"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 expose their Secret Identity to friends and enemies 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 they are not quite certain they could fix the situation without someone getting hurt or something else going wrong. Whatever the reason, the character is encouraged to play along with the scenario as though they are just as helpless as everyone else. Generally they try to undermine the bad guys, pretending to be hapless while using careful application of their powers or skills to change the situation. And, when they feel they are in the clear, all bets are off. 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? If someone is savvy enough to see through his tricks, this can also be the start of someone suspecting Bruce Wayne of being more than he pretends to be. Compare Clark Kenting, Fighting Fingerprint, 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.
— Danny, Danny Phantom, "Pirate Radio"
open/close all folders
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. Later the thug who punched Gohan is seen nursing a bleeding fist:
"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 Android 18's 700 (from just rapping it lightly with one knuckle) and every Z fighter scoring well over 200, much higher than Mr. Satan's score of 137. Until Vegeta just hauls off and pulverizes the thing.
- 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.
- 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. Later the thug who punched Gohan is seen nursing a bleeding fist:
- 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.
- Sumomo Mo Momo Mo
- 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 A's 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.
- 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.
- InuYasha: In episode 51, Gatenmaru ends up revealing himself as a moth youkai to his human henchmen when he uses poisonous dust on Inuyasha and Miroku, and then traps them in a cocoon made of acidic webbing. As soon as they find out, his henchmen are even more eager to work for him and commit atrocities than they were before.
- Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Kanna was able to track down Tohru after she used a Wave Motion Gun to clear some rain clouds and used her super strength and speed to catch a purse snatcher.
- How Tiger Mask recognizes Great Zebra as Giant Baba after seeing him fight in the Maskmen World Championship: Zebra was about to kick when he realized that him kicking would have blown his cover, but this exact kind of Genre Savvyness is so typical of Baba that Tiger Mask realizes his identity as soon as he has the time to ask himself why didn't he use kicks with those enormous feet of his.
- Black Butler: Ciel Phantomhive preemptively averts this trope when he first hires Sebastian (as seen in Chapter 62 of the manga). The devil-of-a-butler repairs the Phantomhive manor (which had been set aflame) in the time it takes Ciel to get up from kneeling before his parents' graves, and generates a full-course meal while setting a tablecloth. Ciel quickly gets over being shocked and reprimands him for it.
Ciel: If anyone else catches sight of you doing such things, it will arouse their suspicion.Sebastian: Then I should do everything step-by-step as mere humans do?Ciel: I'm not telling you to do it all to the letter, but at least pretend you are. Average people can't make anything without the necessary materials and time.
- 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 storyline Up, Up, and Away!, Clark lost his powers for about a year. When they start coming back, he decides to keep it a secret from his wife Lois until he thinks he's ready. He gives himself away when he puts his hand on a hot stove without noticing.
- In Astro City story "Pastoral", Roustabout saves a life from a falling crane with his superstrength while in his secret identity. Fortunately, he's surrounded by people willing to keep the secret.
- 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.
- Happens to Wally in the Young Justice fanfiction Unmasked. His school field trip is crashed by armed men who threaten to kill his teacher.
- In Consequences of Revelation, Blue Team realises that Crimson are actually SPARTAN-IIIs, not IVs when they notice that the latter performed at a level beyond what should have been possible once they stopped holding back.
- In Mass Effect Human Revolution chapter 30, Bau realises that Aya has to be with the Shadow Broker as she was able to pull information on Mjrn way too fast.
- In The End of Ends, Terra still has her powers, but is unable to use them during the minions' attack, lest she reveal her identity.
- In The Commission, Ruby's rifle marksmanship combined with the particular caliber of Crescent Rose clues Glynda in to her return to Vale when the former covers Roman's escape from the first episode dust store robbery.
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 makes finger-sized dents in the knife due to his super strength and durability. 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.)
- This is the main reason why Helen didn't want Dash to join the track team, as she felt his competitive nature would inevitably drive him to use his powers to win. At the end of the movie, he joins the track team with his family yelling at him to slow down and make it a close second, to the confusion of the people next to them.
