literary counterpart, the BBC's version of Sherlock Holmes is very much this trope. He really doesn't give two shakes about justice or the well-being of his clients: he only cares about solving puzzles, indulging his ego and staving off boredom. (Or so he claims; this is a character where the Alternate Character Interpretation is Word of God.)
    Sherlock: Don't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist, and if they did I wouldn't be one of them.
  • Most of the cops in The Wire are basically this. They don't actually care for the most part about the people of Baltimore or the crimes they're investigating, the better ones show up and do a job, one which they're often not happy about, and sometimes get on the case of the ones who actually do care or try to make things better. The worse ones are corrupt Obstructive Bureaucrats that will actively screw over the public, their men, and ignore mass murder for the sake of their careers.

    Video Games 
  • A textbook example is the main character of Cybernator. In an unusual form of You Can't Fight Fate, he has to fight in a war because he was drafted into the army.
  • Rayman is portrayed like this in his first game; after the narrator cries, "RAYMAN TO THE RESCUE!", Rayman is then shown lounging at a beach. He then lazily gives out a thumbs-up, saying, "No problem."
  • Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake fights the good fight at first because he believes in his cause. Unfortunately, with each successive Evil Plan, Man Behind the Man and Because The Patriots Say So, his cynicism grows to the point where he starts off the fourth game only just removed from this, being completely fed up with always being the tool of someone else, and only gets worse from there.
  • The gist of Zero's awesome "World of Cardboard" Speech/Shut Up, Hannibal! at the end of Mega Man Zero 4.
    I never cared about justice, and I don't recall ever calling myself a hero... I have always only fought for the people I believe in. I won't hesitate... If an enemy appears in front of me, I will destroy it!
  • MadWorld's Jack Cayman doesn't give a crap about anything but his own vendettas. At the end, rather than go through legal channels, he breaks his CODEC and leaves his Mission Control behind just so he can kill the Man Behind the Man.
    Jack: I don't save people. I kill them.
  • Every member of Squad 7 in Valkyria Chronicles is a member of a mandatory citizen militia. While some of them joined voluntarily, others were simply drafted in.
  • In the world of Bioshock, the prototype Big Daddies were mentally conditioned to love their Little Sisters as if they were their own daughters. When it was discovered that these prototype Big Daddies tended to react badly to seeing their beloved daughters murdered, the later Big Daddies were altered to be Punch Clock Heroes, defending any Little Sisters they come across (violently, of course), but don't appear remotely upset if there's none around.
  • Fire Emblem usually has one recruitable character per game whose only motivation is money, usually starting out as an enemy but making it perfectly clear that they'll do a Heel-Face Turn in exchange for a significant amount of gold. In order, there's Beowolf, Hugh, Farina, Rennac, Volke, and Volke again. These characters range from "good person at heart, but extremely greedy" (Farina) to "will take on any job, no matter how unsavory, as long as the price is right" (Volke).
    • Volke won't take any job. He refuses to be hired by the monster of Radiant Dawn.
    • That same quote also mentions that said monster HAD hired him previously.
    • Also Rennac can be hog-tied, gagged and dragged kicking and screaming persuaded into joining your group without money if L'Arachel is the one to speak to him.
    • Path of Radiance: the Greil Mercenaries pick-and-choose "good" battles (e.g. attacking bandits who are trying to sack a town), but they are still mercenaries. At one point they are close to switching allegiances to a nation that is invading theirs, but are attacked on sight before they can make any negotiations.
  • Mass Effect 2: Meet Zaeed Massani, Bounty Hunter, Determinator, and Sociopath. He's so confident in his abilities, that he's willing to go on a Suicide Mission for the pay (he's the Sole Survivor of many of them, often "making out like a bandit"). You can secure his loyalty by sacrificing several innocents that he was hired to rescue for the sake of Revenge on a fellow criminal who betrayed him, or instead, letting the target go in order to save said innocents and then holding a gun to his head, and persuading him that the team and the mission come first. His retirement plan consists of... killing himself and as many of the inhabitants of a Wretched Hive as he can, with an explosion.
  • This is Vector the Crocodile's typical motivation in the Sonic the Hedgehog series: His detective agency gets very few customers despite him having considerable sleuthing talent. It forces him to find anything that can even remotely earn him money to make ends meet, whether it's traveling to another planet or competing in hoverboard races. He just happens to always find himself against whoever the villain of that game may be.
    • He's more noble than your typical example, however. He won't get involved with anything dirty or illegal, no matter how much it pays, and he is known to help people who need it for free, such as finding lost children.
  • Sterling Granger from In the 1st Degree qualifies as this. He is a prosecutor prosecuting a man charged with murder and grand theft. There are hints dropped that he has a life outside of his job and that he has at least a working relationship with Inspector Looper and at least one member of the press.
  • Touhou: It's... uncommon for the heroines to have noble reasons for resolving incidents. Reimu does it because it's her job. Marisa is motivated primarily by a mixture of curiosity and greed. Sakuya only gets involved if something is inconveniencing her boss. Sanae is ultimately looking to spread faith in her gods (and the franchise considers religion to be fundamentally the same as a business).
  • Dan Danger and EVO, Heroes for Hire from Space Station Silicon Valley (pictured above). The only people able to save the world from a rogue space station, not to mention a steal for a mere 200 credz.
  • You know Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher is one when he remembers that he forgot to do the laundry in the third game.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, when the Turks (normally villains) corner Don Corneo, the reason they worked with the heroes in order to get him is "Because it's our job".
  • In Project X Zone, Reiji Arisu says outright, "This is how I put bread on the table. I won't lose".
  • The Borderlands franchise has the Vault Hunter's, the main playable characters who (despite saving Pandora from several attempts to take over the world) are mainly in it for that nice looking weapons cache they saw on the way in, the thrill of the kill, or the experience points and cash, but sometimes it's their definition of a Fun Saturday Night on Pandora

