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"I don't want to stop crime, I just want to fight it."

Superheroes try to make the world safer for innocents, but in the short term, they seem to make the world more dangerous.

They fight crime, but their victories never seem to make a real difference. They have a frightening tendency to attract villains (or worse, create new ones). For some reason, the members of this Rogues Gallery never die, no matter how many times they cross paths with the hero -- when apprehended, they're sent to a prison from which they inevitably escape.

Elements of this include:

But underneath the surface, the real cause of this is a cabal of extradimensional intelligences, intent on preventing the hero from hanging up their cape and retiring: the authors and readers.

As long as the hero's comic books continue to sell, the parent company will continue to pump them out. And since these comics are driven by the Fight Against Evil, continued production of the comics necessitates the continued existence of Evil to be fought. And as subsequent installments try to outdo their predecessors, the threats grow worse with time: The Cape begins his career by saving the City of Adventure from mobsters and bank robbers; but after a hundred issues' worth of hero-ing, he's regularly saving the city from planet-destroying aliens and would-be world-conquerors and garishly themed psychotic lunatics. And of course, those planet-destroying aliens and would-be conquerors and psychotic lunatics themselves become popular, meaning that they can't be killed off or permanently taken out of the picture without their fans getting annoyed.

Pretty much every Long Runner superhero franchise has succumbed to this to some degree or other; consequently a number of series have addressed this issue. Of course, all it takes is one averted planet-devouring menace (whose appearance the hero's actions did not invite, admitted) to obviate the basic logic of the complaint: once the hero's presence has been directly responsible for preventing the local Galactus Expy from eating the planet, then the statement 'We'd have been better off if you'd never showed up!' ceases to be a true fact. Constant superhero battle is bad, yes, but total planetary annihilation is the "worse".

In many cases there is a Meta Origin or an implied Magnetic Plot Device working alongside this theory.

Examples of Superhero Paradox include:


Anime and Manga

  • Dragon Ball has this: until Son Goku showed up, there weren't that many villains. In fact, the other Saiyans, Freezer, Cell, and Buu only threaten Earth because of the heroes.
    • This was lampshaded in the Cell saga, and given as a reason why Goku didn't want his life restored.
  • In Sailor Moon, it is often the Senshi themselves whose energy is needed by villains to fulfill their plans. Galaxia comes to Earth exclusively to harvest the Senshi's Star seeds and awakens Nehelenia to lure Saturn out of hiding.
    • The last chapter in the manga has a minion of the villain accusing the Senshi of causing the universe to generate bigger and badder villains.

Comic Books

  Superman: I told him, "They've made a treaty. All of them. If I take you back to Gotham, they'll kill you. They won't stop until you're dead." He smiled that scary smile. He said, "And while they're trying to kill me, they aren't killing innocents. Now take me home."

