WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

While Villains often face terrible fates, the life of a hero isn't always a happy one either, for No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. This Sub-Trope of No Good Deed Goes Unpunished pits two heroes against each other.

The trope starts with a bad thing about to happen. Maybe local supervillain Alice is about to rob a bank. Superbob suddenly appears and asks her to stop. A fistfight ensues and Carol the cop arrives. She arrests Superbob and Alice goes free. Note that it doesn't count if the authorities are themselves evil. In other words, normally Bob would expect Carol to help him, but as far as Carol is concerned, Bob was the villain. He might be charged with anything from Police Brutality to attempted murder to a charge that had nothing to do with the incident. Sometimes the issue is resolved in a Kangaroo Court and the hero is given Soap Opera Justice.

Compare Crime of Self Defense, Police Brutality Gambit, Why Did You Make Me Hit You?, Wounded Gazelle Gambit.

There can be any number of reasons for the decision to arrest the hero:

  • The arresting officer might turn out to actually be a Corrupt Cop, Jerkass, Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop, etc.
  • It might be normal in that setting, because:
  • The authorities are honestly concerned that the hero might:
  • The police are honestly concerned that arresting the villain will backfire, because:
    • The police will be accused of having a double standard if they ignore the hero's questionable methods.
    • The villain will likely be acquitted without airtight evidence.
    • The villain is known to be a Villain with Good Publicity, Magnificent Bastard, etc., and they suspect the villain will use his arrest to his advantage somehow.
  • Often it's a simple case of bad timing. The cops never actually saw the villain do anything wrong, they have only the hero's word that it was the villain who broke into the Elaborate Underground Base.
  • If the perpetrator is a Superhero and on the wrong side of a Super Registration Act, this is pretty much inevitable to happen at some point or another.
  • The authorities are not in on the Masquerade, and don't believe that the person the hero attacked was a demon or an evil cultist or what have you.
  • It is a Crapsack World.
Examples of Arrested for Heroism include:

Comic Books

  • Depending on your definition of heroism, this may have been what happened to Rorschach halfway through Watchmen.
  • Almost occurs to several secondary characters repeatedly in Powers.
  • The Civil War Crisis Crossover and the general status quo afterward consisted Marvel doing this to their superheroes and then wondering why people thought Iron Man was a jerk for setting this plot up in the first place.
    • Iron Man also combined this with some truly oppressive methods to contain these "criminal vigilantes." Caught stopping a crime without a government license? Get sent to the Negative Zone with dozens of supervillains.
      • One of the most blatant examples was She Hulk. One of the few members on the registration side that was likeable, Jennifer Walters spent Civil War mostly on the sidelines helping file lawsuits for both sides. At the end of Civil War, she's working with SHIELD to train a team to fight Hulk's standard enemies. For those who weren't following her, specifically it becomes a shock when she suddenly disappears from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s roster. It turns out she got rather pissed when she found out that Tony Stark sent Hulk into space and punched him (when he was in armor). Stark took this as a perfect reason to inject her with nanites that removed her powers, and then fired her for her "uncontrollable behavior".
  • As the page image shows, this happened to Captain America, then happened again to his successor, TWICE, first by the U.S., then again by Russia as soon as he's proven innocent in the U.S.
  • In Daredevil this happens to the White Tiger, as he tries to break up a robbery.
  • A rookie cop attempts this to Batman in Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns series, as the rookie comes around a corner just in time to watch Bats deliver a spine-snapping kick to a thug (and not soon enough to have seen the gun the thug was holding to Batman's head). Batman ignores him in favor of shaking down the thug. The rookie's senior partner offers sage advice: "Don't try it, kid. He's being patient with you as it is."
  • In the backstory of Paul Dini's Madame Mirage, superheroism and supervillainy was outlawed. The superheroes turned themselves in -- and were promptly sent to jail. The supervillains, of course, just went underground, meaning that they were all pretty much still at large and the people who could have stopped them were languishing in jail. Yeah, bit of an own goal there.


  • In The Rainmaker, Kelly (Claire Danes) was charged with murder after she beat her abusive husband with the same bat he had been using on her.
    • In the book, it's Rudy who kills him, and Kelly takes the rap because they both know she'd make a more sympathetic defendant. The case is quickly dismissed.
  • In Reign Over Me, Don Cheadle was stalked and sexually harassed by Saffron Burrows. After taking the appropriate response to the harassment (asking her to leave and ending their doctor-patient relationship), she sued him for sexual harassment. Later on however, the two talk it out and settle the matter privately.
  • In The Golden Child, Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) acquires the one magical dagger capable of killing the demonic bad guy and the titular messianic figure. And the demonic Big Bad immediately tries to have him arrested for theft of the artifact.
    • Jarell outwits the demon by asking to be arrested, knowing the authorities will take the dagger into evidence until trial, out of the demon's reach. The demon quickly recants his accusations.

