Never Be a Hero

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from Don't Be a Hero)

"You just had to be a hero, didn't you?"

There's a strange Double Standard regarding superheroics. Most superheroes get their powers by accident and choose to use them for good with little to no training beforehand. This is what makes them Heroes.

However, if a Muggle, Sidekick, or some other "mundane" gains superpowers and tries to be a Hero for a Day it will end badly. Only the starring hero is allowed to beat up crooks and save the day. Why? Because he says so.

But Superheroes don't exist in this world, so why is it wrong to try to be one in a fantasy world? The justification (if any is given) for this Fantastic Aesop can be any or all of the following:

  1. Muggles are all useless and if they were meant to be a hero why then destiny would have chosen them.
  2. Only the hero has the moral fiber to resist succumbing to The Dark Side. Anyone else will quickly get drunk with power and become a Villain Of The Week.
  3. Powers are dangerous, and only the hero has enough practice using them to rescue people without making an accident into a natural disaster. Rather than coaching the new superhero on how to use their powers effectively and safely, the hero will try to get them to quit or give the powers up.
  4. Attempts to gain super powers are seen as rank ambition, and dangerous in and of themselves. This carries the Unfortunate Implications that we shouldn't try to rise above our stations. Superheroes are special, and we should just be content to be Red Shirts and Cannon Fodder.
  1. Another aspect of this comes from two other superhero universal constants: Could Have Been Messy and Thou Shalt Not Kill. The untrained can't pull off the infallible dodging, and since they don't have Improbable Aiming Skills their attacks will actually kill criminals. Which is wrong.

The worst uses of this trope won't even come with a reason why it's wrong. If someone suddenly gains super powers and does the same good the hero does, it's still considered wrong if this trope is applied. By story's end the Contagious Powers will be gone, the Sidekick Glass Ceiling will be bumped against, and Status Quo Is God shall be reaffirmed.

The real reason for the existence of this trope is that if lots of people gain powers and become superheroes, then it steals some of the main characters thunder. They become less special, unique, and one-of-a-kind. Never mind that even if everyone in the setting had powers or gadgets it can be a compelling read, some authors must have felt insecure enough about this that they kept reusing this trope. Averting this often leads to an expanding cast that might turn into a Heroes Unlimited or The Chosen Many, or even grounds for a spinoff.

It should be noted that when the subject of this aesop doesn't have any powers and seeks to emulate a Badass Normal, Costumed Nonsuper Hero or a hero with Charles Atlas Superpowers, this overlaps with Don't Try This At Home and does make sense. When the subject gains the powers and skills of the hero, then it turns into a Fantastic Aesop, since people don't spontaneously become firefighters and paramedics in Real Life.

So basically, this aesop is logical when both the hero and muggle are low on the Super Weight scale... but gets really iffy when someone who by all rights ought to have been treated as a young hero in need of guidance, isn't.

Compare The Team Wannabe, Pretender Diss.

Contrast The Paragon.

Examples of Never Be a Hero include:

Comic Books

  • Completely averted by John Henry Irons, AKA Steel. When Superman saved his life he asked how he could repay him and got the answer "live a life worth saving". So he builds Powered Armor and uses it to become a Superhero. He remains a respected member of the superhero community to this day.
    • Although when John Henry's niece gained powers through the Everyman Project and became leader of Infinity, Inc., he complained she hadn't "earned" them. Mind you, this was less about "you shouldn't be a hero" and more about the fact that Infinity Inc. was sponsored by Lex 'totally reformed this time, honest' Luthor. There was a little bit of "you're not mature or responsible enough to be a hero yet" in Steel's actions, but in his defense Natasha herself demonstrated that he wasn't entirely wrong about this.
      • On the other hand, when he was at one point thought dead, Natasha picked up his hammer and triggered a fantastic recorded message saying "I don't want you to be a superhero like me, it's too dangerous, but since you'll probably ignore me, I rigged all my gear to answer to you. You'll be great." But then, taking up the mantle is a slightly different situation in the DCU.
  • Silver Age Lois Lane used to get powers as often as get married or claimed she will (same deal with Lana Lang, minus marriages), and every time there was an Aesop that she couldn't use them properly, with a huge unspoken "Because she's a girl". In fact, check out Super Dickery or the picture in Contagious Powers for an idea of what Lois (and Lana) would typically do when they got powers.
  • Similarly, Johnny Quick once gained a Distaff Counterpart called Joanie Swift whom he seriously resented, but who couldn't be dissuaded from trying to help, until she had to deal with mice, after which she agreed to let him take away her powers.
    • In what was perhaps a deliberate bit of irony by writers, Johnny Quick's daughter Jesse would inherit his powers as well as that of his wife Liberty Belle, super-strength. So the speedster who saw no problems in taking the powers of another person for essentially being a girl is now represented in the comics by a girl who can also bend steel.
  • No one but Batman or his acknowledged sidekicks are ever supposed to be working in Gotham City. Anyone else will invariably get things totally wrong, such as by being very slightly more brutal than Batman on interrogation, or risking getting people killed somehow, or accidentally interfering in the one crime per year that the Gotham PD is actually doing something about. How contrived this feels varies from case-to-case.
    • Stephanie Brown deserves special mention: for years, she was the epitome of this trope, being told time and again not just by Batman, but (eventually) by nearly everyone associated with him that she should stop crimefighting, but she never backed down. It even went so far that she got herself killed trying to prove that she was worthy. Eventually, she got better (in more ways than one); now, she's an accepted member of Batman's inner circle. And most ironically, there's a new guy in her own title who she is telling to Never Be a Hero.
    • A major part of it is that Batman is a major control freak who considers Gotham to be "his" city, and doesn't even allow established heroes from outside his band of sidekicks to work the city without getting permission beforehand. Any new heroes deliberately defying Batman in that regard are probably going to be reckless in other ways.
    • There are also occasional exceptions to this rule, such as the Huntress (who moves in and out of Batman's orbit, and isn't happy about being defined in such terms). Perhaps the most notable was the Cavalier, who Batman gave the "this is my city" talk to before actually accepting that the guy was skilled enough and honest enough to make it work. Of course, then It Got Worse.
      • And then it got better, since after Battle for the Cowl the Cavalier has been going by his real name, Mortimer Drake (no relation to Tim Drake), and is acting as the bodyguard for Dr. Leslie Thompkins after she provided him with emercengy medical assistance. He still uses the sword, though.
    • An argument can be made that Gotham is not a city that most heroes can operate in, however. This is not a city with people like Lex Luthor, who causes collateral damage, or Gorilla Grodd with his temporary and easily-fixed Mind Control. Gotham has villains like the Joker, who kidnaps dozens of babies just because he enjoys screwing with Batman, or Killer Croc, a cannibal with monstrous strength. Batman's villains may not be high on the totem pole of supervillain power, but they're the reigning champions as far as terrifying and squick-inducing go. There's the added bonus that it typically requires intelligence to stop their plans in time. Sure, Superman could catch Joker—but if the Joker knew he would be facing off against Superman ahead of time, could the Big Blue Boyscout do it quickly enough to stop his plan or save the hostages?


