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Heroism Won't Pay the Bills

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"Being a freedom fighter, a force for good, it's a wonderful thing. Get to make your own hours, looks good on a résumé... but the pay sucks."
Alfred Bester, Babylon 5

So, as we've seen, the lifestyle of a hero often isn't that great. One of the many ways heroes can have it rough is the state of their bank account, because as it turns out, Heroism Won't Pay The Bills.

See, Humongous Mecha, magic powers, and superpowers aren't exactly useful in the workplace (except when they are). As a hero, you are spending time mastering skills that might be world-saving now, but have no marketable value later. Being a Triple Shifter also isn't exactly conducive to a good conventional education/career. If they're not careful, a hero could well end up a full-time Burger Fool or working a Soul-Sucking Retail Job just to make ends meet.

Furthermore, when a hero asks Dude, Where's My Reward? everyone thinks he's either joking or being selfish. What if someone really, REALLY needs Hospitality for Heroes?

There are several ways to avoid this. One way is to be lucky enough to have a One-Hour Work Week. Another is for your civilian identity to be (seemingly) Idle Rich or someone else who doesn't need to work for a living. Some jobs are more suitable for a (super)hero, but may not avert this trope entirely. Some more organized and sponsored Super Teams or other organizations heroes work for will pay 'employees' for their heroism; however, some heroes are not cut out for the trappings of working for someone else, and the malevolence or incompetence of the greater organization may make a hero's life difficult in other ways. Thank god for Hero Insurance, or things might be much worse, eh?

May be a reason for Horrible Housing. Sister Trope to The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life- and Reed Richards Is Useless, because rarely do superheroes use their epic powers for anything other than combat.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: When a very young Uryuu asks his father why he hates being a Quincy so much, Ryuuken states it's because there's no money in it. Upset, Uryuu asks his grandfather if Ryuuken is telling the truth. Souken explains that if looked at from the view that Ryuuken has a family to feed, it's true. Despite his intelligence, Uryuu doesn't seem to realise his father's comment was Blatant Lies or that his grandfather was giving him a Mathematician's Answer.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma never gets rewarded or even acknowledged for repeatedly saving citizens, the city, or the world, so he struggles to pay for his groceries, rent, hospital bills, etc.
  • While still a high-schooler, Minako Aino sometimes has to deal with this in Codename: Sailor V, as constantly foiling the Dark Agency's schemes and helping around as if she was a cop doesn't pay-and the one time she received money for helping a mangaka in her job, Artemis nagged her into giving it back. This doesn't show up anymore by the time of her debut in Sailor Moon-partly because by the end of her manga she accepted to work for the police (possibly to pay the plane ticket back to Japan after her final battle with the Dark Agency left her in Beijing, with the Dark Agency's front being supposed to pay for her return).
  • Chi-Chi in Dragon Ball brings this up often, pointing out how Goku's ability in martial arts (and frequent world-saving) has failed to get him any kind of career, and that he hasn't earned a single cent in all the time they've been married, (he has won winnings from tournaments before he got married though and the only time he officially won was right before he got married). This also ties into her motivation to get their son Gohan a proper education. The only time she actually wants Gohan to fight is not to save the world, but in one of the above-mentioned tournaments; after all, the prize money would more than cover his college tuition.
  • The Ryouzanpaku dojo of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple have this problem. While some of them do have proper jobs, they admit that making money is not one of their specialties. This becomes the basis of a mini-arc where the dojo goes bankrupt and they have to start teaching little kids in order to pay bills.
  • Lyrical Nanoha defies this trope by at first working with, then becoming fully employed by the Time-Space Administration Bureau, thus making mage/Magical Girl her full-time job into the foreseeable future. Many 'bad guys' get this treatment as well.
  • In Monster Rancher episode "Hare's Trick", the Searchers are down to their last coin and have to enter a tournament to raise money. The issue crops up occasionally throughout the series, with the group having to budget carefully or opting to splurge on indulgences like dining at a restaurant after winning big in a tourney.
  • Averted in My Hero Academia since the setting is pretty much hero world where near everyone has a power and, as long as you have a hero license, you can take a job as a pro hero and get paid to stop crime. Essentially a super-powered First Responder. Played a bit straight in the spin-off, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, since the main character is working outside the law as an unlicensed hero AND a full-time college student to boot, so he isn't getting paid.
  • Despite being one of four people directly responsible for saving the world, Sakura hadn't finished paying off the loan on her house by the time Naruto Gaiden starts (though she's one of the most skilled medics in the world, so she really shouldn't be having financial issues).
  • In One-Punch Man, Saitama receives a monthly stipend once he joins the Hero Association. Prior to joining the Hero Association, he did not have an apparent source of income and kept up heroism anyway. Word of God reveals that he made a living doing troublesome part-time jobs, living frugally with his savings, and living off vegetables given to him by people he saved. Part of the comedy is that Saitama finds things like sales and coupons far more pressing matters than fighting evil; after all, he's so absurdly powerful no supervillain poses a threat to him, but he still needs to eat. Despite Genos moving in with him and paying his rent, his standard of living hasn't changed all that much, presumably due to maintaining his frugal habits.
  • Rave Master: Zig-zagged. Our heroes will sometimes receive medicine and transportation from their adventures as thanks, but daily concerns like food still crop up now and then. It's explicitly noted that their finances have been in the red after getting a new airship following the first defeat of Demon Card. This has resulted in at least part of one early plot and a filler chapter or two being dedicated to filling their pockets to keep from starving.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: Naofumi had to spend a good part of his time being a traveling merchant in order to support himself and his companions in order to make ends meet in the earlier light novels because the government wouldn't support him the way they would the other heroes. Luckily, he had already developed both an interest in trade and a talent for it before he had been summoned.
  • Suzume: Suzume is suprised to learn that while Satou is a Closer tasked with preventing devastating earthquakes by sealing Portal Doors, he's also a graduate student pursuing a teaching career. Satou explains that Closers keep their existence secret and so aren't paid anything, so they still need a job like everyone else.

