Punch Clock Hero

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"I didn't kill that Yoma to save you; I killed it because it's my job."
Teresa, Claymore

In many works of fiction, the hero will have to stand up to a large number of villains who aren't really especially bad people; they're simply doing their jobs. The same, naturally, applies to heroes.

The Punch Clock Hero isn't fighting for peace, revenge, or because it's the right thing to do. He's only going against the Big Bad because he has to. In some cases, he is destined to do so but refused the call, only to find out that You Can't Fight Fate. In other cases, he gets involved only because he has bills to pay.

This is usually what happens when a hero is True Neutral. Compare Heroic Neutral, where the heroic character wants to be left alone and only allies with a group (usually the heroes) when their isolation is threatened by an outside source. If the culture becomes toxic, the heroic character can become a Punch Clock Villain.

Only in It For the Money is a subtrope, as is Not in This For Your Revolution.

May overlap with I Was Just Passing Through.

Examples of Punch Clock Hero include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Masane Amaha in Witchblade starts as this, albeit not realizing the full scope of her decision. After about the halfway point, the horrifying truth that Because Destiny Says So kicks in, she jumps full force in being a full on hero to the point of Heroic Sacrifice.
  • The whole Cowboy Bebop crew, most of the time. Illustrated well during an early scene in the movie when a robber holds an old woman at gunpoint. Spike's reaction? "Well, that's a real shame. But, we're not cops and we're not from some charity organization. Sorry lady, we don't protect or serve. This is strictly business." (This distracts the robber -- and enrages the hostage -- sufficiently for him to get a clean shot off).
    • Jet weakly protests "I know you don't mean that, Spike!" and whether or not the crew as a whole are good for the sake of goodness or just for the cash is kind of ambiguous throughout.
    • Generally, it's cash. Something always screws up their collection on the bounty.
  • L and Near in Death Note seem to be this, although that information is mainly gleaned from a sequel manga chapter which may not even be canon and a spin-off novel by a different author.
    • Near more so than L - while L will say that he is hunting Kira because of "justice", Near is doing it just because he is the one who do it.
    • If you consider the spinoff canon, then technically, L's doing it because he's bored, not for justice.
  • The Claymores officially claim to be like this. It's not usually true, however.
  • Jack Rakan claims this. It's quite possibly true as well, since he doesn't seem to actually care about good and evil, he just does his own thing, which happens to be extorting people for lots of money for his help with their problems. Plus, fighting is fun!
  • Bleach's Ichigo claims to be like this, only caring about protecting the people close to him. His track record, however, suggests otherwise. He never walks away from someone in need, and he usually considers it his duty to do whatever he can to stop the bad guys, shown in the Hueco Mundo arc where he wants to stop Aizen even after rescuing Orihime.
    • Also Mayuri Kurotsuchi. He doesn't really care about helping people. He just follows his orders and does what he can For Science!.
    • Kenpachi Zaraki is this too. He doesn't care about anyone except Yachiru. The only thing he wants to do is fight.
  • Panty and Stocking only do their job of hunting Ghosts in order to acquire more Heaven Coins, which allow for passage between heaven and earth so as to continue their hedonistic existence of random sex with men and eating desserts.
  • Tiger and Bunny is built around the idea of superheroes as corporate-sponsored celebrities, but Barnaby is the most prominent example.
  • Rurouni Kenshin Saitou claims that he is this, stating he's only taking out Shishio because "he happens to be on the opposite side". While he is motivated by his personal justice, he's not always willing to help Kenshin and his group.
  • Ratman features these in spades. In this world, most 'heroes' are sponsored by big-name companies for the sake of publicity, and fight using expensive suits of Powered Armor or other variations on Clothes Make the Superman. Some of the heroes are good people, others not so much. The best example of the latter would be Ankaiser, who once sabotaged the sprinkler system in a burning building full of innocent people, just so he would look more heroic once he caught the criminal that caused the fire.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The comic book Capes (a spinoff of Invincible) is about a company of mostly punch-clock superheroes.
  • The Marvel character the Sentry, intended to be a Deconstruction of Superman. He's so dispassionate that he responds to natural disasters by having a computer calculate who he rescues instead of deciding it himself. He explains that he can't decide who to save himself because he values everyone.

"There's fifty things going on in this city every second of the day that the Sentry could do something about. And that's just in this city. A bank robbery in Queens is less or more important than a hurricane in Louisiana? How can I choose? I can't. I can't always be where I'm most needed."