- When Bob snaps and throws his Jerk Ass boss through several walls, all the witnesses need to have their memories wiped.
- In Frozen, Elsa is terrified of her Coronation, as it requires her to pose with some royal items without her gloves. This is because she has trouble controlling her powers due to a Childhood Trauma. She successfully rushes through the process before the ice on the items becomes noticeable to the crowd.
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, unaware that the two teams already know about each other, The Dazzlings and The Rainbooms hide their true powers from each other until the finale, leading to a scene where Sunset Shimmer is forced to tackle Rainbow Dash when she inadvertently starts transforming in front of a crowd.
Films — Live-Action
- 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 trailer for Justice League (2017) has Bruce Wayne show up in Barry Allen's "command center". When Barry tries to deny who he really is, Bruce throws a batarang straight at Barry's head, forcing Barry to step aside and catch it at Super Speed (the audience sees it all in Bullet Time). The interesting thing about this scene is that in order to make Barry reveal who he really is, Bruce has to do the same. Of course, had Bruce been wrong about Barry, Barry wouldn't have been around to tell the tale and probably found later with a strange hole in his forehead.
- In The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), superspy Illya Kuryakin has to be reminded that since he's posing as a mild-mannered architect, he can't just show off his advanced fighting skills. It tears him up inside when he and his "fiancée" get mugged and he's forced to surrender his stuff without resisting. When he finally snaps and does lash out at the mooks, he rationalizes it afterwards by saying that any Russian would have fought back and he still maintained his cover because a Russian soldier would have killed them.
- In Mr. & 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.
- While it didn't happen in the film, the now-defunct official website of The One reveals that Yulaw was finally exposed when another agent, who's been suspecting him for months, asks Yulaw to help him carry a closed box up some stairs. Yulaw carries the box without a problem only to find out after the fact that the box was full of heavy weights that couldn't have been lifted by a normal person. The agent confronts Yulaw, but ends up getting thrown down several flights of stairs and becoming paralyzed. Having several black belts doesn't really match up against someone who has that as well as superstrength and superspeed.
- The same thing happens in Ronin, with Sam (Robert DeNiro) dropping a coffee cup to test Grego (Stellan Skarsgård)'s reflexes.
- Star Wars: In Revenge of the Sith, 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 Force 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, but what really clenches it in a way that Clark can't explain his way out of is when she shoots him and he doesn't fall over dead. (He calls her out on this.)
- X-Men: Apocalypse: Magneto is a fugitive, so he pretends to be a regular human while living in Poland. When Erik Lehnsherr uses his superpower to save a coworker's life, everyone who had witnessed it immediately learns that he's a mutant, and his metallokinesis is a dead giveaway to the steel mill employees that the man they knew as "Henryk Gurzsky" is actually the world's most wanted criminal.
- 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. Of course, by then he had long since started catching on that something is up anyway.
- Earlier, when Richard and Kahlan arrive in Zedd's house, Richard says a quad chasing Kahlan should show up soon, and Zedd tells her she is safe here. That's Richard's final hint that Zedd is the wizard they are looking for... no way your regular old guy can keep a guest safe from a band of four trained assassins.
- 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.
- In the same book, we have Haplo, a scout sent out by the Patryn (a race that shares the Sartan's power). He explicitly notes that if he used his Patryn powers he could solve all the book's problems in two minutes flat. Unfortunately, then the Sartan would find out that the Partryn had begun to escape the Death World the Sartan had trapped them in, and probably would blow up the world... again.
- Done for humor in the book How to Be a Superhero by Mark Leigh and 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 Malazan Book of the Fallen, Dust of Dreams Captain Ruthan Gudd, heretofore thought of to be a regular human and very intent on not being noticed, blows his cover when he summons some alien Stormrider armour to aid him in battle. Much to his dismay, the whole army sees him use it.
- 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!
- In The Nexus Series, if you're running nexus, and someone near you is running nexus, they can tell you're running nexus. It makes espionage kind of difficult.
- Words of Radiance:
- Shallan Davar is attacked by an assassin and must use her Shardblade to survive. Problem is, she's seen with it. Shardblades are so rare and powerful that having one is basically the equivalent of having access to nuclear weaponry in terms of social and political weight. Oh, and for a woman to fight is considered about as inappropriate as if she were to have sex in a public square. With someone to whom she is not married.