    Comic Books 
  • Astro City:
    • Averted for the superheroes — not only can heroes register as Bounty Hunters with local law enforcement agencies, but some teams like Honor Guard and Reflex 6 offer a stipend for members who need financial support.
    • Also averted in "Aftermaths". Michael Teniceck is able to devote himself to running a support group for victims of super-battles because Honor Guard has been paying his bills and maintaining a modest fund in his bank account.
  • Features regularly in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe, as Paperinik (Donald Duck's superhero/antihero alter ego) isn't paid for protecting the public and isn't stealing anymore, and going out superheroing at night makes it hard working by day. A number of stories address the effect it has on his superhero job too:
    • One story revolved around the problems he was facing as Gyro, who provided his gadgets, couldn't afford to support him anymore. At first, he tries to get endorsed by the city that has him charge the people he rescues, causing his popularity to plummet before getting all he earned taken away in taxes and then gets endorsed by Scrooge McDuck only to be turned into a mobile advertising support. He eventually solves his money problems by licensing his image for comics to Topolino (the magazine that publishes most of his stories in Italy), allowing him to return being a hero for the public.
    • Another story had a large gang engage him into a hi-tech weapon race specifically to neutralize him by having him exhaust his resources to counter their gadgets. It works, as Gyro had to neglect his work to help him and eventually risks bankruptcy, but the members of the gang grow impatient and decide to use all available weapons to attack him at once, exposing themselves to being scammed into believing Paperinik has a shrinking ray cannon he cannot reverse and running to turn themselves in for fear of being shrunk forever. Much to Paperinik's surprise, the cannon assembled with random junk works.
    • Paperinik New Adventures plays with it:
      • In the first series Paperinik has found One, an AI with access to the wealth of the Ducklair Industries, and could just mooch off him... Except he also has two temporary jobs at the Ducklair Tower for most of the series. He eventually has One set up a fake job to both access the Tower and possibly make some money.
      • In the second series Everett Ducklair's return means he has to leave the Tower and find an actual job. Luckily, the immense amount of skills he gained working for his uncle allow him to quickly get one as a security guard at Starcorp.
      • He seemingly lost the job at Starcorp in the time skip between the second series and the New Era stories, but he eventually gets a job as the chauffeur of Solomon Hicks, the new administrator of the Ducklair Foundation after Everett disappeared (actually returned to his homeworld).
  • This even pops up in the very first issue of MAD, during their Superman parody Superduperman. Not only does Clark Bent make an utterly measly weekly wage of seventy-five cents and a good bus token, but this is also Captain Marbles' reason for dropping the hero act and becoming a supervillain.
    Captain Marbles: Listen, Superdupe! Come on off your high horse! Take a tip from me! I was like you once, knocking myself out to fight crime! One day while I was punching my way through a mountain to capture a gang of international jewel thieves! Suddenly it hit me! Why am I punching my way through this mountain? I got talent! Not everyone can punch their way through a mountain! Especially with their head! So what was I doing punching my way through a mountain? Do I get pay? Time and a half for over-time? What about expenses for uniforms... cleaning and pressing! What about band-aids? To say nothing of taking people out to lunches! To heck with this Captain Marbles gimmick! The only important thing is the good ol' do, re, mi... lettuce... kale... shekels... get it? Cash!
  • Mister Miracle (2017) reveals that whenever he's not doing superhero work — explicitly described as being "on leave" from duty — Scott Free gets by on public performances as Mister Miracle, putting his crazy Escape Artist skills on for captive audiences, and even then, he and Barda live in a modest apartment for two.
  • Played With in an issue of New Avengers, where Steve Rogers, newly-instated as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., offers each member of the team a stipend for their heroics. Luke Cage, however initially refuses because he is extremely anti-establishment and was adamant that the team remains autonomous. His wife immediately snatches the check and loudly reminds him that thanks to their last battle, they have nowhere to live, no food, no diapers, and no other necessities to take care of their infant child. Luke promptly shuts up and accepts the check.
  • Both Superman and Spider-Man work for newspapers, the former a reporter and the latter a photographer. This gives them a job that isn't 9-5, allow them to be "on assignment", and Peter takes advantage of having exclusive pics of Spidey in action (thanks to his remote camera) to get bonuses. Clark, meanwhile, can use his Super-Speed to write articles in the blink of an eye so that he can spend more time helping people.
  • Whenever she's not saving the world as She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters works as a lawyer.
  • Early into Wally West's run as The Flash, he displays the fact that he's more pragmatic and less idealistic than his predecessor Barry Allen with this trope. Asked to deliver a heart for transplant across the country, he requests that he be given health insurance in return. He'd do it for free just to save a life, he explains, but after all the doctors are all getting paid, so why not him? At the end of the story, he winds up winning the lottery, making the issue moot.
