Cover Blowing Superpower
aka: Awkward Ability
"Being ignored does occasionally have its advantages."
It goes without saying that a Super Hero
, member of a Masquerade
or Witch Species
shouldn't use their powers when in their Secret Identity
mode — but sometimes they are unexpectedly thrown into dangerous situations for which a simple usage of their powers
could quickly and immediately get them (and/or everybody else) out of.
Except for one problem: It will reveal who and what they truly are behind all that Clark Kenting
, with all the awkward consequences that such a reveal might entail. Maybe a Love Interest
is watching and this isn't the time they want to reveal their powers to them yet. Or maybe an enemy is watching, and revealing their powers might cause said enemy to attack their Secret Identity
But for whatever reason, the character will try to get out of this situation "normally", without revealing themselves in the process. Whether or not they succeed, and the particular consequences for failure, vary by situation. This can be particularly difficult if a character has powers that can't be turned off or fully controlled
This is almost guaranteed to occur if the enemies have Bruce Wayne Held Hostage
— sure, maybe Batman
could slip out of those binding ropes easily, but billionaire playboy Bruce?
Compare Clark Kenting
, Obfuscating Stupidity
, Revealing Skill
, and Do Well, But Not Perfect
. See also Masquerade
, an overarching reason to not use one's powers in front of any normal people
No Real Life
examples. Until we have real-life examples of people able to shoot lasers from their eyes
, it shouldn't apply to this trope.
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Anime & Manga
- Trigun's Vash in episode 10. "Oops. Oh, no, I hit them all." He doesn't want to reveal himself as the legendary superhuman outlaw, but is so plastered he screws up at screwing up. Doesn't help that Wolfwood signed him up by the name "Vash the Stampede" without telling him.
- Darker Than Black
- Done unsuccessfully by the protagonist: he's undercover working at a restaurant, and attracts the anger of a thug who was a customer, who then lunges at him. In an attempt to hide his fighting skills, he puts on a show of being clumsy, but dodges every attack so well (causing a certain amount of pain for his attacker in the process) that a character who observes this comments that "it's true that all Chinese people are martial arts masters".
- And another one was caught staring at an Invisible to Normals observer apparition while playing a "normal" recruit in the team likely to include other Contractors. Who turned out to be present and able to put two and two together very quickly.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! treats Negi's magic abilities like this in the early volumes, the most common form being him causing things to float (like stopping an eraser from falling on his head, or momentarily levitating Nodoka so he can catch her when she falls off a staircase). In one extreme instant, he saves a cat from being hit by a car by flipping the car into the air. It lands unharmed.
- In Detective Conan/Case Closed, Conan seldom actually gets in danger, but is constantly confronting the problem that he really shouldn't be able to solve all the cases.
- Kira Sakuya from Angel Sanctuary gets killed on a near regular basis. "Uh... yeah. I got better."
- Touma from A Certain Magical Index really doesn't like advertising the Anti-Magic ability of his right hand, guessing (probably correctly) that doing so will only lead to more misfortunes somewhere down the line.
- Dragon Ball Z
- Happens when Gohan picks a fight with a group of gang members; however, he sees Videl coming towards them so he let them punch him in the face. Videl is surprised to see that Gohan hasn't a scratch on him, let alone a black eye.
"Shoot, it's that skinny kid that has me confused. I think I busted my hand on his face. No joke! I felt like I was hitting a wall of solid steel!
- A similar incident happened when he is playing baseball during school. The local Jerk Jock decided to try to brush Gohan away from the plate but he didn't even bother to move. Everyone cringed in pain as his helmet flew off but Gohan merely double-checked with the umpire that getting hit gave him a free base. During that game, he also caught a pop fly by jumping dozens of feet into the air and doubling a guy off third who was standing there with a one foot lead off the base. In each case, he thinks he's successfully blending in, which is what happens when the only Muggle you've ever met is something of a Gadgeteer Genius Adventurer Archaeologist who has been hanging around ridiculously superhuman warriors longer than you've been alive.
- This particular one is a bit ridiculous anyway, since while deciding where to throw the ball, he's effectively hanging in midair. That's not suspicious at all...
