I have a long-standing assertion about the comic-book super-hero genre; to wit, that there is no reason for any superhero to be anything other than filthy rich. I am of the opinion that any superhero worthy of the name has at least some talent which could be used to make them large amounts of cash, if they so choose.
First, consider your iconic, costumed defender of the downtrodden and protector of the innocent. Even without looking at his powers, if he is making a good run of superheroism, then he is very recognizable and very visible. Even a small-town hero should be able to work in a few endorsement deals. If a superhero is well-known and has a loyal fanbase (probably with no few amount of people he’s saved in it), then he’s a prime target for a corporate sponsorship or two.
Secondly (although this applies more significantly to the crimefighters), there is significant income to be made in looting the poor. Remember, you have already determined that you have sufficient authority to deprive these criminals of their liberty without due process; surely depriving them of a little of their ill-gotten gains can be no worse crime?
Thirdly, we consider the career combatants: those superheroes whose powers are secondary to their ability to kick ass and take names. Depending on their specific capacity for violence, such heroes would do well to subcontract out to the military of their choice, or optionally form their own mercenary band.
Now, far more interesting than these generalities is pondering how specific heroes could make money, ideally without violating any of the hero’s moral precepts. I’ll give a few examples.
Cyclops (X-Men): This hero has the power to shoot concussive beams of force from his eyes. He has demonstrated an amazing ability to point-and-shoot with his eyebeams, and has enough force to blow away large chunks of buildings. The obvious use for this power is in a military setting, serving as a counter to close-air support. Cyclops is effectively carrying an unlimited supply of anti-armor missiles with him. All he needs to do is find an ongoing war in which one side is using armored vehicles and the other lacks the logistical support to field armor-piercing weapons in force, and offer his services. It is certain that Cyclops could earn his worth (and enough to cover equipping his entire squad with sniper-baffling red visors) very quickly.
Spiderman (Spiderman) Ah, Peter Parker, all in his small NY apartment. Obviously, he has yet to ponder certain aspects of his powers. The simplest way he could earn a great deal of money would be to hire himself out as construction equipment. He can lift enormous weights, produce fantastically strong webbing to aid in temporary scaffolding and serve as additional safety netting, and climb freely. It is very likely that he could completely replace the costs of a crane for moderate construction projects.
So, what other superheroes can you all think of, who have powers that can, on reflection, be leveraged into providing valuable services? Alternately, can anyone name a superhero whose powers simply aren’t conducive towards making money?