"I feel I should thank you. Capturing Bruce Wayne is so much easier than Batman."A group of bad guys with a bone to pick have rounded up a group of Innocent Bystanders as hostages and deliver a cold ultimatum: "Either Captain Hero shows up to settle the score with us or these people get it! He has 15 minutes!" Normally, Captain Hero would happily comply, be there in three minutes, and beat the crud out of said bad guys. But there's only one problem - through complete luck (or depending on your perspective, bad luck), Captain Hero is one of the hostages, he's just present in his "civilian" identity. Now he must find a way to rescue the hostages, bring the bad guys down, and prevent anyone present, good and bad, from putting 2 and 2 together and figuring out that he and his alter ego are the same person. Obviously he will, but the question is, how? Note that the hostages being bait to draw Captain Hero must be part of the villain's plot to qualify as this trope. (Ultimatum optional.) If the villains don't specifically intend to draw out Captain Hero, or known associates thereof, then he is merely the Right Man in the Wrong Place or they've unwittingly picked the wrong bystander to victimize. Compare Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard. Contrast Safety in Muggles.
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Anime & Manga
- The first season of Sailor Moon had Zoisite trap Mamoru, and Usagi by accident, in a building and chase them with intent to kill as a trap for Tuxedo Kamen; Usagi, not filled in on all the details, thinks he's after her and Mamoru is the innocent hostage. She ends up revealing her identity to the both of them.
- A curious inversion happens in Moldiver, during the episode with the space shuttle. Machinegal tries to steal the shuttle and takes the crowd hostage, and dares Moldiver to stop him. This is because he thinks Moldiver is in the crowd — specifically looking at an old student of his and a close friend of Hiroshi who looks just like you'd think Moldiver would look without a suit. Except he's not Moldiver, Hiroshi just modeled its physique after him because he wanted to look buff. So the villain, the poor guy's date, and the crowd want him to transform and try to save the day, while he tries to convince everyone he's not the superhero.
- A Daredevil villain once tried to stop Foggy Nelson from running for DA... by holding poor, blind, helpless Matt Murdock hostage.
- A variation occurred in a Silver Age Superman story. During an attempted heist at a museum, some goons take a bystander hostage and force Superman to help them. Only the "Superman" they have is a lookalike in a Superman costume on his way to his son's school, and the "hostage" is Clark Kent, who they grabbed before he could change clothes. The real Superman ends up having to use his powers to covertly make his kidnappers believe the fake one is the real deal until he can get him safely away.
- A Silver Age Superman/Batman story in World's Finest Comics twists this around by having a group of crooks taking Lois Lane and Clark Kent hostage while attempting to escape from Batman and Robin. Clark has to do everything in his power to keep himself looking like a hostage while also helping his friends out.
- A story in the Batman and Robin Adventures comic inverts this and then subverts it. Riddler takes all the occupants of a prestige Gotham City club hostage on Christmas Eve, similar to the Moldiver example, because he's apparently put two and two together and realized that Batman has to be pretty wealthy and connected so it's all but guaranteed he and Robin are at the club that night. They aren't. Then it turns out that the hostages are actually one giant distraction for the Riddler to secretly steal a pair of priceless gold statues in the club.
- This happened in an issue of PK2 wherein Donald Duck, now working as a mall security guard, is taken hostage along with a bunch of others inside of a clothing store by a mind-controlled hobo with a shotgun demanding to talk to Paperinik. Interestingly, Donald uses some makeup to draw a PK mask on his face and grabs a long, blue piece of cloth to wrap around himself as a cape so he can "pretend to be PK so the others can escape". His coworker even remarks that he only barely resembles PK! He then runs a negotiation with the guy for quite a while... until the hobo notices the price tag on his "cape". Oops.
- An inversion of sorts happens in The Death of Superman: Clark Kent is one of the many missing in Metropolis after Doomsday's rampage and many think he's trapped in the rubble. However, Lois Lane, Lana Lang and the Kents know the truth - Clark Kent died when Superman died. They all resolve to not let the world know the truth. When Supes is revived and returns to full power, he conspires with the Matrix Supergirl so that Supes can find and "rescue" Clark.
- The picture comes from an issue of The Superman Adventures, where the Mad Hatter takes Bruce hostage and demands Batman's cowl in exchange.
- Played with in the first post Secret Wars (2015) issue of Spider-Man. Peter Parker is attending a wedding for two of his employees, and a group of zodiac-themed terrorists attack. Peter is in a very visible spotlight, and cannot change into his webs. Fortunately, he'd been paying Hobie Brown to do appearances as Spidey to confuse villains, and Hobie, who had fighting experience as the Prowler, leaps into action, fighting the bad guys as though he were Spider-Man.