- When most of the fighters are signing up for the world martial arts tournament, most of them have to hold back when punching a strength-testing machine in order to produce believable results. Sadly, the officials thought the machine may be off because they are still getting ridiculous numbers, particularly, much higher than Mr. Satan's, while obviously holding back. Until Vegeta just hauls off and pulverizes the thing.
- To be clear, Mr. Satan got scored 137 after punching the machine. Android 18 lightly rapped the machine with one knuckle and got over 700, then toned it down and was still above Mr. Satan. Every Z Fighter basically pokes the machine and gets over 200.
- Goten and Trunks use a Totem Pole Trench to enter the adults-only tournament, which works reasonably well until they were pitted against Android 18. Since she's too tough to beat normally, they have to go Super Saiyan and instantly reveal their true nature to 18. She got them disqualified by destroying their costume.
- Used a bit in Hayate the Combat Butler. He's really reluctant to use his Finishing Move because it creates a large gust of wind in an upwardly direction, and he's always surrounded by girls wearing skirts. When he uses it, he's likely to be beaten up by the Distressed Damsel even worse than he would be by the opponent.
- Ikkaku Madarame has a Bankai, but he doesn't like to use it for no other reason than because he thinks he would be put under pressure to develop into a captain. He doesn't want to be a captain, he wants to serve and die under Kenpachi's command. When it's revealed Choujirou had a bankai and refused to become a captain in order to continue serving under Yamamoto's command, it was also confirmed that Choujirou's reputation had suffered accordingly, so Ikkaku's concerns appear justified. It's also indicated that Everybody Knew Already, and some of them have been putting Ikkaku under pressure, further justifying his fear.
- Yumichika Ayasegawa, Ikkaku's Heterosexual Life Partner, intentionally calls his Empathic Weapon by a fake, derisive name to piss it off and keep it from releasing into its true form which is kido-centered, something the melee-loving 11th Division considers a taboo weapon type. When called by the fake name, the zanpakutou releases into a basic direct-combat form, but shaves off most of its actual power. This results in Yumichika using none of his abilities in battle and fighting on sheer willpower alone. Word of God has stated that Yumichika is actually Ikkaku's equal in strength.
- Sumomomo Momomo
- Sanae is wearing a corset which is overly sexy and revealing, however this mystical piece of clothing increases the power of her kicks well beyond reason. When she's forced to save Koshi from her fiancé set up by her grandmother who is in front of the entire school being attacked, she puts on the outift and runs out to save him. The only way to match her opponent however is to make the outfit even more revealing than it already is and risk exposing her mostly nude body to her school. She manages to defeat her opponent and keep her identity secret, but a massive number of pictures are now circulating in her school.
- A lot of characters have what could be considered awkward abilities as well. Tenrei fights by using pool balls and a cue stick, Tenchi goes nuts with the soccer ball, and Tenka has the abilities of a cat (for better and worse). Also don't forget the other animal themed characters, such as the teacher who is like a turtle, and who even knows what that cow woman that shows up at the very end can do.
- Rin, the hero of Blue Exorcist can't draw his sword in front of his classmates. This is not just because he spontaneously combusts when doing so, but because he is literally the only person that can use blue fire aside from Satan, who aforementioned blue fire is much more readily assosciated with. Keep in mind that he and his classmates are studying to become exorcists... Yeah.
- Both Nanoha and Fate in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha are forced to rescue their friends Alisa and Suzuka when the pair are attacked by the Book of Darkness. The Book of Darkness removed all non combatants in the area already ... except Alisa and Suzuka, leading some to wonder whether they have special abilities of their own.
- Averted at the end of the third Sound Stage of the first season. Nanoha shoots off some magical fireworks for Fate, but realizes Yuuno has forgotten the barrier that was supposed to make them Invisible to Normals. Arisa and Suzuka notice them but don't realize what they are.
- In YuYu Hakusho, Rando reveals himself by using a shrinking curse on Kuwabara, which is one of the moves he stole from his victims.