  • Barry Allen, meanwhile, is a criminal forensics expert, which slots in nicely to his superheroing career.
  • In What's New? with Phil and Dixie, the Dragon magazine #75 strip discussed superheroes and acknowledged their financial woes with several panels showing a superhero working as a Burger Fool, another of a superhero trying to pawn off his Congressional Medal of Freedom, and finally two panels where a superhero unmasks a supervillain and learns that it is actually another superhero called Batrachoid Man.
    Superhero 1: How could you?! You robbed banks - you disrupted society - you'll break the hearts of the youth of America.
    Batrachoid Man: Well, I also paid my rent, replaced my wardrobe for the first time since 1965 and paid for a heart transplant for Aunt May.
    Superhero 1: Be that as it may - I can't let you go ... for less than half the take.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Usually Diana has a wage as an Ambassador, and evidently the Justice League pays a bit to members through the United States Government. However, after Diana spends months missing in space and Themyscira goes missing itself when Di gets back she has to pick up a job as a Burger Fool to make ends meet since her JLA check is tied up in red tape and she's not getting anything from home.
  • Zatanna works as a stage magician in between superheroing. Though as she doesn't maintain a secret identity she uses real magic in her acts.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Peter got paid a paltry $1,000 every two weeks as a member of the Avengers.note  Subverted in that Peter could have asked for a larger salary, but he felt it was morally wrong to take more money than necessary from the man who helped spearhead the events of Civil War (2006).
  • This is noted a couple of times in Child of the Storm:
    • The canonical example of Harry Dresden being somewhat mitigated by his association with the Wayne family, since he intervened when Joe Chill attempted to rob them and thus saved the lives of Mr and Mrs Wayne. As a result, they ensure that he is, if not spectacularly well off, then at least in reasonably good financial nick (they implicitly offered a massive reward, but Dresden turned it down - and notes that while they would have paid it, it was also a Secret Test of Character. Thomas Wayne also mentions that he'd be willing to bankroll Dresden far more, but he did his research and knows that Dresden is a prideful man).
    • Wanda Maximoff also directly addresses this, noting the trope almost word for word when she remarks that her career as Sorceress Supreme in Waiting (she's Doctor Strange's heir apparent and does much the same job as him) is not one that pays well. She therefore uses her other powers to cheat on the lottery every now and then.
  • Averted in Full Circle, where Olive and Oscar both get meals on the house at the Confalones restaurant following the events of Odd Squad: The Movie.
    Oscar: That's the third time this week that I've gotten my meal free.
    Olive: (laughing) This is my fifth.
    Oscar: Maybe we should save the world more often.
  • In Hazredous Interruptions, Ozpin cheerfully lights this trope on fire and hurls it off a cliff when he begins paying Teams RWBY and JNPR the salaries of fully-trained hunters as a reward for their highly-professional handling of the ongoing "refugee" situationnote . Not only are they being paid, but they're being paid overtime, shift differentials, and hazard pay for an ongoing job with no set endpoint, meaning they've been on the clock twenty-four/seven for over a month, which adds up to a whole lot of money. This is especially noteworthy for Weiss, because it neatly resolves her financial dependence on her father, turning her into a Self-Made Woman in one fell swoop.
  • The Karma of Lies:
    • One of the biggest hurdles Marinette faces when concocting her plan to take down Hawkmoth for good is that she simply doesn't have the money necessary to buy the specialized equipment she needs. As a result, she seriously debates going to one of the Agrestes as Ladybug and asking for financial support; the only reason she winds up going to Chloe instead is because Gabriel is such a Jerkass that she can't stomach the thought of working with him.
    • Adrien hopes to avert this by asking Paris to repay him for all the services he provided as Chat Noir. Unfortunately for him, this doesn't work out too well, given how he always treated fighting akuma like a game, caring more about flirting with his 'partner' and goofing around. He also does himself no favors by not showing up for the Final Battle, and revealing his complete Lack of Empathy for the victims of the akuma attacks when crashing a post-battle interview.
  • Nova: Homecoming: This is a major plot point in the story. Despite being a hero, Lori is having trouble paying for anything, as apparently in Royal Woods specifically, heroes don't make a lot of money. Lori and Leni were initially being supported by Spade, but once he died, the checks stopped coming. This is the main thing that is making Lori consider moving out.
  • Happened in Part 6, Recrudescence of Mass Effect's Parable series where Kaidan and Garrus got into a fight because the former used the Normandy's fund to buy a pair of mother/daughter from batarian slavers. As both Garrus and Jane point out, by saving two "worthless slaves," Kaidan has effectively stolen from the crew their food, weapons, armors, supplies, fuel... which are all necessary for the ship's mission of stopping the batarians from kidnapping more humans. Not to mention, part of said fund that helps to pay for the non-Alliance crew members comes out of Jane and Garrus's own pocket (because both the Citadel and the Alliance were both heavily damaged from the Reaper War), so now the couple might not be able to protect and take good care of their twin babies.