 Jarell: My brother's forgiven me! Kee, Dr Hong, Brother Numsy has forgiven me. (gives the demon a big kiss on the cheek) Dear brother! Thank you, you're wonderful!

  • District 9: One of Wikus' friends is arrested for exposing MNU's illegal genetic program. Though it was actually a justified arrest: corporate espionage.
  • Werner Herzog's version of Nosferatu ends on a perfect example of this, as Van Helsing is arrested for the murder of the illustrious Count Dracula.
  • Happens in Casino Royale with a twist at the end. A terrorist puts a small detonator on a fuel truck with the intention of blowing up an airliner. En route, James Bond fights with the terrorist (causing several crashes), but he gets away and a bruised and bloody Bond barely manages to stop the truck before stumbling out and being arrested while the terrorist looks on not to far away. But when he triggers the detonator, he finds out that Bond found the detonator and pinned it on the terrorist. Cut to Bond smiling while the terrorist blows himself up.
  • In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible gets sued for "saving someone who didn't want to be saved." This leads to more lawsuits and the eventual government banning of superheroes.
  • Van Helsing is a wanted murderer because so many of the monsters he kills (like Hyde) turn back into humans when they die.
  • In Attack the Block, the main teens are implicated in mugging a woman. In the end, after fighting off an alien invasion, they're arrested for that crime as well as blamed for all the alien-related deaths.


  • In the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter is forced to use magic outside school to defend himself and Dudley from two Dementors. He's promptly expelled from Hogwarts, un-expelled when Dumbledore reminds the Ministry they don't actually have the authority to do that, and put on trial. The Ministry only goes to such lengths to discredit Harry, since they don't believe Voldemort is back and don't want anyone else to either. It turns out that it was a Ministry official, Umbridge, who sent them after him in the first place.
  • Harry Dresden often has no worse enemy than his own side. The causes are numerous- his genuinely Dark and Troubled Past puts him under a certain amount of legitimate suspicion and a great deal of irrational suspicion from Inspector Javert types in the White Council. Rumor has him in league with "Gentleman Johnny" Marcone, the chief crime boss of Chicago- mostly because he kind of is, very much against his will. He has a bad habit of withholding important information from allies to try to protect them. Maybe most importantly, as much as he brings the bad guys down, many of his methods are, well, still totally illegal.
    • At the beginning of the third book, Harry and Michael sneak into a hospital's infancy ward to take out a crazed ghost that had put the whole wing to sleep and was killing the babies. When they defeat her, thereby saving the entire room full of children, the security guards wake up and burst in. They see a shady-looking guy with a big stick and a trenchcoat and another one with an honest-to-God broadsword. Michael whispers, "Don't worry. Let me do the talking." Chapter break: "I can't believe they arrested us."
    • When well-meaning but obstructionist detectives show up in one book and harass Harry because they don't believe his story, he then launches into a tirade lampshading this as soon as Murphy shows up and extricates him. To a lesser extent, happens to Murphy later in the same book.
    • Harry is starting to get better about trusting people, but now he has the Black Council to worry about. Just like Disneyland.
  • Happens to Tavi in the Codex Alera. The purported justification hits this trope perfectly, but it's really a political battle.

Live Action TV

  • Dexter: Rita's abusive ex, Paul, gets drunk one night and tries to rape her, and Rita knocks him out with a baseball bat. Next episode, Rita's being charged with abuse.
  • I didn't follow The Practice that closely, but from what I caught at Television Without Pity, there was one season that ended with a main character being put on trial for killing a suspected serial killer who was stalking her and being found guilty.
  • In the 1960s TV Batman, Batman is sued by The Riddler for assault after Batman burst in on him pointing a gun at someone. The gun turned out to be a cigarette lighter, and all part of The Riddler's Batman Gambit.
  • The boys from Supernatural have to constantly evade the authorities, unless they want to be tried for multiple murders (various human-form monsters or possessed humans), grave desecration (having to burn the remains of a ghost), etc. On the other hand, they do commit other crimes (credit card fraud and cheating at games) to support their monster-hunting lifestyle, but those are secondary to the crimes they get charged for while actually doing a heroic thing--on top of the murders, they've been charged with kidnapping and armed robbery.
  • Mostly Averted on Charmed, since the demons sometimes dissolve into flame, but the Charmed Ones did sometimes got in trouble for being in the same alley with a fresh corpse and a ceremonial dagger. Even when they did have a friend on the force, they eventually got into serious trouble with the law for killing demons in ways that did leave behind bodies. The latter was technically a crime anyway, but for those that know the whole story (like the viewers), it should count.
    • In one episode, Chris got arrested for stealing a car in order to chase a bad guy.
  • It happened on the series Bored to Death at the end of the first episode.
  • Happened in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys when people started imitating Hercules with disasterous results.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Faith was once arrested for indecent exposure after saving a bus load of nuns from vampires. (She was naked at the time.)
  • On Knight Rider, Michael was arrested several times for his efforts to catch the bad guy. Happened often enough that KITT once complained about how much he hated being impounded.

