You're smart enough to invent it. Therefore, you're surely smart enough to duplicate it, changing human society forever. Right?
"Stardust, whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to crime-busting..."
— Stardust the Super Wizard, Fantastic Comics #14
The observation that in some genres, characters can have fantastic technology far beyond our own, yet this technology only gets used to solve equally fantastic problems.
A person who controls weather will never make it rain in drought-stricken areas, or stop the rain during terrible flooding, or stop a heatwave. A person who can control water will never douse bush fires or burning buildings, or get a job at a power station. And a supergenius (such as Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four) can save the life of starving demi-god beings like Galactus, but will never take a weekend to duplicate and market Doctor Doom's burn-victim cure device (or even five minutes to find out what causes piss shivers), or release his inventions that could solve a variety of real-world problems (and earn their creator millions of dollars). All potential solutions to real-life problems will only be done in novel (fictional) situations — useless. Status Quo Is God, and the status quo of the real world even more so. It's the same reason you can't stop Hitler from starting World War II.
There are several typical motivations for this:
To ensure that there's some level of drama in the story. If the super science or magic can literally do anything, then there's no reason the heroes can't just figure out a creative way to get them out of any jam. Goodbye potential conflict. In the case of Star Trek, there were tons of things the replicators and transporters should have been able to do which would have ruined the plot of half the episodes, necessitating a lot of Holding Back the Phlebotinum to maintain drama. As well, it could very easily be that the technology itself has some limitations, as "It can do anything you can imagine" is quite a bold statement for anyone to make. Other times, the Disposable Superhero Maker is disposable in the first place to avoid flooding the setting with superheroes.
To avoid trivializing real-life problems. If Mr. Fantastic actually does cure HIV in the Marvel Universe, there will be plenty of real people still HIV-positive, and plenty of researchers still investing untold millions of dollars and man-hours to fight HIV when they finish the comic. This can make creators wary of tackling such issues, as it can be considered insensitive to have such a heavy burden in real life be casually miracle-cured in fiction. Also, in the interest of representation, physically challenged people exist in universes where science should theoretically be able to cure their handicap. However, either the disability is so ingrained as a facet of the character's portrayal or curing them could be seen to detract from their mass-market appeal as someone that other physically challenged readers can relate to. This is probably why Professor X always ends up back in the wheelchair after regaining use of his legs. Similarly to point one, this is generally more of a concern if the world is supposed to reflect the real world closely; if it's explicitly an Alternate History or Alternate Universe, or the future, then there's greater room to play with this without potentially causing offense.
The idea that technology which could solve serious human problems does exist, but is either repressed from the public, or otherwise not used.
The character may simply not be interested in mass production. In the real world, any sort of new medical device has to undergo years of rigorous testing to prove that it is both safe and effective before it can become available to the general public. Other inventions may have other concerns; your miniaturized nuclear reactor or tiny batteries have to be demonstrated to be safe and that they won't catch on fire, explode, or undergo a deadly meltdown. A character may simply lack interest in dealing with the bureaucracy involved, and may not trust anyone else to bring their products to market on their behalf. Especially given that half of the major corporations in these worlds seem to be run by villains.
At least within the Marvel and DC Universes, comic books that take place in a setting significantly different from the reader's own world (e.g. Jonah Hex, Legion of Super-Heroes, Marvel 2099 etc.) tend to have low sales.
This trope is often associated with the Fantastic Aesop that these problems don't have easy solutions in the real world, and any proposed sci-fi solutions will have negative side-effect or potential for abuse that justifies completely abandoning all hope of trying to solve the problem. However, as superhero comics especially have begun to explore the ramifications of their characters on real-world settings more closely over the years, this question has been raised and addressed more frequently. It is sometimes lampshaded as making people "too dependent" on superheroes: good thing that Jonas Salk didn't feel that way.
Smaller-scale continuities such as newly-created Super Hero universes with a single author to explore the fictional world in 1 or 2 titles are more likely to avert and examine the concept of super-technology's effect on modern society, especially if the writer is trying to make a geopolitical statement. Larger superhero continuities, such as Marvel and DC, are established to have upheld this trope as their Earths have been explored in extensive detail. The trope can be inverted by having a hero "inventing" a technological revolution that already exists (for example, the Ultimate Universe Iron Man apparently invented the MP3 player).
This applies to supervillains as well, albeit for different reasons.
See Plausible Deniability and Mundane Utility for aversions, and You Are Not Ready for a Deconstruction. Antonym to Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome. Compare Super Prototype and Superman Stays out of Gotham. When gods are the ones not doing anything, it's The Gods Must Be Lazy.
Note that this trope does not apply to Reed Richards abstaining from using his other power of elasticity to solve a smaller problem. It wouldn't be very surprising, for example, to see him stretching his arm into the kitchen to open up the refrigerator door and grab a beer, so he doesn't have to leave his spot in an armchair by the TV.
Also see MST3K Mantra. Do not confuse with Mundane Utility.
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In Neko-de Gomen!, the inventions made by both Kuroda and Yayori's father could change the world in many ways and make them very rich if they were to patent them and sell the designs to the proper company or the government.
At the end of Space Battleship Yamato (the first series), Yamato is saved from Desler's final attack by a reflective force field Sanada erects just in time to deflect the beam back at the Gamilon flagship. This reflective forcefield never appears again, nor is it incorporated into Andromeda or the rest of the new EDF fleet (who do however get their own Wave Motion Guns). It would have made the battles between the Comet Empire, Dark Nebula, Bolar, and Dinguil a lot less bloody hence a lot less dramatic. But most likely, they didn't realize that Yamato would see a popularity surge three years after it's unsuccessful run (the original series was truncated due to low ratings).
Deliberately invoked by Academy City in A Certain Magical Index. They are estimated to be several decades ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technology, and some of the stuff they take for granted could easily revolutionize various sciences and solve a ton of problems. However, they also want to remain on top of the tech tree, so they refuse to share their technology until after they've made it obsolete. But even then it's still cutting-edge to the rest of the world.
This is even more egregious when we learn that Psychic Powers in the Indexverse is obtained by each ESPer being a pocket Reality Warper. As we see in A Certain Scientific Railgun this not only involves the standard questions of superpowers but also why Academy City does not attempt to expand the Power Development Program outside of its borders given even weak ES Pers can violate Thermodynamics and give physics the finger. Well aside from the city's ruler Aleister Crowley being a dick who does not care about helping people and raising an army for world domination.
Justfied in Neon Genesis Evangelion, where futuristic giant robots exist but most civilian technology isn't terribly more advanced than what we have in the real world. It's noted that the Evangelions are so expensive to produce that some countries can barely feed their citizens, much less create innovative new technologies.
There's a bit of Fridge Brilliance with this in the manga: in the reset world where Second Impact never occurred, the technology and fashion seem more in line with the real world version of the 21st century, rather than what the show predicted in the 90s.
Bennet the Sage points out in his review of the anime 8 Man After that it makes no sense why the scientist who created 8 Man (a robot-human hybrid), has been withholding drugs from the world that allows people to receive cybernetic limb implants without going insane.
Despite all the interaction between humans and space aliens in the Marvel and DC Universe, one possible reason as to why those Earths aren't spacefaring civilizations could be that the necessary energy sources needed to power the starships can't be found on Earth.
Another possibility is that all the alien invasions and such over the years has made people reluctant to travel too far from Earth, lest they attract even more unwanted extraterrestrial attention.
The biggest examples of this trope in DC, or even comics in general, have to be Johnny Thunder and his successor, Jakeem. Here are two guys who had a Genie at their command, with no limitations on the number of wishes, and they only ever used it to fight crime? How about wishing for world peace? A cure for every disease? At least for eliminating crime?
World Peace would require eliminating free will, eliminating all disease would result in essentially immortal humans or at least greatly longer living and fewer infant mortalities, superb in notion except now the world population will be exploding and what to do with the even MORE geriatrics the developed world is already struggling with (even without disease, people being retired for longer than they worked is a problem), eliminating crime might also have to involve eliminating free will or greatly upset world economies. While there are certainly ways around these problems with a friendly, intelligent genie that grants infinite wishes, they aren't trivially easy to solve for a reason and this has been touched upon in the comics.
There was a storyline where he started to feel bad that he wasn't doing more to solve people's non-crime-related problems and - against the advice of his elders in the Justice Society - he decided to start granting wishes for anyone who wanted his help. Lines formed around the block, near riots broke out if he tried to take a break; it soon occured to him that if he kept it up, he would be spending the rest of his life granting other people's wishes 24/7 (hey, he can wish to not have to sleep, right?). The people waiting in line for wishes considered this an acceptable sacrifice; Jakeem, not so much.
Superman in general has often wrestled with the fact that he can't use his superpowers to simply force away wide-ranged problems plaguing humanity. Attempts to bring about world peace by disposing of nuclear weapons didn't faretoo well in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace or the premiere of Justice League. His attempt to cure starvation in third-world countries is detailed in the graphic novel "Peace On Earth". This results in An Aesop being that these are things that will only be solved when all of humanity chooses to solve them. There are often short-lived Alternate Universe depictions of him going too far in forcing humanity to follow his ideals to solve these problems, thus becoming a Knight Templar.
Linkara'sreview of the Superman Grounded storyline took a further look at how the story applies to this trope and story's general stupidity. At the beginning of Grounded, one woman publicly criticizes Superman for not saving her husband from a brain tumor while Superman was saving Earth. Linkara points out that not only was Superman busy with saving millions of lives, but that there is no indication that Superman's heat/x-ray vision can treat cancer nor does Supes have the necessary medical training.
A famous Bronze Age story by Elliot S! Maggin, "Must There Be A Superman?" involves the Guardians of the Universe subtly hinting to Superman that there is a real danger of his doing too much for humanity, and stunting our society by making us too dependent on him; he sees the wisdom of it and reluctantly takes their advice to heart, resolving not to try and solve some problems people are better off fixing with their own two hands. The theme is revisited a few years later in the Marv Wolfman story "Superman's Day Of Destiny," when Destinynote Yep, Destiny was a Bronze Age character long before he appeared in ''Sandman himself shows up to reiterate the point.
A similar point is brought up in the Elseworlds story "Last Family of Krypton", where Superman's parents also escape Krypton's destruction. Jor-El uses his advanced knowledge to help humanity, but the Guardians point out that he's actually stifling human progress by making them reliant on him. They also mention that the House of El's interfering in human events has robbed Earth of three great heroes (Batman, Green Arrow, and The Flash) by preventing the events that lead to their genesisnote Lara saved the Waynes, Jor-El's satellites rescued Oliver Queen from the desert island almost immediately, and their twin children prevented the lightning storm that gave Barry Allen his powers.
In one dream sequence at the end of the Anarky mini-series (1997), Anarky unleashes his device that makes everyone realize the goodness of the individual and induces mass honesty. Bruce then diverts all Waynecorp weapons manufacturing towards civilian applications, such as using Mr. Freeze's technology to advance space exploration and Poison Ivy's botanical knowledge to help find a cure for cancer. Then it starts going horribly wrong since, even with the goodness of the individual in full force, there are still jerks out there too insane to express it correctly.
This trope was used to justify Barbara "Batgirl/Oracle" Gordon remaining wheelchair-bound despite the ready availability of possible cures in The DCU: she doesn't want to receive special treatment and therefore dishonor public servants who were disabled in the line of duty; either a cure becomes available for everyone, or she stays in the chair. That raises the question of why can't the numerous DC Universe cures be made available to the public. The reboot has changed this (see below)
Lampshade hung, and almost subverted in James Robinson's Starman, where the original Starman (the title character's father) dedicated his later years to turning his cosmic rod into a more general energy source that would revolutionize the world. Although a visitor from the future claimed his success led to him becoming a scientific hero on the level of Einstein, it never actually happened in the present day DCU.
Stories set during World War II explained why the superheroes didn't just Blitzkrieg into Berlin and end the war: Adolf Hitler had acquired the Spear of Destiny, which he could use to control any superpowered being that entered the boundaries of the Reich. (The same was true of Imperial Japan and the Holy Grail.) Later, Hitler's belief in the Spear's power was discussed in an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
The Justice Society was unable to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor because they had been transported to another dimension by an Axis sorcerer during the attack. However, no convincing reason has been given as to why the Justice Society was unable and/or unwilling to stop the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe.
While it was likely intended more as a general explanation of where the team was between the Golden Age and later appearances than as a specific explanation for why they didn't get involved in any particular conflict, the team was supposed to have disbanded and gone underground in 1951 due to a HUAC investigation secretly instigated by Per Degaton, one of their enemies.
In Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, the title character contemplates using his powers to restore the ecologically damaged areas of the world. However, Swamp Thing states that if he would heal all of man's wounds, man would further abuse the environment to maximize profit knowing full well that Swamp Thing was there to correct all the mistakes.
In The Spectre #7 (third series) Madame Xanadu asks the Spectre why he doesn't cure his HIV-positive friend Amy Beiterman. The Spectre responds that if he cures Amy, then there is nowhere to draw the line in curing the millions of sick people worldwide. At that point, the Spectre asks "Where do you draw the line? Abolish death itself?"
Nightshade from the Suicide Squad has lent her ability to transport instantly through the dark dimension. This power could revolutionize space exploration but most people are scared senseless if not driven insane by passing through this dimension.
Bobo T. Chimpanzee (Aka Detective Chimp) once got a hold of Doctor Fate's helmet (and all of its mystic powers) and quickly pondered about using his newfound powers to solve all the world's problems. However, his powers also showed him the terrible after effects of such a change in the world's balance (for example, deleting a disease from existence would open the way for a newer, deadlier disease filling the gap). Eventually he gets rid of the helmet and uses his remaining powers to help people by solving as many unsolved crimes he could while his mystical powers last.
In the JLA story "Divided We Fall", The Flash runs into a type of extradimensional wish-granter named Id, and upon doing so, is wowed by all the possibilities open to him on improving the world, tempted to fix all of life's problems with simple wishes. But he's Genre Savvy enough to know that since Id is a Literal Genie and has seen the wishes he grants always occur in the most horrible ways (like seeing that a boy's father Came Back Wrong because the kid made incorrect wording on his wish), it'd be safer just to turn him down.
In the Hawkworld Armageddon 2001 annual, the corporate backers of the Chicago PD offer to build Hawkman and Hawkwoman more efficient jet packets. In order to do this, the company says that they need access to Thangarian technology. Hawkman says that Earth is not ready for Thangarian technology.
One of the biggest examples in the DC Universe is The Brain, of the original Brotherhood of Evil lineup, who remains a bodiless disembodied brain, despite the wide variety of cybernetic body parts. Although, back in the 1960s, he did have a body made out of pure energy for a while.
In the Batman story "Ticket to Tragedy" (Detective Comics No. 481), Alfred's cousin, the heart surgeon Sir Basil Smythe, develops a revolutionary heart surgical procedure. However, Smythe is so depressed with all the inhumanity in the world that he thinks about burning all his notes on the procedure. He promises to share it with the public if Batman finds the man who murdered his friend. Batman succeeds in capturing the criminal.
Handwaved in Superman 233 (1940-2011) where the titular character successfully protects a prototype US postal service rocket ship. The rocket ship was never mentioned again after the story's end (although, being a prototype, it's entirely possible the postal service decided not to enter it into regular service for whatever reason).
Explored in Dennis O'Neil's writing of Justice League of America back in the late 1960s/70s where the titular characters discuss the ethics of participating in the research study of this one psychology professor.
In the Avengers/JLA crossover, Superman notes how civilian technology in the Marvel Earth was substantially behind that of DC Earth. At the time of the story, Metropolis was a futuristic city built on Braniac technology, a RARE, non-handwaved example of this trope being inverted in the DC Universe (at least until it was undone in 2004).
Seintient battle androids (the GI Robots) have been constructed since WW II for the Allies, yet this seemed to have NO effect on consumer electronic technology.
Another RARE, non-handwaved aversion happened in the early 2000s Aquaman where Aquaman takes the survivors of a sunken San Diego (Sub Diego) who were somehow granted the ability to survive underwater. In the 52/WW II mini-series, San Diego was returned to normal.
Handwaved in the 1960s where it shows Superman allowing the US military to use his body to test nuclear weapons, thus saving huge tracts of land from nuclear ruin.
Another 1960s (back when real-world Media Outlet were worried about Global Cooling rather than Global Warming), Superman uses his superscience to slowly melt polar ice caps, with seemingly no public approval or oversight. The ramifications of these actions were never mentioned.
In Linkara's review of Rise of Arsenal the host points out with the titular character gets a robotic arm transplant, Linkara wonders just how available robotic limbs are to the DC Universe's general public. Linkara also asks if the DC superheroes can clone body parts, then why is Cyborg still stuck in his cybernetic body.
Furthermore, Arsenal's robotic limb amplifies the phantom pain associated with his contaminated nerves. Whether or not this is an issue in other amputees not receiving robotic limb transplants has yet to be seen.
Lampshade hung with Manhunter (2004 series, Kate Spencer version) in which the titular character tells her technical support and former supervillain weapons designer, Dylan Battles, to imagine what would happen if he focused his talents on curing cancer.
In Catwoman 13 (volume 2), the title character steals an experimental neuro-enabler from a munitions dealer, and corrupt scientist (who can make more money selling the device for weapons manufacture rather than medical research firms) to help her friend walk again.
Explored when Lex Luthor dated the Lana Lang/Matrix Supergirl. Lex noted that if Supergirl's shapeshifting molecules could be duplicated, then it would ruin the fashion industry.
Upheld in Hitman 34, where NASA's manned mission to Mars fails because the spaceship was made of negligently faulty equipment.
Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) had her mobility restored as a result of undergoing an experimental surgical procedure in South Africa. Gail Simone in this interview notes that South Africa actually does a lot of work in this area, and that despite public perceptions in various cases spinal damage can be repaired and mobility regained. That doesn't change how much fans were pissed off at how one of the lynchpins of the modern DC universe was rather casually discarded - although in the new DC Universe, Barbara Gordon's spine was not severed, making her a candidate for a real-world cure.
Upon regaining his human form, Swamp Thing (Alec Holland), tried to replicate the eco-restorative formula that originally gave him his superpowers. Alec then decided to destroy the formula, believing (from his own experiences as Swamp Thing) that the plant world was quite violent and that submersing the Earth in it would be a bad thing.