  • Invoked and repeatedly discussed in the Triptych Continuum; once they found out that being the "Bearers of the Elements of Harmony" meant they were going to become the on-call specialists for whenever Princess Celestia had some kind of magical or weird problem to solve, the Bearers got together and had a little discussion with her about this particular problem. In an effort to solve it, Princess Celestia created the Bearer Relief Fund, which was basically intended to financially compensate the Bearers... unfortunately, Celestia is not very good with finances and somewhat out of touch with the cost of living for the average pony in modern Equestria. Add to it that the Bearers are not as willing to exploit the full potential of this option as much as they could, and in fact it actually helps very little — just barely enough to keep them solvent. The author has stated that once the far more financially aware Luna becomes aware of just how badly the Bearer Relief Fund (which is now under her authority) is doing its job, Celestia will be in for a tongue-lashing and the Bearers will be in for a lot of back-pay.
    • In the alternate universe story Anchor Foal, Fleur dis Lee is horrified to find that Fluttershy's Perpetual Poverty is due in no small part to how little effort the Palace puts into paying Fluttershy (admittedly, the other major part is because Fluttershy's Extreme Doormat status makes it hard for her to put her hoof down when customers default on their payments). She takes it upon herself to fix this problem by squeezing every last golden Bit she can from both the palace and Fluttershy's customers.
  • Discussed and played with in "Superhero Salary" by quicksilversquared when a joking comment from Chat Noir about how Hawk Moth should have to pay for his therapy sparks a serious debate over whether the heroes should be compensated for their services to the city. While the heroes are teenagers who don't actually have to worry about living expenses, they privately note that they don't know how long they'll be fighting Hawk Moth. Being superheroes won't do much for their ability to hold down jobs once they're old enough — and in the meantime, the extra money still has some important uses, like signing up for online courses if they fall behind on their schoolwork. The logistical pitfalls are also discussed, as Ladybug and Chat Noir can't just put the money into their existing bank accounts; not only would those be traceable, their families would notice the suspicious jump in their incomes. The eventual conclusion is yes, the heroes should be paid, and they should also be getting royalties for merchandise that uses their images. While they aren't going to be millionaires, Ladybug notes that between their official salaries and royalty payments, plus the pending back pay, she and Chat are making more money than they know what to do with.
  • Two Letters:
    • In her letter to Luka explaining why she chose to retire, Marinette recounts an incident where she spent the last of her savings taking an Uber back home after an akuma fight left her stranded in Versailles after midnight. She also recounts how Mayor Bourgeois refused to even consider implementing any of her suggestions to help Parisians avoid akumatization, while splurging on all kinds of expensive jewelry and trinkets for his Spoiled Brat of a daughter.
    • Averted by the new Ladybug. Not only is she a Corporate-Sponsored Superhero, she's also secretly running a Protection Racket wherein she gets all of the richest citizens of Paris to pay her off. Oh, she'll keep fighting akumas even if they don't pay... but she'll also ensure they get Convicted by Public Opinion. Just ask Bob Roth.
  • This is very much the case for Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen in Two Spiders on a Web. Although it eventually gets Subverted when they start their own version of Heroes for Hire; while the two of them will still do heroics for free, people can pay them to perform specific jobs such as appearing at store openings or babysitting. Hell, Peter's first job (bodyguarding a rich girl for Prom) nets him 800 dollars.
  • Averted in Stupor Heroics: The world works much like My Hero Academia, where heroes make a name for themselves and then turn that into a money-making franchise. It's stated that all the Loud heroines are doing well enough to support themselves and their parents comfortably.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Infinity War: Dr. Strange and Wong comment on how they don't get anything for regularly saving the world from magical threats to the point where they can barely afford to go out and buy sandwiches from the deli.
  • Discussed in the first Blade film, when the main character robs a vampire familiar sent to assassinate Karen, the young hematologist that Blade had earlier saved. When she chastises him, Blade asks her how she thinks his vampire-killing operation is funded, pointing out that, "We're not exactly the March of Dimes."
  • Dragonheart: When we catch up with Bowen after the Time Skip, he's making a living as a dragon slayer. When Brother Gilbert questions him on this practice, Bowen points out that honor and valor won't feed him or shoe his horse, but Lord Felton uses that as a pretext to not pay him anyway.
  • In many wuxia works such as Once Upon a Time in China, having godly kung-fu skills means little to earning a living. In the film, a master of martial arts was all but starving to death since his skills cannot parley into money. This is largely true in many other wuxia works as well. Either have enough prestige to start your own school (with paying students), work for the government (generally difficult to get), or have a trade skill (like Wong Fei Hong). Otherwise you would go hungry.