- In one of the later chapters of Fairy Tail, Ultear and Meredy just barely manage to stop Jellal from blowing his cover by burning his mouth with hot sauce. Good thing too, as he's a wanted criminal and being found out would have likely resulted in Fairy Tail's being disqualified from the Grand Magic Games.
- Invoked in Dance in the Vampire Bund, when a Manchurian Agent traps Undead Child Princess Mina Tepes in a suite with a berserk lycanthrope hopped up on what amounts to werewolf-grade PCP in an attempt to make her unleash her Super Modenote in front of the compromised surveillance systems.
- In Gotham Central, Detective Josephine "Jose Mac" MacDonald has the superhuman ability to "hear" inanimate objects, which comes in handy when investigating a crime scene. However, she fears how she will be treated if her secret is ever discovered, so she has to think of explanations for her "hunches" and "gut." This is predominantly played for humor (Such as her ability to find her missing coffee mug when her coworkers hide it each morning) and light drama (Such as when she worries over her secret being discovered), but becomes a critical plot point in the "Corrigan" arc which closes the series. Though she knows for a fact that the gun she found is the murder weapon, the gun itself told her so, she has no way of convincing her superiors when the ballistics results come back negative. She begins to explain that she knows it is the right gun, but when Captain Maggie Sawyer asks her what she means by that, Josie Mac looks away and does not elaborate. Corrigan ends up walking on all charges.
- In Rising Stars by J. Michael Straczynski, Matthew Bright hides his status as a Special, going so far as to assume a new identity, to join the police force. When he uses his powers to save another officer during a series of bombings, his status as an officer is stripped. His co-workers name him a special deputy, with a new badge and uniform.
- In an early issue of Spider-Man, in a fist-fight with Flash, Peter dodges so fast that people think he is being cowardly and flinching away.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, Kong figures out that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and tries to test his theory by attacking him. Peter's spider sense gives him prescience of Kong's incoming kick, and he forces himself not to react to avoid giving up his Secret Identity.
- In a humorous scene from All-Star Superman, Clark Kent must fight Parasite, while not blowing his cover. To complicate things, he is interviewing his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. He does this by convincing Luthor that his (Luthor's) brilliant intellect vanquished Parasite.
- Superman's invulnerability, since he can't switch it off. During the Silver Age, Lois Lane often tried to cut Clark Kent's hair to find out if he was Superman.
- Superman also chose not to do sports because not only would it not be fair, but he might attract attention to himself.
- In The Sith Who Brought Life Day, an officer looking at Luke Skywalker's test scores boggles at the hand-eye coordination test. Luke made the computer crash by hitting the right buttons after the trigger stimuli algorithm had been run, but before the actual images appeared onscreen and the computer had not been able to handle near-simultaneous input and output. Luke apparently crashed it three times, then decided to slow down.
- In lots of Alex Rider fanfictions, terrorists will attack his school, forcing Alex to use his spy/martial arts abilities to take them out in front of his classmates.
- Happens to Wally in the Young Justice fanfiction Unmasked. His school field trip is crashed by armed men who threaten to kill his teacher.
Films — Animation
- Demonstrated by Superman on several occasions in All-Star Superman (the comic on which the film was based showed most of the same incidents), most notably in the prison scene where he saves the guards from the rioting prisoners, Lex Luthor, and ultimately stops Parasite, all without breaking cover.
- The Incredibles:
- Early drafts opened with Bob and Helen Parr, having put their superhero-ing days behind them, attending a neighborhood barbecue. Bob is cutting the steaks and he accidentally breaks the knife on his hand. When several others notice, he pretends to be injured and Helen pretends to rush him off to the hospital. (This particular scene didn't make it into the final film, but was included as a deleted scene on the DVD.)
- Also this is the main reason they didn't want Dash to join a sports team, believing he wouldn't be able to hold himself back from using his powers to win. At the end of the movie, he joins the track team with his family yelling at him to slow down to the confusion of the people next to them.
Films — Live-Action
- In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jane Smith reveals herself to be an assassin when she reflexively catches a bottle of wine her husband drops. She gets the most priceless "Oh Crap" look on her face and drops it, but by then it's too late. He specifically dropped the bottle to test her reflexes.