- Kaladin gets into a parallel problem when he helps Adolin during an ill-considered duel. He could probably defeat all four opponents by himself if allowed to go full out, but since his powers are considered mythical at best and abominations at worst, he can't do anything obviously superhuman. Worse, his opponents are all wearing Shardplate and wielding Shardblades, so he can't fight them at a baseline level and expect to survive. He contents himself with mostly using his passive abilities to dodge with superhuman skill, though at one point he uses his Gravity Master powers to "fall" at several gravities and kick a guy so hard his nigh-indestructible armor explodes. It does break Kaladin's legs, but his Healing Factor brings him up to snuff before anyone notices.
- Doing this sort of thing is illegal for wizards in Harry Potter, as they're supposed to keep the Muggles ignorant of their existence. The exception is in cases of life-threatening danger—although, as Harry himself learned, even that isn't always enough when the Ministry is hell-bent on bringing someone down.
- An aversion in Vladimir Vasilyev's novel The Legacy of Giants, the alien safari tour guide notices one of the tourists who appears to be just a little too average, as if he's doing his best to not appear too good. When the tour guide sets up a shooting range for the tourists, the suspicious tourist ends up hitting the target exactly 75% of the time, which only serves to prove to the tour guide that the guy is not your average tourist. Eventually, it's revealed that the guy is a special agent, but he's not on safari as a spy. He's actually on R&R after his latest mission.
- Skitter suffers from this in Worm. She spends so long using her bugs to scout her surroundings that she forgets to look before crossing the street like a normal person.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, a comic, downplayed example: Rachel asks the dragon Lucky whether he can talk. Lucky panics and immediately asks Siggy what he should do — thus, of course, revealing the power.
- In Super Powereds: Year 2, Alice thinks that Rich has played with her mind using the memory of her late mother. She goes off on Rich at a public place and accidentally discovers her Gravity Master powers by causing lights to fall from the ceiling. Luckily, the situation is explained away, and Alice avoids being expelled from the HCP. This trope is actually grounds for expulsion from the Hero Certification Program, whose students are required to keep the fact that they're Supers and in the program a secret from everyone outside the program. This doesn't apply to non-HCP Supers and Powereds, though, who are free to use their powers as they wish, as long as they don't harm anyone else. In Year 3, this is also why Chad and Roy, who are working as bartenders in a club, have to remember to limit themselves to only carrying at maximum of two beer kegs at a time, lest they expose their Super Strength.
- More of a Charles Atlas Superpower, but in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Lance Hunter and Melinda May have to go undercover at Hydra and are trying to pose as arms traders to work their way in at the bottom (as the current head of Hydra is Grant Ward, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who would immediately recognise them). To get a meeting with a Hydra contact, one of them needs to win at an underground fight club. May, who is by far the better combatant, wants to do it, but Hunter points out that she's so good that it would blow their cover; a tiny Asian woman annihilating her opponents while demonstrating years of combat training is noteworthy and may get back to Ward, but a muscular man winning in a relatively unskilled brawl won't draw any attention.
- In Arrow John Diggle is hired to be the bodyguard for millionaire playboy Oliver Queen and quickly realizes that there is more to Oliver than it seems. Oliver keeps slipping away from Diggle in ways that a spoiled rich kid with no training should not be able to. The clincher comes when Laurel is attacked by Triad assassins and Oliver saves her life by throwing a knife at an attacker's hand. Throwing a knife that precisely is very hard and this was an ordinary unbalanced table knife rather than a custom made throwing knife. The level of skill Oliver displayed could only have been acquired after years of training and practice.
- Invoked and subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - in the episode "Phases", Buffy participates in self-defense classes as part of P.E., and Willow reminds her before they begin not to use her super-strength. ("Remember, you're supposed to be a meek little girly-girl like the rest of us!") Buffy grumpily complies for about 10 seconds, until Larry gropes her, at which point she lets loose and flips him over her shoulder onto the mat. Not directly cover-blowing, in that Sunnydale Syndrome stops anyone directly commenting on it, but it probably didn't stem the rumors that she was part of a violent girl gang, or help her case when she was suspected of murder a few weeks later.
