Holding Out for a Hero

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Where have all the good men gone
and where are all the gods?
Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds? (...)
I need a hero! I'm holding out for a hero till the end of the night
He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast

And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
Bonnie Tyler, "Holding Out for a Hero"

The crime rate in the City of Adventure is on the rise due to a new criminal syndicate in town. Should people vote for more police funding and work in improving inner city economics so that fewer people turn to crime? No. Why should they? A Hero will take care of it.

The transportation systems seems to be incredibly buggy. Every month there's at least one train/plane/subway crash that sends its passengers to apparent fiery doom. Should higher industrial standards be made to prevent these from occurring? Naah, as long as a hero catches it each time, it's not really a problem.

The Government is taking away people's rights; should people rise up against it? ...that's iffy, La Résistance is often either ineffective or scary terrorists, assuming they're effective. Let's just have the hero take care of it.

Holding Out for a Hero is the deconstruction to the notion of a Superhero and a subversion of Big Damn Heroes. They've stopped becoming inspirations; and instead enable helplessness and recklessness. Muggles should stay out of things and let the special people do it. In fact, whenever the little people do try and change their own world, then they're either cannon fodder or else engaging in fascism out of fear. The Masquerade is often used by the good guys to prevent humanity from learning about the forces of the bad guys (even ones that are constantly killing them), because there's nothing they can do but get in the way anyways.

If someone is The Chosen One, that means everyone else isn't and shouldn't bother, unless they're taking a bullet for the hero. In any case, it's all up to the hero. If the main characters are common people, they may discover that he has Feet of Clay, and have to manage without him. If combined with All of the Other Reindeer, the people may start to look not only lazy, but ungrateful and hypocritical at that.

This is exemplified with any scene with a news report where the reporter ends with "...and the public wants to know, where is Superman?". Granted, cliché media (which lends fuel to almost all media in fiction) often tries to be hypocritical, regardless, to reflect on their shallow desire for ratings and such.

These arguments tend to fall flat however, when used by an actual super villain. If the villain truly want to help humanity progress, rather than trying to give philosophical angst to the super hero, they could probably improve matters more if they would just power down the death ray and stop being so damn villainous.

The trope often includes an Achilles in His Tent or a Just Fine Without You moment. Happens when the characters take Think Nothing of It too seriously and the Hero Harasses Helpers. Contrast Badass Bystander and As Long as There Is One Man. Often the cause for/savior in an Easily-Conquered World. The Paragon is out to prevent this. A fear of invoking this trope is commonly cited as a reason why Reed Richards Is Useless.

It does have the advantage that when the angry citizens demand The Hero persecute the Reluctant Monster or something equally wrong, and he turns the demand back on them, the trope Who Will Bell the Cat? often comes into play.

Perhaps you were looking for the trope called Big Damn Heroes. (Wherein the premise is played straight and the Hero is in fact the only person who can save the day.)

Examples of Holding Out for a Hero include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

Man: Shut your mouth, lady! You're looking at a man who shot down five mobile suits in the war a year ago!
Dorothy: That's funny, I don't see any men around here. The only men I know are either dead and buried, or are up on that screen! (points at giant TV showing the Gundam Pilots fighting)

  • Completely averted in One Piece. Luffy has made it clear several times that if he comes across a place that subscribes to this philosophy, he's perfectly willing to let it rot. Fortunately, most of the places Luffy visits is filled with people perfectly willing to fight for what's important to them. The closest the series comes to this is a good denizens of Thriller Bark, who are holding out for someone like Luffy to get their shadows back, but justified due to this being because they already tried on several occasions and utterly failed every time.
    • Averting this actually becomes a problem in the Alabasta arc, in which Koza believes that he's solving the country's problems himself by starting a rebellion, but since he was tricked into believing the wrong person was the villain, all he does is create more problems that need to be resolved by the "heroes"(though in fairness, he becomes pivotal in resolving everything after he finds out what was going on).

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Superman has explored this on many an occasion, Supes himself seems particularly worried that the world will grow overreliant on him and become unable to function if anything happens to him. As a result, he holds off on stopping most crimes and natural disasters; his general philosophy is that if humanity can handle it on their own, he's going to let them try. This is arguably Lex Luthor's beef with Superman... but only because Luthor wants humanity overreliant and unable to function without him.
    • In Superman: Red Son, wherein a communist Superman had no problems with using his abilities to prevent every bad thing possible (from each according to his abilities and all that), people did indeed grow too reliant upon him to solve all their problems. Eventually cars stopped being manufactured with seatbelts—the citizens expected Superman to save them if they got into a wreck. (Ironically enough, Lex Luthor opposed him on those grounds in that reality, too.)
    • Superman's ultimate retort to Lex Luthor comes in All-Star Superman at the end:

Luthor: I could have saved the world!
Superman: You could have saved the world years ago if you had wanted to.