- Another revealing-breakable-object drop is in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with Jen catching a teacup that another character deliberately dropped to make her reveal her skills.
- The same thing happens in Ronin, with Sam (Robert DeNiro) dropping a coffee cup to test Grego (Stellan Skarsgĺrd)'s reflexes.
- In Star Wars, anyone in the film (and any complete newcomers) might believe Chancellor Palpatine is just a normal guy who knows old legends. That is, until we actually see him using Jedi powers.
- In Superman II, Lois suspects Clark is Superman and tries to force Clark to reveal his identity by jumping into a river. Clark quietly uses his laser eyes to get a branch to Lois so she can get out. Later, Clark accidentally trips and falls into a fireplace in front of Lois and the lack of injury proves her original suspicions.
- The O. Henry story "A Retrieved Reformation": Ex-safecracker Jimmy Valentine has settled down to live the quiet life, building up a name for himself. Until one day a little girl gets locked in a safe....
- A recurring theme in the ur-superhero novel Gladiator, where Hugo Danner tries to keep his powers secret. When a man is trapped in an unopenable time-release bank vault, he tries to open it while not revealing his strength. He succeeds in both saving the man and preserving his secret, but the president of the bank decides he doesn't want a man with a secret way of opening bank vaults walking around.
- Wizard's First Rule includes a scene where Kahlan hesitates to user her power in a fight so as not to expose her nature to Richard. Then she gets stabbed, and uses it anyway. Luckily Richard's back was turned at that moment. And then he starts catching on that something is up anyway.
- An unsuccessful example in The Fifth Elephant. Inigo Skimmer, an assassin, pretends to be a normal clerk. Vimes throws a piece of fruit at him, and he lets it hit him and bounce off. Instead of making him seem harmless, this actually shows Vimes that Skimmer is more than he pretend to be — a normal person would flinch, duck or try to catch it. Skimmer knew there was no threat and so did nothing.
- Somewhat like the Star Trek example below, Corwin in book 2 of The Chronicles of Amber is lugging huge stones around rather easily, despite not being at full strength — until somebody spots him, at which point he has to pretend the task is difficult.
- In Margaret Weis's The Death Gate Cycle, this is basically the story of Alfred Montbank. He is one of the last of the "Sartan", a race with godlike magical power, and is always nervous about doing magic in public for fear of being taken advantage of. The fact that he has a spine like a wet noodle doesn't help.
- Done for humor in the book "How to Be a Super Hero" by Mark Leigh & Mike Lepine. A mild-mannered reporter knows a secret phrase which turns him into a blue whale, "the indomitable sultan of the seas!" Too bad he uses it in the middle of the newspaper's offices.
- In the series Replica, all of the Amys are essentially instant Olympic athletes, being clones with extensive genetic modification. To hide herself from the MIB out to get her, the Amy who is the protagonist must purposefully mess up when playing sports at school.
- This is how Jean Valjean is almost found out in one incident in Les Misérables; having adopted a new identity and made a successful career in a rural French village, he hauls a cart off an injured man. Inspector Javert recognizes the tremendous strength, and writes to his superiors in Paris to inform them he has found the parole-breaker Valjean. By a striking coincidence, somebody else has recently mistakenly reported a Valjean sighting elsewhere, and Javert is convinced he has made a mistake.
- In the vampire series Twelve, a vampire reveals it can stop regeneration (and do it later) in order to keep its vampire nature hidden. In the third book, a vampire gets its arm blown off. When the protagonist sees said vampire sneaking to his "room" later with both arms, he realizes the vampire is... a vampire. He doesn't realize his boyfriend is too though!
- Exalted who use a lot of essence at once will trigger their anima banner, giving away the fact that they're one of the Exalted (which can be especially bad for Solar and Lunar Exalts).