  • In The Dresden Files, Harry complains about this frequently and spends a good chunk of the series broke or close to it. At one point he mentions that, yes, he saved the world but didn't get paid for it, and in a short story he tries to bill the Archangel Uriel for his time before implicitly admitting that, yes, he'll keep being a hero even when there's no money in it. This decreases in later books when his relationship with the White Council improves slightly, and they start paying him to do mostly what he was already doing — which doesn’t help all that much, since the salary for the job was set decades ago and doesn’t account for inflation.
    • This is partly self-inflicted, however; Harry got offered a very generous retainer by "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone in the very first book, but was too proud to take money from the Mob.
    • This ends up finally paying off for both Harry and some of his allies after getting diamonds out of Hades' vault during Skin Game.
  • Hercule Poirot may be "the world's greatest detective", but his powers of observation and deduction are mostly put to use investigating insurance claims, not solving murders.
  • Austin, Jeffery, and Isabella, the three main characters of Hollow Places, have a habit of saving others through the use of an anomaly the former found deep within a cave. They aren't materially rewarded for any of their efforts. Because of this, they all have to continue working at a prison making near-minimum wage. This makes Austin feel guilty, seeing as needing to work means heroism will have to remain a mere hobby for him.
  • Invoked in How to Be a Superhero to discuss the whys, hows, and methods for the would-be hero to license his exploits to Comic Book publishers or seek other forms of corporate sponsorship.
  • Discussed in The Philosophical Strangler by Eric Flint. After Ignace has read the rules etc of the Professional Heroes Guild after he and Greyboar had been forced to join, he concluded:
    Fatality rate: expected to be astronomical.
    Casualty rate: all-encompassing, universal; a given.
    Recompense; nil, save the voluntary "gift."
    Selection of clients: nil, save that preference goes to the poorest, least privileged, and most downtrodden. Those with only a pot to piss in must be serviced first. Do not accept the pot as a "gift."
    And so on and so forth.
    "We're going to starve," I groaned. "If we live that long."
  • In the 1632 series, this is a primary complaint of Gretchen Richter and Jeff Higgins, who are responsible for a large and growing number of children. Eventually, it gets better, when some of their wedding present investments pay off, and Rebecca Abrabanel takes the kids into her well-guarded apartment house.
  • In The Sword-Edged Blonde, it's self-inflicted, but nevertheless present. Eddie, a sword-for-hire, won't let King Phil do anything more than cover his expenses on the case since Phil's an old friend. Moreover, it turns out that the smaller case at the start of the book has moral issues that prevent Eddie from finishing it, so he refunds that money too. A nice-but-tactless barmaid wonders if he's in the right job.
  • Tarma and Kethry from Vows and Honor is a case of this being played with. They know that heroism doesn't pay the bills and as such supplement it with regular mercenary work, and are very angry with the bard Leslac for painting them as heroes who seek out worthy causes at no reward to the point where it drives away actual paying work.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This comes up in the first season of Angel. Angel is in the business of saving souls. After pointing out the awkward truth that they need to make money, Cordelia starts sending out bills for being saved.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Being a Slayer pretty much takes up all her time, but Buffy doesn't get anything out of it, so the bank won't even give her a loan since she has no income, even after she saves the loan officer's life from a demon. Anya suggests charging people of saving them, which Buffy rejects out of hand. In the end, Buffy's forced to take up a degrading job slinging burgers at the Doublemeat Palace.
  • Lyta Alexander in Babylon 5 was the Vorlon ambassador's assistant before the First Ones left. After the Shadow War, despite her contributions, she finds herself with no job prospects, because she's not a part of Psi Corps, and increasingly low on cash. After her last attempt to find a job falls through, she's forced to basically rejoin Psi Corps to make a living. She lampshades it in the last season, where she rattles off all the wars she's fought in, personally enabling victory in one battle, but how she didn't get anything for it, and by that point, she's pissed at Sheridan for his lack of support for her, the Vorlons for using her then abandoning her, the Psi Corps for existing and especially making her rejoin them, and the universe in general for making her its Cosmic Plaything.
  • Dead Like Me: Reapers don't get paid, so they generally have day jobs. The undead still need to pay the bills, after all, so don't piss off the meter maid.
  • In Early Edition where Gary Hobson uses the newspaper he receives a day early not only to Set Right What Once Went Wrong but uses to win enough in the lottery to live off of but not bring to much attention. He does open a bar in the fourth season but the newspaper keeps him too busy to properly run it.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Sam Wilson/The Falcon had a steady income when he was a member of the Avengers, but after being brought back from the Snap, struggles to make enough money to help his sister pay the bills and the banks won't give him a loan. This is partially because people don't recognize him as a superhero and partially because the bank teller was racist.
  • Luke Cage (2016): At the start of season 2, Luke is having to take on sponsorships for the money. Bobby Fish also laments to D.W. how Luke's life is expensive, and that it's raised the rent on the barbershop (combined with their insurance premiums going up after Diamondback wrecked the place in season 1).
  • Lampshaded on My Name Is Earl when the eponymous character goes to apply for a credit card. He has money from a (fairly modest) lottery winning but doesn't actually have a job or a steady source of income. While in Prison, he spends the last of the money throwing a prom for the prison, and when he gets out, he has a Crisis of Faith because he's been doing the List for years and hasn't gotten any kind of reward as he understood Karma would give him if he made up for all the bad things he did. He gets the money back, in the form of an insurance settlement from his third wife getting hit by a car when said third wife divorces him to go join an Amish-like community, where she simply doesn't need it.
  • Gets a lampshade on Stargate SG-1. Despite not being superheroes (most of the time), the team's duties frequently include saving worlds, including our own. When Daniel rejoins the team after a long absence and suffering partial amnesia, he asks "We do get paid for this, right?".
  • Super Sentai:
    • Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger: The Zyurangers, being transplants from ancient times, live under the care of their mentor Barza, who is disguised as an apartment super, who can only afford to give them 100 yen a day. This comes up in the Dokita Clay arc, where the rangers (minus Geki) get part-time jobs, which are never mentioned again (justified in Dan's case as his place of employment, a ramen shop, is destroyed in an earthquake).
    • Chouriki Sentai Ohranger: The Ohrangers are employed by a military organization, meaning that they should have steady paychecks in the mail. Yet, when Yuji shows off his bank statement to a disguised Mulitwa (long story), we see it comes down to a whopping 3,982 yen (or $29.65). Acha even remarks that "I guess justice doesn't really pay the bills."
    • Avataro Sentai Donbrothers: Played with in that while they don't get money, the Donbrothers do recieve Kibi-Points that they can exchange for fantastical or abstract things, like bringing people back from the dead or good fortune in life. However, using them can have a negative backlash on the user if they ask for something to big so it's not a realiable way to do things. Meaning, the team have to work actual jobs in order to get by, even Saruhara, who is technically unemployed, uses a barter system where he exchanges his knowledge for things like food. Many plotlines in fact come from people they interact with on their jobs.
  • Supernatural. The Winchester brothers have saved hundreds of lives, averted the Apocalypse numerous times, and literally survived Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. And they do all this while surviving on fraudulent credit cards, money hustled from pool games, renting low-rent motel rooms, sleeping in their car, and squatting in abandoned homes. And that's when the FBI isn't looking for them.
  • There was a three-episode arc of the short-lived series APB in which tech billionaire Gideon Reeves faced a new threat to his running of a Chicago police precinct - the board of his own company. All the tech he was making to help the police was very expensive, and the company wasn't getting any money back on the investment. After he refuses a proposal to have people pay subscriptions for his improved crime reporting and dispatch software on the grounds that the people who would most need it wouldn't be able to afford it, the board even threatens to remove him from the company. He eventually finds an acceptable way to make a profit on law enforcement by licensing some of his crime-solving tech to the FBI.