- Michael Westen of Burn Notice is a badass, but frequently spends episodes undercover in notably un-Badass personas. This gets annoying when it would be tactically advantageous to not win fights, which means Westen has to forgo using his skills and get an ass-kicking instead. This is usually played straight, but sometimes for comedy, as the camera cuts to his face to show him bored and disdainful of his opponent's flailing failure to hurt him.
- Yoon Sung in the Korean Series The City Hunter pretends to be clumsy at judo and have poor weapon skills when in fact he is a human weapon. All to keep his identity secret.
- In the third episode of Covert Affairs, the corrupt Venezuelan government official Annie's covertly investigating encourages her to drive his sports car as ridiculously fast as he does. She grinds the gears and pretends to be out of her depth, but the sudden appearance of an unexpected roadblock causes her to reflexively swerve around it in a way that gives away her advanced driving skills.
- In The Fallen, Aaron must constantly avoid using his Nephilim or Redeemer abilities, as this allows the Powers to track him. Unfortunately, he can't seem to keep himself from doing it. One thing he keeps doing constantly is talking to his dog, since Nephilim are able to speak any language, which also includes animal "languages". While we hear him talking normally, it's not clear if he's speaking English or actually barking at Gabriel. The first episode implies the former, as Gabriel says that Aaron always talks to him.
- A variation in Farscape's fourth season; Noranti has given John drugs to deaden his emotional connection to Aeryn (long story), and during a fight he shoves one into the alien's mouth, stunning it; no immediate awkwardness, as John is able to just wave it off and there's the distraction of a rampaging monster, but not long afterwards Aeryn confronts Noranti and then John about this.
- Another example occurs when Sikozu reveals herself as a Bioloid (an android created by the Kalish to fight Scarran oppression) by killing a bunch of Scarrans and saving the good guys.
- Sister Bertrille from The Flying Nun doesn't like advertising that she can fly.
- In Forever, Henry has to constantly avoid others finding out about his Resurrective Immortality. For example, in the pilot, he ends up being in a subway crash. He is fine after reappearing in the Hudson River (he always appears in a nearby body of water), but the detective investigating the crash finds his antique pocket watch and wants to know how it got there. His arch-nemesis Adam even does him a favor once, after a suspect causes Henry a slow but fatal wound. As the cops are closing in, Adam slits Henry's throat as a favor, in order to keep his immortality (as well as Adam's own) a secret, resulting in Henry dying (and vanishing) before the cops get there. In the finale, this happens one too many times, so his detective partner demands to know the truth. The episode ends with him starting to tell her.
- In Season 3 of Heroes, Nathan is pretending to be powerless, but Danko suspects him of being a super, and in an attempt to try to get him to reveal himself, Danko pushes him out a window, and Nathan is forced to use his flight ability to save his life. What commonly gets overlooked in Danko's scheme is that being a super doesn't necessarily imply that you can survive getting thrown out of a window.
- In an episode of The Invisible Man, Da Chief is replaced by a new boss, who suspects that Darien may have certain abilities. He walks into Claire's lab, playing with a Bunsen burner... then turns it up all the way at Darien. Darien jumps back and instinctively activates the gland, going invisible. The new boss ends up trying to force Darien to be his personal assassin.
- In Legend of the Seeker, Zedd is pretending to be a puppeteer to a petulant teenage monarch (using his magic to animate the puppets). It seems to work, but then Darken Rahl arrives for a visit and wishes to see the puppeteer perform. He immediately realizes that powerful magic is at work here and is able to deduce Zedd's name by the fact that there are only two wizards of the First Order left, and the other one works for him.
- Lois and Clark, all the time. Usually Clark will use his powers and come up with some other excuse to cover it up, such as claiming he can read lips to explain how he knows something he picked up via super-hearing, or explaining that the ropes he tore through with his super-strength were frayed. In particular the season 1 episode "Fly Hard", in which terrorists take hostages at the Daily Planet — including Clark, all his friends, and Lex Luthor.