- A subtle risk for werewolves in Werewolf: The Forsaken. Urathra regeneration means they can quickly heal from injuries, and thus survive damage that would be fatal to a human — with enough time and will, they can even regrow severed limbs. The problem is that this draws considerable suspicion if an Uratha is involved in some manner of accident and then turns out to not have a scratch on them — especially if medical personnel were attending to them when they genuinely did have serious injuries minutes ago. "Blood of the Wolf" actually features a short bit of fiction depicting a werewolf who struggles to keep from regenerating damage because he's being tended to by well-meaning human paramedics, only to lose control when they inject him with a painkiller. The same book also mentions, and depicts in a short bit of fiction, that this same regeneration gives werewolves a much longer lifespan than humans (in theory, a werewolf could live forever if they got powerful enough) and they don't start visibly aging until late in their life (according to the book, a werewolf basically looks in their late 20s to early 30s until they're about 75-80 years old). Again, this can be problematic if humans start looking into a werewolf's paperwork.
- This is a big motivation behind Servants wanting to conceal their identity in Fate/stay night. Generally, the only ways one's true name will be discovered are if the Servant tells someone, another Servant is familiar with them, or they use their Noble Phantasm. Knowing a Servant's identity is a huge boon for when you face them, since you'll have a pretty good idea of how they will fight. Saber, for example, would be outed as King Arthur very quickly if she were throwing around EXCALIBAAAA! willy-nilly.
- Amusingly, even the one hero whose weapons truly cannot be used to identify him can be identified just by giving some thought to the fact that "he possesses the weapons of other heroes". As Shirou points out, only Gilgamesh, the original Heroic Spirit could possess all of the world's treasures, since he ruled before mankind spread throughout the world,
- Completely averted in Dragon Age II. Kirkwall is a city more-or-less run by the Templars, and a particularly severe branch of them to boot, whose job it is to lock up all mages so they can be "trained" safely and who are particularly fond of making Tranquil anyone who so much as screws up, let alone break any rules. None the less, you can form up a party of three mages and spend your days walking the streets, flinging around fireballs and summoning ice storms and gouging yourself to increase your own power right in front of said Templars. The most you'll ever hear of it is from a few plot-relevant characters who conveniently look the other way because of bigger problems.
- Although this is simply a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation. It's played straight in Act III, after Mage!Hawke blew their cover and entered into an Enemy Mine truce with Knight-Commander Meredith in order to save the city from the Qunari. Afterwards, Mage!Hawke appears to have been given carte blanche by the Templars in exchance for continuing to unofficially work for the city, while non-Mage Hawke uses their influence to shield their Apostate friends from being arrested.
- The Pokémon Zoroark has the ability Illusion, which causes it to take on the appearance of another Pokemon in the party. It also has a signature move: Night Daze. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, using Night Daze will immediately give away that you're a Zoroark, which is why many people use Dark Pulse instead. (There's not much difference, the former just trades 5 accuracy for an extra 5 power and a chance of lowering the foe's accuracy.)
- In Pokémon Black and White, N's Zoroark usually comes out disguised as his Klinklang, a Steel-type Pokemon that cannot learn any Dark attacks. Zoroark also has notably higher speed.
- In an uncharacteristically thoughtful touch, the Game Boy Color Animorphs game made it so that transforming around people resulted in an instant Game Over.
- The Spy in Team Fortress 2 needs to be careful when attacking, as a single swing of his potentially one-hit-kill knife will throw off his disguise completely. The "Your Eternal Reward" mitigates this somewhat if he can successfully Backstab an opponent, since he will instantly disguise as them and render their corpse invisible - however, it still pays to be on the lookout for enemies behind you. The Spy-cicle is even worse in this respect, as any backstab victim will turn into an ice sculpture and play a distinct freezing sound, alerting enemies of a spy in their midst.
- Alex Mercer and James Heller in Prototype can't use their shapeshifter weapons and powers without attracting military notice (not that doing so is particularly dangerous). Extreme parkour or running up buildings, however, draws no notice.
- ...For Mercer, anyway. If Heller tries his Blacklight-infused Le Parkour around any soldiers, they'll start noticing. Do it too much and it blows your cover.
- Can happen to an unlucky Changeling in Space Station 13. Unless they get killed by very determinate ways, they will simply drop "dead" and recover a bit later, popping a warning message for anyone close enough. There are only so many ways to be able to tell a human from a changeling, so any changeling killed by accident or unrelated violence, could get to recover, only to get spotted, framed and incinerated/turned into burgers by a human player.
