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We stepped up on our important things
—Shangri-la, angela (opening to Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor)
Whenever a character consciously goes against the rule of Comes Great Responsibility, he soon finds out that personal gain can be very bad for you. Karma seems to have it in for people who want to use their powers for something other than saving people. This seems to be limited to The Hero, as the Big Bad is able to get away with anything.
If you suddenly found out you had superpowers, wouldn't you use them for, shall we say, questionable ends? Well, don't, because Personal Gain Hurts!
- This serves as a major plot point in Vision of Escaflowne: after Hitomi discovers that the outcomes of her predictions and fortunes are affected by how she interprets them, she attempts to make use of this knowledge by altering a reading she does for Millerna (specifically, she switches out the Tarot card of separation for the one of good fortune) so she can Pair the Spares and make her own crush, Allen, available without guilt. This does not end well.
- The definitive example is of course the Spider-Man origin story - very soon after using his new powers to earn some cash in a wrestling ring, Spidey's uncle dies. Harsh.
- Might not directly count, however -- Spider-Man could have conceivably had both a profitable wrestling career and a live Uncle Ben if only he'd bothered to stop that thief running right past him...
- He does continue to make some money on the side by selling pictures of himself to the Bugle.
- In contrast, Tony Stark and Reed Richards have made a ton of money selling Iron Man and Fantastic Four merchandise, movies, comics, etc. Spidey has tried to get legal control of his image, but he has no recourse unless he reveals his secret identity.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spidey can't control his image to such a degree that footage of him actually doing stunts was cheaper than CGI because they didn't have to pay the stuntman. Spidey is annoyed. Later down the line, the Kingpin gains controlling interest of the movie studio that made the Spider-Man Movie and all related merchandise, setting up the simple problem that if Spider-Man does nothing about his criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money. If he does something about the criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of tourists buying Spidey-shirts.
- Averted in Spider Girl. Mary Jane realizes that all of that time Peter spent wishing he could use his face for some sort of profit could be averted with their daughter, so she opens up the Spider-Girl Store to sell Spider-Girl merchandise. Mayday's initially angry when she finds out about the store (thinking someone else was profiting on her image), but when MJ revealed the truth (and that the proceeds were going towards college), she was actually thrilled.
- Marvel's Civil War story arc opens on a group of supers with a reality TV show. Sweet crap, does this ever end badly.
- Booster Gold initially became a "hero" because he wanted to make money off the fame and the endorsements that would follow. It didn't go so well. After decades of being a Butt Monkey, comic relief, and going through Break the Haughty on more than one occasion, he has finally given up on this idea. Instead he's now the protector of time itself; to avoid being erased from history by his enemies he can't let anyone else think that he's anything more than a stupid greedy coward.
- Averted with the Zatara family, who use their powers both as superheroes and stage magicians.
- In the movie Jumper, teleporting teenager David draws the attentions of the anti-Jumper Paladins because of the "impossible" bank robberies he performed using his abilities in order to fund his hedonistic lifestyle. Teleporting a guy you have a beef with into one of the locked vaults you robbed when you already have Paladins on your trail, but they don't yet know where your family is, was another ill-thought out selfish act that didn't work out well for him.
- Averted in the original book on the other hand, as David only robs a bank after being unable to get a job due to his lack of ID. The act that draws attention from the authorities however is actually a selfless one: saving a neighbor from her abusive husband by teleporting him to a park. Pity he turned out to be a cop.
- In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl opens a digression from the story to describe the inventive Karmic Death he would have given Henry Sugar for using his powers for personal gain, "had this been a made-up story instead of a true one."
- Trope name partly taken from Charmed and its obsession with this subject, one example even leading to an alternate Bad Future!
- Lampshaded in "Mr. Wrong", after Paige is done sexing up the titular character (whom she conjured for that sole purpose):
Paige: Oh my god, if someone mentions the words "Personal Gain" one more time I am going to scream!
- For "good" characters, the use of their powers for minute tasks such as retrieving something from another room with telekenisis is Handwaved. However, manipulating events to improve your life is grounds for the removal of one's powers..
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone treats it as very wrong when Willow uses her magic to do mundane things.
- Sometimes played straight, but mostly averted, in Heroes. In Volume One, Hiro and Ando are beaten up and declared Persona Non Grata in Las Vegas after using Hiro's power to cheat. On the other hand, the leaders of the Company explicitly used their powers to make money, as does Micah Hawkins.
- When Evie in Out of This World used her powers to benefit herself (such as stopping time so she could ace a test in school), her alien father would "ground" her by preventing them from working for a while afterwards.
- In Transformers Animated, Sari Sumdac often treats the powerful Allspark Key like a toy - powering up garbage cans and toy planes with it. It's gotten her into a lot of trouble - especially regarding the time she used it to accidentally evolve Soundwave into a fully fledged Dance Dance (Robot) Revolution machine--though that last was actually something Megatron directly tricked her into doing.
- The titular character of Ben 10 frequently follows this trope. It also frequently leads to him meeting the Villain of the Week.
- Parodied in Family Guy when they meet a homeless man with magical powers, but he tells his family he can't use his them for personal gain.