Tabletop RPG

  • In Call of Cthulhu, investigators who attack or kill Cthulhu Mythos cultists can easily get in trouble with the law.
    • From the "Field Manual of the Theron Marks Society" in Terror from the Stars:

 Another problem with human cultists is that the law frowns particularly harshly at open murder of them. Unlike Cthulhuoid monstrosities, deceased humans don't melt away, leaving no tell-tale evidence behind.

    • From the Cthulhu Companion:

 Intrepid investigators often run afoul of the law, for the law is built to adjudicate routine human conduct, not extraordinary inhuman activity. Investigators handle problems by blowing up the mine, burning down the house or beheading the sorcerer: solutions frequently considered despicable in a grand jury report. Society can act like a perverse parent, punishing the investigator for doing good.

  • Like Call of Cthulhu above, player characters in Hunter: The Vigil risk running afoul of authority. Well, it's kind of inevitable when the authority is likely to be controlled by vampires or mages. Defied by Task Force VALKYRIE (or VASCU, or Division Six, or the Barrett Commission), since they belong to the (U.S.) government. In the case of Division Six, they are immune to this trope because they are unwitting pawns of those who don't want humankind to Awaken into magic.
    • Any player characters in the New World of Darkness, really. The Werewolves are especially prone to this. You just want to be a good werewolf and hunt spirits who don't know their place, but good luck doing it without: 1) humans ganging-up on you, 2) The Pure and their spirit allies stabbing you from behind at the most unfortunate moment.
    • And just to reinforce the Crapsack World aspect of it, part of the job of the previously mentioned government Hunters is to enforce this trope on everyone else. Murder of a mad wizard or berserk werewolf is still murder, and burning down a vampire's hideout is still arson...

Video Games

  • In Dragon Age, The Warden (and Alistair, if he's in your party at the time), get charged with the murder of Arl Howe whilst rescuing Queen Anora who is being held captive in his Estate. Made even worse when Anora accuses you of being the kidnappers.


  • Didn't your teachers ever tell you that fighting back is just as bad as throwing the first punch?
    • Even more so if you're defending someone who can't/won't defend, much less fight back.
      • And then they wonder why students won't listen to them.

Web Comics

  • In an early episode of Everyday Heroes Mr. Mighty was ticketed for not carrying his registration while stopping a bank robbery. (It was his first day at his new job, and technically he hadn't started work yet.) Since it was a minor infraction, he simply had to do some community service work (which in turn led to another story arc).

Web Original

  • At the end of Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, Agent Washington wiped out Project Freelancer, the Meta, and all the project's experimental AIs with one blow. However, in doing so he also erased any evidence the Oversight Subcommittee needed to properly put the Director of Project Freelancer behind bars (except for the Epsilon AI, which he handed to Caboose to take away before firing the EMP). As a result, Wash ended up behind bars for his vigilante actions.
  • This happens to Phase from the Whateley Universe several times. In his first story, he fights a supervillain and ends up getting nearly arrested for vigilantism. He manages to convince the police that he never intended to fight the supervillain, he just wanted to save his sister, and the cops let him off with a warning that if he does it again without legal authorisation, he's screwed. In his fifth story, he fights a demon that takes down a team from the Mutant Commission Office, and they arrest him and interrogate him continually- despite the fact that he's in urgent need of medical attention- and he only gets out of it because of his family.