Deathstroke assassinated a philanthropist who was reverse engineering super-villain technology for benevolent causes (i.e. using freeze guns to reverse polar ice cap melting). No reason was given as to why Deathstroke was hired to kill the philanthropist.
In the Resurrection Man series, it is established that the cost of one anti-ballistic personalized force field costs $2 billion to make and $500,000/day to operate.
In the Team 7 series, a floating (seemingly inescapable) prison was created for the purpose of holding metahumans. Furthermore, it was powered by inertial fusion. Not only was the alternative energy prohibitively expensive, but the prison failed to protects its workers/inmates from an Eclipso infestation.
Handwaved in Deathstroke where a corporation who hires the titular character to hunt down Lobo is said to have made unparalleled advances in genetics for the benefit of humanity.
After Captain Atom cures a boy's brain tumor, our titular character offers to cure the wheelchair-confined Dr. Megala. Megala declines, saying that having full possession of his physical faculties would distract him from his subatomic research. Furthermore, Dr. Megala states that there are other ways to get out of the chair.
It doesn't end there: Captain Atom eventually undid the cure, as he felt that it put him on a slippery slope towards power abuse.
Averted big-time with Dawnstar's (from Legion of Super-Heroes) homeworld of Starhaven. The planet was settled in the 13th century by Anasazi natives abudcted by space aliens. These Anasazi settlers were allowed to build an environmentally friendly, and peaceful settlement untainted by European conquest that plagued almost all of the Native Americans in the real world.
DC's AME-Comi UNIVERSE:
Averted, and handwaved in Ame-Comi Girls, where Princess Mera of Atlantis says that the sea farms she helped establish for humans have saved hundreds of species from overfishing. And Power Girl is doling out Kryptonian technology to the world (i.e. she plans to dump half a billion OAF octopuses, which eat up pollution, into Earth's oceans), although she's using her best judgment about what she should give out, and to who.
In the "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe" video game continuity, government space exploration much more advanced than the real world as the Justice League watchtower is referred to as the UN Space Station.
DC's ANIMATED UNIVERSES:
The beginning of the animated movie Superman: Doomsday lampshades this, as it shows Supes unsuccessfully trying to cure cancer; he comments how odd it is that, even with all of Kryptonian technology at his disposal and all of the unbelievable things he's done, he's never been able to help Earth beyond "being its resident strong man". His immediate reaction to every threat the movie throws at him after that is "hit it with my fists until it stops moving", so maybe that's his own fault. Contrast with Lex Luthor in the film, who is shown having completed a one-dose cure for any type of disease... then starts working on a way to make it a life-long treatment for a specific disease so he can get more money for each dose.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold has the seemingly retired, former Blue Beetle convincing the current Blue Beetle to help put the alien technology that gives him his powers to greater use via a fleet of perpetual-energy machines and robots that'll irrigate the Sahara, end world hunger and turn the world into a paradise. It doesn't work out that way, but neither Batman nor the Blue Beetle stops to wonder if such a plan really wouldn't be better than just using it to beat up crooks. The former Blue Beetle was actually dead, this guy was an impostor, and he planned to use the robots to conquer the world.
In the pilot episode of Justice League NASA finally lands a man on Mars.
In Justice League, the immortal Vandal Savage sent a laptop containing current technology to himself, allowing him to depose Hitler, creating a present in which Savage rules the world under the Nazi banner. However, after the good guys beat him, Hitler was dethawed from cryogenic suspension, putting WWII back on track. Mostly. According to Stan Berkowitz, part of the reason Savage's Germany was winning was because Savage directed Germany's resources and manpower toward the war, rather than genocide. So when the Justice League defeated Savage, that resulted in a timeline where WWII was fought but the Holocaust was cut short or never happened at all.
Averted in the Young Justice cartoon, where the combined efforts of the titular characters and Lex Luthor preventing the assassination of representatives from Captain Erastz duplicates of North and South Korea lead to the two countries signing a peace treaty that can "lead to eventual unification".
Played straight literally everywhere else though. Both the heroes and the villains (most visibly, Lex) have super-advanced technology coming out the wazoo, and there are only two attempts made by any character to use their technology and/or abilities to make the world a better place in a way that doesn't involve hitting things until they stop moving. The first is Wally running a new heart across the US for a transplant (and that was the only time it was ever even considered, and even then only because the recipient was a Queen) and the other is the Reach, who are only doing it to soften up Earth for an invasion.
Averted in Superman Unbound where Supergirl uses her powers to help smuggle people out of North Korea, combat genocide in Africa, along with liquidating a Somali warlord.
The Trope Namer is Reed Richards, better known as Mr. Fantastic, leader of the Fantastic Four. While Marvel has attempted to justify his lack of world-changiness in various ways, including that his inventions are too expensive and that nobody else can understand them, the real reason is that allowing him to make a real difference would make the world far too different to reality.
The hell of it is most of the money for the devices he doesn't release to the public is supposed to come from a lot of electronics patents he has released.
The current justification, being used in Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four and F.F. and by Bendis in the Ultimate Marvel universe, is that it's his family which prevents Reed from putting all his efforts into changing the world. He has to choose between being a loving father and husband and devoting himself to advancing humanity (although why Reed can't take a middle ground has yet to be explained). It's implied that the world is lucky when Reed takes the first option since, if he doesn't or if things don't work out between him and Sue, he becomes a Knight Templar (Hickman's books) or full on villain (the Ultimate 'verse).
This may actually be Averted thanks to Comic-Book Time (4 years normal time = 1 year Marvel Time). In the span of something between 10 and 15 years, the Marvel Universe has advanced from 1960s-era technology to post-modern, smartphone dominated technology.
Doctor Doom has a healing ray machine that can regenerate full-body third-degree-burn patients to full health in a day. Being the bad guy, he hasn't released it. But Reed hasn't even tried to duplicate or reverse-engineer that project...and Reed not only knows about the device (it appeared in FANTASTIC FOUR VS. X-MEN), Reed's had possession of Doom's castle at least twice since that story arc. This gizmo appears to have been derived from Battleworld technologies that can revive people to full health so long as any remote spark of life still exists in their body, which makes the lack of creation of similar technology by Richards look even worse by comparison.
Tony Stark is, depending on the invention, one of the more justified versions of the trope.
Somehow it's averted with him. When the series started in the sixties, technology still used transistors and vacuum tubes. Iron Man's armor worked with a set of miniaturized transistors. What is a set of miniaturized transistors? A microchip. We owe modern computers, cellphones, and almost all the electronics that we have now to Jack Kilby... er... Tony Stark.
Regarding his signature invention; he constantly has to struggle between the potential good of releasing or mass-producing his Iron Man suit and all the related technological advancements behind it for the good of the world, with the potential harm it would do if all the supervillains out in the world reverse-engineered it and turned it on its head. Several What If? stories have dealt with the trade-off and it rarely is as much of a Hand Wave as with most heroes capable of producing such revolutionary inventions.
A flashback in issue 244 shows that when he first returned to America after building his original armor, Stark planned to market his new invention, and held a public demonstration, only for some thugs to break in backstage and try to steal the armor. It was enough to convince him not to go forward. Then came the Armor Wars, when Tony reacted rather badly to the discovery that armored villains were using his stolen tech...
In Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca's run of Invincible Iron Man, Stark dissolved Stark Industries and instead formed Stark Resilient (later just Resilient), a company dedicated to making consumer-grade repulsor technology to power everything from mobile phones to toasters to clean electric cars, thus making this something of an inversion of the trope. This is ignoring the events of shortly after Siege, where he rebuilds Broxton as a super-futuristic wonder city. Also an inversion.
The graphic novel The Death of Captain Mar-Vell hung a lampshade on this by claiming that every (mortal) sentient race has a disease similar to cancer, and many of the races had already found a cure for their race's version of the disease. Furthermore, when Rick Jones appeals to the superheroes who are scientists and doctors to find a cure for Mar-Vell's cancer, they find themselves uncomfortably realizing they could have made this kind of effort beforehand for others. The superheroes do manage to develop a tunic that slows down Captain Marvel's cancer by 20%, although no explanation is made if they developed a similar device for humans.
The fictional African nation of Wakanda is, due to a surreptitious abundance of Unobtainium as a natural resource, a first world nation. This does not extend to any other part of Africa we see, though this is probably why writers don't show it very much, although to their credit from fairly early on they attempted to justify it by having the Wakandans have a policy of isolation that goes back centuries. Furthermore, the Wakandans have also cured cancer but are holding out on the rest of the world; when Mar-Vell was dying of cancer, the Wakandan King was there and said he could do nothing due to the long term effects of Mar-Vell's nega-bands... but that still doesn't explain why Wakanda withholds its cancer cures from the rest of the world.
Speaking of cancer cures, during the Dark Reign storyline, Norman Osborn reveals that he has the cure for cancer, too. Except he decides to use it on Deadpool after the Merc With A Mouth goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge for Osborn stealing his thunder at the end of Secret Invasion.
In another incident of a Broken Aesop, T'challa expresses his contempt of American gasoline-powered automobiles. So, Your Majesty, why doesn't Wakanda put something better on the open market?
Spider-Man's webbing. Real life spider silk is, pound for pound, stronger than steel, tougher than Kevlar, as flexible as yarn, and incredibly lightweight. It's also prohibitively hard to manufacture, as spiders don't "farm" well. Peter Parker somehow has managed to manufacture synthetic spider silk that's cost-effective enough for him to always be in supply; while it does dissolve after about an hour, no adhesive company seems interested in buying the formula and tweaking it to last longer.
Parodied in Avengers Academy: Spidey explains to the students in class how he was wrong for trying at first to use his powers for financial gain instead of helping people and the students ask why he didn't just patent his webbing and make millions that he could donate to needy charities. Spidey counters that he'd have to give up his secret identity to patent it, but one of them points out he could have used proxies in the form of shell companies to hide the source of the webbingnote It's justified for his youth since when he was starting his career as a hero he was a poor student without the money, connections or knowledge of business law to be able to pull it off. Now he rubs elbows with the likes of Tony Stark and Danny Rand, both highly competent businessmen.
Also, in an issue of Marvel Team-Up from the early '80s, a Corrupt Corporate Executive (albeit a well-meaning CCE) recruited the mercenary Mauler to kidnap Spider-Man so he could steal his web-formula to create an ultra-lightweight alternative to Kevlar. If he had just spoken to Spider-Man they might have worked something out. Oh well...
Averted in the real-world with Spider-Man's spider-tracking devices. One real-world Judge in New Mexico got the idea for tracking criminals with electronic ankle bracelets from the spider-tracking devices.
This premise is partly explained by the Marvel Universe's Watchers' intention not to interfere in the affairs of other races. They originally shared their scientific knowledge with a primitive alien race who used the newfound knowledge to become spacefaring. Eventually this alien race with abundant technological gains declared war on a race far more powerful than them and were obliterated as a result. This led the Watchers to being non-interventionists.
Naturally, all of Marvel's brains turn up useless if the plotline calls for it. In One More Day, none of Marvel's brains were able to prevent Aunt May's death (or remember the things which have healed much worse injuries). Including Doctor Strange, who (totally removed from his ability to alter the fabric of the universe at will, being the Sorcerer Supreme), was a neurosurgeon. Enter Mephisto. And at the end of Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men, Cyclops said that he had contacted Reed, Hank Pym and the other brain trust members, who were unable to rescue Kitty from the giant bullet. In both cases, the writer wanted to set up a specific plot resolution which wouldn't have been possible if Reed Richards (and the other brains) weren't useless.
The presence of Captain America and the Invaders didn't make World War II turn out any differently, even though Cap punches out Hitler and Tojo on at least one cover along with the Invaders routinely decimating Axis forces. Nowadays it's assumed that those super-heroes mostly served to cancel out the efforts of the equally fantastic Red Skull and other Axis supervillains, resulting in a war that played out exactly as though neither of them had existed. Later on in the Marvel Universe, it was implied that the US did not use any superhuman soliders in real-world wars, out of threat of retaliation from other nations' superhuman forces.
Furthermore, the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond, did kill Adolf Hitler in his infamous bunker. However, the hero was trying to take Hitler to trial, and the infamous tyrant disguised his death to make it look like a suicide in order to go down in history as a martyr.
In The Invaders, it was shown that when Captain America and Bucky found out about the internment camps the U.S. had established for Japanese-American citizens, they were thoroughly disgusted and vowed to help fight racial injustice when they returned home from the war. Obviously, thanks to Cap becoming a Human Popsicle and Bucky becoming the Winter Soldier, this never occurred.
In this video interview with Garth Ennis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8k-PHnfIe8), the author says that one of the advantages of writing Nick Fury, or Punisher for the Max line (separate from the regular Marvel Universe), is that if you have incredibly powerful super-beings, than it makes many of the wars, and events of the real world look redundant.
In the case of Storm and other characters with weather-manipulation powers, it's been suggested that continual use of their powers would destabilize weather patterns (as demonstrated in one battle between the X-Men and Alpha Flight where Shaman's blizzard spell wrecked havoc on the weather cycle). Most weather controllers aren't creating weather out of nothingness, they're manipulating the existing environment, and drawing resources such as airborne moisture towards one location simply draws those resources away from other areas in need.
Project Pegasus, a division of the US Department of Energy devoted to discovering alternative energy resources, has a method of converting solid radioactive waste into harmless material. This invention alone should revolutionize nuclear power and earn billions of dollars. The ramifications of such technology among the world has yet to be explored.
Unlike Oracle, no-one wonders why the X-Men's Professor X is still in a wheelchair. This is because he doesn't seem to really care. He was moved to a healthy clone body under highly unusual circumstances, but his spine was broken later. Originally, Professor X used his telepathy to prevent himself from feeling pain coming from his crippled legs. This in turn, caused his clone body to remain crippled. He hasn't been in a wheelchair for years now, thanks to a combination of Blessed with Suck and Cursed with Awesome.
In X-Men Legacy #242, Hellion, angrily, invokes this trope when, after witnessing many incredible events during his run with the X-Men, they are just trying to replace his lost hands with robotic hands instead of finding a way to grow new ones for him.
Hellion: Seriously. We bring people back from the dead. FROM THE DEAD! So how hard can a pair of hands be?
In one storyline in the X-Men during the late-80s, a bunch of college students first try to kill Xavier by mutant bashing him. Failing at that, they then booby-trap his university office with an anti-telepathy weapon! The apparent implications of ordinary people having access to such advanced technology is never explored. But incidents like this are very widespread in the Marvel Universe, raising the question of why Reed seems disinclined to put most of his technology on the market. Availability of advanced technology is very erratic and driven solely by writer's whims. As a rule, gadgets that can be used to harm superheroes outnumber more practical consumer devices by a fairly wide margin.
Similar to the inconsistency of the first Marvel 2099 line where a common crime was organ theft. However, at least one issue mentioned that cloned organ transplantations were available to the public (the way it was mentioned also suggested that the cloning procedure was a rather routine operation), thus rendering organ theft redundant.
In New Avengers # 9, some AIM agents stole some of Wolverine's blood to make manufacture bio-weapons. Iron Man then replied, "Do you realize how far we would advance as a technological species if we didn't have to put up with this every ten minutes?"
The first arc of Avengers Assemble has the Guardians of the Galaxy explaining that were it not for the constant string of global crisis and superhuman-related catastrophes, Earth would be a much more advanced civilization. In effect, the superhero/supervillain dichotomy keeps mankind from reaching its true potential.
At the beginning of Grant Morrison's "E For Extinction" storyline in New X-Men, Wolverine breaks down the cost behind the various parts that make up a Sentinel robot.
Before he became the Sorceror Supreme, Doctor Strange was a brilliant yet arrogant neurosurgeon. When one charity approached him to help them cure a disease, Dr. Strange refused as there was little if any money involved.
Toyed with in Avengers vs. X-Men, where the Phoenix-powered Phoenix Five (Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, & Magik) use their powers to make the world a better place by ending war, starvation, disease, etc. However, the Phoenix Five eventually let the power get to their heads, and their fellow Mutants ultimately turn on them. Furthermore, the Phoenix Five grow increasingly naieve, such as Colossus, in wanting to make lives better for the whales, endows them with the ability to walk on land (forgetting that these sea mammals cannot breathe outside of water).
During the same event, the members of the Illuminati (which contains people like Reed Richards and Black Bolt) justify not getting involved in the conflict by stating that the X-Men might be right, and thus helping the Avengers defeat them could prevent a whole lot of good from being done.
Perhaps averted in Wolverine and the X-Men #4 where Deathlok is a guest speaker for the future history class at the Jean Grey school. Deathlok is using his future forecasting to tell students about their possible futures. For Broodling, Deathlok says that the student has a 22.3% of curing cancer in the next three years, and a 34.7% of eating/killing 4 or more classmates at the same time.
Squadron Supreme of Earth-712 did try to remake their world into a utopia with their powers and technology. The end result was a totalitarian dystopia, and the battle that finally forced the Squadron to acknowledge this resulted in the deaths of several members, as well as the deaths of some of those who fought against them.
One of the biggest examples of this trope in the Marvel Universe if not superhero comics in general is the original Human Torch, a sentient superpowered android created in 1939 America. Never mind the countless scientific advances needed to create such a device, such creation had NO effect on consumer electronics technology.
In "Spider-Man: Planet of the Symbiotes", anti-technology terrorists seek to destroy a top-secret alternative energy reactor, along with mind-controlled robots capable of cleaning up hazardous waste. In his review of the comic, Linkara takes the opportunity to point out the comic book trend of mentioning superscience with far-reaching consumer applications only to never have it be mentioned again.
Handwaved in Peter David's writing of the Hulk where the Pantheon claims that they believed themselves to be close in discovering a cure for AIDS. Whether or not such claims were based on real-life discoveries or fictional advances was not elaborated.
Handwaved, and/or really sloppy science with the Incredible Hulk's first appearance. The titular character says he has seen afflictions similar to ones that have plagued his nemesis Gargoyle I, and is capable of reversing them with radiation. It was never explained what these "similar cases" were, and whether or not they were real-life or fictional ailments.