  • "The Two" by Felt is about two rappers who join forces to fight crime but eventually are forced to stop due to lack of funds.
    Well we saved the world and brought joy to the masses
    But couldn't save ourselves from the government and taxes
  • In the A Very Spidey Christmas Album tie-in for Spider Man Into The Spiderverse, Miles' song "Joy to the World (That I Just Saved)" has a verse lamenting that he's not getting paid to save the world. He thus decides to pay for webfluid via crowdfunding.
    Joy to the world
    I keep saving!
    I could
    get paid?
    I saved you all again,
    this time from the Kingpin,
    And literally I don't get paid,
    Kinda weird that I don't get paid,
    I make my own web-fluid and it's not free, okay?!

    Puppet Shows 
  • Perhaps a literal example in the Dinosaurs episode, "Earl, Don't Be a Hero"; when Earl is promoted to toxic waste supervisor at the WeSaySo corporation, exposure to said toxic waste gives Earl superpowers. Earl becomes a superhero named Captain Impressive to earn the respect of Baby, his youngest son. When Mr. Richfield finds out about Earl's superpowers, he points out that Earl's employment contract he signed (which he was told he didn't have to read) states that if any employee obtains superpowers, the heroes will become the property of WeSaySo. Earl knows that Richfield is evil and that he really should be saving Pangaea from villains and criminals instead of working for him, but since he has bills to pay and a family to support, he has no choice but to work for him.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Mentioned in Crimson Sea. Sho, the protagonist, wants to help people pro bono if they just don't have the money to pay him, but his partner Yanquin counters that they need some sort of income to keep going. Even when they're later made part of G-squad, you have to buy your own weaponry with your mission earnings; they're not provided by the organization.
  • Averted in Fate/Grand Order. While the Main Character undergoes the events of Arc 1 and 1.5 with no pay, there's little point in getting paid when there's no world beyond Chaldea, and after the crisis ends, the MC stays there. However, when everyone's fired at the beginning of Arc 2, Da Vinci saunters by to hand over a check for services rendered. The exact amount isn't mentioned, but it's enough to set the MC in comfort for life.
    • In Avalon le Fae, Morgan pays Chaldea for defeating the Calamity of Norwich, despite both declaring them her enemy, as well as already having deployed a spell that would defeat it even without Chaldea's involvement.
  • In Front Mission the player character and his team are hired mercenaries working for an arm of the military, and thus earn a flat-rate commission in addition to money obtained for each destroyed enemy unit. Once they stop working for the military and begin pursuing their own heroic goals, naturally they no longer make the commission and have to rely entirely on the money made from destroying units.
  • Team Chaotix (Vector the Crocodile, Espio the Chameleon and Charmy the Bee) from Sonic the Hedgehog are a trio of detectives who have this as part of their driving force. Unlike the other heroes who save the world from Dr. Eggman out of the kindness of their heart, Team Chaotix won't lift a finger unless there's a paycheck at the end of it. Even so, Vector can't help but do the occasional pro-bono job out of the kindness of his heart... which is why they're in Perpetual Poverty.
  • Averted at the end of Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. As thanks for helping to save the day, Nick Fury pays off all of Spider-Man's college debts.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): Spider-Man himself struggles to balance his crime-fighting heroics and paying his apartment rent (not helped by the fact that his day job is at a tech startup that is having trouble making payroll thanks to research grants falling through), especially when an Evil Power Vacuum looms over New York City following the arrest of Fisk. The opening cutscene reveals that he's really behind his rent, and Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs during the middle of the game as he's evicted. He stays over at F.E.A.S.T. for the time being, but by the end of the story he's able to move in to a new apartment.
  • Star Fox has the Star Fox crew taking up mercenary work to make money, but they will always play heroics and save the day when needed. The reason Fox and his crew require payment for their services is to help pay off Fox's inherited debt that his father racked up when he built the Great Fox and died before the debt could be paid off. So while Fox is inherently a good person, he doesn't exactly work for free. It's even a plot point of Star Fox Adventures; in the eight years since Andross' defeat, they've become extremely strapped for cash, and their weapons and technology have fallen into a state of disrepair.
  • Touhou Project: Despite all of Hakurei Reimu's efforts to quell youkai incidents, her shrine gets few human visitors and few donations. Aya's interview with Reimu explains that she operates in a vacuum and few other participants in the incident will verify what actually happened. Her situation is not as miserly and starving as fandom tends to depict and officially Reimu wants the money for outreach to improve the shrine (only) and keeps her own garden for food.