Western Animation

  • In X-Men, Juggernaut robs a bank, but Colossus gets arrested instead.
  • In The Simpsons, Cecil, Sideshow Bob's brother once had plans to blow up the Springfield Dam, steal the money he'd embezzled from the project and plant the blame all on Bob. After teaming up with Bart and foiling the plot, the police still arrest Bob along with his brother, because they simply can't believe that Bob was innocent this time.
    • In an earlier episode, Homer's mother became a hippie back in The Sixties, and she and a bunch of friends went and destroyed the germs that Mr. Burns was trying to weaponize in a lab. In a subversion of this trope, although Mr. Burns wants her arrested for destroying his property, she was not arrested for this particular stunt. She is, however, constantly on the run from Mr. Burns and the police, so she became a Missing Mom.
  • Both Avatar: The Last Airbender's Avatar Aang and Sequel Series The Legend of Korra's Avatar Korra find themselves in this predicament.
    • In Ba Sing Se Aang and his crew fall afoul of Long Feng and his Dai Li, who conceal the hundred years' war from the city's residents.
    • In Republic City, Korra gets arrested for the massive public and private property damage she inflicts while beating some gangsters. To be perfectly fair, the gangsters were just starting to threaten a shopkeeper with busting up his shop. Korra actually did bust up multiple shops and a lot of merchandise.
    • Played much more seriously in "When Extremes Meet". Tarrlok responds to the anti-bending Well-Intentioned Extremist faction by cracking down on all non-benders, effectively proving the bad guys right. When Korra's friends join in with protests, he has them all thrown in jail. And when Korra confronts him over that, it gets even worse..

Real Life

  • In a news story from the Eighties, one 7-Eleven clerk who got robbed, ran out into the parking lot to get the robbers' license plate number... and was fired. The company's rationale was that, since he technically left the store premises in order to essentially chase the guys who robbed him, he was displaying a blatant disregard for his own well-being and was therefore a liability.
  • Much of the drama in Whale Wars, from the Animal Wrongs Group's point of view.
  • Both law and corporate policy say that it's prohibited to sell alcohol to someone who is visibly drunk. When a man came in with bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and stumbling, the cashier would not sell alcohol to him. Apparently he had some sort of medical issue and the company fired her for discrimination against a customer.
  • Happens quite often to paramedics and security officers. Many are fired for going above and beyond their jobs to save lives. This troper knows one paramedic fired for giving CPR to a dying woman while off the clock, and therefore not covered by the department's insurance. Next time you hear about off-duty officers doing nothing to help people, you'll know why they can't.
    • While the general rule is "you don't have to rescue, but if you do don't screw it up," liability varies heavily by state. Some states are more plaintiff-friendly regarding faulty rescues. Other states you have to show that the rescuer was "grossly negligent" (i.e. completely incompetent beyond all reason). Some states extend this protection to general good Samaritans who aren't professional rescuers or medical personnel.
  • There is a story floating around of an incident in Disney World where an employee in a Goofy costume saw a child drowning in a fountain. He went into the fountain, took off the head of his costume, and rescued the child. He was then fired for removing the head of his costume and thus breaking the illusion of the entire theme park.
  • With regard to the example in the text, it is perfectly legal to come to the assistance of someone who is the victim of a violent crime. However, before you do so you must be very clear on who is the aggressor and who is the victim. If you make an assumption and aid the wrong party, you can be held responsible for a criminal offense. Next time you wonder why no one will help a person in trouble, now you know why...
  • A terrorist attack on a U.S. logistics convoy in Iraq left several soldiers killed or injured early in the fighting and a contractor truck driver picked up a rifle from an injured soldier and started fighting alongside the rest of the soldiers. The convoy commander even stated that the driver's actions played a substantial role in driving off the attack. Said contractor was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor and subsequently fired for violating above-stated prohibition.
    • To clarify, only certain contractors are allowed to carry weapons; they are actually contracted specifically to carry weapons and work in jobs that require them. Contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of U.S. Military Contractors are actually prohibited from wielding or even handling any weapons while working in Iraq or Afghanistan.
      • A contractor would not be authorized for a Bronze Star.
  • Three security members at a Wal-Mart confronted a shoplifter from trying to steal a laptop. When the man brandished a gun and tried to escape, they brought him and kept him down. For their actions, Wal-Mart summarily fired them as it was company policy to let the man go if he was proven to be a threat.
  • There's a story of a student who gave a fellow asthma sufferer her breather when she was hit by a particularly bad asthma attack and didn't have hers with her. The parents considered her a hero. The school, citing their Zero Tolerance policy, suspended her for passing drugs.
  • In Germany (and presumedly many other countries), there are several laws that allow very extreme measures in cases of emergency. As long as you can justify how you thought it would help preventing a greater disaster, you can get away with almost anything. If you think an attacker threatens your or someone elses life, even lethal force is justified. When it was proposed that people who called the fire department without an actual emergency taking place should pay for the costs, fire fighters refused to collect any such fees as they feared people would hesitate to call them in situations where fire fighters arriving just a minute earlier could save lots of lives. There's even an officially recognized organization that is providing free Hero Insurance for everyone, so people won't hesitate to trash property if it could help saving people in emergencies.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.