Lampshaded, and perhaps averted in the Marvel NOWIndestructible Hulk series, which opens with Bruce Banner lamenting the fact that all the years he spent trying to cure himself of the Hulk could have been used to fight problems like famine and disease. He then agrees to join S.H.I.E.L.D. on the condition that they give him funding to work towards bettering mankind while not in his Hulk form.
A non-sensical attempt to justify this trope was given in Amazing Spider-Man 698. The titular character was with the Fantastic Four in an alien world. Spider-Man says how this world's superscience gives him plenty of things to invent for his job at Horizon labs. Reed Richards says that Earth's science must advance at its own, natural rate (whatever that means). Of course, by that point, that was actually Otto Octavius inside Peter's mind...
Guardian of Alpha Flight was originally a petrochemical engineer who developed his exoskeleton for mining purposes. Once he suspected that his invention was going to be used for military purposes, he decided not to release it.
Deconstructed in Avengers Forever. Humanity has many inventions and resources and may easily become a galactic empire. It does not happen because Immortus, Guardian of the Multiverse, subtly influences everybody so that it does not happen.
In an issue of Superior Spider-Man, the vigilante Cardiac breaks into the Boneyard, the warehouse where the confiscated weapons and gadgets of supervillains are stored. While searching for a specific item, Cardiac angrily states that all this technology should be out there making the world a better place, not wasting away on shelves.
At one point, one of Spidey's co-workers at Horizon Labs is concerned about all the time being spent on developing new weapons. Spidey provides a list of all the revolutionary civilian applications his weapons offer, leaving the co-worker astonished.
Originally, the Legacy Virus (a diseased specifically engineered to exterminate mutants) was created by writers as an analogy to the AIDS virus (which many real-world people believe was designed to exterminate homosexuals/drug users/people of African decent). The Legacy Virus was going to remain uncured until a real-life cure for AIDS was discovered. However, numerous fans complained that the inability of marvel's supergeniuses to cure the Legacy Virus made them look incompetent, and Marvel decided to go back on its original decision.
Explored in the Punisher War Zone mini-series (2013), where the titular character is being pursued by the Avengers. The Punisher lures the Black Widow out into an impoverished/enslaved village in the Congo, where she feels compelled to help out the villagers rather than keep chasing the Punisher.
Back in the 90s, Dr. Octopus attempted to cure the AIDS virus to save a former flame. However, Spidey thought he was trying to turn it into a superweapon after he stole a few vials of it. Octavius is able to hold off Spidey until his tests are complete, but when he finds out that they were a failure, he heartbreakingly shuts down and allows his defeat, befuddling Spidey immensely.
Averted big-time in Venom #1 (2011-present), where UN peacekeepers are equipped with battle-armor capable of withstanding 50-megaton nukes. Whether or not this has had a major outcome in real-life crisis zones like the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Afghanistan has yet to be seen.
Spider-Man has started to release his inventions while working for Horizon labs. After a fight with a villain with a killer laugh, Peter patented some high-end noise canceling headphones. Bulletproof Spidey armor became vastly improved bicycle helmets (that are cheaper to mass-produce, lighter, and 10 times stronger than real-world counterparts), along with making a revolutionary new polymer that can very well have future civilian applications. Some retardant gel (with the revolutionary capabilities of turning hot parts of an object cold, and the cold parts of an object hot) that Spider-Man developed to defeat the elemental control villain Equinox is now being used by firefighters, and has the ability to revolutionize burn victim care. As for the more advanced Horizon Labs inventions, such as the cryo cube 3000 (capable of freezing tissues, and animals without causing any harm), and the break room of tomorrow (a room containing a version of itself 24 hours into the future), gets stolen, and horribly misused by Dr. Octopus in the "Ends Of The Earth" storyline. Which of Spider-Man's inventions are still available to the public after the end of the storyline is not clarified.
One of Spidey's co-workers, Uatu (not the Watcher), has even developed instant criminal suspect identification software, and is working on ways to transfer it into glasses.
There was this one villain, Magnetic Man (possessing magnetic manipulation guns that he invented), who was released from prison. Spider-Man offered Magnetic Man a research assistant job at Horizon Labs, and the former villain accepted.
One of the earliest, if not the earliest aversions, was with Spider-Man happened back in the 1970s where Spider-Man agreed with an advertising agency to use a Spider-Mobile to promote a nonpolluting car engine (along with earn a paycheck). Eventually, Spider-Man found the car to be a burden, and returned it to the company after it got wrecked.
The vigilante/physician Cardiac is various supervillain technology that insurance companies deem too expensive to help treat the sick. Mentioned examples includes trying to understand, and cost-effectively duplicate Dr. Octopus' neurological disease scanner, dermal bands that fully regenerate the skin a man lost to necrosis, and an artificial transplant.
However, the fate of these devices are up in the air, thanks to the Goblin King - when he destroyed Cardiac's clinic, the Avengers raced in to save people and Iron Man demanded an explanation of it with Captain America stating that they need to arrest Spidey due to the fact that he knew about it and participated in it.
An example of Reed Richards NOT being useless was involved in Sensational She-Hulk 6-7, where the trope's titular charcter serves as a technical advisor to NASA's faster-than-light (FTL) ship, Starblazer. Starblazer gets stolen by a space alien, and two third-rate trucker superheroes (Razorback, and U.S). Dr. Dewitt of NASA is so impressed with Starblazer's performance that she offers to drop criminal charges against the thieves if they agree to further pilot the ship through outer space. The trucker heroes agree. Years later in Marvel Universe time, the Starblazer was successfully returned to Earth.
Since 1987 in the real world, the Chinese government has been sending vegetable seeds into outer space with the purpose of exposing them to cosmic radiation. Many of the seeds that have returned to Earth have grown super-large on Earth. For all that is known, the Chinese government could have gotten the idea from the Fantastic Four's origin, who got their powers from being exposed to cosmic rays. Furthermore, various supermarkets in Japan, Singapore, and European Union have purchased these super-enlarged vegetables.
Averted big-time in the Iron Man Legacy storyline "Industrial Revolution" where a bankrupt Tony Start endows an impoverished Hispanic Los Angeles community with a new company that manufactures Tony Stark's automated medication boxes (that is, the box reminds you when to take your medication, how much to take, if you are taking the right medication, and so forth).
Yet another example of Reed Richards NOT being useless is the fact that he endows the bankrupt Tony Stark with the $600,000 needed to start the previously mentioned company.
Averted with the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in X-Men Legacy #269 where Rogue and Iceman use their powers to end drought in a Chinese desert (without messing up the water cycle), and fix the New Orleans levees. These changes presumably remain in effect after the conclusion of Avengers vs. X-Men. Magik notes that were they not constantly fighting supervillains and struggling to survive, the X-Men could be using their abilities to make the world a better place for everyone.
Perhaps averted in the 1970's "Nomad" storyline where Captain America confronts a villain who upon being unmasked claims that he was unsatisfied with the power that his political office gave right before committing suicide. Seeing how this was during the Watergate era, many readers assumed that this villain was former President Richard Nixon. If this is true, then Richard Nixon would have fallen to suicide in the 1970's rather than his real world counterpart who was exonerated, and passed away in 1993.
ULTIMATE MARVEL UNIVERSE:
This trope is more often averted in the Ultimate Marvel Universe than in the regular Marvel Universe (Earth 616).
Handwaved in Ultimate Fantastic Four where Reed Richards makes his money developing weapons for the military, and corporate clients (i.e. microscopic houses, 5-sensory television), rather than blackmailing industries as his Earth-616 counterpart does.
Justified with Reed's teleportation/dimensional crossing technology, which has led to Earth being invaded by aliens and zombies on a couple of occasions.
Handwaved in Mark Millar's Ultimate X-Men, stating that Beast was researching cheaper alternatives to high-priced Western pharmaceuticals in the Third World. However, Beast's devastation dealt to him by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants presumably causes him to halt such research.
Averted with Thor who uses his weather control powers to help African farmers, and super-strength to rebuild Bosnia. Storm of the X-Men also used her powers to bring rain to a recession-hit farm area as part of a college project.
Before the Ultimate X-Men broke up, Jean Grey's primary focus at the school was using her telepathic powers to help the mentally ill.
Although they were villains, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver disarmed both India and Pakistan of their nuclear weapons. The supervillain duo also exposed corporate corruption.
Before Professor X and Magneto founded the X-Men, they offered their mutants to help government/industry solve numerous problems (i.e. the energy crisis, ending world hunger etc.). Government/industry declines the offer, not wanting to upset the status quo.
Captain America used to be the President of the United States. Writer Sam Humphries assures readers that this will have long term effects on the Ultimate Universe. Furthermore, Washington DC was destroyed by an anti-matter bomb sent by Reed Richards (he turned evil at some point. In the process of trying to fight off Reed Richards, the US government also exhausted its entire supply of nuclear weapons), and will seemingly remain that way.
Upheld with the lack of superhuman involvement in political affairs. When the Ultimates assisted the US government in the overthrow of a rogue Middle Eastern regime, it resulted in an invasion force of a Chinese/Russian superhuman task force against the USA.
The Ultimate X-Men discovered sentient crops that are much more effective than their non-sentient varieties, and are now distributing them to third-world countries, and disaster zones via Stark International. Meanwhile, a barren desert colony in the American Southwest where the mutants lived (Utopia) is turned into a lush garden with mutant powers. The Utopia colony, with Tony Stark's assistance, also files numerous patents, and incorporations. The Utopia colony has been expanded a couple thousand of acres, and uses their resource/knowledge to help out nearby families hit hard by the economic recession/drought.
Justified with Magma of the Ultimate X-Men. She uses her continent moving abilities to upearth underground caverns to provide the Utopia settlement with enough water to last the colony a hundred years, and geothermal energy that rivals a dozen nuclear power plants. When Mach Two asks if such actions disrupt land elsewhere, Magma responds "Pfft, at least give me credit for doing something."
Further averted big-time with Stark Industries, who use molecular manufacturing to provide cheap pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, the company was developing a satellite to collect Big Bang residue, and convert it into cheap energy for Earth (only to have it sabotaged by rogue elements of the California state government).
Deconstructed with Ultimate Reed Richards himself; the governmental think-tank he belongs to keeps him focused predominantly on military technology and restrains release of his successful creations. The frustration at not being able to change the world despite knowing his technology could provide incredible advances to humanity eventually drives Reed insane. So insane that he takes up the mantle of the now-deceased Ultimate Doctor Doom and becomes a supervillain whose actions lead to the annihilation of Germany and Asgard. Furthermore, Reed then tried to turn Earth into a utopia whose plans included distributing free energy, the sentient seed, and blowing up the Iranian Parliament.
Upheld in the Hunger mini-series, where Captain Marvel, right before he can give final approval for NASA's human colonization of Mars, is distracted by the arrival of Galactus (Earth-616 version).
Deconstructed in Planetary. The world is run by a secret cabal headed by a thinly veiled version of the Fantastic Four, and the Reed analog purposely keeps their discoveries and inventions from the world (and purposefully seek and confiscate/cover up the technology, magic and similar of others) for personal gain and to keep humanity weak in preparation for a highly advanced alien race to take it over. Planetary itself was founded because this really pissed certain other beings, like the Fourth Man, off, and is dedicated to excavating as much weirdness, lost technology and similar as possible with the aim of sharing it with humanity.
Warren Ellis and his successors examined the trope in The Authority, which was Jenny Sparks' attempt to fill the shoes of both a disbanded Stormwatch and The High's group. At the end of the first story arc, after defeating a teleporting clone army of Flying Bricks from the island of Gamora, team leader Jenny Sparks states that the Authority is going to present Gamora's captured tissue replication and teleportation devices to UN inspectors. She hopes this will pressure the inspectors to make the technology available to the public after 5-10 years of testing. Later, Mark Millar's "The Nativity" arc explicitly asks the question "Why do super-people never go after the real bastards?". The Authority, like the Stormwatch superhumans, did devote their time to solving the problems of humanity; The Engineer in particular. She developed a cure for a certain strain of leukemia and spent her spare time developing renewable energy. Jack Hawksmoor led his endorsements to companies who promised to pay their workers a decent wage. The Authority are also pretty thorough about addressing the crimes perpetrated by humans rather than superhumans, such as totalitarian regimes. However, this backfires: they are accused of presenting "unfair competition" for medical and industrial companies, and blamed for mass redundancies. Moreover, after the "Coup D'Etat" storyline The Authority become the unelected government of the USA. In the process, the Authority unintentionally causes mass civilian casualties in fighting the armed resistance. Furthermore, the Authority unsuccessfully tries to legalize hemp production and require all auto engines to run on bio-diesel by the end of the year. Amidst these failures, the Authority steps down as unelected rulers of the United States.
Century child Gaia Rothstein of the 21st century was said to have the power to reverse global warming or make famine history, but had such attempts subverted by the apocalyptic destruction of World's End. As a result, Gaia sought refuge by bonding herself with the planet Earth.
The Wildstorm Universe has inconsistency with exploring the ramifications of superheroes sharing their superscience with the public. In Wildcats (2002), the titular characters made limitless extradimensional energy available to the public. Later on in the Authority: Revolution maxi-series (2005), the Authority (as rulers of the United States) tried to force auto-manufactures to make bio-diesel cars (being an inferior energy source compared to the WildC.A.T.S extradimensional batteries).
Both used and averted in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: by 1958, Earth has been invaded by Martians, there was a huge scale Air-War in Europe prior to World War I, and Britain was controlled by IngSoc from 1945 through 1953, yet absolutely none of this has had any effect on the Cold War, World War II, or, in fact, anything regarding the general course of history. This is what happens when you combine all of fiction into one universe.
In The Boys the superheroes, for the most part, really are useless. When The Seven try to avert the comics' version of 9/11, they fuck it up catastrophically with the Brooklyn Bridge being destroyed instead of the south World Trade Tower. The message being that the military and other trained rescue organisations are the real heroes. In The Boys, the US military had shot down the airplanes heading for the Pentagon and North World Trade Center Tower, thus reducing the 9/11 death toll from over 3000 to around 1000.
A key subplot of the series is the repeated failure of the Mega Corp. Vought-American to avert this trope by making superheroes part of the US military. Their first attempt to deploy superheroes during World War 2 ended in all the superheroes dying in a Nazi ambush.
Ex Machina plays with this trope. The main character is a former superhero who has the ability to talk to machines (so he could tell a train to stop itself, tell a computer to turn itself on, and tell a gun to jam itself). However, he hangs up his cape after he screws up a bit too much (plus the government specifically forbade him from doing any more superheroing while it was studying his gear). He only goes back to work on 9/11, where he's not quite fast enough to stop the first plane, so one tower is still demolished (he saves the other one). He then decides to run for mayor of New York City, figuring he'll do more good in that role. For the most part, he's correct.
An obscure Golden Age example. In Target Comics' "Calling 2R" feature, a benevolent scientist known only as Skipper transformed his estate into Boystate, a high-tech refuge for unwanted boys. Boystate residents possess a variety of high-speed aircraft (by 1940s standards), "force wall" forcefields, cosmic-ray-powered healing chambers, portable radio communicators and other nifty gadgetry. But while Skipper was very happy to share his technology with his charges, he went out of his way to make sure it never left Boystate's confines. The later stories averted it when World War II broke out and Skipper was ordered to develop high-tech weaponry for the army. He was happy to comply.
Usually played straight in Astro City, as the author believes that it's important that the stories take place in our world, but the superhero Samaritan was able to stop the Challenger disaster, and there's a story dealing with a lawyer who attempts to defend his client in a mundane case by citing superhuman events - he argues that yes, forty witnesses say that they saw his client commit the murder, but there was once a bank robbery seemingly committed by celebrities who turned out to be shapeshifters, the superheroes First Family were suspected of selling defense secrets, but it was their Alternate Universe counterparts, etc. It ends up actually getting his client off the hook.
Qubit, Irredeemable's Captain Ersatz of Reed Richards / The Doctor, invents and routinely employs teleportals to travel around the Earth and to other planets in an instant. He is, however, fiercely protective of the technology, and his fears are proven justified when the Vespa weaponize the technology and use it to stop the Plutonian:
Qubit: I'm as flattered as Einstein was when he saw Hiroshima.
At the end of David Hine's Spawn: Armageddon storyline, Spawn is recreating the universe after the cataclysmic battle between heaven and hell. When Spawn is asked if he wants to cure the common cold or end global warming, Spawn says no, for he has done enough for humanity and it is now time for them to solve their own problems.
Played with in The Uniques. The eponymous super-beings played a major role in all of their world's events since they emerged in the late 1930s, but in the end, no matter how many divergences they created, the end results weren't that different from the real world.
In Judge Dredd, the availability of superscience to the public varies from storyline to storyline. In some issues, organ theft/traficking are major crime operations. In other issues, hospitals regularly provide cloned organ transplantations to patients (thus making organ theft/traficking redundant). Human brains can be transplanted into humanoid robots in Mega-City One. However, the cheapest model is $120,000 and over 90% of Mega-City One's residents are on permanent welfare.
In Supreme Power: Nighthawk vs. Hyperion, Nighthawk lures Hyperion to Darfur in hopes that Hyperion will become more proactive on the country's suffering. Hyperion kills Sudanese President Al-Hamas, although the disposed President assures Hyperion that another brutal ruler will just replace him. The story ends with superpowered Africans ordering the titular characters to leave, saying that two people can't fix a country of millions of people.
In Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes, the US military develops an "alchemy ray", which they test by turning dog poop into gold...and then the head scientist remarks that it's considered "too theoretical" for them to get more funding. Linkara flips out at this, pointing out that such a device is infinitely useful since it could be used to safely dispose of nuclear waste (among other uses). The machine is destroyed in the accident that creates the titular heroes, rendering the whole debate moot.
Interestingly averted with Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck, whose discoveries were later discovered in the real world. Donald Duck discovered a carbene called methylene (along with a particular reaction it caused) 20 years before scientists in the real world did. Scrooge McDuck also created a method of retrieving sunken ships that was later duplicated in the real world. Furthermore, Scrooge McDuck served as a major inspiration for Osamu Tekuza's (father of anime and manga) art style. See this article.
