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Karmic Thief

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"Stealing is wrong — unless it's from pirates."

Karmic Thieves are thieves who steal from people for selfish reasons, but only steal from people that are portrayed as being unlikable. Their targets will usually be wealthy, corrupt, or more often than not both at the same time. Expect a few Kick the Dog moments just to make you really not like the victim. The target might even be a criminal himself, who made his fortune by stealing, scamming, or extorting money from the poor, the middle-class, or even sympathetic rich people.

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The Karmic Thieves’ actions are "justified" because they're being done to someone that is seen as deserving it. This turns the thieves into heroes for whom the audience can cheer more easily. If the thieves are themselves poor, the story might contain implicit themes of class conflict.

A Karmic Thief will never steal from those who are poor and honest. However, unlike a thief who is Just Like Robin Hood, a Karmic Thief is not interested in charity through giving away all his or her ill-gotten-gains to the poor.

This is a Sub-Trope to Caper Rationalization. Compare also to the Lovable Rogue, where the emphasis is on the likability of the thief rather than the idea that all his or her victims deserve their fates. See also Scoundrel Code.


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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ashita no Nadja, Black Rose steals not just from the rich, but from rich people who are also snobbish and spoiled. (He is actually from a rich family, but left them when he was young.) Double if they are dumb enough to challenge him to steal from then, like Spoiled Brat Fernando's aunt did in public. He's also seen helping out poor people, like giving a humble widow enough money to buy medicine for her child, and discussing social issues with the title heroine Nadja aside of being one of her two more important love interests... the other being his twin brother.
  • Psiren from the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist while she stole for her own selfish reasons, she does only stole from the rich, and became a celebrity in her hometown.
  • In Lupin III, Lupin's schemes mostly focus on him stealing something from someone rich and powerful. It is usually obvious from the beginning that his targets are corrupt, tyrannical, or exploitative. Even when they seem initially seem nice or affable, they are often unveiled as evil by the end of the story.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has one of the magical girls stealing all kinds of weaponry from the yakuza. The girl is Homura, whose time-manipulation skills doesn't allow her to attack directly.
  • Lina Inverse of Slayers: "I stole from bandits, so that makes it all right!"

     Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe examples from Italian stories:
    • Paperinik the Devilish Avenger, Donald Duck's superhero/anti-hero alter ego who has no exitation in robbing people who, for one reason or the other, have pissed him off (in the first story, Scrooge was possibly at his most Jerkass. Paperinik stole the money-filled mattress he was sleeping on).
    • Fantomius-Gentleman Thief (that's what's written on his Calling Card). Second son of an English duke, for some reason he decided to move to Duckburg, where he was exposed to the scorn of the local wealthy families (who, with the exception of the then-traveling Scrooge and his family, called him a lazy bum), and in revenge he started robbing them of jewels and other precious art in the most showy way he could, while also devolving whatever cash he grabbed along the main target to the poors. Finding his diary and his main hideout would be the events that motivated Donald Duck in becoming Paperinik.

    Fan Works 
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, the Black Arachnid is reimagined as this. In his drive to live up to a childhood promise he made with an Officer Jenny about both of them becoming famous, he decides to achieve Fame Through Infamy by stealing valuable items from people who deserve it and exposing them to the public. These include the curator of a museum who had ties with Team Rocket, a wealthy family patriarch who was abusive to his daughter, and a Corrupt Corporate Executive from an insurance company who denied claims from their clients.
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    Film 
  • Over the course of three films, the team from Ocean's Eleven targets two unscrupulous casino owners and a thief.
  • The film Tower Heist involves a Wall Street banker who ran a ponzi scheme being targeted by the workers in his penthouse building after their 401k accounts get frozen.
  • The Sting is about Con Men scamming a mobster who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
  • The band of highly-skilled hijackers and bank robbers in Michael Mann's Heat. They only target high-value targets like precious metal depositories, banks and corporate money vans. Invoked during the bank robbery scene when Neil says, "We want to hurt nobody. We're here for the bank's money, not your money. Your money's insured by the federal government, you're not going to lose a dime. Think of your families, don't risk your life, don't try to be a hero."
  • The crew of career criminal protagonists in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels decides to rob the much nastier gang of thieves who happen to live to next door to them to get themselves out of massive debt. Ironically, the profits they plan to steal from their neighbours are themselves being stolen from a group of drug dealers.
    • Dog and his band of unpleasant thieves who're the neighbors mentioned above only steal from other criminals - mostly drug dealers. This isn't out of any moral grounds - Dog's gang are nasty people - they just find drug dealers to be easy targets.
      "When they're not kicking puppies or picking the peanuts out of poo, they rip unfortunate souls off of their hard-earned drugs."
      Bacon, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
  • In Serenity Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a corporate security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance from a probably corrupt corporation, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his cut to any poor person who's not on his crew. That said, for all his pretensions of ruthlessness, Mal is shown repeatedly in Firefly to have a crippling case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, so how much of it he would have ultimately kept is an open question.
  • Cousin Marv in The Drop thought he was this, stealing mob money from a bar they owned. In reality... he was being selfish and reckless.
  • Hawk the Slayer. Our heroes need 2000 gold pieces to ransom a nun, so they massacre a slaver gang when he refuses to generously donate to the cause.
  • Cindy from Extract evolves into this by the end of the film, returning the property she stole from Joel's employees and instead boosting Amoral Attorney Joe Adler's car.