    • Although Batman is often accused of this, when you start examining his rogues you see that he actually had less involvement in his villain's origins than most other superheroes. Two-Face was a dual personality anyway, and is often associated more with Bruce Wayne than Batman. Also, his disfigurement is due to a mob trial, not Batman. Poison Ivy usually isn't even in Gotham when she's transformed, Harley is made by the Joker, Croc is just insane, the Ventriloquist is another split personality, Solomon Grundy had nothing to do with Batman, the Penguin, Zsasz, Ra's and Red Hood were all criminals beforehand. Really, the only rogues who can really be traced directly to Batman are the Riddler, Bane, Hush, and possibly the Joker, but who really knows about him? And if we accept the original Joker origin story at face value, he, too, was a pre-existing criminal gang leader who ran afoul of Batman (and accidentally became a supervillain thereby). And even Riddler, Bane, and Hush were already evil long before they fought Batman.
  • The X-Men aren't far off. When mutants were defenseless, they weren't a big target. Once the X-Men came around and started defending mutants, anti-mutant crime exploded. William Stryker, The Sentinel Project and even some aspects of Weapon X probably wouldn't be nearly so strong in-universe if not for humans (unreasonably) feeling threatened by the X-Men, whom some in-universe view as a private mutant army. Even the Brotherhood has seemingly grown more powerful in backlash against the X-Men. And one could go on for ages about all the alien threats brought to Earth as a result of the X-Men.
    • One X-Man villain is even genre-savvy enough to take advantage of this. Cameron Hodge has the first five X-Men form X-Factor, which is supposed to be a mutant neutralization group, but secretly finds mutants and trains them. The amount of good X-Factor did (a lot) was far outweighed by the amount of anti-mutant hysteria they stirred up.
    • It is arguable that anti-mutant paranoia started exploding when Magneto first attempted to hijack nuclear weapons with which to blackmail all of Earth -- which was in UNCANNY X-MEN #1.
  • In Kingdom Come, the new batch of Nineties Antiheroes kill off all of the old supervillains and then proceed to tear up the world fighting each other because there aren't any more supervillains to fight.
  • In Watchmen, the presence of costumed vigilantes (particularly the genuinely superpowered Dr. Manhattan) tips the Cold War balance of power enough to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.
    • And on a smaller scale, their existence causes a police strike in New York across the country, which in turn encourages rioting and looting, and requires an act of Congress to rectify (outlawing vigilantes).
  • J. Michael Straczynski posits this theory during his run on Spider-Man as the reason why Spidey has so many enemies with Animal Motifs -- he is being assaulted by jealous pretenders who subconsciously realize that his power comes direct from its source. Magic is confusing.
    • J. Jonah Jameson had been claiming Spider-Man was an example of this for years before that whole storyline. This is actually true in the case of Mysterio, since he wanted to take out a superhero to become famous and picked Spider-Man since he thought he was weak and inexperienced. Jameson himself also helped create the Scorpion and the Spider-Slayers specifically to capture Spider-Man.
  • While Superman is a magnet for criminals and alien powerhouses, it's worth noting that the "normal" human Jimmy Olson is not harmless. Marvel's Rick Jones is an even more blatant counterpart.
    • Superman is an interesting case, as (at least in current continuity) most of his biggest enemies were entrenched long before he arrived on the scene (Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, Zod, Intergang) or created to dick with him personally (Bizarro, Metallo). Also the ones that already were there (the aforementioned Darkseid and Mongul come to my mind, along many, many others) took interest in Earth because of Superman.
  • In an issue of Birds of Prey, Huntress stops a villain named Carface. The police aren't thrilled with her presence, even when she mentions that she stopped the bad guy threatening the city. The cops state that the crime rate was low until the heroes showed up and vigilantes are just "trouble magnets".
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Gold Digger. Once the comic had been running for years, it was becoming increasingly clear that Earth in the Gold Digger universe was a huge Fantasy Kitchen Sink, and that the public seemed aware of it. This begged the question, why amidst all this weirdness are there no superheroes? The answer is that there used to be. However, it eventually became clear to the cape n' spandex set that their high-profile adventures were attracting more superbaddies out of the woodwork than they were putting away. Their solution was to form Agency Zero, a Men in Black-type organization of supers who still fight supernormal threats, but do it as quietly and anonymously as possible.
  • Lex Luthor, of all people, subverted this. In the Silver Age, Lex told Superman that if not for him then he would rule the planet. (Though in the Silver Age, it was an experiment in a lab Superboy built for him that led to the chemical fire that precipitated his hair loss and turn to evil, so it's at least ambiguous.)
  • The Hulk brought this up in World War Hulk : Gamma Corps, while talking down the team sent to kill him. He mentioned that the greatest threats earth had ever faced, namely Dormammu, Galactus, and Ultron, had nothing to do with him. Dormammu was usually chasing Doctor Strange, Reed Richards had actually brought Galactus back to life so he could keep eating planets, and Ant-Man had built Ultron. Comparatively, the threat the Hulk posed at his worst and the threat his whole Rogues Gallery posed to the world combined didn't add up to the threat posed by a single one of those guys.