    Visual Novels 
  • After saving his classmates from an avalanche, the protagonist of Double Homework still has to think about his future, either by getting a job or by going to college.

  • One arc of El Goonish Shive had several of the main characters getting jobs at local businesses in order to make some money. Despite the fact that they had done some great work fighting Evil, they were not compensated in any way by the U.S. Government agency that one of their members' father worked for.
  • Nava from I Don't Want This Kind of Hero initially cites this as part of why he refuses to join Spoon.
  • Saitama in One-Punch Man does receive a monthly stipend once he joins the Hero Association. Despite that, he spends an entire chapter trying to get pocket change to try a drink from a vending machine. Prior to joining the Hero Association, he did not have an apparent source of income.

    Web Original 
  • The main characters of Caper have this problem. Despite serving as the city's crimefighters, they don't get paid at all by the city and barely make enough money from their day jobs to make rent.
  • Parodied in a The Cyanide & Happiness Show short Robbery, after a super hero stops a Bank Robber and tells the kids that "crime doesn't pay". One of the kids asks him how much does being a Super Hero pay. After a Beat from the Super Hero, he immediately breaks into the bank and steals the cash for himself.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the main characters often find themselves worrying about food or cash because Walking the Earth isn't exactly a job.
  • Dynomutt, Dog Wonder: The episode "Don't Bug Superthug" reveals Dynomutt's life savings to be a single coin. He says superheroing isn't the highest paid job in the town.
  • Downplayed in Generator Rex. Being Providence's superweapon gives Rex three meals a day and a room to sleep in (albeit one shared with a monkey), so he's never at any financial risk despite being paid absolutely nothing. In "Moonlighting", Rex's lack of income comes to his attention when he realizes that Rombauer and Laskey are paid for being basically pest control for smaller EVOs while he's given zilch for risking his life fighting larger threats. The pay and other perks are what convince him to moonlight working in their company for the episode.
    Rombauer: You're Providence's number one guy. And what do you have to show for it? What's the limit on your credit card? How much you got in your bank account?
    Rex: Hard to say... since I don't have any of those things.