- In Merlin, the title wizard must constantly save the day while keeping his powers secret, since magic is banned in Camelot on pain of execution.
- In one episode of No Ordinary Family, the plot is essentially "Die Hard" on an X, where the X is a police station held hostage. The super strong and invulnerable police sketch artist played by Michael Chiklis could easily deal with the hostage-takers, but he doesn't want to reveal his powers to his coworkers and is wary of how the criminals would react if they knew the guy after them was superpowered. So instead, he hides and moves through the vents, picking them off one by one.
- In the very first episode, "Pilot", Clark survives being hit by Lex's car and ripped off the roof to save him. Lex was distracted, but this incident will bug him for many years to come.
- In "Obsession", Clark reveals his powers to Alicia when they are trapped in a falling elevator.
- In "Pariah", Alicia tricked Clark into catching a flying car.
- Clark tries to play in a football team for awhile, believing he can stay within the bounds of human ability. For awhile, it works, but in "Recruit", he met a person who tried something similar, and it worked for him as well... until he got to college, where he found that impossible due to the higher performance standards. He ends up killing a person in the episode he appears in, so Clark decides to quit the team before it's too late.
- Played with in "Blank", when Clark gets amnesia and Chloe has to take on the role of covering for him when he accidentally uses his powers.
- In "Arrival", Clark officially reveals his powers when he carries a freezing Chloe to the nearest hospital at Super Speed.
Clark: How long have you known?
Chloe: I guess I've always had my suspicions. The quick exits, the miraculous recoveries, the lame excuses, but when I saw you catch a car like it was a beach ball... that kind of confirmed everything.
- In "Crimson", Lex stabs Kal with a chisel, which bent. No-one saw it clearly, but Lana found the chisel and is obsessed with it.
- In "Promise", Lana forces Clark to reveal his powers (super speed, super strength and heat vision to be exact) by locking an unsuspecting Chloe into a freezing cellar, knowing Clark would rescue her.
- Inverted in the episode "Hex", when Clark is bewitched to believe he's an ordinary man, but still has all his superpowers. He comes up with all kinds of explanations for his superpowers — the doorhandle was rusty so of course it came off, the acoustics are amazing so of course he can hear sounds from miles away, etc. Chloe tries to appeal to the one power he couldn't explain away — invulnerability, swings a large pipe at him but misses.
- But it was played straight by Lionel Luthor, when he was pretending to be blind. His long-lost son Lucas realized because "...when a blind man serves wine, he puts his finger in the cup to know when it's full. Also, you couldn't hide your reaction when I didn't sign that contract."
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data, while stuck in 19th century San Francisco, accidentally lets his bellboy see him carry a heavy anvil one-handed. Realizing his mistake, he quickly drops it and pretends to have strained himself.
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, John has to warn Cameron to avoid doing obviously superhuman things (like lifting a huge box of computer equipment unaided) in public, as she's supposed to be a normal human being.
- This happens to Don Diego de la Vega in the original Zorro TV series. Once, having no time to slip away and get into the Zorro outfit, he must enter a swordfight without blowing up his Rich Idiot with No Day Job cover before Captain Monasterio, thus pretending to be a clumsy swordsman but still blocking every of the villain's attacks. He then, for Monasterio, tries to pass off his success as sheer luck. Keep in mind the villain was considered the best swordsman in the province. The final "move" he pulls in the fight is as follows: Don Diego goes in for a clumsy but powerful thrust which is easily parried by the villain, causing Diego to "jam" his own sword into a rock crevice. As Diego is pretending to desperately try to yank the sword out, the villain gloats a little and goes for the fatal blow. At that precise moment Diego summons all his strength and "finally" pulls his weapon free, causing him to stagger backwards and "flail" his sword, knocking his unsuspecting opponent's weapon out of his hand and over the side of the cliff, winning the fight.