Another Atop the Fourth Wall episode: Linkara asks why the scientist in Brute Force (who can grant human intelligence to animals and create transforming battle suits) doesn't use this technology to benefit people in wheelchairs.
In the graphic novel The Network (which was about a television network devoted exclusively to covering superhero news) one of the news headlines explained "The heroes have the ability to end poverty and hunger. So why don't they? Find out in an exclusive interview with the Champion."
Averted in Watchmen. The technological developments enabled by Dr. Manhattan and refined by Adrian "Smartest Man in the World" Veidt (formerly the superhero Ozymandias) have irrevocably changed the course of their world's history for the better (including things like electric cars in 1985). Veidt's grasp of genetic engineering even manages to- as far as we can see- eliminate the threat of nuclear war, albeit at a terrible cost.
Bloodily averted in Uber, in which conventional militaries develop and deploy superhuman soldiers as terror-weapons. The superhumans easily turn any fight into a Curb-Stomp Battle and immediately change the course of World War 2.
Perhaps justified with the Warrior mini-series where the titular character seeks to achieve the virtue known as Destrucity ("a truce between one's destiny and one's reality, promising to stay true what one is destined to be, yet staying true to what one is now"). In trying to achieve Destrucity, Warrior (the Ultimate Warrior of professional wrestling fame) seeks to become an example of the true warrior, and a value of what all others aspire to be (as opposed to "born-again freaks" who feel themselves to be free of personal responsibility). However, his quest leads to his conscience travelling to a planet in another galaxy where he punches a hole in the space-continuum. Furthermore, Warrior starts to seriously become disinterested the suffering of other humans. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the villain known as Rock (not the wrestler) takes possession of the Warrior's body, and goes on a mass murder spree (including over 40 world rulers).
Astérix plays with this trope. There is a Gaulish Undefeatable Little Village that the Romans cannot conquer, because their local druid Getafix created a magic potion that gives super-strength. However, it is not produced on industrial levels to simply remove the Romans from all Gaul and undo Caesar's conquest, or even to take the fight to Rome at all, because Getafix only allows its use for defensive purposes, and will not reveal the recipe to anyone (or, more exactly, only to another druid that would also keep the secret, but that never actually happened). And, besides, that would ruin the tone of the comic book, which is a comedy. On the other hand, the magic potion and the main characters have had many small effects on the world here and there, mostly of the Beethoven Was an Alien Spy variety, such as the broken nose of the Sphinx.
It should be remembered that the magic potion cannot be produced in mass quantities because it uses quite rare ingredients – several adventures start with Asterix and Obelix going on a Quest to find one of the missing ingredients before the village runs out of potion.
An interesting aversion took place in "Obelix & company". An economist attempted to end the Gaul threat by keeping them occupied, and for this he began to buy from Obelix all the menhirs he could produce, raising the pay each time. Soon, all the village (except for Asterix, Getafix and Vitalstatistix) got divided in two halves: one half hunts boars for the other half that makes menhirs. Taking them to Rome, the economist began to sell the menhirs, but once people began to buy them, Romans began to produce them as well, and other countries to export them. Paying ever-growing fees for the Gaul menhirs and unable to sell them, the whole Roman economy came to a breakdown, and the sestertius was devaluated. All because of those damned Gauls! And the funny thing is that it was never revealed what the actual use of a menhir is!
Trope Averted in Lanfeust de Troy (and other stories in the same universe), by having everybody actually following a profession connected to their personal magic power. Thus Lanfeust, who can melt metal by looking at it, is a smith, people who control fire are firemen or soldiers, people who can make hair grow are hairdressers (they can cut your hair, or make it grow longer, how cool is that!), etc.
Deconstructed in Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog with Knuckles' ancestors, the Brotherhood of Guardians. They had the most advanced technology on Mobius, combined with potent mystical prowess and powerful allies. At no point did they try and stop Dr. Robotnik during his original decade long spree of terror, even when he was a clear threat to them, only getting involved in areas of echidna interests. It's suggested that their obsession with following their centuries old traditions was the problem, with even their allies calling them out on it, saying that echidnas would become a footnote in Mobian history, whereas they could usher in a golden age if they got involved with other races. When Dr. Robotnik returned, now as Dr. Eggman, Princess Sally asked them for help, but they refused because she couldn't agree to using their most advanced weapons, suggested to be nuclear. Since an early issue in the Knuckles comic book established that echidnas do have the tech to fully restore an ecosystem ravaged by nuclear weapons, this wouldn't be too big a problem, but they never mentioned this to Sally makes it seem like they withheld that knowledge just to make her leave. Eventually Dr. Eggman caught up to their tech enough to attack them directly, getting most of the echidnas slaughtered, and the Brotherhood captured.
Another interesting aspect is roboticization. When the process was created by Sonic's Uncle Chuck, it was meant to save people who were dying until a way to save them was found. However, Robotnik found the thing, altered it and when Sonic's parents became the first two victims, Uncle Chuck fell into despair and retired in shame, not knowing that it was altered. Years later, an alien race called the Bern came to Mobius, abducted all of the roboticized Mobians and reverted them back to normal... then it turned out that it was banned after a testing on a techno-organic species killed them off.
A side-story explores the logical extension of this trope, with NASA outsourcing the design of their new space rocket to Herschel Clay, a metahuman Gadgeteer Genius with a love of tinkering. Problem is, by the time their own engineers have had a chance to try to comprehend his designs Clay has already found a way to improve it. In other words, they get a new design in the mail that becomes obsolete by the time they're ready to take that one off the drawing board, and so on: They simply can't keep up with his constant improvements.
PS238 also averts this trope with the Rainmaker Project, a section of the school where students with powers that don't lend themselves well to combat are trained on how to use them in civilian life, like a kid with the ability to turn anything into food being trained to turn things like rocks into nutritious but low calorie diet foods that tasted like high quality chocolate. It's also shown that many superhumans use their powers in a variety of ways for the civilian sector; the previously mentioned Herschel, for example, has his own company that apparently produces a large number of superscience inventions for everyday life.
An aversion of both this trope, and Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act, is in Strontium Dog, where the time-travelling titular character prevents Hitler from avoiding justice by bringing him to the future to face trial.
In Harry Potter fanfic Disillusion, by Hermione Granger Hermione tells, in an essay format, how Harry, after being artificially grown older to kill Voldemort when he is six years old, decides to, essentially, "give magic to Muggles" by developing feasible Magitek and discovering the physics behind magic, while selling technology in the magical world. This causes job losses, riots, deaths, and could have easily started a war if it weren't for the very hard work of many people.
Superman justifies this in The Last Son. Kryptonians once gave one of their energy generators to a planet that had just suffered a meteorite strike. When they came back a week later, the survivors had all killed each other over the generator. This led to Krypton passing the Law of Riona Prime. Superman argues that The World Is Not Ready for his technology, but many factions are constantly demanding that Superman hand over the technology even though he has told them that Earth's technology level would not be able to support it.
In the Supermanfilms our hero has a Fortress of Solitude filled with "the accumulated scientific knowledge of dozens of different worlds". Rather than flying around stopping accidents and robberies, wouldn't he make a far greater contribution to mankind if he just used that technology, to, say, cure cancer? Looks like Luthor was right about him: "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind." (not that Lex has any room to talk, as he squanders all manner of advanced technology on attempts to kill Superman)
The first film has Jor-El's order to not interfere in human history, giving reasons like over-reliance from humanity and making a target out of his loved ones. And the one time he tried a direct approach was in Superman 4, the lesson here apparently that trying to force humanity forward will result in people trying to capitalize on your attempts.
Discussed in the first movie. Tony Stark's power cell is stated as being able to generate 3 gigajoules per second of energy — which is 3 gigawatts of power generation. This is about as much power as produced by the largest man-made nuclear reactor and about 15 times the power of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier (and two and a half times the power required to travel through time). The movie makes it clear that the Arc Reactor is incredibly valuable, and Obidiah Stane wants to use it for profit, but Tony is adamant that the technology stays in his hands and his alone, because he's seen what happens when his technology ends up in unsupervised hands.
Iron Man 2 averts this trope - in the opening sequence shows Ivan Vanko building the first Whiplash suit, and various newspaper clippings are shown that mention, among other things, new technological advances developed by Stark Industries made available to the general public. Tony Stark's claims that he has privatized world peace and created the most peaceful time in human history further cements this aversion.
The Iron Man anime, based heavily off the continuity of the films, averts this; the plot begins with Tony going to Japan to build what he hopes will be the first of countless arc reactor power plants around the world, to help with the energy crisis.
In The Avengers, Tony shows that he is preparing to spread his Arc Reactor technology around the globe, but on his terms. It is also implied that his releasing of the Arc Reactor in the War Machine suit is what helps SHIELD develop all those advanced toys that they use in the film. Nick Fury also mentions that SHIELD plans to use the Tessaract to bring clean, sustainable energy to the entire world, though both Stark and Bruce Banner become suspicious that SHIELD didn't call in Stark, the world expert on clean energy. SHIELD is actually developing Tesseract-based weaponry to fight extraterrestrial enemies with power comparable to the Asgardians. There's also his newly completed Stark Tower, a revolutionary "green" skyscraper which has self-sufficient power generation, even providing a surplus to the city.
According to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he also provided more technology to SHIELD itself, in the form of Arc Reactor-powered Helicarrier engines... after certain events in The Avengers involving the turbine engines of the original variant. So far and wide, he provides the most aid in the form of his technologies when it's the most help to himself, barring one time he provided more to Rhodey as an upgraded War Machine suit.
In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it is stated that as a result of the events of The Winter Soldier, Tony has been working on a big plan with Maria Hill to privatize world peace. This statement isn't elaborated on, but will presumably be explained in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
His father Howard also has this problem. Leaving aside the arc reactor, he also, as shown in Captain America: The First Avenger, invented an anti-gravity device in 1942. Sure, he hadn't worked all the kinks out, but he had a freaking anti-gravity device three years before the invention of the A-bomb. Though Agent Coulson gets to make use of it. One theory is that the anti-grav device was actually the prototype of Stark Industries' repulsor tech.
In Film/AVATAR there exists the technology to reach planets far beyond our solar system, make giant robot mechas, and put a human conscience into an Avatar body... yet they can't fix Jake's legs or make better wheelchairs.
It's stated int he film that thye CAN fix his legs, he just can't afford the treatment (which is why he signs up for the mission in the first place).
In Bruce Almighty, not only is Bruce incredibly stupid but he seems to have no desire to use God's power to make this a better world. His only attempt at this really involved more of "how can I get people to quit bothering me" and that was handled so stupidly it defies belief. However, the whole point of the movie is that Bruce is essentially not cut out to be God in the first place.
A deleted scene would have justified this somewhat, with God showing Bruce the results of his reckless "grant everyone's prayers" policy. Some of the people Bruce "helped" would have been better off without it. For example, he made one kid who was bullied grow bigger, but had he remained small he would have grown up and used his experiences to become a poet whose work would inspire millions. This just kind of makes God look like a jerkass, since he gave Bruce the power to answer prayers, but not the omniscience to know the consequences. So maybe the film was better off without this.
He did. The ability to know what people were praying for or know what's going on with Grace, or etc., shows that Bruce was given the power to obtain information just by wishing for it. Also, the ability to answer prayer-emails at superspeed (which he showed briefly before losing his patience and just clicking a blanket "Yes" to all of them) indicates that Bruce also had the ability to evaluate large masses of information in a small amount of time, if he wished to. So, Bruce effectively had omniscience — the ability to know whatever he wanted to. The problem was simply that he didn't want to know anything. He just wanted to play around with his kewl powerz like they were a consequence-free toy. So yeah, while God still comes off as a bit of a jerk (its not like the results of handing Bruce his power to play with aren't predictable), it was still a fair test — Bruce was given access to all the tools necessary to do a good job, he just failed to use them properly.
The Ghostbusters movies (and the 2009 video game) play with this. While they do use the technology they've created for personal profit, the game has them as licensed contractors for New York, and they ignore the potential profit they could make from developing that tech for other uses.
One of the upgrades for one of the weapon modes in the video game sort of Lampshaded the use of the tech by saying that while it can punch small holes in the fabric of reality, the holes can't even be used to dump away trash.
In The Prestige,Nikola Tesla makes magician Robert Angier a machine which was intended to be a teleporter but turns out to be a matter replicator. It could be used to make unlimited quantities of food, clothing, machine parts, construction materials... it could put an end to hunger and material poverty for all time. And Angier can think of no better use for it than a stage-magic act.
It's clear in the film that he's obsessed with beating his rival, even willing to kill himself multiple times to achieve this goal.
But why won't Tesla make use of the technology, especially since his lab was just destroyed by Edison's goons? He considers it an abomination, even though it could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Factories would be unnecessary. You would just need to make 1 of everything and then keep copying it, as long as you have enough power.
So the machine - if available everywhere - would actually create something akin to a post-scarcity economy (endlessly replicating fuel would create endless power) and change society beyond recognition in ways we still find hard to fathom. If enough people had the machines, Tesla wouldn't even really be "rich" in our sense of the word.
Plus, if I was Tesla, I wouldn't dare run the risk of Edison getting his hands on something like that.
The implication of the movie is that Tesla is disturbed at the ramifications of its wide use. Consider that someone could easily and cheaply mass-produce soldiers with this technology, though this would still ignore the logic of giving it to a lunatic like Angier.
Lampshaded in Back To The Beach where Bob Denver — clearly playing Gilligan — is working as a bartender, and complains to a customer about being stranded on a deserted island with a guy so smart he could make a nuclear reactor out of a couple of coconuts... but who couldn't fix a two-foot hole in a boat.
The Men In Black possess enormous amount of confiscated advanced technology. While they do release some of the technology to the public, holding the patents on numerous alien technologies sold to the public — velcro, microwave ovens and CDs, to name a few — they are doing great deal of constant memory erasing to hide alien existence to avoid possible panic.
This is justified in the film with Kay's The World Is Not Ready speech. This is further shown in the animated version where it's reveal that MIB puts a waiting period on each piece of confiscated tech, which runs into centuries in some cases.
In Star Trek, Scotty (with a little help from the future) quickly modifies a transporter so it can send people across vast interstellar distances. This is used to get Scotty and Kirk onto the Enterprise (which has been travelling away from their starting point for hours at high warp speeds). So the transporter modification is used to resolve a dramatic point in the plot, but no-one seems to realise it could also be used for mundane travel between star systems. The transport doesn't have the necessary accuracy yet; it nearly got Scotty killed when they used it, and is presumably being studied by Starfleet's "top...men".
Addressed in Star Trek Into Darkness. Scotty mentions that his transwarp beaming equation was confiscated by security, allowing John Harrison to beam from Earth to Qo'noS.
By the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, Bones manages to synthesize a formula from that can effectively resurrect the dead. No mention is made of future use of it. This is justified given that the formula requires the blood of extremely dangerous genetically altered ubermenschen. The last time just one got loose, he nearly destroyed Starfleet HQ and did destroy a good portion of San Francisco.
In Flubber, the Robin Williams remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, Professor Braniard (Williams) has to come up with some sort of scientific breakthrough to secure enough funding to keep his college solvent. If only he had some sort of supertech available to show potential investors... like a flying, self-aware Robot Buddy. Oh, wait... This is later Justified when he explains that Weebo was a "happy accident", he actually has no idea why she's intelligent. To figure that out would probably involve dismantling her... ie, "killing" her. Weebo herself managed to figure it out, though, and leaves behind a set of blueprints that will allow Braniard to re-create the process.
In her review of Teen Witch, The Nostalgia Chick points out Louise could use her magic powers to fix the world but instead uses it on petty gain.
Raoul Puke: So the Neweyes fart tells them that he can use the time machine to travel back in time to grant the wishes of all the children of the world. I would have used it to stop 9/11... unethical jackass. I mean, the Kennedy assassination? The bombing of Pearl Harbor? Really? None of these are more important than entertaining whiny little bastard children? Well, while you're taking requests, here's a kid named Hitler. He just wants to start his own Third Reich and bring joy and happiness to the world. Why don't you grant him that wish? Huh? HUH?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Willy Wonka can make a meal come out of gum, an ice cream that stays cold and doesn't melt in the sun, build a chocolate palace without a metal framework, teleport things into TV screens, and has anti-gravity technology - yet he only applies his know-how to candy. Lampshaded by Mike Teavee in the 2005 movie: "Don't you realize what you've invented? It's a teleporter! It's the most important invention in the world! And all you think about is chocolate!"
Granted, the 2005 had the justification that Willy Wonka hated adults and seeing as teleporters would belong in the hands of adults, he wouldn't of wanted to share.
And given how Mike turns out after he uses the machine on himself, Wonka had a good reason for not using it on people.
The gang goes to visit a friend who has made a video game based off their adventures only for them to discover that he has invented a laser that can digitize and rebuild matter (ala TRON) but instead of testing it as a possibility to solve world problems like hunger or extended/more efficient space travel he store real items in his game for lazy coding; And eventually Mystery Inc. is transported in and out as well showing that even living things could be moved over great distances.
Velma says at the end that the professor is a suspect because he "...could make a quarter of a million dollars..." at the competition the game and invented laser was being entered into instead of pointing out he could take control of the world with a sustained and protected power source and a few petabites of memory.
The Phantom Virus, the title "ghost," is sent out from a virtual world and acts upon real objects with super natural powers. It knows to chase the real Mystery Inc. but leaves the virtual ones alone until they interfere showing some semblance of AI. Same with the virtual Mystery Inc. who have chosen to stay on the most diverse level.
Space Camp has a sentient, AI robot which is capable expressing emotions and bypassing failsafes to launch a shuttle, but NASA itself is still counting on the shuttle and mindless computers.
Justified in the movie: the robot is too vulnerable to background radiation to be used in outer space or hazardous environments, and despite their best efforts they were unable to fix the design flaws. They keep the prototype around because they've already paid for it, but it's too delicate and temperamental to actually have any practical use as far as they're concerned.
Averted in The Incredibles, where Syndrome's evil plot is to sell his inventions to the public, thus making super-powered beings obsolete.
He also says he's made his fortune already selling some of his inventions.
