Imagine, if you will, being a superhero. You get up in the morning, slip into your super suit, fasten on a cape — or not, your choice — and just spend the day risking your life for the sake of others. It’s a pretty intense life, but you’re rewarded with the smiles of those you save and, let’s be honest, the occasional bouts of ridicule from the naysayers. Doesn’t matter, though, because as a hero you should be in it for the honor, not the glory.
I used to think so… until I decided to stop treating my writing as a hobby. Creative fields are prone to getting the short end of the stick — “do it for exposure” — and that goes double for anything social justice related. If you’re out here writing social commentary you’re expected to fight the good fight… but not for any sort of compensation. You’re supposed to want to better the world because it needs to be better, but the thought of actually being paid to craft these think pieces and tell these stories? How dare you not want to exert your energy for free!
Which brings me back to heroes in general, the ones I grew up with who went out every day to save that kid from a burning building or put out the entire fire in one breath. For the sake of this article, there are two types of heroes I want to address: the ones with a never-ending supply of wealth, and the ones who took side jobs to pay the rent. Tony Stark doesn’t know what financial woes are. Peter Parker, on the other hand, has found a loophole in the system by turning in photos of his hero alter ego to make money.
But… does Peter have to do all of that? Can’t he just… get paid for being Spider-Man?
For a while, I thought this idea was far-fetched because if there’s one thing heroic stories teach us is that with great power comes yadda yadda. But then anime decided to take the hero trope and turn it on its head. Shows like Tiger and Bunny and One Punch Man treat being a superhero like an occupation, something that comes with corporate sponsors, something with associations you join to become official. In shows like this, the idea of being a hero is given a bit more realism, something that comes with job applications and tests you have to pass. I’m sure you can point to American comics where superpowered folks are available for hire, but this was the first time I saw it treated as a global phenomenon.
To be a hero is to be part of a workforce.
My Hero Academia doubles down on this idea, because being a hero is something you go to school for. In a world where 80% of the population has some kind of supernatural ability (quirk), there’s an influx of folks who want to be a hero. But you can’t just slap an “S” on your chest and call yourself super, you have to go to school and get educated in the way of herodom. This includes classes, exams, and even internships. Much like any occupation, you need experience before you get the job. In fact, you need a license to even operate as a “proper” hero.
This doesn’t sit well with everyone — as to be expected. In Season 2 we meet a villain named Stain who feels society is oversaturated with heroes. Stain’s methods are highly suspect (spoiler: he’s killing heroes), but what makes his arc interesting in the “paying heroes” sense is that, well, he’s kinda right. Not only are there a lot of heroes walking the streets, but there are problematic ones sitting at the top of the charts. You can even argue there are students training to become heroes for all the wrong reasons. But with a career that gets you television spots, action figures, and notoriety… you’re gonna get some bad eggs.
So does that mean that no hero should be paid for what they do?
I don’t think so.
The most basic reason for this is the occupational hazards of this job. All you have to do is watch series lead Izuku Midoriya and the number of times he breaks his body while trying to get a handle on his newly acquired quirk. Not to mention the number of harrowing situations these students are put through, be it their own training or villains targeting them. If you, as a wannabe hero, take the “proper” steps — school, education, getting your license — then wouldn’t you expect to land that dream job? Isn’t that what they tell us to go to school for? Frankly, it would suck to go through all that schooling to land a job that can’t take care of you financially, just ask anyone fresh from graduation trying to figure out rent, groceries, and Sallie Mae. Now take that amount of stress and add in the threat of, you know, death.
All heroes do this, if you think about it. While not every story is as blatant about it as My Hero Academia, we shouldn’t ignore the life experiences of the classics like Spider-Man who basically taught himself how to do the job. The reason why heroes like All Might can spend all of their time protecting us versus having to divvy it up is because they don’t have to worry about themselves financially. There’s no need to pull a Peter Parker and figure out a way to make money, or do what Clark Kent does and work at a newspaper to gather stories about, well… his own hero persona.
“But what about the ones abusing their status?” Yes, Stain is right about that, but does that mean all heroes should take the L because of the abusive douche canoe who sits at the number two spot? I’m sure we’ve all worked with someone we don’t like, does that mean we shouldn’t get paid?
Wanting to be paid for your time doesn’t mean you lack honor in your profession, it just means you know what you’re worth, and feel that you should get what you deserve.