    • To drive the point further one way to beat him is by hacking into said computer to tell him everything that's going on.
      • The Sentry's case is made even more complicated by the fact that, for every life he saves or every bit of good he does, bad things tend to happen.
  • Super Temp in Wildguard, who's just doing this hero thing as a side job until his band gets heir big break, man. It actually does.
  • The Power Company operates similarly to Capes, Inc, mentioned above.
  • As did Hero Hotline.
  • And the Superbuddies, former members of the Justice League fighting crime for cash.
  • And the Conglomerate, who have corporate sponsorship.
    • In the introduction to Power Company, Joshiah Power is asked what distinguishes his team from the Conglomerate or Hero Hotline. His reply is "I hope we'll be more successful."
  • At different times Booster Gold was a member of both the Superbuddies and the Conglomerate. This is not a coincidence; originally, being a corporate hero was his big hook.
  • Speaking of corporate heroes, Watchmen had Dollar Bill, who was a "costumed adventurer" hired by a bank to combat bank robbers during the Depression, as well as being the mascot of the bank. Hollis Mason mentions however that he was a friendly guy to be around in spite of his origins.
  • The Post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes had the Workforce. Most of them eventually left to join the Legion, though.
  • Done in Damage Control with the superheroes who work for the company, usually as cleanup crew. Members include Speedball (as an intern in his civilian identity), Hercules (community service), Goliath, Monstro, and Visioneer.
  • Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Heroes For Hire! Cage is so dedicated to his job that he once shook down Dr. Doom himself for just $200 owed to him. Throughout the various other incarnations of the team, the dynamic has shifted a little now and then - to the point that in the latest version, "for hire" means "available to do a favor for Misty Knight".
  • PS238 has all the sorts - some metahumans work alone, some in teams, some own business, and some work for enterprises such as Heroix.

Film[edit | hide]

Martin Blank: They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they've all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?"

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Roman Army in Belisarius Series.
  • Rincewind in the Discworld books, on the rare occasion where he has to do something to save the day. He just does it because he knows he will be dragged into it anyway.
    • Or more often, because it's going to kill/maim him and he's unable to run away.
    • Even more frequently, running away causes him to be in the right spot at the right time to save the day. He'd much rather be locked in his room, safely examining boredom. Excitement chases him.
    • In The Last Hero, he even volunteers for a dangerous mission to save the world with the explanation that he'll probably stumble or be dragged into it anyway, and this way saves him the hassle. He still doesn't want to go, though. His companions agree with him, then put him on the mission.
  • Arguably, Sherlock Holmes. As a consulting detective, he took clients based mostly on his subjective interest in the case or the challenge of the mystery and rarely because of any moral judgment. Holmes rarely executed justice himself, reserving that for the local authorities, and in a few cases let the antagonist off scot-free once the mystery was solved.
    • The literary Holmes very much cares about justice and even went after Moriarty of his own accord at least partly because of his "horror at his crimes". On the rare occassions he lets the criminal go he usually has some sympathy with the or doesn't regard them as being particular bad or dangerous; when he and Watson witness the murder of blackmailer Charles Milverton by the wife of one of his victims, he refuses to help the police because he regarded Milverton as an Asshole Victim.[1] He only turned down cases if they bored him if the crime in question didn't appear to be serious, and he never turned down murder. His motives can be best surmised in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to jewel thief and evil aristocrat Count Sylvanius- he enjoys the challenge and the thrill of the chase, but he also wants to rid the country of dangerous pests. In many stories he's working as a spy or spycatcher and displaying some downright patriotic motivations.
  • Commissar Ciaphas Cain repeatedly pulls some truly heroic stunts despite being, well, himself, not because he wants to do it, but because he has. Either he doesn't want to ruin his reputation and lose all the perks it gives him, or he has learned in a hard way that meeting the danger is actually safer, or he might simply not give a credit where it is due. His editor, Inquisitor Amberley Vail, certainly leans to the third option.
  • Travis McGee takes on new cases when he needs the money, and spends the rest of his time taking his retirement "in installments."
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Watch quartet is full of a mixture of this and its direct opposite (people wanting to do something Good but not being allowed, because it'd let the other side do an equal amount of Evil...).
    • However sometimes they manage to subvert it by working with evil on common goals. One minor example was about how a light mage was able to cure a group of children from letal illness with help of a werewolf. First, a werewolf chose three children and bit them (making them werewolves and curing them in prosess), then a light mage cured all other children with magic. They both got away with it because balance between dark and light stayed unchanged.
  • Harry Dresden pretends to be this, but puts himself in harms way a little too often for it to be credible. His friends call him out on it several times, and he even lampshades it at one point.

Harry: I helped to do it and lived to walk away. But there was an unhappy ending.
Thomas: What?
Harry: I didn't get paid. For either case. I make more money from flaming demon monkey crap. That's just wrong.