The movie is also very Schizo Tech in look, with computers sitting in homes straight from the sixties only a decade from the Black and White newscast of the beginning, which is most likely another aversion to this trope.
In defence of the Transformers series, Optimus Prime says explicitly that humanity is not ready for the Autobots' advanced weaponry. The same is not said about the Autobots' other significant technologies, such as (apparently) FTL travel, mindblowingly advanced computer miniaturisation, robotics, and fabrication. This is particularly egregious since in the first film Simmonds expressly says that much of humanity's best 20th century technologies — from the CD player to the microwave to the internal combustion engine — derives from what they learned studying a trapped and unconscious Transformer. Imagine how far they could have pushed if they had a consenting friendly one around to fill in the gaps.
In the prequel comics (of arguable canonicity), it's revealed that there are hostile alien races out there that were able to threaten Cybertronians. Naturally, Optimus would rather humans avoid going out there before they're ready to defend themselves.
There is also a non-canonic novel that actually has the US launch an advanced spacecraft based on Megatron's tech simultaneously with Apollo 11. While Armstrong is busy crawling to the Moon, the other spacecraft accidentally discovers a wormhole and is sent halfway across the galaxy. They don't make it back, though.
In the fourth film, one tech company manages to get their hands on "Transformium", the stuff Transformers are made of. Except their version is the raw stuff, giving it far more shapeshifting capability. We see it taking shapes like children's toys and handguns and their own Transformers which they lose control of in short order — wait, maybe Optimus was more right than we thought.
In the Darkman film trilogy, the titular character has developed synthetic skin which can mimic the appearance of anyone's face for 90 minutes (after then, the skin then dissolves). The titular character is not satisfied with the invention until the synthetic skin is permanent and therefore has not released the technology to the public.
Averted in Megamind;when he becomes the hero, Megamind uses his advanced technology to rebuild the damage to the city caused by the super-battle against Titan.
In the sequel short, he proceeds to sell all his evil inventions at a garage sale.
The premise for Batman: The Movie and the Batman TV Series is that that incarnation of Batman only is useful to fight supervillains (and nothing more). At the end of the movie, Batman quickly refuses Robin's idea to better the world by making a "Freaky Friday" Flip with the United World Organization security council, arguing that they shouldn't try to tamper with the laws of mother nature. Then happens exactly that, (but arguably, the Status Quo Is God still applies) and Batman takes responsibility just before going out inconspicuously throught the window.
Batman: Who knows, Robin? This strange mixing of minds may be the greatest single service ever performed for humanity! Let's go, but, inconspicuously, through the window. We'll use our Batropes. Our job is finished.
Alfred is constantly harping on this trope to Bruce throughout The Dark Knight Rises, pointing out that if he shared his innovations he could do as much or even more good in Gotham as he tries to as a masked vigilante. Somewhat subverted when a great deal of those innovations are stolen by Bane, including a fusion energy source Bruce had shelved for exactly the reasons it becomes used for.
In the movie Dungeon Master, the main character has invented a pair of glasses that can control numerous electronic devices such as traffic lights, and ATM machines. He doesn't bother to market the invention, and remains stuck as a low-paid IT assistant.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Averts the age-old complaint about why Peter Parker doesn't market his web formula. In this movie, he doesn't invent it. OsCorp owns the patent and manufactures the stuff, selling it, among other things, for use as light-weight emergency cabling. Peter does invent his web-shooters using off-the-shelf technology, however.
This video by Dan, Katie, Michael and Soren not only made a case of batman’s Superhero Paradox, but implies that Bruce Wayne Is Useless Too: In all his comics, animated and movie incarnations, he is an entrepreneur who is part of Fiction500. If he really wanted to stop crime, he could have tried to boost Gotham’s economy and then crime would naturally fall. They remember the monorail that Bruce’s father built (and Batman himself destroyed) in Batman Begins and the Sinister Surveillance implemented to stop Joker in The Dark Knight. They compare Bruce Wayne to an Enron Corrupt Corporate Executive that is using the corporation’s winnings to finance his hobbies (fight crime in his own terms).
In this After Hours analysis of Indiana Jones the commentators point out how the titular movie character is useless in not sharing his magical knowledge with the world or use it to end World War II.
Good Will Hunting has a variation at the level of an individual life. The titular character (played by Matt Damon) is a mathematical genius who would rather remain a janitor and frequently gets into trouble with the law. One college professor makes a deal with the judge that if Will can make use of his mathematical talents, and stay out of further legal trouble, then Will can stay out of prison. At the end of the movie, Will turns down job offers from numerous universities, and the National Security Agency, to pursue his Love Interest. Presumably he'll have to go back to dead-end menial jobs.
In Moonraker Sir Hugo Drax has built a fleet of space shuttles and a large functioning space station years before the International Space Station, and all the heroes do is blow them up rather than taking them over and using them.
Another example from MST3K is The Projected Man: the protagonist has invented a matter transporter capable of transmitting matter instantly across great distances, but everyone involved considers it a failure because it doesn't work with living creatures. It never occurs to anyone that they could become filthy rich in the parcel shipping business.
Averted in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a result of blatant historical inaccuracy. In this incarnation, Azeem (played by Morgan Freedman), invents the telescope in 1194 England.
In stark contrast to the other two films and the books, Jurassic Park III actually averts this. Part of the plot is about how since the feral clone dinosaurs became common knowledge in the last film, paleontologists like Alan Grant are finding it impossible to get funding. Apparently people considers it a waste of time to dig up the remains of dead dinosaurs when you when you could study living specimens. This, of course, ignores the fact that that there are many dinosaurs that weren't cloned, and access to said cloned dinosaurs should be heavily restricted according to the last film.
Averted in The Nude Bomb. Among other Shoe Phone gadgets, Maxwell Smart is shown a desk that can be driven, which runs on ink as fuel. He exclaims that this is the solution to the energy crisis, only to be told that the ink has to be specially made in Saudi Arabia.
In the Harry Potter novels, the Ministry of Magic keeps the existence of wizards secret from Muggles because, as Hagrid puts it, "They might want magical solutions to their problems." It never seems to occur to any wizard to ask, "Well, why not?" In the Muggle world, wizards could become simply one more category of useful, respected, highly-paid professionals... It could go horribly wrong. The prejudice against so-called "witches" is implied but never reinforced by anything worse than domestic abuse the protagonist suffers from his relatives.
It's worth pointing out a lot of Muggles are in on this as well. We learn in Half-Blood Prince that each Muggle Prime Minister is introduced to the Minister for Magic on their first day in office, the same is presumably true of Presidents and other World leaders. They all seem to agree that the whole wizarding community is best kept a secret from the public, although this is not to mention the countless muggles from all over the world who discover the wizarding world when their children acquire powers and also manage to keep it secret. Hermione's parents are even seen wandering around Diagon Alley.
This may be a case of Viewers Are Geniuses, but astute readers will notice that the imposition of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in 1692 coincides with the rise of the Enlightenment and the subsequent explosion of progress in Muggle science and technology that would take place over the 18th through the 21st Centuries. It may be that hiding evidence of magic from Muggle society caused them to abandon looking for magical solutions they themselves (being Muggles) would never be able to use, and instead developing scientific solutions that would work for anybody.
Polyjuice Potion is only ever used for subterfuge in critical moments. You never hear about transgender people and the like who just want a new body for its own sake.
Polyjuice Potion is used once by the school-age protagonists, after months of work to develop it. At no point is it implied that subterfuge is the only reason anyone uses it.
Deconstructed in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. People are constantly wondering why the Elders and the Immortal Humans don't use their fantastic powers to intervene and help mankind. Nicholas and Perenelle point out that centuries ago, the Elders did live amongst the humans and help them but that civilisation did not progress at all until they left and the humans had to fend for themselves.
Turn Coat explores this. The more powerful wizards can teleport (or travel through hyperspace, albeit a dangerous version, be One Man Armies with proper training, and generally do things that modern science finds difficult if not impossible. And yet they generally remain aloof from political conflicts, even major wars, except for when magic users are already involved. The reason so far given is that if mages were to be part of the world they would become part of the political process. Wars between Muggles would become wars between mages; and then nobody would be able to stop the vampires. Whether this is a good reason is left open...
It's also shown in later books that the White Council is stretched to the breaking point just keeping up with their war with the vampires, which combined with the knowledge of the other foes they have strongly implies that attempting to take a proactive stance in the affairs of normal humans is something they don't have the resources for to begin with.
Cold Days shows that it's not vampires the White Council and other forces responsible for The Masquerade have to remain vigilant against, so much as Eldritch Abominations. Not only is Dresdenverse a Crapsack World, but it gets much worse when you get far from the places humans are familiar with.
The main reason the White Council never gets involved in mortal politics is because the ability to become a Wizard is a super rare talent. The only way the White Council can pull together enough manpower to continue to exist as an organization is the fact that it pulls magical talent from every single corner of the world, from every single country and every single religious background. As far as the council is concerned, the only thing that matters is that you're a Wizard. Think about that. If the White Council started involving itself in the matters of normal people, it would cause a huge division among the Wizards themselves as the different countries and political backgrounds that make up the members of the magical community suddenly came into conflict.
A Ray Bradbury short story ("A Piece of Wood") has the army-employed scientist protagonist invent a machine that causes immediate rust: a pen, a tank, a rifle will dissolve into red dust. The finale reveals that since the device has a time delay: he has been walking around the entire military base disabling the entire installation, and it is revealed he plans to do this to the entire world. (How he would get there is unaddressed.) The story ends with the general he was talking to getting up from his chair and breaking off a leg, intending to use it as a club.
Another Bradbury story, "The Flying Machine", was set during the Han Dynasty. The Emperor of China witnessed a man flying by means of a bamboo-framed dragon kite, similar to a hang-glider. The Emperor, after confirming that no one else saw the man fly, ordered the kite destroyed and the inventor executed. When the inventor asked why, the Emperor explained that he feared this invention would be ultimately used by China's enemies to attack China. The Emperor admitted that he had no desire to kill the inventor, but felt that it was necessary to safeguard his people.
In The Watch books, the Others do interfere with human affairs, but an elaborate system of mutual sanctions makes sure that interference isn't overt. The sanctions were set up to preserve the Balance, which, in turn, was established because open warfare between the Light Others and Dark Others left catastrophic casualties on both sides (and untold collateral damage). This doesn't stop each side from trying to find an advantage that would allow them to win without triggering Mutually Assured Destruction.
They have to be even more careful now, as us regular humans are now also fully capable of Mutually Assured Destruction, partly due to the Others' interference. In fact, it's mentioned that both Nazism and Communism were failed attempts at creating a perfect society. In the latter case, the attempt was deliberately sabotaged by Geser after realizing that it would result in a world even worse than ours. Also, humans have nukes, which kill the Others just as well as anything else.
The great danger in Final Watch is a group of Others hiring human mercenaries and giving them enchanted weapons. Anton is a Light mage Beyond Categories (i.e. extremely powerful). Even he is powerless when a merc is aiming a submachinegun at him with bullets that kill anything up to three Gloom levels. The only thing that saves him is a Heroic Sacrifice by a female werewolf, a Dark Other. Also, the same Others start using top-of-the-line human weapons like remote-controlled turrets to take out powerful Others.
The Others also don't shun human technology. Oftentimes, they live just like regular people, owning houses and apartments with all the appropriate amenities. They drive cars and fly on planes. Even those who are hundreds of years old have no trouble adapting. Anton's original job within the Moscow Night Watch was in the IT department. Field work was a later promotion. One of the stories even mentions that Others' customs have scanners that can detect a low-level magical "passport" of sorts.
On the Discworld, Lord Vetinari keeps Leonard of Quirm under lock and key for the express purpose of ensuring that Reed Richards Remains Useless. It also helps that inventors like Urn realize that they're better off being useless, and that the magical equivalents of things like movies, rock and roll, and guns are powered by evil or destructive forces. The occasional more-or-less harmless one like ball-bearings are allowed to slip through though.
Averted with the Technology Twoflower brought over in the first and second books. Soon enough afterwards, imp powered watches and cameras are common place, and things like false teeth and glasses aren't too far behind.
"Think of all the things you could do! Good things!" "Like what?" said Adam suspiciously. "Well... you could bring the whales back, to start with." He put his head to one side. "An' that'd stop people killing them, would it?" She hesitated. It would have been nice to say yes.
Played with in the Numa Series. Valhalla Rising starts off with a ship powered by a magnetohydrodynamic drive, which is shortly set ablaze. It turns out to be sabotage to discredit the drive, and it apparently works. The eponymous ship of The Oregon Files' has those same drives, but it's mentioned that most countries' maritime boards banned them after "a fire" onboard "a ship" with them until they could be tested. The Oregon flies the flag of Iran, since they have "cavalier" attitudes towards maritime law. There are several revolutionary technologies in the series that don't become available to the public because of this trope. Valhalla Rising, for instance, ended with Pitt discovering a functioning teleporter. Presumably it's still a national secret.
The main character of The Witches of Bailiwick controls weather, noted as a perfect example at the top of this page. Even stranger, the protagonist's weather control ability is always treated as mundane and relatively useless.
At the end of the Wild Cards novel "Suicide Kings", Mark Meadows decides to start defying this trope by devoting his pharmacological genius to curing disease rather than continuing to turn himself into a superpowered Knight Templar.
The trope is also justified for the majority of 'super-inventors' in the Wild Cards universe, as their creations are actually an expression of their wild-card talent - the device doesn't work for others because it is really powered by their psychic abilities. It is mentioned that attempts to reverse engineer such 'inventions' often find things like apple cores, Klein bottles (which are impossible in a 3-dimensional space), and/or schematics of the desired circuits where the circuits should be.
Attempted in the Roald Dahl story George's Marvelous Medicine where the titular character does somehow come up with a medicine that increases the size of livestock that could in theory end world hunger. However, he never knew the recipe for the medicine, since he made it out of dozens of random items by pure accident, and all his attempts to recreate it result in increasingly bizarre results.
In Wearing the Cape, Verne-types (gadgeteers) are superhumans whose power is the ability to create impossible Weird Science stuff, like powersuits and antigravity pods—but only for themselves; nothing can be mass-produced from the designs and formulas they create. If anyone else tries to build their designs, they won't work. In the second book, the team's Verne-type is said to be creating custom prosthesis for veterans and children in his spare time, so while they're not completely useless, they're of limited utility.
A staple of Michael Chrichton's books:
In Jurassic Park, In-Gen has perfected ancient DNA extraction and cloning technology enough to resurrect species that have been extinct for dozens of millions of years. All they want to do with it is a zoo/theme park hybrid with living dinosaurs, and little is said about actual scienstific study done with the animals. Some characters do point out that they can't be sure that these animals are correct recreations of the dinosaurs of old, and it is explicitely stated that 1) the dinosaurs have behavioral problems derived from being brought into a world where they don't have parental guidance (and humans have no way of replicating or suplanting it) and there is not an ecosystem they can be successfully introduced to since many other organisms their specieses evolved with are not available and 2) escaped dinosaurs might become invasive species in modern ecosystems that aren't prepared to regulate their numbers. None of these problems would exist if In-Gen just plain forgot about the dinosaurs and directed their efforts into resurrecting species that have been driven to extinction in recent times, whose original ecosystems continue to exist, just with their place in them currently vacant, and that could be raised in captivity by similar living species; and by being much more recent there would be more uncorrupted genetic material available and they could be cloned more easily and successfully. The first novel goes as far as saying that In-Gen's first success was cloning a quagga in the early 80s, but we never get word that quaggas were returned to the wild in their native South Africa.
In Timeline, a corporation has invented both time travel (which, unlike in The Film of the Book, can take you to any place and any time, not just to Hundred Years War France) and a small, easily concealed universal translator headpiece. Their plan is to study life in past times and sell the information to theme parks trying to recreate them.
In Congo the corporation's expedition discovers both the ruins of a lost civilization and a new species of big ape in Darkest Africa, but they only care about the diamond deposit beneath their territory.
Perhaps the only justified example happens in The 13th Warrior, where the main character Ibn Fadlan discovers a population of living neanderthals. While an intelligent and learned man, the story takes place in The Middle Ages, and so Ibn Fadlan does not realize the importance of his discovery.
Played straight with the Aes Sedai in the Wheel of Time, because their power is moderately addictive and reckless usage can lead to burning-out. Averted with the Asha'man, who need to train thousands of male channellers stat. Male channellers also become more proficient in sporadic breakthroughs, so all the extra practice gives them the opportunity for a lot of taking levels in badass.
Shades of this trope helped repress their technological development as a civilization. Constant infighting and incarnate horrors couldn't help, either.
Also averted, depending on the book and the writer (a lot of somewhat poorly-maintained continuity occurs in the world-building): many Aes Sedai do do things like run around healing people and fixing mundane problems like assuring crop yields and preventing diplomatic spats from turning into wars with their magic. It is, in fact, pretty much how they 'earn their keep' in terms of nobody deciding they'd be better off just killing the lot of them. It just has very little overall noticeable impact because they're extremely low on manpower (a couple hundred minor casters for an entire continent) and because they're all the magical version of illiterate children (they literally live only about half as long as it took their high-magic ancestors to learn the basics of the craft, and none of them can even construct the magical equivalent of the wheel).
Thoroughly averted by Rand's Academies, which he hopes will leave a legacy for him after he is gone. Rand gathers every mundane genius he can find for these schools, which quickly produce a variety of results. Before the series is over, experimental steam transport is delivering goods in what used to be a pseudo-medieval (closer to Renaissance, really) society. Also, cannon have been introduced to warfare (though this one is the work of an inventor not yet connected to the Academies). Even a philosopher gets to see his ideas validated, as he helps Rand figure out how to seal the Dark One's prison.
There is an old novel about a brilliant but timid inventor whose greatness no one recognizes. It's occasionally lampshaded, when his Love Interest's best friend keeps mentioning how ordinary the protagonist is and that she's looking for an "extraordinary man". She appears to find and marry one, and occasionally excitedly describes his new inventions. They're all horrible and needlessly complicated ideas, such as square spokes for bicycle wheels and a building-sized can opener. Meanwhile, the protagonist has developed Artificial Gravity (he keeps his desk on the ceiling to create extra space in the room), a camera that shows the future (he accidentally predicts World War II), a spray that allows one to walk on water, a youth serum, and many other much more useful inventions. He never sells any of them and destroys some for fear of misuse. Both his wife (who later leaves him for another man) and his son think he's a failure. He eventually reunites with his original Love Interest (who left him after the same future-seeing camera showed him marrying another woman, thus creating a Stable Time Loop) when they're both well past their prime. He uses the above-mentioned youth serum, the last of his inventions, to turn them both into their 20-something selves.