  • Justice League:
    • When Green Lantern John Stewart meets his old friend Rex Mason, Rex remarks that being a superhero must have made John rich. John corrects him and says nobody pays him and he barely owns anything.
    • The Flash works as a forensic scientist in Central City when he's not wearing the suit. One episode also had him cashing in on his image to hock Lightspeed Energy Bars, much to the chagrin of his fellow league members, though that was less about needing the money and more about getting rich.
    • Subverted with Booster Gold, he stole the tech to become a Superhero and went back in time to make money and fame off of being a hero.
  • Kim Possible: In the Season Three episode "Team Impossible", the eponymous team of first-class mercenaries saves people, then presents with a huge bill for their services. They also conspire to undercut Kim, because she's been providing the same service (often against the same antagonists) free of charge.
    • Team Impossible cannily realizes that a big part of the reason she's able to do this is because the most expensive part of her heroism (transportation) is provided as a favor by previous grateful "clients". The most effective way to undercut her, therefore, is to abduct these clients and keep them out of touch at a luxury resort, forcing Kim and Ron to pay standard rates for airfare, taxis, and the like.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, despite the Mane Six saving Equestria, Applejack still has to find ways to raise money to keep her farm like in "The Best Night Ever" and fears the competition of Flim and Flam in "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" because their cider sales pay their expenses over the winter. Other characters like Pinkie Pie and Rarity also have full-time careers, and while it's clear they do it because they enjoy the work you'd think Celestia could pay them a good wage for saving her kingdom on a weekly basis.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
    • The episode "Daylight Savings" has the titular heroines fall asleep in class after a night's worth of saving the world. (So much for "saving the world before bedtime".) As a result, Ms. Keane, believing that education is a bigger responsibility than saving the world, has the Professor set a strict 7:30 curfew - which unfortunately happens when villainy is at its worst. This specific instance is subverted/defied at the end, when it's revealed that, thanks to daylight savings time, the girls have enough time to defeat the villains and make their curfew. However, the episode still adds Fridge Horror to the setting as a whole.
    • In the episode "A Very Special Blossom" when Blossom temporarily becomes a villain by stealing expensive golf material to give to her father for Father's Day, because she didn't have enough money to pay for them. Also, the Mayor didn't give the girls the money when they asked him.
  • In The Real Ghostbusters are in it for the paycheck, as they're effectively exterminators doing a job and the city doesn't pay them anything for their services either. It's not that they're bad people, but they have bills to pay, a living to make, and ghost-catching gear isn't exactly cheap. One episode hilariously has them be hired by a client to capture a ghost but end up capturing four ghosts:
    Egon: We'll have to charge you for four.
    Client: But I was only authorized to purchase one removal.
    Peter: One removal is fine — you just pick the one you want removed, and we'll put the other three back.
  • Played with and discussed in the Steven Universe episode "Frybo." Peedee, Steven's new friend and french fry joint mascot, argues that being a Crystal Gem is not a job because they don't get paid. Steven claims that they get paid in the smiles of the people they save. (Between ancient Gem technology and their own biology, the Gems don't have any living expenses for themselves. Steven lives off the money his dad makes running a car wash.) Peedee then confesses that the money he gets doesn't compensate for what the job takes out of him.
  • In The Tick episode "The Tick vs. Arthur's Bank Account", the Tick tries his darnedest to get all sorts of new equipment for crimefighting, regardless of how his sidekick Arthur's bank account is holding. It's made abundantly clear that the Tick has absolutely no clue how to work in real life, driving Arthur over the edge.
  • In Season 2 of Young Justice (2010), Red Arrow stops a thief robbing a local store, only to take some of the cash himself. He's then confronted by his friends and foster parents, who go What the Hell, Hero?, and he points out that without Green Arrow's bank account supporting him, it's hard to fund the search for his original self.

    Real life 
  • Among American soldiers and veterans, the phrase "thank you for your service" is something of a meme, referring to the perceived disconnect between the cultural cachet and respect that they command in society and the lack of tangible benefits that they receive after they complete their service, especially for those who acquired physical or psychological disabilities on the battlefield. Service in the armed forces does afford such benefits as interest-free college loans, access to the VA healthcare system, and pensions, but the VA system has faced scandals in the recent past concerning underfunding and poor quality of care, and pensions are meager unless one has served for many years. The joke is that they're getting a "thank you" for their service, but not a whole lot else.