  • The Dark Knight. Were those vigilantes wrong for trying to be heroes? No. Although Batman just made a snarky comment about hockey pads, it was clear what they were doing wrong was using his persona for outright violence (and guns), which was not at all what he stood for.
  • In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe film by Disney, Peter is met with this line... "Just because some guy in a red suit gives you a sword, it doesn't make you a hero!", hoping he's not dumb enough to try and fight the wolves and die trying. He does, since the alternatives are even dumber. (Fight the wolves, that is. He lives.)
  • The premise of Sky High is basically this trope being applied to high school cliques—the popular kids with the cool powers get to be heroes, the freaks and geeks get swept under the Sidekick Hero Support Glass Ceiling.
  • One of Columbus' biggest rules in Zombieland is Don't be a hero. But he breaks his own rule in the end.


  • Averted in The Bible, book of Mark 9:38-41. When told by John that the apostles had stopped a man driving out demons in his name, Jesus tells them not to.

Live Action TV

  • Here's a subverted/averted example. In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Other Guys", Dr. Felger is a real fanboy of SG1. When he sees SG1 is getting captured by Jaffa, he insists on rescuing them. Of course, he quotes their motto "Never leave a man behind", so he takes another scientist with him and they beam themselves on the Ha'tak to rescue them. Turns out SG1 was deliberately letting themselves be captured and they now screwed them up. Of course, O'Neill is very angry at them for doing this. In the end though, the two are indeed responsible for rescuing SG1 (as the undercover operative they were supposed to meet up with had been found out and executed) and they both get a medal (although that particular part was All Just a Dream of Dr. Felger).
    • Maybe not that part, but... getting kissed by Carter was most definitely All Just a Dream!
  • Another aversion in Lois and Clark: When Superman's powers are transferred to Lois Lane, he (and his parents) spend most of the episode coaching her with her newfound abilities and turning her into a proper superhero. She acquits herself pretty well, though she becomes normal again at the end of the episode. This would be Status Quo Is God, but she also accepts Clark's marriage proposal, perhaps due to the experience she had as a hero.
    • On the other hand, in another episode a dumpy old guy gains superpowers and decides to adopt the moniker of "Resplendent Man" and save people... for money. Usually haggling over the price with the victim while they were still in danger, and seeing nothing wrong with this because, hey, your own life's gotta be worth a lot, right? When Superman shows up and rescues the victim, Resplendent Man berates him for "horning in on his territory". In the end he loses his powers and status quo is reasserted with an actually palatable aesop: it takes more than superpowers to make a hero.
  • In the third season of Heroes, a Super Serum is introduced, as is a Big Bad whose goal is to make it generally available to the populace. Time Travel and precognitive visions reveal that this eventually causes the end of the world.

Video Games

  • Mass Effect has the recurring character Conrad Verner, who really wants to help his idol Shepard save the galaxy. Thing is, Conrad is a civilian without Shepard's military training, and is basically an idiot high on hero worship and doesn't realize his limitations. After a brief stint at trying to be a Badass Bounty Hunter or Alliance officer, the trope is subverted when it's revealed Conrad's doing genuine good without being a badass. Shepard inspired him to set up a charity which is really helping all the orphans and people hurt in the wake of the first game's Final Battle.