Fan Fic

Film

  • The Dark Knight Saga is dealing with this head on. It begins at the end of Batman Begins, when Gordon wonders aloud about what the criminals will do to keep up with Batman being on the side of the police, and then mentions this weird new hitter going around who uses a playing card as his signature. Then, in The Dark Knight, Escalation is the main theme. The cops and organized crime were locked in a stalemate. Then Batman came and tipped the scales, and the existing criminal element didn't stand a chance against him. The Joker is explicitly named as crime's response to the Batman, a monster that didn't -- couldn't -- exist before Batman did. Nobody's very pleased with the thought.
    • At the same time, the series also provides a strong argument for Batman's necessity. In Batman Begins, the League of Shadows intended to completely destroy Gotham, and had been planning to do so long before Batman came on the scene. Without Batman, they would have surely succeeded. Gotham City with the Joker, and the new age of supervillainy he heralds, is undeniably bad, and Batman caused it. But without Batman, there wouldn't be a Gotham City to terrorize.
  • In the fictional "Under the Hood" documentary made for the Watchmen film, Moloch talks about how the arrival of super-villains was a reaction to the rise in costumed adventurers. He ominously comments that he's waiting for the arrival of Dr. Manhattan's nemesis...
    • Which directly contradicts what Hollis Mason says in both the book and the film. In the Watchmen universe, costumed criminals came first (wearing disguise meant they couldn't be recognized), and crime fighters started wearing costumes to "finish what the law couldn't".
      • But then Moloch is hardly a reliable source...
      • Yet he's the one Rorsach goes to for information.
  • Specifically cited by the new Secretary of Defense in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. In this case, because the Autobots have been killing Decepticons they find on Earth, they don't even have the excuse most such characters do. The Secretary of Defense suggested the Decepticons could only be on Earth to fight the Autobots, and asked whether they would leave if told. This complaint is muted with Optimus' suggesting that there is a risk in assuming that to be the case.

 Optimus: Freedom is your right. If you make that request, we will honour it. But... what if we leave, and you're wrong?

    • In the first movie, this is Inverted. The Decepticons are on Earth first, seeking Megatron, who was seeking the AllSpark. The only Autobot on Earth was Bumblebee, who was keeping a low profile. The other Autobots arrive to stop the Decepticons.
    • Finally and brutally subverted once and for all in the third movie- the Autobots actually are forced to leave by the government thanks to threats by the Decepticons...who promptly blow up the Autobots' space ship with a missle as they are leaving the planet, killing them all (not really, of course). The 'Cons then attack the city of Chicago and start to massacre everyone, and use the city as a base to summon the ruins of Cybertron with the goal of enslaving the human race and using them as slave labour to rebuild it. Though the Autobots being kicked out was partly prompted by one of them tunring out to be a traitor, it is also revealed that the Decepticons had secretly been on Earth since the 1960's, so Optimus and co. had even less to do with their presence on Earth than they thought before.
  • Implied in The Incredibles: Once Super Heroes are outlawed, all super villains disappear, too (except for one particularly obsessive fanboy...).
    • According to the tie-in comic, and implied by the movie itself, the super-villains more or less were all imprisoned or forcibly depowered by the government. Though a few more did manage to lay low...
    • As the Parr family take up superheroics again, the Underminer appears.
  • Part of the Ghostbusters montage chronicling their success is a Larry King segment on them, mentioning the possibility that they were the very cause of the paranormal activity they combatted. It could have been more an accusation that they were con-artists faking the incidents rather than that they were attracting ghosts. This is clearly wrong, as they invented the ghostbusting job because the paranormal activity was rising, and do such an excellent job that by the beginning of the sequel they are jobless.
    • This happens again in the animated series; one episode begins where Egon announces the Ghostbusters are out of work....because they have eradicated all paranormal activity in New York. Their solution? Rebrand themselves as the Crimebusters and clean up New Yorks criminal underworld. Turns out they are even better at that because by the end of the episode New York is crime free and they are once again unemployed...fortunately, right as they realize that, the ghosts have come back.