Another old novel has the (not particularly remarkable) main character meet several inventors during his life. One of them is a man who accidentally develops a youth serum when working on a drug that would prevent someone from dying by falling from a window (inspired by his baby brother's death). The drug turns out to be useless for its original purpose, as it has to be taken minutes before falling. An unexpected side effect of taking it and falling (or jumping) out of a window is the more youthful appearance of the person. When the news leaks, dozens of people demand to use the serum. Eventually, stressed out from the unending stream of people seeking the Fountain of Youth, he jumps out a window but forgets to take the drug. Another person is a female chemist who decides to help her father's liquor business. Inspired by the story of Jesus turning water into wine, she resolves to re-create it using chemical means. She succeeds and makes a number of bottles whose insides are coated in special chemicals that, when filled with water and exposed to sunlight for a few hours, turn into the chosen alcoholic beverage. Much to her dismay, her father condemns the invention, claiming it will destroy his business, as a customer only needs to buy a single bottle to keep a never-ending supply of a particular drink. She ends up not selling any of the bottles and dying poor and alone.
Live Action TV
Magician scientist Zelda Spellman from Sabrina the Teenage Witch tried to make a machine that would somehow, using de-ionization and the Hanta virus, to process dirt into edible protein pellets and end the suffering of millions. When the first prototype blew up she became frustrated and quit trying, blaming her disinterest on a lack of electricity in the poorest areas... Yeah, right.
Played with in one episode where Mr Kraft buys a magic box that he discovers can copy items. He uses it to duplicate his gold bars and wonders whether it can be used for other resources as well, then promptly forgets about it.
To name just a few of a hundred examples from The 4400:
The 4400s in general were supposed to have powers that could radically change the world to avert a futuristic catastrophe, but humanity's general fear & paranoia kept this from going beyond isolated examples of killing specific people who would cause harm or fixing up a single neighborhood park. The whole "Ripple Effect" from the first season became something of an Aborted Arc.
Collier shows that his supers can use their powers for good by getting one of them to turn a square mile of the Sahara into wheat fields... and never does it again. The only message this should send to normals is that the 4400s could help you out, but they won't 'cause they don't give a shit.
Collier's movement from Season 4 tried to avert this. He sectioned off an abandoned part of Seattle and his newly-empowered followers had powers that could fix many problems, such as a woman who could de-pollute a lake just by swimming in it. All the government heard was "Collier took a piece of land that technically belongs to us" and started a mini-war, ensuring that none of his improvements spread beyond that part of the city.
One guy's saliva could cause weight loss. Companies sought him out to potentially market a revolutionary weight-loss drug. But it turns out that the saliva doesn't stop working and eventually the people who were under its effects become emaciated.
The Stargate Verse is full of this. While the series begins with 1995 people using 1995 technology, and the SGC really hadn't managed to collect much alien tech (let alone understand it), the end of the series has them in the possession of the full library of knowledge of two distinct intergalactic cultures, one of whom left detailed replication instructions for everything, and a bunch of alien allies and enough offworld colonies to solve every population problem (living space, famine, etc.) on Earth five times over. Getting public support would probably allow Earth to expand across the entire galaxy in the span of a few decades. While the later episodes indicate some of this tech is beginning to filter down (a prototype energy weapon, medical nanites in development, etc.), for the most part the government is unwilling to break the ruse since other groups consistently misuse the technology. It also helps that they're constantly in the middle of secret wars and probably don't want to reveal themselves at a "low point".
Not only that, but they've learned from the experience of one of their former allies, the Tollan. The Tollan shared their advanced technology with a neighboring world, only to watch as that world destroy itself, devastating the Tollan homeworld in the process. There's a good reason the SGC is introducing things slowly.
There were two times that they met with an alien race called the Aschen, who offered to solve a massive part of Earth's problems, and the heroes were more than willing to go along with it. The Aschen were actually evil and intended to turn Earth into farmland to feed their own population, at which point the whole thing was conveniently reset with time travel. Later, when their own technology went far beyond the Aschen, the Masquerade still remained the primary concern.
The state of NASA in the Stargate 'verse is never really touched upon, but if they are still counting on chemical rockets to get small probes into orbit and then waiting six months for said probes to get to say, Mars, it's a serious case of this when Humans are already darting around the galaxy in human-built spacecraft.
In early Season 1, NASA saved SG-1 and Bratac in the shuttle Atlantis, which seems to be the SGC's in-orbit rescue craft in the pre-Prometheus era. It's heavily implied that NASA scientists are the "civilian" scientists around the SGC and Area 51 R&D departments, astronauts are probably the EVA technicians on the Daedalus-class cruisers, and NASA is known to be involved in the construction of F-302s and Daedalus-class starships. Luckily, NASA's current goals relating to the study of the Solar system aren't really in Homeworld Security's jurisdiction, so they do launch all those shuttles and probes to do research because the SG-teams are dealing with diplomatic problems in 2 galaxies and the occasional rogue asteroid. So, in short, NASA gets a good deal, doing all the research and advanced tech without paying for it. Getting transferred from the SGC to NASA in Houston is considered a bad thing for obvious reasons.
One episode has Carter and Lee go to a public event showing off current advanced development. Their "inventions" include holographic technology (which they have already shown off to the world on live TV in an earlier episode) and a prototype plasma weapon. Lee laments how he is forced to deliberately show small, logical steps in development of Imported Alien Phlebotinum in order to make it plausible to the scientific community that advanced tech didn't simply appear out of thin air. They actually sabotage the plasma weapon in order to show a not-quite-finished design, until an alien bounty hunter tries to kill Carter (luckily, she was using a hologram). Carter and Lee then quickly adjust plasma weapon to actually work, and she uses it to kill the assassin in front of hundreds of viewers.
Part of the challenge is reverse-engineering the technology and rebuilding it with Earth-based materials. How can you mass-produce them otherwise? Naturally, some of the materials can't be obtained on Earth (e.g. naquadah), but SGC has worked hard to secure steady supplies of the stuff to build its own Space Navy.
Dr. Morris and his team on Now and Again successfully created an artificial human body with superhuman strength and a nanotechnology-based Healing Factor, and then successfully transplanted a human brain into it. Any one of the solutions to the problems they had to have overcome to do this would revolutionize medicine; for example, a method for reconnecting nerves would end trauma-related paralysis by itself.
The same goes for the force field technology demonstrated in one episode. Justified, as it is designed to be a missile shield and, so far, only works in a highly-ionized atmosphere (i.e. a thunderstorm), which can't be created on demand.
In Heroes, the Healing Factor is so powerful and so intrinsic to an individual's cells that a single blood transfusion is shown to be able to cure a bullet wound to the head. There are currently three main characters possessing this power (although admittedly one of them is a sociopath), yet neither them nor anyone else has even considered that they could save thousands of lives every single day with nothing more than a needle, a tube, and a constant supply of plastic bags.
Claire at one point wants to use her power for just this purpose, but is convinced otherwise by her father. Remember, Them What Have Powers in the Heroes universe have good reason for remaining incognito, and such activity would attract dire attention.
During the eclipse, Claire started dying because of an extremely large buildup of bacteria and viruses. Apparently, her powers prevent her from getting sick, but the high concentration of bacteria and such would certainly show up in any blood she donates, even if it wouldn't harm the recipient.
And once word got out that Claire's blood heals, she would become a 24 hour cure-all potion factory for the rest of her life (and given that she is immortal...), strapped to a machine with no freedom. Admittedly, it would be a noble sacrifice but it's unfair to put that burden on a 17-year-old girl. Peter is not a problem anymore, but even when he had this power, he had acquired it through empathic mimicry and it's possible the blood would not retain its properties after it left his body.
The old 70s TV series The Immortal actually played this premise out. The hero had blood that could heal any disease. He donates at a blood drive, not knowing this. An old, dying, powerful, rich man gets the transfusion and has a miraculous recovery. He tracks down who donated the blood. Cue the chase music...
An episode brought the idea back up to cure Hiro's brain tumor. Claire's offer was immediately shot down by her father because the regeneration factor would make Hiro die faster.
In Smallville, Clark Kent discovers that his blood can bring people back to life, but the revived people have to keep taking it every twelve hours or else they die, for good. And, being around kryptonite hastens the time limit. In addition, they come back increasingly psychotic. Clark disposes of all the blood samples, deciding it isn't worth it.
In one episode it was subverted when Clark used his blood to revive Zod of all people, not only bringing him back to life, but also giving him/releasing his locked super powers. No 12 hours limit there - possibly due to Zod also being from Krypton? Way to go Clark.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Magic can (supposedly) only be used to bring people back to life if they die by supernatural means. So Buffy can be brought back after her death in season 5, but Joyce and Tara have no such luck.
It was also noted that the Urn of Osiris, that resurrected Buffy, was the only true way of bringing someone back from the dead, body and soul intact. When Willow acquired it, she was lucky, because that was the very last one, and it was smashed and defiled, so if it had been pieced back together it still would have been useless.
As mentioned in the page intro, Star Trek is rife with missed opportunities and blindness regarding the application of the technology available. There usually end up being more rationalizations and justifications as to why something doesn't do something useful than techo-babble about how it works in the first place.
Star Trek: The Original Series had an episode involving a plant that could cure any disease, and regrow severed limbs. The plant was conveniently forgotten in all future episodes.
Similarly in the original series episode "Plato's Stepchildren", Bones manages to produce a serum using a mineral common on the planet of the week that gives people telekinetic powers. Despite the obvious utility something like this would have, it is never, ever, used again.
Justified in this case, since it was something unusual in the food on the planet that gave people telekinetic powers based on the amount of growth hormone in their system, and while that would work for someone who lived on the plant, exporting enough of that planet's food to keep someone capable of using those powers for very long. McCoy didn't actually make the mystery element, he simply injected the Enterprise crew members with growth hormone.
Remember that McCoy isolated which particular exotic substance in the planet's ecology was causing the powers — "kironide, mixed with pituitary hormones". At this point all you need to do is mine or harvest kironide on an industrial scale, mix it with the relevant hormones, and boom, instant Super Psychic Soldier Serum. That its only temporary is actually a feature, not a bug — it means that your people only have access to the powers when you need them to, as opposed to creating a permanent population of living superweapons that might go all 'superior ability breeds superior ambition' on you. A syringe full of go-juice that temporarily gives you the ability to rip apart tanks with your brain is a very nice thing you could give as a "in case of emergency, stab a vein with this" hole card to trusted elite personnel... such as, oh, the people on the Enterprise who keep having to face eldritch space horrors every week.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rascals", they accidentally discover the secret of eternal life (by turning four crewmembers into children via the transporter, while they still retain their memory). No one ever tries to find out how that worked.
This also occurred in the second season episode "Unnatural Selection". After being artificially aged, the crew is able to revert Dr. Pulaski to her normal age using a DNA sample and the transporter. Ironically, earlier in the episode as she was experiencing accelerated aging, she commented that she was getting a better understanding of Geriatrics. Considering that they seem to have found a cure for old age this new understanding ought to be irrelevant.
Although transporters can filter out pathogens and other substances, they seem unable to filter out Borg spyware implanted on people being beamed aboard the Enterprise along with unknown contaminants. The novel "Contagion" notes that it brings people back "warts and all". There are biofilters, but they don't get everything.
There's also the episode "Too Short A Season" where a Federation Admiral reveals that a legendary drug that reverses aging is entirely real, and it definitely works on humans.
By the end of the episode "When The Bough Breaks", the crew of the Enterprise basically has unrestricted access to the technology of the super-advanced Aldean civilization. This includes a shield and cloaking device that can protect an entire planet and a repulsor beam that can hurl a starship light years away from it. Yet no evidence exists that they ever even bothered to take detailed scans of the technology, much less tried to duplicate it. These things would certainly have been very useful in the conflicts with the Borg and the Dominion.
Phaser technology regresses considerably over the course of the various Star Trek series. In the original series it was shown that a handheld phaser could be used to flood a room with a stun field. The ship could even stun a city block from orbit. In later series the phasers gradually seemed to first become limited to absolutely specific narrow beams that had to hit individual targets, and then further on large phaser rifles appeared to be only capable of firing little bursts of energy. They only seem to remember wide beams when they want to tunnel through rock.
Versions of the 'stun everyone' tactic have been used in real life hostage situations, for instance in the 2002 Moscow hostage crisis.
And, just as happened in that hostage situation, it isn't always entirely safe. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, two low-ranking members of the conspiracy are eliminated by heavy exposure to high-intensity phaser stun at close range.
Geordi LaForge's visor: Geordi claimed to have been blind since birth and everything including cloned implants has been a failure. He also claims that the VISOR causes intense pain but he will not take drugs to dull the pain because "It would affect how these work". However, the Star Trek Universe has proven able to cure every current illness, let alone alien diseases. This includes genetically correcting deformities prior to birth. This anomaly is retained so that Geordi can act as a role model for the physically challenged. Geordi did eventually get some nice robot eyes in the movies, though.
Replicator technology. Every sophont and his dog seems to get it shortly after developing warp drive (it's a logical spin-off from transporter technology, after all), and yet there are still traders who deal in small, easily portable, mass-produced items (which were probably made in a replicator in the first place). Artwork and particularly obscure substances/items a replicator can't (currently) produce make sense as trade goods, as do items too large to be produced by one, but given the ubiquity of replicators, the only reason that trading self-sealing stem bolts makes any sense is because the writers want a point of familiarity.
Strangely, this technology is conspicuously absent for most of the races in the Delta Quadrant, except for the most advanced (like the Borg and the Voth).
The most obvious answer is stringent intellectual property laws hard-coded into the replicators. It's the same reason Quark can replicate some food and drinks but has to import others.
In A Fistful of Datas, Worf makes a timed-duration personal shield using a phaser and 19th-century stuff lying around. Nobody except the borg, kind-of, uses personal shields in Star Trek even though there's plenty of episodes where it would have been incredibly useful. This ends up getting Averted, though, in Star Trek Online.
Interactions with the Mirror Universe tend to occur under anomalous conditions, and traveling back from whence one came is usually a matter of reversing a problem. However, one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine sees Mirror!O'Brien abducting and returning Sisko to and from his universe, seemingly completely at will. Since this is possible, this poses the questions of why no regular avenue of transit is established between the two universes, and why the regular universe does not see an inundation of Mirror Universe refugees (given the Slave Race status of humans there).
Transporter technology as depicted would render toilets redundant. If it's possible to beam a person out of a room, it's possible to beam the contents of their bladder and colon out of their body. And there's no reason not to do this to every member of the crew, all the time. It would save a lot of time. Social mores would change so that using your anus or genitals for excretion would be seen as even more disgusting than they are now. Flatulence, and its attendant smells, would be unknown. Eventually, Starfleet personnel would forget what it felt like to "need" the lavatory. Starfleet retirement homes would need a lot of incontinence pads.
But, seriously, transporting takes a lot of energy and computing power and they can't use it for everything, any more than most people would use a laser to make toast. Also, bypassing normal excretion mechanisms might have bad long-term health effects.
In the much reviled Star Trek: Voyager "Threshold", Tom Paris successfully creates a way to make vehicles reach Warp 10 which is explicitly described as infinite speed. It is then completely scrapped because it causes the unfortunate effect of turning people into salamanders. No one points out the logical alternative of slowing down the vehicle before it reaches Warp 10, travel at the necessary speed to get back to the Alpha Quadrant and revolutionize galactic travel. If the salamander thing still maintains, they managed to successfully reverse it with no adverse effects!
As to why Patrick Stewart (upon taking the role of Picard) didn't consider wearing a hairpiece to cover his baldness, he did consider that by the 24th century, it's probable that they might have a cure to male pattern baldness. But then he immediately deduced that by the 24th century, they also probably wouldn't care even if they did. This assessment seems to make perfect sense to most viewers. Besides, Patrick Stewart looks dead sexy without hair.
In Power Rangers, humanity made First Contact in Power Rangers in Space, fielded an interstellar colony in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, and mastered Ranger technology by Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, with giant robots, plasma weaponry, and miniaturized antigravity backing it up. State universities offer courses in Galactic History and Mythology. And civilian technology remains exactly the same as real life, down to the four-wheeled road-bound fossil-fuel-powered internal-combustion-engine driven cars. Then again, it's implied that Ranger tech has a massive energy cost; outside of the supernatural power sources that most Rangers use you'd need the output of a nuclear power plant or more (like the megareactors seen in In Space and Lightspeed Rescue) just to field a five- or six-man team.
Invoked in a later episode of Charmed, when Paige's newest romantic interest discovers the fact that she's a witch, and, upon parsing the reality that magic exists in the world, he wonders why the supposedly 'good' witches don't use their powers to better mankind. By the end of the episode, however, he understands the evil that also exists has to be held back by said witches.
Government scientists in The Six Million Dollar Man can make artificial limbs that not only look indistinguishable from the real thing, but outperform their biological equivalents by an order of magnitude. Yet none of this technology is ever used to restore amputees or paraplegics — they'd rather keep it all for a one-shot test pilot super-agent. Even their previous use of this technology (with Barney Miller/Hiller, the 7 Million Dollar Man) is something they sweep under the rug. A possible justification is that 6 million dollars in the 1970s is a lot of money, making these too prohibitively expensive to produce. The fact that Jaime Sommers nearly died when her body rejected her bionic implant and initially survived with amnesia and subconscious episodes of agonizing pain also likely mean the Food and Drug administration would never approve bionics wholesale implementation until satisfied that problem was solved.
Person of Interest. Lampshaded at the beginning of Season 2 when Finch (creator of a supercomputer which analyses all surveillance data in the country so as to predict threats against national security) is kidnapped by sociopathic hacker Root. Root realises that the true implication of the Machine is not its potential misuse as a tool of Big Brother — to successfully predict human actions, Finch has created the first true artificial intelligence. Root can't believe that Finch's response to doing this was to Black Box the system and hand it over to a corrupt and power-hungry US government, and is determined to set the Machine free.