Professor Gordon: Say you were somewhere really out of the way, Miss Lane. In Zaire. In the abandoned shaft of a diamond mine. The mine caved in. You had about an hour's supply of air. Absolutely no one knew where you were, and even if they did there would be no chance of getting you out in time. What goes through your mind?
Lois Lane: I wish Superman would stop stalling. I've got a deadline to meet.

    • The whole Superman holding back ordeal started with a well-known Silver Age story written by Danny O'Neil. In it, The Guardians of the Universe drag Superman to Oa and (with help from a little mind-control ray) tell him, point-blank, that his superheroics is causing human evolution to stagnate and to cut it out. He's shaken by it and decides to hold back on the superheroics that regular humans would be fine with dealing.
  • Commissioner Gordon often has the worry of relying too much on Batman to patrol Gotham. Usually though, he has to admit that the corrupt and perpetually-underfunded police department couldn't handle Gotham's crime rate before, and probably couldn't now.
    • And, as Battle for the Cowl demonstrated, Gotham does indeed become a lawless warzone the moment Batman disappeared and only returns to something resembling normality (for Gotham) once Dick accepts that there must be Batman (and he's it).
      • Heck, this happened LONG before Battle for the Cowl. A large portion of the "Knight" arc (Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend), apart from being a Take That at people who wanted a Darker and Edgier Batman, was to point out that a huge part of the problem in Gotham was mostly psychological in nature, and that Gotham needs Batman, even a fake one.
  • In the first arc of JLA, Superman explains why superhumans haven't done all the things the Hyperclan (secretly White Martians conning the planet to trust them) are doing: it causes people to be even more unwilling to solve their own problems.
  • Watchmen. The police went on strike until a Super Registration Act was passed.
    • Actually a subversion because the police were trying to get rid of the heroes because the heroes were taking away jobs, and tended to work without the restrictions that police did. When the heroes try to keep the city safe all on their own, they learn that 5 men and a girl in tights can't police an entire city. The city suffers continual riots until the heroes all retire.
    • Furthermore, you wouldn't exactly want the authorities to have the anti-social tendencies of characters like Rorscach or the Comedian.
    • At one point, Rorschach, has a bit of internal monologue that sounds like something from John Galt (see Literature, below):

Rorschach: The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll look down and whisper "No."