  • The new Doctor Shade in "Cold Snap" by Kim Newman seriously resents the fact he's a Legacy Character, and that his dad's weird friends want him to save the world.
  • Good Omens has Aziraphale, an actual angel, of all things. While he truly believes in Good, he's not much for the flaming sword of vengeance (he gave his away, anyway) or the smiting of the unrighteous, and he's shown to have decidedly unangelic traits, such as materialism (he is incredibly possessive of his books) and going on drinking binges with his best friend. In fact, his best friend is also his eternal and sworn Enemy—a demon who has more or less been his sole opposition for about six thousand years. Said demon's name is Crowley, who is, likewise, a Punch Clock Villain as well as a Noble Demon. They continue to thwart each other's efforts at salvation/temptation to keep up appearances, but they also do each other's work occasionally, with Crowley, after making some people's lives just a bit more unpleasant, spreading the odd bit of goodness nearby (after all, he's already in the area) and Aziraphale doing the opposite by doing his usual angelic business, and then maybe tripping a poodle or something. For example, at one point Aziraphale accidentally smothered a pigeon up his sleeve during a botched magic show and it was Crowley who resurrected the poor bird!
  • The Nameless Bard from the Forgotten Realms Finder's Stone Trilogy. He initially falls in with the heroes by default in order to (a) escape from the villains who were holding him prisoner, (b) revenge himself on said villains, and (c) rescue his creation/daughter Alias. More generally, he doesn't mind helping people in need so long as it doesn't put him to great inconvenience, especially if furthers his real goals (fame and artistic immortality). But he is ultimately an amoral and highly narcissistic person who cares very little about matters of good versus evil. The heroes tend to forget this, given what a tremendous asset he is when he puts his mind to helping them. This is especially true for his erstwhile apprentice Olive, who idolizes him most of the time, only to be brutally reminded of his true nature whenever he decides that his own interests take priority over doing the right thing. He doesn't make a purely morally-based decision until the very end of the trilogy, when he chooses to risk his own life to destroy the evil god Moander.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Firefly's Jayne Cobb generally only fights the bad guys because, well, that's what The Captain is paying him to do. He was even a bad guy until Mal made him a better offer (his fair share and a room all to himself).
  • House is basically the polar opposite of this: He frequently doesn't want to do his job at all and has to be cajoled and pressured into taking a case, but once he does he won't stop until he has a diagnosis, even when he is told to.
  • Get Smart
    • In an episode, Max joins a secret agent's strike in the middle of an assignment.
    • In the first few episodes there's actually a punch clock in the Chief's office for agents to punch in and out.
  • Unlike the other Star Trek crews whose mission is to "boldy go where no man has gone before", the crew of the USS Voyager didn't even like each other and simply wanted to go home. They subvert this later on by becoming a true family and kicking the shit out of the bad guys they encounter, many times choosing to help the helpless rather than themselves.
  • Unlike his literary counterpart, the BBC's version of Sherlock Holmes is very much this trope. He really doesn't give two shakes about justice or the well-being of his clients: he only cares about solving puzzles, indulging his ego and staving off boredom.

Sherlock: Don't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist, and if they did I wouldn't be one of them.

  • Most of the cast of Covert Affairs. After a day of glamorous spying they go home to fairly normal lives.
  • Fairly typical of Police Procedurals.
    • Commonly subverted as well. It is not unknown on TV for characters to get personally wrapped up in their jobs to a point which would be unhealthy for the performance of professional law officers in real life.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • A textbook example is the main character of Cybernator. In an unusual form of You Can't Fight Fate, he has to fight in a war because he was drafted into the army.
    • Adding to this theme is the fact that none of the villains you fight, not even when they have to Kick the Dog, seem to like or enjoy what they're doing. The game is basically a story of gray-and-gray morality, with Punch Clock Heroes fighting Punch Clock Villains.
  • Rayman is portrayed like this in his first game; after the narrator cries, "RAYMAN TO THE RESCUE!", Rayman is then shown lounging at a beach. He then lazily gives out a thumbs-up, saying, "No problem."
  • Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake fights the good fight at first because he believes in his cause. Unfortunately, with each successive Evil Plan, Man Behind the Man and Because The Patriots Say So, his cynicism grows to the point where he starts off the fourth game only just removed from this, being completely fed up with always being the tool of someone else, and only gets worse from there.
  • The gist of Zero's awesome World of Cardboard Speech/Shut UP, Hannibal at the end of Mega Man Zero 4.

I never cared about justice, and I don't recall ever calling myself a hero... I have always only fought for the people I believe in. I won't hesitate... If an enemy appears in front of me, I will destroy it!