Live Action TV

  • Addressed and averted by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Sunnydale had as much trouble before Buffy moved there, because Sunnydale stands on a Hellmouth and was specifically built to be a feeding ground for demons and what have you.
    • Angel also averts this because he is attempting to atone for the sins of Angelus, leading him to seek out a lot of the bigger threats that pop up. He later plays it straighter, many later threats are the result of Wolfram & Hart taking an interest in pissing him off, or the result of prophecies relating to him.
      • Also, Sunnydale was run by Mayor Wilkins for over a century, and since Wilkins was playing the long game, it's likely any trouble makers before Buffy were put down with extreme prejudice.
    • Lampshaded in a Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming at her senior prom, where Jonathan announces her award as class protector -- noting that this year had the lowest death rate at Sunnydale High in memory.
    • And in the episode "The Wish" we get to see that Sunnydale most definitely is better off with Buffy around.
  • In Supernatural, monsters, vengeful gods, and other beings have always existed, long before hunters. Even though the Winchesters had a hand in causing it, the Abrahamic religion apocalypse (or the little of it we saw) could even be excused as being fated. However, that's only one arc that was fated. The unleashing of the high demons in hell (season 3), the monster armies (season 6), the vengeful new "god" (season 6, 7), and the leviathans (season 7) were all directly caused by the Winchester's actions. For good measure, some Timey-Wimey Ball and loose lips even enabled Azazel to set all the fated stuff in motion.
    • That said, though the boys may have accidently caused all of that, You Can't Fight Fate was in play and they were being manipulated into those acts the whole time by both The Legions of Hell and the Celestial Bureaucracy; even their births were at least predicted and accounted for, if not outright engineered, by one or both sides. It is also made clear that if they refuse to play along, then neither the angels, the demons, nor Satan himself are above forcing them to do what they want either by threatening their loved ones or through outright torture...and between Year Inside, Hour Outside, the immortality of the soul and the ability of both angels and Lucifer to ressurect them indefinitely, sooner or later they are going to give in. Plus, while their acts do make things worse, by the time they realize this they are given a choice between a Crapsack World (Lucifer and demons running rampant across the globe) or The End of the World as We Know It (Michael and Lucifer destroying the Earth in a final apocalyptic showdown. Which Lucifer could still win, leading to the former anyway.)
  • An interesting version exists in Dexter, in the first episode Dexter mentions how low the homicide solve rate is in Miami. Obviously this would attract the criminal element into Miami and logically increase the numbers of murderers who Dexter can then target. And why is the solve rate so low? Probably due to the guy who keeps killing murderers before they are caught.

Video Games

Webcomics

 Brandon: It's kind of hard to explain. It's the irony of a hero who attracts danger. ... Take Superman! Before Supes came to town, the worst crime Metropolis had was wifebeaters, thugs, and the occasional mob bosses. Nowadays, Metropolis gets a weekly visit from some overbeast with a unibrow and a tiny dick, thrashing the city just to stand toe-to-toe with the Man of Steel. Indirectly, all of Metropolis' major disasters have been caused by Supes. In the end, Metropolis was probably better off without a crime fighter.