    • The US government has stopped finding ways to end the Cold War through peaceful means because they have Dr. Manhattan on their side.
  • Subverted in The Authority after The Authority retake the Carrier from their government-sanctioned replacement and have defeated the ridiculously overpowered hillbilly Seth. Because of the activities of the replacements, the world faces total obliteration in 48 hours. Jack Hawksmoor not only says they're not going to do anything, he warns every other metahuman hero that he'll kick their asses if the heroes try to help world's leaders from solving the problem they were ultimately responsible for creating. It doesn't actually show how the world is saved, though.
  • In Y: The Last Man the leader of the Fish & Bicycle Troupe deliberately conceals the existence of a living male monkey (which implies the existence of other surviving males) to prevent false hope amongst women that some man is going to come along and save them.
  • Averted in an issue of The Avengers where Jarvis goes to visit his mother, only to find a bully has been harassing the folks in her neighborhood. The rest of the neighborhood wants Jarvis to get his Avenger buddies to take care of the problem. Jarvis tells them that minor problems like this need to be taken care of by normal people. So Jarvis challenges the bully to a fight, only to start losing until the rest of the neighbors pitch in to help him.
  • This trope will quite likely be averted in the event of Marvel Universe's Dark Reign as the superheroes will be quite hesitant to defend a public that entrusted Norman Osbourne and his band of supervillains as protectors along with the increased persecution of mutants in the event of House of M. Thus, society will have to depend more on themselves for protection.
    • Similar is to be expected in the Ultimate Marvel Universe in the face of Ultimatum as a good deal of the superheroes are dead, the Fantastic Four and Avengeres are disbanded, Captain America is a fugitive, increased public persecution of mutants, and Gregory Stark's superhuman task force does not strike the readers as trustworthy.
  • Somewhat averted in the Ultimate Secret mini-series, where the Ultimate Universe counterpart of Captain Marvel lends his scientific knowledge to NASA to help humanity save themselves by being able to flee from Galactus' destruction. Captain Marvel's efforts are cut short when the Kree sabotage the experimental spacecraft.
  • Averted in Garth Ennis' The Boys, where a team of superheroes known as the Seven, try to prevent the comics version of September 11. The Seven fail miserably, with the moral of the story being that the military and trained rescue personnel are the true heroes.
  • Averted in District X where the New York City police department handles various superhuman threats throughout Mutant Town without help from the superheroes (although the X-Men member Bishop was a member of the police force).
  • On various occasions, the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit has handled superhuman threats such as Metallo, and Parasite without help from Superman.
  • During Mark Waid's writing of The Flash, it was revealed that one of the liabilities of having a superhero in your city is that people feel more at liberty to conduct dangerous experiments, thinking that a superhero will save them if things go wrong.
    • That theme was also explored in Rick Veitch's Brat Pack where the presence of the Maxi-Mortal encouraged humans to have lesser safety standards for nuclear power plants. This wouldn't present a problem, however... if Maxi-Mortal hadn't been MIA for years.
  • Somewhat averted in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, where regular troops are kept fighting in wars. When the Ultimates intervened to help the US government overthrow a rogue state government, a band of superhumans known as the Liberators (supported by various nations), invaded America in response for using superhumans to intervene in political affairs.
  • Subverted in the the alternate Marvelverse, Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe, highlights how easy it is to kill a large number of both superheroes and supervillains (especially if you have Garth Ennis writing enough of Plot Induced Stupidity into the comic). Punisher kills off the Avengers, X-Men, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with a teleporter device and nuclear weapons. Imagine how much more peaceful the world would be if the public adopted the Punisher's common sense approach in disposing of supervillains.
    • This very idea was fulfilled in another alternate universe "Last Avengers Story". The government used superheroes to capture supervillains and then executed them. After that most heroes retired and their replacement had stagnated without strong enemies until Kang killed them.
  • Averted in What If?: Civil War where SHIELD, under the guidance of Henry Peter Gyrich, kills or imprisons all the superheroes and supervillains on Earth using an army of Thor clones. Gyrich then goes unto win the US presidency.
  • Somewhat averted in Mark Waid/Barry Kitson's 2004 remake for Legion of Super-Heroes. The titular characters describe themselves as a social youth movement rather than a super-hero team. Cosmic Boy says that the Legion exists for the purpose of their teenage followers.
  • In Spectre 22 (third series) the title character removes all the pollution that was created from him destroying the country of Vlatava and hurls it into outer space. Superman asks Spectre why he doesn't do that with all of Earth's pollution. Spectre responds that it is too dangerous for humanity to become too dependent on superhumans to solve their problems.
  • Spoofed in issue #0 of Dr Blink Superhero Shrink. When Captain Omnipotent realizes that his never-ending superheroics are due to overachiever guilt at being the last son of Crypto, he cheerfully ignores people's cries for help so they won't be dependent on him.
  • In John Ostrander's writing of Firestorm, the hero is blackmailing Earth into abolishing nuclear weapons. When President Ronald Regan asks Superman for assistance in defeating Firestorm, Superman declines ("I might stand for truth, justice, and the American Way, but that does not make me your enforcer.")
  • Averted in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing where the titular character considers using his power to undo mankind's environmental destruction. Realizing that such actions would encourage further defilement of the planet and render environmentalism pointless, our hero declines to fix the environment.
  • During the 1960's Silver Surfer series, he was fighting an evil duplicate in outer space. The Kremlin was watching this battle and was wondering if it was time to ally with the United States in the fight against a common enemy.
    • Subverted in Silver Surfer #5 where a space alien decides to destroy humanity. Silver Surfer's human companion sacrifices his life to diffuse a bomb set up by the space alien. The selfless sacrifice convinces the alien invader that humanity has enough nobility in them to be spared.
  • Subverted in the DC Universe version of World War II, where Hitler's Spear of Destiny blocked out superhumans from entering the Axis campaign, thus leaving regular humans to fight the war.
  • Subverted with V for Vendetta, where V tells the public that they either take responsibility for taking down the totalitarian dictatorship or V will obliterate both them and the totalitarian dictatorship.
  • Explored in The Authority: Revolution, where the Authority has been disbanded for three years. Member Jack Hawksmoor says that the world seems better off without the Authority.
  • Justified in a late 1970s Incredible Hulk issue with the Hulk rampaging desperately through New York and all the regular authorities like the NYPD can't stop him. As a cameraman is getting this, he is wondering where are The Fantastic Four, The Avengers or Spider-Man to help stop the monster.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In the second Spider-Man movie, when Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man for a while, the crime rate in New York jumps by 75%. This isn't supervillain crime, this is stuff like two guys with shotguns robbing a bank then riding away. Either Spider-Man's presence was previously enough to deter petty criminals, so his absence has all the criminals coming out of the woodwork, or the NYPD has come to be waaay too reliant on Spidey's help.
    • Averted later in the same film: Spidey is battling Doctor Octopus (read: getting pummeled) when he is knocked into a moving subway. When Doc Ock comes in to finish him off, the citizens aboard the train tell him that he'll have to go through them, first. He obliges. This was a callback to a slight aversion near the end of the first film, where the bystanders provide some minor (but useful) assistance by harassing the Green Goblin during his fight with Spidey.
    • The first Spider-Man movie featured the song "Hero", by Chad Kroeger, which mentions this trope:

And they say that a hero can save us
I'm not going to stand here and wait

  • Avoided in the Transformers movie series. The Autobots are protecting humans, sure, but the military isn't exactly cowering behind Optimus Prime. In fact, the Autobots might not have won without their assistance and the military did take down a Decepticon on their own. Some fans raged about this apparent Decepticon depowering... but then again, they'll rage about anything.
      • Eventually in the original 1980's Transformers cartoon, human contact with the Autobots greatly accelerated Earth's technological development. As a result, by the early 2000's humans were able to hold off the Decepticons by themselves.
      • This acknowleged in the Beast Wars series, where the new Megatron attempted to kill the original proto-humans knowing that it was due to their assistance that the Autobots were able to win the Great War.
  • In Hancock, step one of the plan to give homeless but super-powered Vigilante Man Hancock a more credible image is to allow himself to go to jail in response to destruction of public property. Step two is to watch as the crime rate sky-rockets.
  • It's suggested in Hot Fuzz that pretty much the only thing stopping London's crime rate from spiralling completely out of control is P.C Nicholas Angel... which makes it a bit of an own goal when his superiors, sick of him upstaging them and the rest of the force, transfer him to Sandford in the middle of nowhere and have to humiliate themselves by crawling there to beg him to return. And then he turns them down anyway. Whoops.
  • In the 1996 Made for TV Movie, Thrill, a bomb is rigged in the seats of a roller coaster. Our hero disarms it and stops the ride (at the top), just before the villain knocks him off onto the track. As he tries to re-arm his bomb, what do the passengers right next to him do? Sit there.
  • Explored in The Incredibles.
  • The people of Metro City in Megamind fulfill this trope practically to the point of deconstruction; they're so dependent on the hero to solve their problems that when the hero's no longer around, there's no one brave enough to stand up to the titular villain. However, this ends up demoralising the villain, who finds himself facing an existential crisis over the fact that everything's so easy for him now that the hero's no longer around and practically everyone else is too cowardly to oppose him. So he gives someone else superpowers in an effort to find someone who'll challenge him, and when the newcomer kicks his ass everyone flocks toward their new 'hero' -- unfortunately for them, they haven't considered the possibility that someone having superpowers and beating up a villain doesn't mean they're not a potentially worse villain... and of course, the whole mess started in the first place because the original hero was so demoralized over the fact that everyone expected him to solve all their problems without consideration for what he might want to do that he just gave up.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga deals with this issue. An entire planet of telepaths and telekinetics has, from altruistic motives, eliminated pain on all the worlds. They heal any injuries instantly, they block grief at death (which is only from old age), etc. They finally figure out this has turned all of mankind into slaves, and commit mass suicide. Of course then when Pain returns, no one is equipped to deal with it...
  • Sort of used in the sixth Sword of Truth book, when Richard decides that if he continues to force the fight against the Imperial Order with his amazing super-powers, he will cause his people to become what he is fighting to protect them from.
  • The premise of John Ringo's Council Wars series is that humanity (well, the lazy dregs left on Earth anyway) has become utterly dependent on the all powerful AI Mother, and when that goes away they revert to panicked barbarism.
  • This happens to John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, when the economy is about to collapse and the government asks for his help. He refuses.
  • Like many tropes related to The Chosen One, this is deconstructed in The Annals of the Chosen by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Ultimately, it's why most of the heroes stop trying to save people, leaving them to save themselves.
  • Andre Norton's The Crossroads of Time offered this as part of the explanation for the Wardsmen's non-interference directive: "We must not lend crutches and so produce cripples."

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Averted in the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left": Humanity wasn't sitting around waiting for a hero but instead successfully fought off several threats that were defeated by The Doctor in the original timeline. We just weren't good enough to do it without huge casualties and they added up.
    • It's worth noting that in most of these incidents, it was a former companion who led the fight. The new series in particular seems to be trying to make a point of showing that the Doctor's influence empowers humans, rather than making them dependent on him.
    • Unfortunately, it's also worth noting that the Doctor has been known to get very uppity when humans make a concerted effort to act without his permission or in ways he doesn't approve of. On the downside, this has led to the death of Harriet Jones and Britain's Golden Age. On the upside, this led to a truly epic moment when the UNIT commander that the Doctor had been sneering at for most of "The Sontaran Stratagem" and "The Poison Sky" managed to not only defeat the Sontaran ground forces of power-armored genetically engineered super-soldiers but impress the Doctor in the process.
  • In one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jonathan casts a spell to make himself into a Badass so great that the whole town worships the ground he walks on, and everyone remembers things as if Jonathan had always been that way. One consequence is that Buffy is less strong and confident than normal, since she remembers Jonathan rather than herself saving the town. It stands to reason that the Muggles must have suffered a similar loss of self-reliance.
    • In general, Buffy tends to rely on this - it's hinted that most people in Sunnydale are aware of what's going on but choose to pretend to be oblivious in the hope that someone else will take care of it, and anyone who is aware of the town's "secret" other than the hero and her friends and actually does something about it is generally a malevolent schemer with their own sinister plans. Furthermore, in the early seasons especially, much is made of the necessity for keeping Buffy's mission a secret without it ever being made clear why this is necessary, especially not to fill in Buffy's mom on what's happening.
    • In fact, Sunnydale was created as a subversion of this trope, as a place for demons to feed, with their police and such kept deliberately incompetent and with an extra-strength masquerade. When others step up and try to help, they're rarely punished for it, though told they shouldn't. That Buffy empowers people around her is part of the premise and shows up in the pilot, with Willow standing up for herself, and at the end of the series with the use of the scythe.
  • There was an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger involving a Shop teacher in High School who was The Aggressive Drug Dealer sending out his students to send out drugs. The plot simultaneously tried to preach the strength to stand against the drug dealer... while having the drug dealer kill anyone who wasn't Chuck Norris or protected by Chuck Norris.
    • A similar episode had another teacher, this time a student of Walker, stand up to and thoroughly trounce three gangbangers who had barged into his classroom and started harassing one of his students... only to be shot and killed by the trio later that day. Apparently only Walker's martial arts can stop crime.
  • Even heroes aren't immune. In Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger/Power Rangers SPD, the Rangers begin to slack off when their commanding officer becomes a Sixth Ranger and begins busting heads. As soon as he finds out, he begins answering calls for backup with "Suck it up and do it yourself."
  • In an episode of My Hero (TV), Thermoman accidentally erases his own memory, forgetting all about his identity as a superhero and only retaining his George Sunday persona. Janet is reluctant in reminding him who he is partially due to seeing him so happy and partially due to Janet wanting a normal life for once. Of course, this causes crime and other disasters to sky-rocket (in fact, a news report even mentions that many firefighting and police services around the world have been shut down because Thermoman made them redundant). To make matters worse, a meteor is suddenly heading towards the Earth...
  • Brother Tuck suggests the people of Locksley and surrounding areas are becoming like this in Robin Hood:

Tuck: The Lord helps those who helps themselves, Robin. Your protection weakens them. We're failing in our mission. We're supposed to be inspiring these men to stand up and fight for themselves, giving them real hope.

  • In the Malcolm in the Middle finale, we learn that Malcolm's family has been manipulating him and deliberately sabotaging him at every opportunity because they believed that living a hard life would make him honest in the long run and that would galvanize him into becoming the best president ever, because they wanted someone in charge who knew what it was like to be poor, and so that he could fix things in a way to prevent The Man from screwing people like them over. Because not acting like self-destructive, selfish, irresponsible jackasses was beyond their abilities.
  • LazyTown's Sportacus came to the town with the aim of helping the kids live more healthy and active lives, but he seems to be the only form of law enforcement in the town and ends up spending most of his time rescuing the kids from dangerous situations.

Multiple Media[edit | hide]

  • Bionicle had Matoran villagers on the island Mata Nui halfway avert this, as they kept Makuta's forces at bay for nearly a thousand years, but were already tiring and losing people. The arrival of the Toa then tipped the balance of power into their favor. In what could be a subversion, the Toa only rushed to their help because they were a dandy lot of heroic chaps, and because due to their amnesia, they didn't remember that protecting villagers wasn't the reason they had been sent there.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Deconstructed in the Rock Opera penned by The Protomen, where The Dragon's Face Heel Turn is motivated by his realizing that the human race would rather wait for a superhero to save them than take any action on their own part. The suite's defining theme, indeed, is whether a people who refuse to fight for themselves deserve to live.
    • It's an exceptionally depressing case. Protoman's Villain Song sounds less like him condemning humanity's refusal to fight and more like him pleading for them to get angry enough at his betrayal to finally act. When Megaman has to kill Protoman, he too abandons humanity to their own inaction.
  • The Protomen's sequel album, Father of Death, also runs with this theme. Dr Light believes humans are strong enough that they would refuse someone trying to wrest control from them, even if they do it "for their own good". Wily disagrees. Guess who won that argument?

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • d20 Dark*Matter.

