Hero Syndrome

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Hero Syndrome is a behavioural phenomenon where an individual craves the attention and glory that comes with heroism...and thus, creates a catastrophe to play The Hero in. It is a Real Life disorder most often found in firefighters, in cases where they are also arsonists who start fires so they can get recognition from putting them out, or similar jobs like emergency workers or the police. Usually they are also losers—they have huge egos, but they tend to be low on the hierarchy of whatever job they have (for example, a Deputy who thinks he should be Sheriff), and thus their delusions of grandeur do not match their reality. Acting the hero thus gives them the chance to be the center of attention before they go back to their menial work.

It is a fairly common trope in fiction and serves as a textbook example of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. Hero Syndrome is a symptom of Narcissism; it is pathologically self-centered, and involves a callous disregard for the victim. Someone with Hero Syndrome does not care at all about the people they are supposedly "saving" and are only interested in the glory, whereas the true Hero traditionally always cares about the people they are saving and, while they may be susceptible to thrill-seeking and the limelight, they don't let that override their sense of duty and empathy. This guy, however, has a warped sense of duty and no sense of empathy; hence, he is almost always a Villain, or at best a Type IV or V Anti Hero.

Needless to say, has nothing to do with Chronic Hero Syndrome, which is about real heroes. Might be related to Munchausen By Proxy. Compare Fake Ultimate Hero, Glory Hound.

Examples of Hero Syndrome include:
  • The Incredibles: This is Syndrome's problem, though the name is probably a (wonderful) coincidence. He wants to be a great and famous hero like his idol Mr Incredible, but sees no problem murdering actual heroes or attacking cities in pursuit of this, not to mention blowing up children.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: A couple.
    • Major Man is a phony with genuine superpowers who better resembles the classic, Superman-esque hero than the girls, and wins over the City of Townsville because of that. But most of his crimes are engineered, and he's hopeless when he thinks he's faced with a real crisis, such as a giant monster attack, making him a Miles Gloriosus as well.
    • Princess Morbucks is a regular member of the girls Rogues Gallery and started off like this, though she's more interested in having superpowers than acting the hero and is driven more by greed and revenge.
    • In the anime version, Princess Morbucks older sister does this. Setting up everything in the episode she is in, even employing the services of Mojo, along with film editing, to make it look like she saved the day as well as bested the Power Puff Girls. One of the rare cases where she actually gets away with it.
  • Lie to Me did this once with an ambulance driver who changed traffic lights to cause car crashes in order to be the first on the scene; she wants to make up for accidentally causing a car crash that killed her mother and left her brother brain damaged by saving the new victims instead. It turns out her brother was the one causing the accidents; she saved his victims out of guilt for what he did, and what she did to him and their mother, and he enjoyed controlling her through that guilt because he wanted revenge on her.
  • Criminal Minds: A sniper from the first season who turns out to be the ambulance driver is one of these, though Gideon refers to it as "Hero Homicide" (though, only one person actually died, and that was for imitating him). In the third season, a sheriff's deputy is discovered to have this after he shoots Penelope to conceal his crime-spree.
  • An episode of New Tricks deals with the serial arsonist version of one of these.
  • Hank Pym's fall from grace as a superhero began when he attempted to do this (along with hitting his wife). He has since recovered, only to have his reputation besmirched again by an impostor.
  • Zapp Brannigan does this sometimes, though his plans are rarely well-thought out and they never go as well as he makes it out. More usually though he just causes disasters and shifts the blame onto somebody else.
  • Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice has Super Hero Aurum, who, after defeating an apparently benevolent demon overlord, raised his son to be the biggest villain he could achieve, hoping to return to glory by defeating him in the climactic battle. Needless to say, none of the Noble Demon or genuine Hero protagonists think this guy is anything better than scum when they learn this.
  • Captain Amazing in Mystery Men arranges the release of his Arch Enemy from the mental institution since he is losing his corporate sponsors thanks to the lack of crime in the city. This backfires when he underestimates his old foe.
  • This happens in Teen Titans Trouble in Tokyo, used by the commander of the local police. The only supervillain he ever caught was Brushogun, but Brushogun's Mook Maker powers gave him limitless criminals to capture for additional fame.
  • The Fan Remake of Quest for Glory II had hints that a previous hero of Shapier had this kind of personality. When you go to the Adventurer's Guild it has various stuffed heads of Random Encounters enemies from that game. When you look at one it mentions the name of the guy who killed it. Ask about him, and you'll be informed that he killed a bunch of monsters and was generally a Glory Hound, but he became angry when he was "rejected" and the Guild stopped accepting all the heads he kept trying to donate. Unhappy at missing out on the adulation, he became a bandit instead. Put together some cryptic clues and he'll become a Bonus Boss.
  • Captain Qwark, enemy, friend and all around pest to Ratchet and Clank, is driven by the need to be loved and seen as a hero, with all the perks it includes. In the first game he helps the Big Bad so he can be the hero of the planet Drek is making, and in the second game tries to instigate a brand new disaster to save the universe from. In later games he's settled for taking credit for Ratchet and Clank's activities. This exchange in All 4 One sums up Qwark well.

Ratchet: I guess parades and groupies just aren't everyone's thing.
Qwark: Wait a minute- BOTH of those are my thing!

  • In the series 2 finale of Sherlock, Moriarty does a very good job of framing Sherlock Holmes as one of these, playing on the suspicions that Scotland Yard officers had already voiced in previous episodes, with the masterstroke being Moriarty himself posing as an actor paid by Sherlock to pose as "master criminal James Moriarty".
  • Inverted in Unbreakable, when we discover that Elijah masterminded a number of catastrophes to search for a hero, because he thinks of himself as a supervillain and needs a Worthy Opponent. Yes, he's insane. But he's not necessarily wrong.
  • After an incident that causes the Brotherhood to become Accidental Heroes on X-Men Evolution, they create accidents to fix and gain fame. When they set out to stop a runaway train, they leave after being reminded that there is a second train that will cause a collision.
  • Booster Gold is an actual hero but he's been known to do this a few times. Most major was in 52, where he was caught red handed after Skeets kept messing up with the time certain events were supposed to be, making his scheme to use his knowledge of the future to his advantage. Subverted in the end, when we find out Booster was just trying to fool Skeets, who was under the control of Mister Mind.