And this trope is beginning to be averted by the end of season 3, with the fact that Harold engineered an AGI indirectly resulting in Decima Technologies bringing another AI online in order to take over the world. The series has shifted focus to the larger implications of the creation of the first human-equivalent AI.
In an interesting sitcom example, the premise of The Big Bang Theory is about young, incredibly smart geniuses working at Caltech and their adventures trying to navigate a normal life. They have specialties ranging into high-end theoretical and experimental physics and are depicted as giving lectures, having papers published and even going on scientific expeditions but it is nothing truly groundbreaking or would make them celebrities. This is lampshaded by Leonard in the third episode, when Penny asked if anything was new in the physics world his response was a bemused "Nothing" and explained that all basic physics concepts have been in place since the 1930s and most of physics work today is basically advanced theories that can't be proven, only internally consistent.
This is averted in one of the later seasons, where Howard actually invents an advanced waste disposal unit to be used by astronauts. He even gets to visit space as a result!
Used (sort of an inverted lampshade?) by Rimmer in Red Dwarf, who scoffs at the idea that Jesus can do all these magic tricks and doesn't go into show-business!
Doctor Who is positively rife with examples, the Time Lords zealously guarding time travel from falling into the hands of other species being the most obvious. Churchill berates the Doctor for confiscating sophisticated technology that would win him the war overnight, but begrudgingly accepts that the Doctor knows what he's doing.
Churchill doesn't understand time travel the way the Doctor does. The Doctor participated in the Last Great Time War, in which dead soldiers were repeatedly brought back to life via time travel, which fucked up time something fierce. The idea was also brought up in The Sarah Jane Adventures, when the Claw Shansheeth tried to steal the TARDIS for this very purpose. The series, and its spin-offs, have repeatedly stressed the idea that interfering in human history more than necessary will cause a lot more problems than it solves.
A more traditional example in "Dalek": Henry Van Statten discovers the cure for the common cold in alien bacteria but keeps it secret because there's more money to be made selling palliatives.
In the William Hartnell era, full of 'pure historical' stories, much is made of how the Doctor is unwilling to change history, with virtually no justification given (especially as this only applies to events on Earth, and not other cultures). While this restriction is not explained, the other characters regard it as atrocious in-universe (particularly in "The Aztecs", where Barbara attempts to use time travel to end the Aztecs' human sacrifice, and "The Massacre", where Steven is outraged by the Doctor refusing to intervene in a genocide in France).
The premise of the Expanded Universe book Interference is that the Doctor's metafictional constraints that prevent him intervening with real-world events make him useless. He spends most of the book being powerlessly tortured in a Saudi prison.
Space 1889: quite a few inventions appear in the stories with little or no account of how it would affect the world as large. Often the story ends with the invention and the inventor destroyed. At other times, the trope is averted and the story ends with some suggestions for how the invention will affect the campaign.
Mentioned explicitly in GURPS with the "Gadgeteer" advantage, which allows characters to invent new gadgets more easily. While Gadgeteer allows characters to make gadgets for themselves or to solve problems that arise during an adventure, in order to sell their gadgets for money (or even outfit their teammates with gadgets) they must purchase additional advantages which cost more Character Points.
This is something of a truth-in-television version of the trope, as there is a big difference between prototype construction and actual profitable scale-up to mass production, and convincing investors that you've got the second set of skills is, realistically, yet another set of separate skills.
This is a general rule for superhero gadgets in Hero System as well. Devices cost character points to have; while other people are allowed to borrow them once or twice, they can't keep one unless they pay the character point cost as well.
Both averted and played straight in White Wolf's superhero deconstruction Aberrant. "Project Utopia" is dedicated to using the new superheroes for the betterment of mankind, including greening the sahara, patching the hole in the ozone layer, getting rid of pollution, inventing new technology, toppling dictators, etc. However it is also dedicated to regulating technology, especially that created by those super-beings who are hyper-intelligent, and hiding away those it deems society can't handle.
Naturally, there is a thriving black market for such technology as a result; the Yakuza, and in no small way, Japan as a whole, make excellent profits that way.
Aberrant's Player's Guide provides options for keeping "super-science" from changing things excessively, providing those running games the means to enforce this trope as they see fit.
Prequel game Adventure! also has super-science. In this case, only the Inspired, the pulp heroes of the setting (not to be confused with Genius's Inspired, below), can create super-science inventions, but plenty of them are attempting to use said inventions to change the world. By canon, they largely fail; when the supers of Aberrant arrive on the scene, the world looks much the same as it does in our timeline.
This gets changed somewhat in Trinity Continuum, the Continuity Reboot of Adventure! and Aberrant's shared universe: the actions of past generations of heroes have resulted in a present day that looks like our own, but more optimistic, with more money in the space program and more environmentalism. However, it's also resulted in a secret history with scientific anomalies and causality issues.
Genius The Transgression features many of the Inspiredtrying to stop being useless, but it's not going well because normal humans cause Wonders to break, dissolve, or start hungering for their creator's blood.
This trope was played with in the Old World of Darkness. Spectacular changes like a Universal Translator or a superpowered healing magic were certainly available to player characters, especially in Mage: The Ascension. However, they were prone to malfunction because the world was a World Half Empty running on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and humanity just didn't believe in the super-tech or old magic. Many supernaturals and human groups also had very good reasons to enforce The Masquerade, and would make sure any Reed Richards who drew too much attention was discredited and then buried in a shallow grave. However, using your power to make the world subtly better was certainly possible. Running around the hospital ward curing folks like a Dungeons & Dragons cleric was right out, but having a "health spa" that believably helped assuage sicknesses was possible. The Technocratic Union from Mage, in particular, were creating super-science and trickling it out to normal humans when "reality" could handle it, averting this trope.
Not done with technology but with magic in most editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Depending on the level of magic in a given campaign world, it may be hard to justify any famines, diseases, plagues, etc. An astute player may even realize with enough magicnote It can even be done without magic, but then you'll need a chain of people from start to destination, and you are limited in weight to the lifting capacity of the weakest person, it is possible to instantly transport a ton goods an infinite distance every six seconds all day long, thus rendering ships, caravans, and the like impractical. Yet it seems most magic is only used to crawl through caves, kill ugly people, and take their stuff, while all the peasants can keep on dirt farming.
Averted in Eberron. Low-level magic is common, but high-level magic is rare and monopolised by the Dragonmarked Houses, who exploit their inherent magical abilities for profit. Their efforts have raised the standard of living in Khorvaire's main nations, resulting in a setting closer to Dungeon Punk than your standard medieval fantasy.
Teleportation aside (as it is fairly powerful magic), less potent spells should eliminate all kinds of hazards. Even low-level curative magic should prevent folks from dying from anything which doesn't kill them outright. Remove Disease costs a low-level cleric nothing to cast and a few of them could essentially eliminate the danger of sickness in a community (especially if they understand triage). Furthermore, spell casters should be researching spells and making items which aren't related to dungeon-crawling to use in their mundane lives. However, since no player is going to get excited about "Ripen Crops II" and "Plowblade of Quick Tilling," they won't be in more recent (3.0 and later) editions. Earlier editions actually had such mundane magic from time to time.
Explicitly enforced in Warhammer 40,000, with the Imperium (or more specifically the Adeptus Mechanicus) declaring the invention of any new technology to be Heresy and focused only on recovering millenia-old Lost Technology. Furthermore, using Xeno technosorcery is strictly forbidden, and while that doesn't stop more wealthy/powerful individuals it isn't exactly helpful to the average human. (Of course, this only counts for the regular people, the low-level techpriests. The lords of Forgeworlds, more machine than man and 10,000 years old could care less about rules on research.)
To put this in perspective for those who don't follow the setting, the Imperium consists of countless worlds, some of which are using technology that corresponds to the late Renaissance or earlier. Some humans are living in pre-agrarian societies. In one instance, Imperial citizens traded with a race of aliens, the Tau, for farming equipment. They were declared heretics and punished.
There are a damn good reasons for this however. Alien technology has a tendency to drive users insane, transform them into aliens, or just plain turn out to be incompatible with humans. As for innovation, well; apart from the constant and omnipresent threat of demonic corruption, there's also the fact that Imperial technology is already Sufficiently Advanced, in accordance with Clarke's Third Law, that no one outside of the Magos of Mars have a freaking clue how they actually operate. Finally, good luck coming up with something more efficient and reliable than the technology that has been tried, tested and refined by the greatest minds of the galaxy over the last ten thousand years.
At the current time, it's averted with the Tau, who do innovate and have managed to get several worlds to peacefully join their empire/alliance by showing them all the benefits their more advanced technology would bring. (Mind you, if peace doesn't work, and the Tau can't conquer said planet in question, the planet gets nuked.) The only reason they can innovate is because they are have the weakest souls in the galaxy, making them bad targets for demonic corruption. On the other hand, their AI technology keeps improving, which will eventually will lead to a robotic revolt, as always happens with AI in the Warhammer universe.
In the New World of Darkness sourcebook Immortals, this trope is justified with regard to the procedures used to keep the Patchwork People alive: the book acknowledges that these techniques would revolutionize health care across the world, but points out that they were developed through horrific experiments on unwilling subjects and require forcible extraction of necessary parts from live donors. The doctors who developed them are Genre Savvy enough to realize that if what they had done ever came to light, they'd be trying to outrun the Torches and Pitchforks, not stopping by Stockholm to pick up their Nobels. So they prefer to keep it a secret and sell their services to the rich and immoral.
In the wider nWOD, there are people who have found ways to use the various supernatural forces of the World of Darkness to further science, but rarity - whether of the supernaturals, or of the resources available to the researchers - prices such advances out of the reach of all but the wealthiest or most powerful. One such example is Last Dynasty Inc. from Mummy: The Curse, which has discovered that the mystical force known as Sekhem can be filtered into medication, producing steroids with no ill side effects and possible cures for cancer and HIV. The problem is that Sekhem can only be found in divine, immortal killing machines ringed by cultists, and the Relics said killing machines and cults are sworn to protect.
Very, very averted in Exalted. The First Age (where the Solar Exalted, super-powerful, super intelligent demi-gods) ruled was a fantastically advanced society, likely more advanced than our current age. Even after the fall of the Solars, and the loss of much of their knowledge, there are still artifacts in circulation. One of the primary goals of Solar Exalted is to bring back the wonders of the First Age.
Being a superhero RPG, Mutants & Masterminds can often turn into this. Given powers are scaled (logically enough) to value combat uses, a character could very well make 'world problem solver' a gimmick with a fairly light investment of points.
In the first edition of the game the standard form of the Creation power could create any inanimate objects. Given the rate at which it can be used, even a low-level hero could probably have solved world hunger if he wasn't off using it to make anvils over villains heads.
A liberal combination of Stretching, Gadgets and (depending on your opinion of him) Super Intelligence can result in you the player being Reed Richards. Subverting or playing the trope straight is up to you then.
Palladium Books' Heroes Unlimited, being a superhero game largely based on the Silver Age of Comics, has no shortage of high-tech gadgets, as well as super-genius inventor types who can whip up new technological marvels with surprising speed. In the game, the reason these inventions and technologies never see wide-spread use is never directly addressed. However, the inventions themselves are usually alien devices beyond our ability to manufacture, of which only one exists on Earth, or prototypes that are currently in the testing stage, so there hasn't been time to mass-market them yet.
In Sentinels Of The Multiverse, Tachyon's entire character is built around averting this. Her combination of great intelligence and Super Speed allows her to manage countless scientific experiments at once and obtain knowledge in many fields, which, among other things, has let her devise highly efficient car engines, cure cancer, and build a fully functional colony on Mars.
Mega Man X is an example of why it's better for a scientist to be useless. While Doctor Light created X and his endless capabilities, the humans of the future couldn't fully replicate his design, nor did they bother to put their reploids under a special mental-stability diagnostic like X had been. The result was a race of intelligent free-thinking androids that weren't completely stable, causing endless wars.
The whole series until Mega Man ZX also points out that humanity has a firm grasp on the Idiot Ball (building so many high-powered robots with built-in weapons, not executing dangerous scientists once arrested), which explains why this trope is in effect.
In Pokémon Bill has invented a way to store objects as data (and the ability to use this to transport objects cross country instantly) and time travel and all that comes of this tech is for trading Pokémon.
Well, think about it: there doesn't seem to be much of a shipping industry in any of the regions, as they are composed almost entirely of pedestrian trails. It could be that the technology is how the Poké Marts stay stocked.
However there is a town in Black and White where there is a storage yard, with many, many containers, as well as employees keeping track of them. Clearly, some things are being shipped somewhere. We need you Bill!
While some towns do mention trading with others, they are either on very long-distance (the cargo plane from Mistralton trades to other regions) or are quite small, traditional places that are heavily specialized in their produce (like Lentimas). Bill's PC is hinted at being a relatively recent invention (less than ten years old as of Black 2 and White 2), the GTS even more so. Finally, as minor Fridge Logic, Pokémon stored in the PC lose status conditions ... like freezing. You wouldn't be able to effectively transfer non-refreezable goods by PC with that limiting factor.
Another possibly related outgrowth of PC technology is the fact that you have a backpack/messenger bag that can hold enough gear to stock a Walmart, which has no weight factor. Also, you can carry around fruit and medicines that will never go bad, no matter how much time passes. This could be useful.
In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon you can find an "element #115", which matches to the atomic number of Ununpentium, an element where all known isotopes have a half-life measured in milliseconds, that can stay in your items for the entire game. What do you do with this seemingly stable form of an element too short lived to research? Make swords!
This is a Shout-Out to X-COM, a game made before the element physically existed.
In Portal, Aperture Science developed several technologies that, with proper application, would have revolutionized the world. Just one, the portal gun, could have, in an instant, solved nearly every transportation and logistical problem on the planet, enabled Casual Interstellar Travel, and incidentally made the company trillions. They also developed Brain Uploading, true AI, Hard Light, some really amazing hardware to prevent injury from falling, and a variety of other things. The only justification for why they did all this and still went bankrupt is that they were so into testing all their Mad Science inventions that they utterly failed to market them properly — or marketed them for entirely the wrong things. It also doesn't help that they ignored even the most basic of safety standards, to the point where their facilities would have given OSHA inspectors a heart attack. Then they were all killed by the AI that they put in charge of the facility, which happened around the same time as the Combine invasion of Earth.
In summary, Aperture doesn't change the world because Cave Johnson is loony.
In almost any RPG with an onscreen plot-related death, you will have at least one healing character — in some particularly absurd cases the majority of your party — present who has up till now cured everything up to and including most minor forms of death, and they do precisely dick this time for some reason. Sometimes justified with whatever kind of magic killed them, but usually not. Some games actually do a better job of explaining it: a common theory is that they're not exactly dead but almost dead, or just incapacitated.
As seen in Final Fantasy V, where one of the main characters dies on an onscreen plot-related death and the rest of the party tries to use curative spells and items on him, but they turn out to be useless, as he dies anyway. Also, many Japanese RPGs use the word "K.O.'d" or "Wounded," oddly even after being hit by a spell that says "Death."
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features a quest in the Mage's College story arc where the player comes upon a dying NPC who sputters out his last words and then bites the dust. No amount of healing spells, regardless of how powerful your magical ability, will prevent his death.
The same thing happens when the Dark Brotherhood are killed.
The very same thing was mocked by players of the original Diablo way back when it came out: some nameless NPC, sole survivor of the traitorous Archbishop Lazarus's doomed expedition into the dungeon beneath Tristram, sputters out his dying words and sets you a quest leading to the first major boss of the game, the Butcher. You may be a new, inexperienced adventurer without much magical talent to speak of (depending on your class), but you're carrying healing potions.
Klungo, Gruntilda's minion from Banjo-Kazooie builds a beauty-swapping machine, he makes a mechanical body for Grunty's spirit to inhabit, he also makes potions for growth, invisibility and cloning, and then quits his job and makes a Heel-Face Turn, but he could release all his inventions to the public and also continue to use his intellect to benefit his world, yet instead he becomes a video game designer.
City of Heroes had the Medi-Porter, a device that instantaneously transports the user to the nearest hospital. It's used in-game as a rationalization for the game's respawn mechanic, but why not make them available for everyone? Instantly, every hostage situation, every attempted murder, even everyday heart attacks and strokes, all of them would be much less dangerous. The mission arc "Bad People, Good Intentions" explored this idea, with a group of rogue police officers stealing the technology in order to try and force the Medi-Corp company to make the teleporters available for everyone.
Actually Averted in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, though XCOM clearly isn't giving away their designs, as escort Van Doorn comments on the advanced tech your soldiers are carrying, countries around the world will often request tech or alien bodies for scientific analysis, and XCOM can gladly hand it over. Shen and Vahlen often comment on potential uses for alien tech, as well.
In Mage Gauntlet, Lexi has an anti-magic curse that not only prevents her from using magic but also causes anything magical she touches to explode (with little harm to herself beyond the occasional Ash Face). There are at least four bossesnote Vataneba, the Prince of Slimes, Blorpx, and the Golem King and types of enemiesnote undead, slimes, golems, and homunculi that are solely powered by magic, and that should die on contact with her, but it never occurs to Whitebeard to simply send her to flush them out by poking them before giving her the eponymous gauntlet, and find someone else (ideally an actual mage) to alert Arosh, Hapsgaff, and Tetramont about the seal. Partially justified in that Lexi can't be teleported, so she would only be able to reach two of those bosses and enemy types without putting herself in mortal danger. Completely justified in that Hurgoth isn't an actual threat, and Whitebeard is a Manipulative Bastard who just wants a sacrifice for restoring the seal and renewing his fame.
Subverted in Genocide Man. Most normal diseases including HIV and all forms of cancer were quickly cured. Then they were replaced with impossible-to-treat bioengineered plagues and super-soldiers created by Mad Scientist characters.
Jayden and Crusader has a character Smic who is apparently a genius, inventing an infinite pizza machine, a working time machine, man-eating anteaters (presumably genetically engineered) and a steam powered time travelling hover-cycle. However he never seems to have turned his skills on anything useful in the slightest.