1. Leave the danger to the professionals! The heroes of d20 Dark*Matter come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common from the outset: the Hoffmann Institute.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The MMORPG City of Heroes plays this to multiple ends:
    • On one hand, the presence of superpowered beings in Primal Earth doesn't stop the world's militaries and police forces from trying their best to handle things on their own. Until the Rikti War, for example, Paragon City's police department was confident in its ability to "serve and protect" without relying on heroes to do all the work. Even when the war's aftermath left the PPD barely able to function, Chief Conrad Bochco vowed to protect the city without seeking alliances or help from the numerous hero organizations—but the PPD is not above letting superpowered beings join the police force, as Blue Steel shows. (This is why the PPD's Awakened Division, comprised of officers who fused with Kheldians, is so controversial within the police force; some argue it's a form of relying on outside help.)
    • On the other, the citizens of Paragon City often hold out for a hero when criminals and villains confront them (some of the purse-snatching gang members will even accuse their victims of this), knowing full well that a hero will (hopefully) step in and save them. Many are still ungrateful about it, though ("There you are! There's never a hero around when you need one!").
    • And the trope is turned upside-down in the City of Villains expansion. There, the global criminal organization Arachnos has somehow legally become the government of what's now known as the Rogue Isles. The police basically exist to minimize the threat to the government rather than serve and protect the common people, and Lord Recluse has reduced the laws to "Do what you have the power to get away with". Crime is so rampant that, for the first 30 or so levels, a villain character only fights other villains to come out on top. The trope comes into play because most citizens have completely given up hope of proper law and order being reinstated, and rather than hold out for a hero usually just live constantly looking over their shoulder and ready to duck for cover.
  • Averted in Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and its American counterpart, Elite Beat Agents. "Ouendan" can be roughly translated as "cheer squad"... and that's your job, my friend. The duty of the Ouendan and the Agents is to provide encouragement through song and dance - the person being aided does the actual work. The only exception in either series is the last level of either game, where the Ouendan/Agents act as the focus for the Combined Energy Attack.
  • Averted in Okami: Although you, playing Amaterasu, have been helping the braggart swordsman Susano achieve fame by performing miraculous feats which he believes are his own, it doesn't take him long to realize that he's being "played with" by the gods. He then renounces any further help and goes off on his own. (Although you do get to assist him one last time, against Orochi, he deals the final blow all by himself.) Additionally, although Amaterasu is able to defeat Yami, the Lord of Eternal Darkness, it's only because the faith of all the people of Nippon granted her the divine might to do so.
  • Ultima IX was strongly themed on this trope. The Avatar was originally intended to be a role model, an example to follow, but after saving Britannia so many times, the people simply held out for the Avatar to solve all their problems. This was Lampshaded by the Big Bad, and in Moonglow, the town of Honesty a cranky citizen laid down the most brutal truth.
  • While the Zelda series is a prime offender of this notion, it is brilliantly subverted in the background story for The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker. The only time that the trope is invoked before a hero is found, it fails, and the gods can do nothing but flood the land, leaving Ganon in stasis.
  • This is very much the state of Sylvarant in Tales of Symphonia, where everyone seems to be mostly reliant on the fact that The Chosen One will have to save them all. Nobody seems to think much about what having all these hopes and that responsibility shoved onto her this does for the Chosen's self-esteem.
  • The Republic in Knights of the Old Republic had quite a lot of this, as Kreia points out in KOTOR 2. The Republic is incapable of handling the marauding Mandalorians until a few Jedi join them. Kreia even has a philosophy based on this. Helping people by solving their problems for them only makes them weaker by taking away to conflict that could have made them stronger. She's fine with the player "helping" people, but only so long as they player understands that what they're doing isn't actually helping those people, but helping themselves by making them dependent on the player.
  • A Closed Fist argument against heroism in Jade Empire. The way to help others isn't to solve their problems, but to force them to suffer and grow strong enough to survive without some wandering PC solving all their problems.
  • In Pokémon Ranger, the residents of Fall City needs Rangers' help for things like finding lost Pokémon, moving boxes, and lighting up dark rooms. Luckily, by the end, they become more self-reliant.
  • Dragon Quest VII picks this apart in small-scale with the Love Dodecahedron in Verdham. If Linda simply talked to Borlock and explained she loved Pepe and not his son Iwan, she could easily get him to abandon the Arranged Marriage and find some other way of repaying her late parents' debt. Instead, Linda expects Pepe to sweep in and fix everything, despite knowing that Pepe is an Extreme Doormat whom she's forcing to choose between her love and his family's welfare. Ultimately, this Fatal Flaw costs her everything.
    • Also Lampshaded several times, with various residents saying they shouldn't ask a bunch of strangers to solve their problems.
  • This trope gets discussed in Wild ARMs 2. In fact the whole question of what it really means to be a hero is a major theme of the game.
  • In pretty much all Pokémon games, we see useless police and Apathetic Citizens who wait for some random 10-year-old to do everything for them.
  • The quest givers in World of Warcraft will sometimes fall into this. Sure the racial capitals have level 80-something guards patrolling the streets, the throne rooms have level 80-something elites standing by, and the starter areas have level 90 elites standing around doing very little, but they can still send level 5 players to take care of the local orc problem. Some of the quest givers are just people who send the players to collect those Twenty Bear Asses, even though it's their jobs, but because they're either very tired or just too lazy to do it. You'll also sometimes run into a very high-leveled quest giver in a low-level area who asks you to take care of a problem they're perfectly capable of handling, sometimes not even seeming that busy.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • 8-Bit Theater evoked this trope and named it "The Superman Complex", and then showed the problems of relying on it in this Crapsack World.
  • The Gods of Arr-Kelaan when Mike, god of Honor/Valor, first gained his powers he worked as a superhero causing this effect. He decided he needed to change his strategy.
  • In the Sluggy Freelance arc "Phoenix Rising," Oasis takes the role of vigilante protector for the town of Podunkton. Most of the citizens accept her either out of gratitude or fear of being next on her hit list, and the local police force thinks this is just peachy, since they get to collect their government paychecks without having to do squat. Officer Tod does prove himself able to hold his own against an expert assassin, though, having been a mob enforcer before Oasis cleaned up the town.
  • Happens briefly in Order of the Stick. After the city is overrun by hobgoblins, several of the fleeing soldiers accidentally become aware of the elf wizard who had fought alongside them also fleeing the invading army under a spell of invisibility. These soldiers actually stop their retreat and proceed to bombard the elf with demands to save them, turn them invisible, teleport them out of there, blast the hobgoblins, anything. Unfortunately for them, said wizard is completely out of spells by this point and can only watch as they are slaughtered by the hobgoblins.
  • In Dubious Company, Sal plays this straight since she has the favor of a god and 1,025 kidnappings to justify it before meeting the pirates. She and the pirates then become accustomed to Tiren saving them, until they all get captured. Once they realize the severity of Kreedor's plan for Sal, the rest of the crew are forced to pull their weight.