  • In Armored Core, the protagonist pilot (IE you) is this since you're a mercenary.
  • Jack Cayman doesn't give a crap about anything but his own vendettas. At the end, rather than go through legal channels, he breaks his CODEC and leaves his Mission Control behind just so he can kill the Man Behind the Man.

Jack: I don't save people. I kill them.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance plus a hundred gold per hour, not including expenses.

Tagon: We're hardworking, honest, and true to our word.
Ozvegan Griz: And sometimes you're bound by your word to kill people.
Tagon: But they're almost always bad guys and we only do it for the money.

  • Everyone in Gone With the Blastwave inasmuch as there are any identifiable heroes, the war's been on so fuggin' long that no-one knows what's going on annymore.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The most literal example is also one of the oldest of these: Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph the Wolf are the stars in several classic Chuck Jones cartoon shorts for Warner Brothers. From 9 to 5, Ralph tries ever-more-outlandish schemes to catch a sheep, and Sam thwarts Ralph with minimal effort and maximum punishment. But as soon as that 5 o'clock whistle blows, the two punch out and walk home together, ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
  • Jenny Wakeman of My Life as a Teenage Robot was designed to be a teenage superhero robot that fights evil. However, upon deciding that she'd rather hang out with human teens, she becomes an example of this trope.
  • Autocat punches the time clock on a regular basis in the Motormouse And Autocat segment of The Cattanooga Cats series.
  • In the Huckleberry Hound cartoon "Two Corny Crows," Huck and the crows Iggy and Ziggy go through the motions of farmer-vs.-corn-thieves, bookended by the idea that it's their paying job to do so. We don't see a time clock, but there is a quitting-time steam whistle.
  • Walter Melon, hero for hire! Quite literal, isn't it?

Web Original[edit | hide]

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Private Investigators
  • Doctors and other medical practitioners (including by extension, hospitals)
    • The St. Jude Hospital in Tennesee is an inversion. The hospital is supported by donations. As a result, "no child [or their family] is ever turned away because of inability to pay", as they themselves will tell you.
    • In a possibly tragic example of this trope being played straight, a 50-year old man in Pennsylvania died two days after making the first of 10 911 calls. It happened during a snowstorm, and ambulances could only get to within a quarter of a mile to his house because of the snow. According to the Associated Press, paramedics allegedly told him he would have to walk to the ambulances, but his abdominal pain was so severe that he couldn't. However, it's not so much an issue of "being on the clock". It's more along the lines of not actually going the extra mile to save the man. The city of Pittsburgh will be instituting new emergency procedures (e.g., paramedics must now get to the house of the 911 caller no matter what) in order to prevent this from happening again, and according to the article, six paramedics could be disciplined.
      • It is worth noting that in actually competent 911 systems like say New York City once initiated an emergency response cannot be called off by anyone, period and doesn't cease until physical contact with the patient or their last reported location is made. Of course this has the side effect of a lot of doors to empty apartments being broken down and other collateral property damage when something gets in the way of a response.
      • He should have called the post office.
      • Or a snow plow.
    • Depends. In the US, family practitioners, internists, and pediatricians may make barely enough money to survive, especially given the debts incurred during medical school. Often these practitioners gave up far more lucrative medical specialties to be "people doctors."
    • And in Britain (and Canada and numerous other places) we have the NHS.
  • People from fire and other emergency services who behave heroically for strangers no better reason then tradition, discipline, and refusal to embarrass their buddies and treat it as another career in between disasters.
  • The military. Your average soldier knows nothing of the politics surrounding the conflict he/she fights in. All they know is that their CO told them to fight, so they do. Depending on which side of the fence you're on, they might also be considered a Punch Clock Villain.
    • This is especially true for people who join the military as a means to an end, such as paying for college.
      • When the military is doing disaster relief at least they can be accounted as punch clock heroes like any other EMS.
    • In a sense this is a subversion. People might enlist for money. They tend to risk danger for their comrades or for their self respect. Which is why you can find mercs who will endure a lot more then the stereotype indicates.
    • One straight but rather odd example is those who fight for fear. This is not just because brutal MPs are whipping them into battle(though that has been known to happen quite often)but because sometimes fighting is safer. And in any case who wants their last wound in the back?
  • In a way most of society. Our food is provided by people who grow it for pay. Our whole economy is centered around this. With the exception of volunteer jobs but even many of those do it because they are trust funders or are on the dole for some disability or other and thus get "paid" by a roundabout way.
  1. Witnesses had seen the supposed killers who were really Holmes and Watson fleeing the scene, having commited burglarly to help out their client; however, Holmes had made clear his distate of Milverton beforehand and doubtless wouldn't have helped much anyway, especially since he knew the motive.