- In one story of the Facing The Future Series, Sam was kidnapped by Walker alongside Paulina, leaving her unable to use her ghost powers until they were separated.
- Batman Forever - when Two-Face threatens to detonate a bomb at a circus, killing everyone there unless Batman shows up. Two-Face actually points out that he wouldn't be surprised if Batman is in the wealthy and well-to-do audience. It turns out Bruce Wayne is in the audience and willing to reveal himself. He stands up and yells "I'm Batman," but no one can hear him because everyone is screaming in panic. He then tries to push his way down and either stop the bomb or give himself up in his civilian identity.
- In Batman: The Movie, Catwoman lures Bruce Wayne into a trap designed to force Batman to save him. Wayne escapes by telling the snooping villains a "fish story about a radio."
- In all three movies in the Spider-Man Trilogy Peter Parker is targeted in some manner by a villain who wants to track down Spider-Man.
- Does this one count? Peter is pretty open about the fact that he personally "knows" Spider-Man, as it's his cover story for being able to get such good closeup photos. He's the only person who's publicly known to have any sort of relationship with Spider-Man, so it's nowhere near coincidence that someone looking for him would go to him.
- Alias: has an odd example in that the employees of SD 6 are held hostage. Most of SD 6 don't know that they are the bad guys. Dixon, Sydney, Jack and Vaughn work together to free everybody.
- Smallville: played with in the episode "Mortal." Clark Kent and his family are held hostage by three Meteor Freaks, who know Clark has superpowers, and want him to use his superpowers to help them, or they'll kill the Kents. Except what they don't know is that Clark has been Brought Down to Normal. So instead of saving the day while still hiding the fact he has superpowers, he's got to save the day by pretending to have superpowers.
- An episode of Lois and Clark had Clark held hostage along with Lois and a wounded Lex Luthor.
- Happens literally in Li'l Gotham when Greenbeard captures Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle while they are vacationing on a yacht.
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman does it to himself. A Tap on the Head has him thinking he's actually the gangster he's posing as, and he puts the Birds of Prey in a Death Trap, demanding that Batman come and fight him, or else.
- Beware the Batman
- Happens in one episode when Bruce Wayne is kidnapped in order to lure his bodyguard, Tatsu, to the Argus club to give up the Soultaker Sword. This culminates in them attempting to kill Bruce once he's outlived his usefulness. Needless to say, it doesn't work.
- Subverted in the first episode. Pyg and Toad attempt to capture Bruce, but they wind up capturing Alfred instead.
- An Alvin and the Chipmunks episode parodying Batman even had this. The Jokester (Alvin) kidnaps Brice Wayne (Simon) and Nicki Nale (Brittany) and threatens to kill them unless Batmunk brings him the toy he's been trying to steal. Fortunately, loyal butler Happy (Theodore) takes on the role himself for this.
- The same thing happened to Drake Mallard in Darkwing Duck. He managed to pull it off by moving very quickly from the bank he was held hostage in to where he had a spare costume. Then the villain, Tuskerninni, and the law started arguing over whether hostage Drake had to be let go before hero Darkwing surrendered or vice versa...
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe:
- In the 2002 version, Prince Adam is kidnapped by Skeletor to serve as bait for He-Man. (Even worse, Skeletor sends Adam's sword with the ransom note to prove he's not bluffing, meaning Adam can't use it to become He-Man.) Obviously, it's a long wait until a robotic stand-in for He-Man cobbled together by Man-At-Arms shows up to complete the ruse.
- A similar plot occurred in an episode of the 1983 cartoon, in which Prince Adam was frozen in phlebotinum along with other hostages by someone who wanted He-Man's help to save his daughter from Skeletor. Orko, the comic bundle of rags, was the only one available to float in with a sword and declare in a magically altered voice that he was He-Man and would only help if one hostage was freed as a show of faith. (Amazingly, this worked. The guy had no idea what He-Man looked like, and Orko managed to convince him, mostly because he was able to prove it by defeating the trained beast that the guy had, mostly out of dumb luck.)
- Another 80s episode involved Skeletor successfully capturing Adam after Orko had lost his sword. Skeletor's uncharacteristic competence ended there, as he chose to wait near the imprisoned Adam instead of with him, allowing He-Man's allies to bypass his trap and return the recovered sword.
- In one episode of the animated TV series The Mask, the villains take several people at the mall hostage, including Stanley. Stanley is forced to read out the threat on TV. He overemphasizes the fact that they need the help of the Mask, to give his dog the hint that it needs to bring him the mask.
- In Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003), Peter Parker finds himself among a group of hostages in a TV studio held by ex-KGB terrorists and volunteers to be cameraman so they can put forth their demand. The catch, of course, is that they want Spider-Man in person.
- It's naturally happened a few times on Miraculous Ladybug; depending on the episode either one of the main heroes can be the ones unable to transform.