Walter: We've still got Tiren! (Cut to Tiren chained up, in stocks, from a suspended metal box in a separate cell.)
Tiren: My nose itches.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Penny, from Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog and her attempts to make her homeless shelter a reality is a fairly harsh deconstruction eventually dying in the crossfire of an ultimately meaningless conflict between a hero and villain who've become almost interchangeable by the end.
  • Occasionally invoked in Jabootu's Challenge of the Superfriends recaps, when making a snarky comment on the (non-super) characters' stupid actions, for example:

Here, a passenger dirigible impales itself (!!) on what looks suspiciously like the Chrysler Building. You know, I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to be flying that low. On the other hand, if the entire human race is getting lazy and stupid because of superheroes always saving them, then Metropolis must be that phenomenon’s epicenter.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In Justice League, Dr. Amanda Blake Waller, of the Cadmus group, is half of the time sympathetically depicted in her frustration at this; despite "extra-legal" (and in some cases, downright hideous) methods of dealing with it.
  • One episode of The Powerpuff Girls was devoted to showing how the citizens of Townsville have become so used to the girls taking care of everything from invading monsters to fires to getting cats out trees that every problem is shrugged off with, "Oh, the Powerpuff Girls will take care of it." This causes the girls to go on strike. Subverted somewhat, in that they still had to help the townsfolk realize that monster+electrical wires+water>soggy toast. They didn't get the "toaster in the bathtub" analogy, and instead took it to mean they had to get the monster's toast soggy. The girls spelled it out for them. Then the townsfolk claimed total credit for it, and started exulting that they didn't need the Powerpuff Girls anymore.
    • Reversed in another episode that had an obsessive collector of Powerpuff Girl merchandise capture the Girls themselves to add to his collection. The people of Townsville paid the girls back for helping them by going to the collector's house and ripping up all his merchandise, freeing the Girls in the process. Since he was a flabby, bald, overweight Otaku with no powers, there wasn't much he could do to stop them.
    • Another episode had the girls replaced by a phony hero called Major Man, a Superman Expy with genuine powers who was secretly setting up crimes so he could stop them and get the credit; the citizens of Townsville give him it because he's outwardly a more impressive and traditional hero than three kindergarten girls. When the girls find out what he's been up to (he literally kicks a dog onto the road to save it), they set a friendly monster called Gary on the city and he is completely overpowered, and useless as he never set it up and never fought real crime or monsters. When Gary first attacked, the citizens of Townsville happily ignored him as they thought "Major Man will take care of it"; they only panicked when he didn't.
    • And yet another episode had a cop go nuts from the Powerpuff Girls getting all the credit for keeping the city safe and tries to kill them. He is thwarted by his fellow officers, leading the narrator to give the police department partial credit for saving the day at the end of the episode.
      • Yet much like the case with the Otaku, this cop was a fat, bald, lazy old guy whose "killing attempt" consisted of tying the girls with a Phlebotnium chain and dumping them in a vat of acid. At the end, Blossom cheerfully notes that acid has no effect on them (other than Clothing Damage) kinda making the police "contribution" useless.
  • The first episode of Batman the Brave And The Bold has Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes)'s scarab warp him and Batman to a distant planet that was once saved by a previous wielder of the Beetle powers. The amoeba-like inhabitants are being enslaved and want Jaime to rescue them, but he tries to convince them to stand up on their own two feet. It takes a while.
  • This is frequent in Fireman Sam. In one of the most striking examples, a hob has been left on, and some paper napkins catch fire. Now, that's bad, but you'd think that someone among the half-a-dozen adults would be able to deal with it. Nope, they just panic and shout for help, calling out two fire trucks to save the day. Even worse, one of those present is actually a fireman himself, and his reaction is to yell "Call for Fireman Sam!".
  • Averted in the animated film, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, where initially President Slade Wilson (one of the few heroes left on the parallel Earth) refuses to use nuclear weapons against the Crime Syndicate. At the end of the film, President Wilson leads an army of space marines to assist the Justice League in apprehending the Crime Syndicate.
    • Earlier in the film, when the heroic Lex Luthor brings the Justice League to his earth, he asks Superman not to interfere in his fight with Ultraman, saying it won't mean anything if an outsider defeats him.
  • Utilized in a very dark way in Superman: Doomsday. After seemingly coming back from the dead, one of Superman's first acts is to save a little old lady's cat from being stuck in a tree... After which he gives a rather soul-crushing diatribe about the fact that while he was helping doing this, there were any number of car accidents, bank robberies or supervillains he could have been stopping, and the people maybe needed to start thinking for themselves before he started getting angry. Of course, he was a Brainwashed and Crazy clone of Superman created by Lex Luthor to discredit the Man of Steel post-mortem, but still...