    Literature 
  • At one point, Artemis Fowl chooses to focus his efforts solely on stealing from the wealthy and corrupt. However, he explicitly says he is not aiming to be Just Like Robin Hood.
  • In Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer, a group of people who have been swindled by a con man band together to steal from him exactly the amount he took from them.
  • Arsène Lupin's first theft was from a family that had been paying his mother an unfairly low wage for the work she did.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat refuses to steal from anyone but rich corporations that are insured against theft, though once he is recruited by the Special Corps, he turns his skill against various villains.
  • Moist von Lipwig from Discworld claimed himself to be this trope, more than once. In the light of that we get to know about his career, his pretensions appear a little hollow, though.
    "The worst I ever did was rob people who thought they were robbing me ... Okay, I robbed a couple of banks, well, defrauded, really, but only because they made it so easy." — Making Money
    • When it comes to Moist, we can consider this trope pretty well deconstructed. A few words from Mr. Pump sum it up: "When banks fail, it is not bankers who starve." Even if you think the person or organization deserves it, robbing them is going to cause harm somewhere to an average joe who doesn't.
  • Ragnar Danneskjold, the (in)famous pirate of Atlas Shrugged, never attacks private vessels. He seizes government ships containing — in his point of view — plunder stolen from hard-working citizens, sells the goods for gold, and returns the gold to those he believes the government owes restitution.
  • The Crimson Shadow: Oliver views himself as this, robbing rich merchants who grew rich from exploiting others.
  • The Hobbit: Bilbo is hired by Gandalf and the dwarves for the express purpose of being a thief. As he's a reluctant thief caught up in schemes that go beyond him, he falls into this category. The reason he bothers keeping the One Ring is that it's basic power is to make the user invisible. He doesn't otherwise much care about it at first. Of course, Tolkien cushions the blow significantly because he's stealing a gemstone not money and it's from a dragon whom the audience has really no reason to sympathize with (even if they don't really agree with the dwarves' nationalist goals). This vision of Bilbo is kind of obscured for the modern audience, since we know the events that are set up by Bilbo's adventures.

    Live Action TV 
  • The crew from Hustle make money for themselves through conning people who earn their ire. On at least one occasion, they call off a scam after the mark reforms his character mid-way through.
  • The Rogues is an American television series that appeared on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April 18, 1965, starring David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Gig Young as a related trio of former conmen who could, for the right price, be persuaded to trick a very wealthy and very unscrupulous mark.
  • The Practice has this exchange:
    Eugene: What's this embezzling thing?
    Alan: Thank you for asking. It was kind of a half-Robin Hood thing, I took from the rich...
    Eugene: And who'd you give it to?
    Alan: I kept it. Thus the half-Robin Hood
  • Omar Little from The Wire steals exclusively from drug dealers and other criminals, refusing to harm or threaten anyone who isn't involved in the criminal underworld. Extras from the final season's DVD package show this goes all the way back to when he was a Street Urchin, as he was so disgusted by a robbery that he and his older brother Anthony took part in, (stealing a few dollars from an ordinary working man at a bus stop) that he made Anthony give the money back at gun point.
  • Deconstructed on an episode of Burn Notice. The villain of the week is a crook who specializes in stealing from other criminals... and to succeed in an occupation like that it means that he has to be a ruthless Manipulative Bastard/Chessmaster with a major case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and who has a long history of sacrificing the lives of his associates (who he treats as nothing more than pawns) in order to get what he wants.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Half Robin Hood

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