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Himei, the main character of Sailor Nothing, started out as an Ascended Fangirl who Jumped at the Call, but eventually turned into a punch-clock hero as she came to hate her job of fighting evil and did it only because she had to.
  • In The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast, the Troubleshooter is always happy to save the day when some computer software goes haywire and threatens Sparks Nevada, but never bothers helping out in other life-threatening situations and even leaves Nevada and his friends stranded on one occasion.
    "Gotta get this saloon back to her default address and go where requisition forms take me. But if you survive, I hope you take a survey of my performance."
  • The Protectors of the Plot Continuum primarily kill MarySues and fight other forms of badfic because it's their job to do so. Individual agents can retire if they want to, in theory, but most never do so.

    Western Animation 
  • The most literal example is also one of the oldest of these: Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph the Wolf are the stars in several classic Chuck Jones cartoon shorts for Warner Brothers, starting 1953. From 9 to 5, Ralph tries ever-more-outlandish schemes to catch a sheep, and Sam thwarts Ralph with minimal effort and maximum punishment. But as soon as that 5 o'clock whistle blows, the two punch out and walk home together, ready to do it all over again tomorrow. Oh, and the lunch breaks! That's right, they have lunch together. (Except when Ralph tried to impersonate a sheepdog and take over Sam's shift.)
    • When Sam's shift ends, another sheepdog's shift starts.
    • Sam resumed his role in a Taz-Mania episode where Taz was the one trying to steal sheep. In consideration for it being Taz's first day at the job, Sam gave him an edge.
  • Jenny Wakeman of My Life as a Teenage Robot was designed to be a teenage superhero robot that fights evil. However, upon deciding that she'd rather hang out with human teens, she becomes an example of this trope.
  • Autocat punches the time clock on a regular basis in the Motormouse And Autocat segment of The Cattanooga Cats series.
  • In the Huckleberry Hound cartoon "Two Corny Crows," Huck and the crows Iggy and Ziggy go through the motions of farmer-vs.-corn-thieves, bookended by the idea that it's their paying job to do so. We don't see a time clock, but there is a quitting-time steam whistle.
  • In Kim Possible, the title character finds herself dealing with three superheroes who are only helping others for the money. After Kim Possible proves herself to be better at heroics than they are, they decide to become non-profit.

Psycho for HireHired GunsPunch Clock Villain
Pragmatic HeroQuirky GoodSociopathic Hero
Proto SuperheroHeroesRebellious Rebel
Space Station Silicon ValleyImageSource/Video GamesSpelunker

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