  • The My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "The Mysterious Mare Do Well" has Rainbow Dash and the eponymous mare running around saving folks. At least two involved a road down a steep hill that led directly off a cliff. Nobody thought to build a crash barrier.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • As anyone who has worked at some sort of repair, warranty, or other help-related job can verify, people will do the most... inane things under the belief that simply calling Technical Support will solve everything or that "it's covered in the warranty".
    • In general, science, technology, and other general ideas are sometimes treated this way too. Whether it's okay to do something silly because 'it can just be fixed' or reasoning that some things aren't needed because 'they' can always make it better later or what have you.
      • Sometimes this trope is Justified if trying to solve the problem yourself will only make things worse. People who try to fix their cars or rewire their basements without knowing what they're doing can easily Doom It Yourself when waiting for a professional to do the job would actually ensure that it's done right.
  • It has also been studied and observed in psychology; when a group of people is presented with a crisis - someone in the next room screaming for help, for instance - an individual will act, but a group of people will freeze. Why? Because in a group, everyone is waiting for someone else to step forward, take charge, be proactive... be the "hero", in other words. And the larger the group, the worse the dithering and the longer the wait will be before someone acts.... However, this should probably be counted as a subversion, because it is the "hero" who steps up and takes charge who inspires the rest of the group to act (which is why 'taking charge' and giving out orders is taught to students in CPR classes. It jolts bystanders out of their freeze.)
    • A Judge Dredd comic was about all this. A gang are attacking and robbing people in a busy crossway because of this, because "a Judge will take care of them" (and no one calls one), and since City Blocks have a militia to keep the peace and aid Judges a person wouldn't be arrested for trying to help. Needless to say Dredd isn't happy about this. Although it also appears that Mega-City One has no Good Samaritan law (the informal name for a law many jurisdictions in the US have that state a bystander who intervenes with the genuine intent to help a victim, or to perform CPR or somesuch until professionals arrive is immune to prosecution due to lack of malice in his/her actions), which means a bystander seeking to help could end up arrested for their actions if something goes wrong. Overall, much as he might not be impressed by this example the world of Judge Dredd rarely rewards heroes thanks in part to the system he works for and supports.
    • This has since been labelled the bystander effect. It is also known as "Genovese syndrome" after the 1962 stabbing of Kitty Genovese in the Kew Gardens section of Queens where, according to a New York Times article published a couple of weeks after her murder, dozens of neighbors purportedly heard about the stabbing but no one did anything about it like call the police. The details of the article have since been criticized as inaccurate, but the event drew attention to the social phenomenon.
  • This trope describes the economic concept of "Moral Hazard", which is the idea that a party insulated from risk will behave differently than they would if fully exposed to the risk. The ur example used in class is the seatbelt law; studies have shown that people who wear seatbelts tend to drive faster than those who don't, the idea being that, because the seatbelts make them safer, they take more risks.
    • This is also known as "Risk Compensation."
      • This theory came up in an episode of QI, the question being, "where would be the best place on a car to put a foot-long steel spike?" Jeremy Clarkson correctly answered (and he would know) that it would be in the center of the steering wheel, because according to this theory, it would make people drive more safely.
    • Similarly, it's been shown that bicycle helmet laws have increased the likelihood of head injuries among children due to more reckless driving (and possibly because the average bike helmet actually doesn't do much more to protect a skull than crack impressively on the pavement and prevent abrasions).
  • Seen in many arguments about nuclear waste or global warming or overuse of antibiotics or the like. "Don't worry about it, future technology will be able to handle it, they will invent a way".
  • Look at how many students do not do their schoolwork or turn in substandard work, thinking that the teacher will throw in a bunch of extra credit or other ways to boost the student's grades.
    • Doubly funny when the extra credit work is usually harder or more tedious than the main coursework, defeating the purpose of slacking off and relying on extra credit work only.
      • Such as this one history professor who had students dress as a gorilla (covering their ENTIRE body) for the entire day as part of extra credit.
  • One wonders if more people will feel tempted to take out irresponsible loans again, thinking that the US government is going to bail them out as in the case of Lehman Brothers and General Motors.
    • One also wonders if more people in the affected generation(s) will start reading/understanding the fine print more carefully (or at all) after this. One further wonders whether a subversion (citizens groups filling in the gaps left by the government in assisting understanding of loans, say) or an aversion (in which people would become smart enough to understand it all themselves) of this trope would be better.