Western Animation

  • Most incarnations of Transformers have this to an extent, since the Decepticons are usually depicted as following the Autobots to Earth. The series Transformers Animated is the most blatant example, since in this one the Autobots are pretty much seen by Detroit as superheroes. They're also frequently shown rebuilding the city after Decepticon attacks out of guilt for being the partial cause.
    • Also they are construction workers/engineers, so it's also a Justified Trope.
  • Lampshaded in The Powerpuff Girls when the Monster of the Week explains that it's no fun to threaten a city if there aren't heroes to defend it; the more powerful the hero who defeats you, the more bragging rights you get. The only reason the monsters attack Townsville so regularly is to fight the Powerpuff Girls. Ironically, The Movie reveals that The Professor created them to help the then-lawless, rampant-crime-ridden town.
    • The girls also aren't welcome in other cities due to collateral damage: When they moved to the town of Citysville, they destroyed a bridge to stop some robbers. Rather than congratulate them on saving the day, the mayor attacked them for destroying the bridge, because the repair will cost more than the robbers actually stole.
    • There's also an episode which addresses the third point of this trope. The girls find the citizens are far too dependant on them, and refuse to help anymore so the normal people can defend themselves against a lawyer-friendly stand-in for Godzilla.
    • On the other hand, there was an episode in which the girls put under a strict curfew so that they can get enough sleep. The many supervillains of Townsville quickly take advantage of their absence and are only stopped by a loophole in the curfew (Daylight Savings Time).
  • Also Lampshaded in the Futurama episode "Less Than Hero", where Fry, Leela, and Bender become superheroes; Leela mentions the collateral damage (and possible lawsuits spawned from it) as the number one reason to have a Secret Identity. It seems to be subverted somewhat later in that episode: after fighting off a villain trying to steal a priceless gem from a museum, its curator thanks them and states the price of the gem is a little higher than the cost to repair the museum.
  • In The Spectacular Spider Man, Spidey (or ESU labs, which also created him) is responsible for the creation of almost every villain he fights. Examples include Venom (since it was him pissing off Brock that made him angry enough to bond with the symbiote) Shocker (who was employed by the Big Man to 'squash the bug'), Rhino and Sandman (who were created by the Big Man to distract Spidey), Kraven the Hunter (who came to New York to hunt Spider-Man), Electro (who was pushed over the edge by Spidey unfairly attacking him), Captain Jupiter (who turned crazy after an argument with Spidey) and Molten Man, who was again made to kill Spidey.
    • Pretty much lampshaded by J. Jonah Jameson in one episode. In his typical monologuing about why Spider-Man is evil, he brings up the fact that Spidey's appearance was followed by that of tons of costumed villains.
    • On the other hand, the Green Goblin, easily the worst of any of his enemies, more or less created himself, and then went on to accidently create Doctor Octopus by why of a failed assassination attempt (which was just the Goblin covering up the link between the Big Man and Norman Osborn, though granted said link was strengthened by the appearance of Spiderman). Also most of these guys were villains already, Spidey just prompted the Big Man (a pre-established and dominant crime lord) to give them powers, which in the case of Shocker already existed. The Vulture, Chameleon, the Tinkerer and to a lesser extent Mystero (who was "inspired" by Spidey in his own way) also count as aversions.
  • Mentioned in the Darker and Edgier period of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Donatello worried that they might be "part of the problem" because most of the Shredder's schemes are or have become dedicated to killing them rather than world domination.
  • Batman the Animated Series had an episode where the new DA of Gotham City wanted to arrest Batman, until she and Batman were captured in Arkham Asylum by the villains and Batman was put on trial by them for this trope. The ultimate conclusion, incidentally, was that in the Batman animated universe this trope worked both ways. While Batman may have inspired most of his foes to use the gimmicks they do, many would be out there causing mayhem regardless. That mayhem, incidentally, was what created Batman.
    • Chief Rojas just will not stop bringing this up in The Batman.
      • The creators of the show state as much by saying that Batman's work defeating organized crime in Gotham has opened the door for supervillains. Of course, the "heroes are ineffective" aspect is averted in the first episode where it's stated that Gotham is now the most crime-free city in the country. Gotham. Think about that.
  • Essentially stated outright in Venture Brothers. Evidently the villains like the system. Break up the system and you're just going to have a bunch of pissed-off guys with death rays, and that wouldn't be good for anyone.
  • Explored a little in Justice League Unlimited where Shadow Thief is portrayed as the Enemy Without of Hawkman's nature. Carter Hall wanted to be a hero, so his darker impulses manifested as a villain for him to fight. The moment Shadow Thief revealed this, Carter destroyed him.
    • On the other hand, JLU actually did allow the heroes to have genuine, long-term victories. In the final season, Gorilla Grodd points out that the good guys, working together in the League, are so good at fighting crime that the supervillains can't operate individually anymore. And considering how the Grand Finale leaves over half the villains dead or ascended to a higher plane, it's not much of a stretch to say that the remaining villains' days are numbered. But there's a new batch of bad guys by the time of Batman Beyond...
  • Batman Beyond averts this mainly. Terry spends most of his time fighting villains with well-established operations (like Derek Powers, Inque, The Royal Flush Gang and Curare), and some that have seemed to have sprung up precisely because of Batman's absence (like The Jokerz).
    • The Jokerz and The T's are simply street gangs with a flashy theme (which isn't that uncommon in Real Life) It's not until Terry becomes Batman that we get genuine super-villains again like Blight, Big Time, Shriek, Spellbinder, Stalker, and Willy Watt -- many of whom Batman had a hand in creating, while others are simply fixated on him because he's there. On the other hand Terry also has a tendency to see his villains get shut down. Permanently.
      • Terry freely acknowledges that he created Blight (or at least that he caused his transformation, Powers was a Complete Monster already)-and he's perfectly okay with that, as Blight ordered his father's death.
        • Terry is fairly okay with having created Blight because his powers are more destructive to himself than anyone else.
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