Girl Genius serves as a good example of why anachronistic world-reshaping technology isn't going to do anything good. An awful lot of inventions come from insane epiphanies that can't be reproduced, most of them are dangerously unstable (e.g. most things remotely self-aware try to maim their creators), and many of them are built and used for the express purpose of destroying the inventions of rival mad scientists. Scientific miracles abound, but most of Europe seems to be stuck in a Dark Age most of the time. Commoners have little access to all the technological wonders but plenty of exposure to many technological horrors, and many see the Sparks as "witches" (you can't really blame them if you consider what a Spark can do), so even if Richard tried to be useful they would just give him the Burn the Witch! treatment. Furthermore, Reed Richards Is a Dick.
That's was stabilized only recently. Europe ended up dominated by the Mad Scientist who mostly curbed the usual Control Freak streak and got the special talent for... reverse engineering. Instead of building whole armies upon powerful, but one-gimmick inventions he found in his and others' crazy gadgets material for a few robust and mass-produceable systems and still had time for refining them. By the same token, found good use for a wild variety of monsters.
This is even lampshaded when it's revealed that the people that actually keep everything running are the *minions* and not the sparks, with young Wulfenbach initially falling for the heroine in the course of trying to steal her on the assumption that she's a mechanically competent non-spark assistant, and later pretty much the entire cast of mad scientists fighting over the services of the one non-mad mechanic in the cast even harder than they defend their own lives. So even the mad scientists realize that dependability and steady competence are more generally useful than bouts of inspiration.
In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dracula found the cure for cancer. He hid it on Mars. Also, he lives on the moon and has a teleporter, and seemingly has some kind of immortality serum and/or time machine, since his castle is full of supposedly-dead famous people. He's not really good or evil and rarely uses any of his technology for anyone else's sake.
Justified in Mindmistress — the title heroine has the most advanced technology in the world, but is afraid that released it could change our society for the worse.
On the other hand, Forethought, the only person smarter that Minidmistress, is actively trying to save the humanity from self-destructing war he forseen. Too bad his first idea was to create more people like him, well aware that humanity would turn on them. And lost.
In alternate dimensions of Sluggy Freelance the Plot Technology of the usual mad scientists were used to change the world, sometimes for the better and getting themselves canonized, sometimes just improved what might've been a crappier-sack world, and in the latest storyline what looks like a change for the worst. And in the main dimension of the series, it looks like Schlock is attempting to avert this by selling Riff's robot design to the Department of Defense.
Riff gets called out on this (albeit inadvertently) by a character where Riff devoted his time and brainpower to building devices to help the disabled (among other things) rather than just building cool weapons for his own use.
When Big Killhuna, a Mad Scientist from Super Stupor, hears that his favourite writer, Terry Pratchett, has Alzheimer's, he wants to help him by... building a doomsday device and threatening the world with it until all scientists on Earth agree to work towards a cure.
Because he flunked out of "Useful Sciences 101"...
At first played straight but then later averted in Schlock Mercenary, the Teraport proves to be incredibly useful as a drive once it's eventually released, for good or bad (up until then the Galactic community had been keeping tight tabs on the Ob'enn)
Justified in Lady Spectra And Sparky — Lady Spectra promised her husband on his deathbed that she would not let their inventions fall into the hands of the military.
Gunnerkrigg Court has a considerable amount of Magitek that is never used for anything outside the Court. They also have a whole society of sentient (if a bit nutty) robots, who mostly keep to themselves. Many of the higher-ups think they shouldn't even use this technology themselves, because they don't actually understand it. The guy who built the robots is long dead and left very few notes, and the operational code of his robots is incomprehensible to most humans; the "ether" part of their magitek is fundamentally irreducible. Kat, the one person who seems able to figure out how the robots work, made an anti-gravity device from Noodle Implements as part of a science fair project. No one else ever used her invention for anything; perhaps because, as with the rest of their technology, they mistrust it due to not understanding it.
Justified in Widdershins, where magic is significantly weaker away from the Anchors (a few Eldritch Locations that seem to anchor magic to the Earth) - many people have a tiny gift for magic, but never discover it unless they visit an Anchor, while true wizards who can perform magic in the broader world aren't very common. Certainly not enough to build a Magitek Industrial Revolution around, nor is it very feasible to run one entirely out of a handful of small cities around the world.
Justified in Fine Structure, which makes this a plot point. Scientists would like to use The Script for teleportation and other discoveries, but they'll only work until the the fundamental laws of the universe are changed by Something so it can never be used again.
The SCP Foundation could have changed the world with the SCPs...if they weren't so dangerous and most of those that aren't are mostly used to help containing other SCPs. And the Serpent's Hand still consider the Foundation enemies, because they do not want to improve the world with SCPs.
Even supposedly safe specimens are all extreme anomalies to our understanding of the world. The Foundation doesn't just aim to protect the world from the danger of SCP objects, they also want to protect from the knowledge of them. They don't want the general population to find out what a messed up, freaky place the world really is. Or let it fall into the hands of the Chaos Insurgency.
The first are Devisors, who warp reality slightly to allow for physically impossible inventions, which can then never be reproduced by anyone else (or sometimes even by them) and often don't even work for other people in the case of extremely impossible stuff. Some of them sell their tech, but since only a single person can produce it, it's generally extremely expensive and supply is very limited.
The second are Gadgeteers, who have a variant of psionics that allow them to intuitively understand how to make things, but can't do anything that's impossible. Some of them have changed the world, but apparently being good at engineering leads to being incompetent at interpersonal relations, resulting in most of them getting ripped off by the companies they sell their inventions to and either not having the resources to do any inventing, being suppressed by people who don't want the world to change because a lack of that particular technology is profitable to them, or turning evil to get back at society.
This trope is actually mentionedby name a couple times. It comes up frequently in Loophole's stories because of the stuff she makes. Phase is so intent on getting Loophole on board with him because he can predict how her inventions will literally change the world. For example, her pet project is a restored Mustang that gets double gas mileage and 33% more horsepower. Phase is practically drooling over what an engine like that could do.
In Wonder City Stories the Paranormal Invention Control Act means super tech cannot be sold to the public unless the government is satisfied that it cannot in any way be weaponized. Since this is just about impossible, super tech stays in the hands of inventors and their close associates.
In the universe of Worm, several factors contribute to this:
The way Tinker powers work in the universe make it such a pain to make Tinker-tech compatible with mass production and maintainable by ordinary human beings that most Tinkers don't try.
Every few months, massive Kaiju with superpowers emerge and attack a major population center, often resulting in millions of casualties. Most science and gadget heroes are understandably focused on this issue.
There are strong suggestions that the Endbringers actually target people who try to avert this trope, as in the case of Mannequin.
Accord, a supervillain, attempts to avert this trope using his superhuman planning skills — he has a plan that could end world hunger within twenty-three years — but generally fails due to his psychosis and the fact that nobody takes him seriously due to said psychosis.
On Atop the Fourth Wall, this is something of a pet peeve of Linkara's, as is chronicled in the comic book section.
Regarding the Trope Namer, Linkara points out that Reed Richards seems too busy with inventing useless stuff like air signals that can change their own writing as opposed to something useful like curing cancer.
In Captain Planet the Planeteers fly around in the "Geocruiser" a smallish VTOL aircraft which was designed and built by by Gaea (who knew she had a machine shop on that island?) and is stated to run entirely on solar power and to produce no pollution whatsoever. It can apparently fly anywhere in the world in a few hours at most without ever producing a sonic boom and is so simple to control that a teenager can operate it without any training whatsoever. Yet even when one of the antagonists builds an equally impossible super-aircraft that runs on smog and makes even more smog Gaea never once considers she could do more good with her own ubertech than she could by keeping it exclusive to five self-righteous idiots who use it for nothing but getting to the next poor sap they feel like preaching to.
Professor Membrane of Invader Zim can more or less do what he wants, suggested throughout the series that his genius is the only thing actually sustaining what is otherwise a civilization in severe decay because it's populated entirely by morons/jackasses. He only seems to create things on the basis that they interest him, pose an intellectual challenge or that he finds it utterly flabbergasting nobody else has already solved the problem in question, and the fact that he's probably the most powerful and wealthy man in the entire world seems to mean absolutely nothing to him. He once created perpetual energy, then decided not to implement it after all (which was probably a good thing, considering what the rest of humanity could have done with it).
Although in the future episode it's implied Phineas has won the Nobel Prize and Ferb is at Camp David, so they presumably grow up to tackle more "serious" concerns. One episode also has them consider starting a "jellybean-based economy for emerging nations".
They avert this trope in some ways—-several of their inventions get used for "mundane" purposes, such as helping their friends or family with something. It's just they never bother trying to fix any big problems, quite possibly just because they're young and don't know about much beyond their neighborhood.
In one episode of Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon Master grants one of the adventurers his powers. The newly uber-powered member uses his power to bring forth water for the thirsty teammates. Dungeon Master responds that by using the powers to generate that water, water from another area had to be deprived.
On The Venture Bros., Reed Richards Expy Richard Impossible is shown to be a sociopathic arm of the military-industrial complex, abandoning Dr. Venture in the arctic wilderness for procrastinating and flirting with his oppressed wife; later, he withholds alien technology, needed to save the world, that was left to Venture by his father, claiming it's because Venture is not responsible enough to have it (which is a quite reasonable argument) but most likely due to him wanting all the credit. In general, there's lots of other super-science doo dads floating around in the series that the general public never gets a chance with.
Also lampshaded on occasion: in "Tag Sale, You're It!", one of the items in the titular sale is an actual lightsaber which Rusty couldn't sell because "The Army told me they don't fight with swords, and Hasbro wasn't interested in a toy that cost $20 million in parts alone". To add insult to injury, the beam doesn't seem to cause any harm whatsoever.
The show's creators have stated that this is part of the central premise of "failure" that permeates the Ventures' world. Everything exists in a sort of "death of the jet-age" state where all the promises of technology have failed to deliver. Things like jet-packs, laser weapons, sentient AI, and magic all exist, but have proven to be too expensive, impractical, or dangerous to ever see general use. So the world mostly resembles our own, except you have all these obsessive weirdos around who use this stuff for crime or crime fighting, and it never sees wider applications.
Some of the more "mundane" stuff, though, would be incredibly valuable - like HELPeR (a sentient, durable, dexterous robot assistant) and Billy Quizboy's fully functional mechanical arm. The former alone would make Dr. Venture a rich man again (the latter is revealed to have been designed by a madman who wasted his life obsessing with a girl he knew in college and getting posthumous revenge on his classmates).
On The Fairly Oddparents Timmy is always running into issues with Da Rules, yet he never actually reads them nor wishes he knew all of them as this would save him a world of trouble and cost the writers a ton of plot.
Unlike Timmy, Chester tries doing this after he's granted Norm, the temporary ex-genie, as his fairy godparent. Having a Jackass Genie as a fairy godparent predictably doesn't turn out well for him. When he wishes the deserts would have enough water for everyone to drink or make the ice caps warmer to make the penguins less chilly, he ends up flooding the deserts and creating boiling pools of watercausing global warming.
Lampshaded in an episode where Timmy's Muggle friends (such as Chester and his mom) have temporarily gained the knowledge that Timmy has had fairies all along. They ask the fairies if they could have granted Timmy any wish he wanted; Cosmo and Wanda reply that no, there are rules. However, they ask if Timmy could have done things like wish for easier housework for his mom, a better living conditions for Chester, and so on; and Cosmo and Wanda reply that Da Rules would have allowed all of those things, and Timmy just didn't feel like wishing for their lives to be easier.
An episode of the Michel Vaillant animated series had the team participating in a special race for environmentally friendly vehicles only. Their Gadgeteer Genius mechanic builds a car that not only is pollutant free, but can actually hover above the ground via electromagnetism. Regardless of how much the thing cost, it would revolutionize transportation forever. Instead, it's used to win that one race and is never seen again.
Averted - sort of - on G.I. Joe, the X-Men animated series, and any other cartoon where the animators realized that having soldiers or police officers carry energy weapons would let them get around the problems of having to depict bullet wounds and the taboo against showing realistic guns in American cartoons.
There's a retrospective inversion of this in the 1980s Transformers cartoon, where the later series, set in the early 21st century, depict humanity as having energy weapons and spaceships and being on friendly terms with lots of alien species. When the real early 21st century turned out to be a bit different, fans rationalized this as being down to the Autobots sharing their technology.
Homer Simpson's brother Herb became rich after inventing and selling a device that translates baby talk. After that episode, the device was never seen again.
In "Treehouse of Horror XVII" a meteor with some living blob crashes into the Simpsons back yard. Lisa says how humanity could possibly learn about interplanetary transportation from the creature. Homer decides that it is more important to eat it.
In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, the Flame Keeper's Circle wants to avert this by using alien technology to bring Earth into a golden age. Ben and the other Plumbers enforce this since introducing alien technology to a world that isn't ready for it is just a recipe for disaster. Julie tries to call out Ben (who uses a piece of powerful alien technology to make the universe a better place as a superhero) on the hypocrisy of this policy, but Ben points out that recklessly accelerating a planet's development via alien technology will usually lead to the planet's doom. Later episodes confirms it by revealing the Ascallon Sword, one of Azmuth's previous inventions, was once used by someone in an attempt to unify his planet ravaged by civil war... and ended up destroying said planet.
In the crossover episode between Codename: Kids Next Door and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Mandy believes that the KND could actually change the world, instead of fighting for small things "like the right to have cookies for dinner." Her idea is to use their resources to take over the world.
Ms. Frizzle could make ludicrously large piles of money working for, say, NASA. Just for starters, her school bus can travel from Earth to the Sun to Pluto and back in the space of a day, and comes stocked with spacesuits capable of withstanding the conditions on Venus.
Also in the E/I ask the director bit afterwards they mention that this was simply done for the story.
Averted in Recess - Gretchen comes up with something that is promptly seized and erased by the FBI.
In Archie's Weird Mysteries, Dilton invents some rather...advanced things. Why he's still in a public school is beyond anyone's guess.
Though Jimmy Neutron maintains and uses a plethora of superscience inventions and sometimes gives them away to friends and relatives, he never attempts to sell or mass-market them, even in episodes whose plots are driven by his lack of funds.
He did attempt to mass-market the candy he made in one episode, using his town's citizens. To say it ended poorly is an understatement. Hugh also sent a design of Jimmy's to the US government once and it nearly killed two people in the public test. It's less that he doesn't want to sell them, but rather that most of them are heavily flawed.
That's not to say they couldn't be fixed though. The candy only went poorly because it was extremely addictive, he could have fixed the formula so that it only tasted good. He also didn't send a design to the government, rather his father sent incomplete blueprints. Even then the machine successfully converted garbage into oil, a HUGELY beneficial machine, the only flaw was that it actively sought out garbage which could include dirt covered people. If it was a stationary machine that you had to feed manually it would have revolutionized the world but like many boy geniuses, no attempt is made to fix the only flaw of the device before completely scrapping the idea. Of course, Jimmy, like Dexter of Dexter's Laboratory, is something of an egotist, thus something that goes horribly wrong just doesn't get fixed.
Wallace & Gromit: Wallace has quite a bit of mechanical aptitude, having built, presumably using the means available to the average person, a rocket that can fly to the moon and back and a pair of trousers that can move on their own (which could have several applications such as allowing paraplegics to walk). Yet these inventions don't seem to affect the world around them all that much, nor does Wallace use them make himself any money (the plot of "The Wrong Trousers" is kicked off by him having to rent a room out to pay bills).
In Saturday Night Live's cartoon "The Ambiguously Gay Duo", Evil Genius Bighead has invented lots of inventions that could easily defeat of hinder the titular heroes. However, he's more obsessed with using his inventions to try to out and prove the heroes Ace and Gary are gay. His fellow villains call out on him for wasting his talent for something so trivial.
In Rick and Morty, the titular Rick is a near-textbook example, with being possibly the smartest creature in the universe, but not really doing anything other than occasionally help out Morty, and give himself a couple boons like interdimensional TV. Then again, he most certainly doesn't give a fuck about the whole "humanity" thing or any material wealth he'd get from helping them; it's hard to get him to care about anything in the first place.
Superman: Doomsday averted this and combined this with Cut Lex Luthor a Check. In the beginning, Superman laments that, despite his abilities, he just can't cure cancer. However, Luthor has been shown that he has... and he's going to convert it from a one-and-done deal to a lifetime of treatment. More money in it.
Santa Claus. Apparently able to make toys for every good little child on earth. Multiple toys. MultipleExpensive toys. That's about 1.8 billion children. In only one year, every year. Yet he can't solve world hunger?
Interesting point. Toss the Easter Bunny in that group, too.
Screw the production aspect, he has all year and armies of slave elves doing the "making". In order to deliver gifts all over the world in one night, he's obviously mastered either teleportation or time-travel.note According to this analysis, Santa would have to travel at 650 miles per second to cover every home in one night. Or maybe the rumors of massive Santa-clone armies is true...
So could government. So could people. We already possess all the tools we need to end hunger. It would be politically complex ("shipping food overseas" is counterproductive, because it ruins the livelihoods of already-poor farmers in developing nations), but the material resources are all there. We simply aren't doing so - and the same goes for a lot of other problems. Global spending on international aid in 2010: $131 billion [OECD stats]. Global military spending in 2010: $1,732 billion [Stockholm Int'l Peace Reseach Inst. stats], over ten times as much. So with regards to tools or resources being used for fighting but not for solving major global problems, Reed Richards Is Useless may be Truth in Television.
There's a commercial where a couple train their son to be able to dunk a basketball, in order to obtain scholarships later. The kid looks to be about five or six. The implication is that they trained the kid personally, not hired someone, in which case thousands of parents would give their eyeteeth to give their kid that kind of skill. If this ever occurs to the couple or gets out, they're likely set for life. If someone else did it, that person should be set for life. They might be able to revolutionize teen and adult training, fitness, and physical therapy.
There are many food commercials that sidestep the "you have to pay for this product" issue, leading one to wonder why it isn't just handed out to the hungry people of the world.
As a side note,Doom is pleased with the name of this trope. He would prefer it to be lengthened, but the censors wouldn't allow it.