- Exalted: Exalts 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
- Siren: The Drowning has it as a core mechanic. In this setting, the titular Sirens received their abilities from a Sea Goddess so they could prevent The End of the World as We Know It by making sure humans won't accomplish any mistake that could lead to it. Unfortunately, because of this the Goddess' "Song" wants to be heard by as many people as possible to better warn them, so Sirens who use their abilities in front of humans suffer an effect called "Refraction" which will cause their human disguise to break and reveal them for what they are. This is a problem for Sirens because they have plenty of pragmatic reasons to stay hidden from Muggles.
- 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.
- Zoroark, being a Dark type, is additionally immune to Psychic attacks. Be careful sending it out disguised as a Poison of Fighting type, because the game is up as soon as your opponent notices that what should have been a Curb-Stomp Battle just became a No Sell.
- At least, if you're facing a human opponent. Computer-controlled opponents never will.
- 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. Additionally, if an Engineer's machines suddenly all have Sappers on them (or you hear the Engineer yell about this), then that's a dead giveaway a Spy is in the area; time to bring out the flamethrowers.
- Since deaths are animated in the most over the top way possible, anybody dropping over due to any sort of surprise attack alerts everyone else that the enemy is nearby; additionally, the existence of Teleporters are betrayed by a trail of glowing particle effects that persist for a while after exiting and whoever's got the Intelligence suitcase is perpetually shedding a conspicuous paper trail in addition to having a big honking arrow pointed in their direction on the heads-up display.
- 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 in the first game (crawling around like Spider-Man, on the other hand, gets you caught immediately). In the sequel, if Heller tries his Blacklight-infused Le Parkour around any soldiers, they'll start noticing. Do it too much and it blows your cover. There's also two missions in the sequel where you're forced to pretend to be human. In these cases, the game shuts off your other powers so you don't blow your cover. You can still grab weapons that should be mounted to tanks, but Heller will just claim he eats a lot of protein.
- 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.
- In the first mission of Watch_Dogs, Aidan is trapped in a stadium after kicking some ass and raising hell. He unintentionally caused enough police to show up that he can't sneak out. Aidan opts to cause a blackout and sneak away during the confusion, even though it'll tie the vigilante (IE himself) to the activities - something he was trying to avoid.
- Fate/stay night:
- This is a big motivation behind Servants wanting to conceal their identity. 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.
- As the Heroic Spirits get knowledge of each other from the Throne of Heroes where they reside, heroes from older legends can piece together the identities of heroes from after their time. Noble Phantasms are almost always a dead giveaway since they are utterly indispensable and tied to the hero's legend. This actually makes Archer, aka Heroic Spirit EMIYA a complete mystery even when he does show off his abilities since it should be impossible for anyone to have such a diverse mix of weapons and treating them as completely disposable is unthinkable for any other Servant. This is because as a Counter Guardian, he is not properly in the Throne of Heroes and knowledge from the Throne does not include him.
- 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.
- In one Global Guardians story, Shield (a superhero whose sole powers are complete and total invulnerability) was traveling overseas when the plane he was on crashed during landing. He suddenly had to find a way to explain how not only how he managed to survive the crash when everyone else on the plane was killed, but how he survived without being so much as scratched.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Zuko 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 King", King Bumi utilizes this by throwing an object at Aang and forcing him to catch it with his airbending, revealing he is the last airbender and the Avatar.
- Danny Phantom: Just how many times has Danny nearly blown his cover by using his powers in human form? There's the numerous times he slipped up when he first got his powers (invisibility and intangibility), using ecto-blasts on things like Dash's shoes, purposely turning his chin intangible to avoid Dash's fist, and a crap load of other stunts that should have gotten him noticed before the series finale.
- 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, as the guards immediately rush in.
- 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.
- 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 Book One finale, 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.
- 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.
- Star Wars Rebels:
- In "Spark of Rebellion", the heroes find themselves in a tight situation while on Kessel rescuing a group of Wookiees from the Empire, so Kanan makes the decision to use his lightsaber to provide cover for everyone else, thus announcing to the Imperials that he's a Jedi, and thus a valuable target.
- "Idiot's Array" subverts it: Ezra pulls out his lightsaber, which he built in the previous episode, during the firefight at Lando's farm, and Kanan panics, because he told Ezra no lightsabers except in really dangerous situations — and Ezra reveals that it's a lightsaber-blaster hybrid.