Web Comic

  • The City of Nexus in Captain SNES actually has laws against hero work not done via the police, mostly because the citizens of Nexus come from such a staggering variety of games that they all have very, very different ideas about what they are and aren't allowed to do during such tasks. It is also pointed out that heroes tend to draw villains and show up at world-endangering times, to the extent that a world-weary Mega Man comments that a genuine hero is the absolute worst thing to ever encounter.

Web Original

  • This was, for the most, completely avoided in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe. It was even remarked upon by in-universe scientists studying the hows and whys of superpowers that only about a half of the people who ended up empowered possessed powers that were... well... powerful enough to become superheroes or villains, and out of that half, only about a third ever did. The rest either did nothing with the powers, or found some other purpose for them (like the super-strong "forklift operator" who didn't need a forklift, or the faith-healing televangelist who could actually heal) than superheroics.

Western Animation

  • In the 1990 He-Man revival, where a kid was given Powered Armor. The kid used the power to save someone's life. Know what the adults told him? He was abusing the suit, and he should tone it down.
  • There was an example of this in the She Ra Princess of Power cartoon, where one episode centered around a "lesser" rebellion member thinking she could be a real hero and stepping above her station, with disastrous results and explicit end of the show Aesop. The scariest thing was, the character had actually formed the rebellion when SheRa's alter ego was still working for the Big Bad, but now she's apologizing for "getting a big head" and thinking she could actually contribute.
  • Syndrome from The Incredibles. Tries to be a superhero using technology, turns into the Big Bad.
    • Considering he was discouraged for this because he was a kid in a world where Infant Immortality is stated to not be the case, possibly a good idea to discourage him until he got older. Especially since what was very nearly his first action as a 'hero' came within a couple of seconds of getting both himself and Mr. Incredible killed.
  • Superman: The Animated Series had a case of this. As Supergirl has all the powers of Superman, and a love for the big city, yet Superman still forces her to live her life on the Smallville farm under a secret identity (even though such an identity is even MORE useless for her).
    • On the other hand, the series' version of Steel's origins (see Comics section above) had Superman being quite receptive to the idea of having someone around to help, even after the Power Armor prototype in the episode that introduced John Henry Irons gave its user a serious God Complex, and encouraged him to keep trying.
      • There was perhaps some justification for Superman getting her to sit things out for a while- she wasn't nearly as powerful as him, and came uncomfortably close to getting herself killed on multiple occasions. After she had gotten a bit more acclimated to her powers and Earth in general, she did get into the game in Justice League Unlimited, and with her cousin's full support.
  • There was an episode of the Sunbow G.I. Joe cartoon where Quick Kick's girlfriend successfully sneaked into the heart of Joe Headquarters to try and join the Joe team. Duke tells her to go to her local army recruiter. This from the team that recruited Shipwreck in the middle of desert and Quick Kick himself from the middle of the Arctic.
  • Danny Phantom. Poor, poor Tucker. He's been given superpowers at least twice, each time ending badly. The first instance occured when Desiree granted his wish to have ghost powers like Danny, which gave him rapidly evolving abilities that quickly surpassed Danny's own in everything except control. By the end of the episode he was Brought Down to Normal again. The second time happened when he was recognized by a mummy as an ancient pharaoh, and given a magic scepter that gave him total control over the Sphinx and several ghostly minions. His evil abilities were once again demonstrated by beating up on Danny.

Real Life

  • Quite possibly used so that impressionable children don't try to imitate the heroes in real life, going back to the George Reeves Superman series, where there were reports of kids donning red towels and jumping out of their window in an attempt to fly. Live action shows geared to kids in the 90s used this trope, often showing that the stunts were done by actors who knew what they were doing and giving kids ideas to be real heroes in their community by getting involved in picking up litter or something.
  • In real-life disaster situations, the first rule for bystanders is, "Avoid increasing the number of people needing to be rescued". In real life, none of us have super powers.
    • It's the rule even for people with first aid training - the first step is always to look for environmental hazards that could endanger your own safety before giving assistance. Becoming a victim is not useful for either you or the person you're trying to help.
    • Similarly, in situations where civilians have involved themselves in stopping a crime in progress, it's common to hear a police spokesperson cautiously congratulate the person's bravery whilst still stressing that ordinary civilians should leave the crime-fighting to the police, as the police have undergone extensive training to deal with such situations in a way as to make sure that as few people as possible are killed or injured in doing so, and most civilians haven't. Of course the police can't stop every crime in progress, but that is not a license to take rash actions.
    • Although, when taken too far, this leads to the Bystander Effect.
  • This reasoning also applies, with some controversy, to business policies that dictate civilian employees always comply with a robber's demands and don't try to catch them. Employees who fought back and stopped the crime have simultaneously been praised by the media and fired from their jobs, the logic being that while that particular situation might have ended well, rewarding those workers for being heroes (and so implicitly encouraging other employees to do the same) would end in disaster.