- Happens to Church in Red vs. Blue a couple of times. His ability to phase in and out of peoples' bodies like a ghost would come in handy when he and Grif are locked in a jail-cell. It's then subverted when the door is opened before he uses it, so Grif thinks he has some kind of telekinesis. In Reconstruction, he doesn't want to show Washington he can do it, but Simmons sucks at distracting Washington and he finds out anyway.
- Zuko of Avatar: The Last Airbender has dealt with this several times, since firebenders aren't exactly popular in the Earth Kingdom. In "Zuko Alone", he just wants to preserve the good opinion of the kid he is trying to protect, but the earthbender he's fighting is a bit too tough to beat while holding back, and the villagers decide to shun him. In "City of Walls and Secrets", when he could have been arrested and worse if revealed, he fares rather better against Jet.
- Aang gets a Played for Laughs version of this in "City of Walls and Secrets", too, albeit briefly. He accidentally makes a woman spill her drink on herself while undercover at a party, and tries to use his airbending to dry her off. This reveals his identity to the whole party.
- Aang gets a whole lot of cover-blowing moments with his air bending. Catching a rock hurled at him by King Bumi, putting out a pyrotechnic "dragon" that's getting fairly close to Katara in the middle of a Fire Nation cultural festival...
- In The Legend of Korra, during Korra's first pro-bending match, she accidentally reveals herself as the Avatar by showing the ability to bend two different elements; no one but the Avatar can bend more than one. The referee rules that she can participate so long as she only uses waterbending.
- In the last episode, Korra, after learning that Amon, the leader of the Equalist movement, happens to be a bender (the kind of people the Equalists were established to oppose), manages to defeat him by knocking him out a window and into the water, causing him to waterbend himself to the surface while many of his followers are watching.
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Peter Parker successfully dodges several water balloons thrown by Flash Thompson. He notices a crowd is gathering, admiring his skills, so he has to stop dodging and let himself get soaked.
- During one unlucky occasion in Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Wayne and a reporter are held captive by a ninja. Bruce is put in the unenviable position of having to fight his captor at about half-strength to keep his companion (who knew of his ninja training, but not his identity) from putting two and two together. He probably would have lost had Robin not rushed her out of sight before he got too beaten up.
- Not to mention the fear Bruce almost certainly felt when facing the ninja, who according to Alfred was the only guy who could beat him at the Japanese dojo where Bruce learned the martial arts. It's worth noting that Robin didn't seem to have any trouble fighting the ninja, and it's just as likely that knowing Robin had his back was what allowed Bruce to fight back and win. A later episode reveals that the ninja himself was not fooled by the ruse in the long run. Having fought both Batman and Bruce Wayne (even holding back), he could tell that they were the same man.
- Batman Beyond: Based on a hunch, Terry throws a glass of water right at Willy Watt's head. Yup, Willy has Telekinesis and halts the glass mere inches from his face. And since it was caught on a security camera, Terry doesn't have to worry about blowing his own cover.
- Spider-Man: The New Animated Series
- In the episode "Tight Squeeze", this trope is played straight when ex-KGB agents capture a group of civilians, including Peter Parker.
- "The Party" has Peter standing up for Max when he is being made fun of by some jocks. Peter reacts instinctively when they attack him, flipping out of the way so they all hit each other. Realizing that he looks too good to be able to do that, Peter sees the next blow coming and does nothing to stop it, lest it arouse suspicion.
- Superman: The Animated Series: In an inversion of this trope, Clark Kent's car is destroyed by a car bomb and he is thrown off a cliff into the ocean. Everybody believes that Clark was killed in the explosion, and took the only evidence of a condemned man's innocence with him, so he, as Superman, has to figure out how to catch the assailant and exonerate the innocent man before his execution, without using Clark's information or identity. Luckily, it turns out the only witness to the event is extremely nearsighted, and wasn't even wearing his glasses when it happened, allowing Clark to claim he managed to swim to safety and spent his missing time recuperating at Lana's (who knows his secret) home. Ironically, just as the dirty cop that set this all up was a few seconds from getting gassed, he put two and two together and realized that Clark was Superman.