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Secret Legacy
The hero is in dire straits, on the ropes from the Giant Mook's relentless attack, when who should come and save him but... his mom?

Heroes are a lonely lot. Whether a Super Hero, psychic, the Last of His Kind, or an Ignored Expert fighting uphill for the sake of the ungrateful masses, heroing is a solitary and unpopular path that separates one from all other Muggles and even loved ones. His own family can come to reject the hero, denying their approval or outright scorning him as a freak, it's not like their career choice is following the ancient family legacy. Or is it?

Despite growing up with an otherwise mundane childhood with nary an inkling of the extraordinary, our hero jumps into the thick of things and becomes a hero, or is a Weirdness Magnet and thrust into adventures he can barely fathom. A ways through the series, they'll find out that they're actually heirs to a Secret Legacy of heroism. Maybe it's an old ally of their parents, the parents themselves (though a lot of the time, the legacy is from the father's side), or discovering a hidden cache of artifacts and weapons that belonged to his parents. In any case, characters who have a Secret Legacy are heirs to a family tradition of unusual and heroic proportions. Crime fighting, archaeological adventure, and super heroing are just some examples. Maybe it's "Genetic" or In the Blood, but more often than not it's adventure that finds them, or simple common nature with the parents that leads to the hero picking up his birthright.

For whatever reasons, the hero's real or Muggle Foster Parents chose not to tell him of their real job or former adventuring and keep him Locked Out of the Loop. Some reasons could be to forget the past, to protect him from their enemies, to raise him in a "normal" environment, to prevent his repeating the folly of dead relatives, or because they died. Whatever the specifics, from the point they reveal their Secret Legacy onwards they'll serve as mentors and occasional backup. A Secret Legacy can be used to add depth to a character's background, for cheap laughs, or to give them a support network capable of helping fight bigger threats. Occasionally, both sides will be in a double blind situation where neither knows what the other is up to.

Note, this can happen with the Villain's kids too. This can result in a Living with the Villain situation if the kids get recruited to the other side before the parents tell the kid what's going on. Occasionally the parents won't know about their child's real job outside the Burger Fool thanks to a Secret Identity, so you have a double blind situation which at least justifies why they made him struggle alone with his powers and adventures, forcing him to figure it out himself.

Compare Rags to Royalty and Really Royalty Reveal, when the legacy is monarchy. May be passed on as an Unexpected Inheritance. See also Hidden Backup Prince.

May include spoilers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Urahara reveals during the Shattered Shaft training that Ichigo was born with Shinigami power. Early in the Arrancar Arc, it's confirmed that his father is the Shinigami. Later on, Ichigo finds out he has Fullbring power, implying his mother must have been attacked by a hollow before Ichigo was born. Masaki was a Quincy victim of Aizen's Hollowfication experiments, passing on both Hollow and Quincy power to Ichigo. Her death is also revealed to connect Ichigo to the Final Arc's Big Bad.
    • Uryuu's always known about his Quincy heritage, but his family hides even deeper secrets than the Kurosaki family. Uryuu had no idea his father still possessed active Quincy power until his father chose to reveal it and the reason is implied to be because Ryuuken is protecting Uryuu's life by limiting his exposure to Quincy lore. The deaths of both Uryuu and Ichigo's mothers are connected and should also have included Uryuu's death, if not for a mysterious power that Uryuu doesn't know he possesses. A power the evil Quincy King desperately wants.
  • In Gate Keepers, Shun eventually learns that the reason his supposedly neglectful father was hardly ever home was because he was a Gate Keeper, too.
  • The manga Initial D. A character is left in the dust of an old Corolla, something he is understandably annoyed about, as he is riding an RX-7. He rides to a nearby gas station the next day to see if they know about the rust bucket, where the manager of said station implies that the only car fitting that description belongs to the main character's father, a local racing legend back in the day. The main character, however, couldn't care less about this bit of information (or about anything else at the beginning of the series.)
  • The main character of Naruto is eventually revealed to be part of a line of people linked both by blood and mentor ship who have been the leaders of the village since its foundation.
    • That's on his father's side, on his mother's side we have all the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi.
    • His mother's side is also distantly related to the first two Hokages and the first Kyuubi jinchuuriki, as she is an Uzumaki who married the First Hokage.
      • That's nothing, on his mother's side, he's descended from the Rikudou Sennin.
  • In One Piece, the people with "D" in their name are said to have "The Will of D." They all seem to share similar characteristics (being Big Eaters, having their own sense of justice which they doggedly pursue no matter who is in their way, and smiling at their deaths) and their actions tend to have far-reaching consequences (Luffy's being most apparent in his various adventures, but others such as Jaguar D. Saul saving Nico Robin who is now the only person who can read poneglyphs and seeks to discover the mystery of the Lost One Hundred Years have cropped up), not to mention Gol D. Roger, the Pirate King, who turned the world upside-down with his legendary feat of reaching the end of the Grand Line and his proceeding actions that led to the start of the Golden Age of Piracy.
    • This legacy is so secret that not even those who carry it know what it means. Luffy and Saul don't even get the reference when asked about the D. This makes Roger notable as the only D (thus far) who actually knew what it meant.
    • The only exception to this legacy is Marshall D. Teach, who's shown to beg for his life if it is in the slightest of danger.
  • Magic Kaito is about the main character finding out about his father's secret identity and taking up the mantle. In aversion of the normal plot, the reason this was kept from him isn't any of the usual reasons, it's that the identity is that of a gentleman-thief, and so everyone keeps it a secret. His mother even knows, and is completely accepting of him taking up his father's mantle, even though it eventually got his father killed. He even has the rest of his father's support network working with him and some of them don't even know it's a different person now. Further complicating it, his best friend and love interest hate his secret identity, and her father is the police chief in charge of catching him.

    Ballads 
  • In Fause Foodrage, Wise William breaks the news to the boy he's raising when the boy is seventeen: points out a castle and tells him he's the rightful heir, because the man in possession killed his father and is keeping his mother a prisoner.

    Comicbooks 
  • Marvel's Runaways series embodies this trope pretty well.
  • May "Mayday" Parker in the MC2 continuity fits this perfectly.
  • Jacob and Miller find out that their mother was the world's greatest supervillain in Necessary Evil.
  • Superman: In the earliest version of the story, Clark knew that the Kents had found him in a rocket ship, but had no idea where the ship came from, nor any inkling of the heroic legacy of his father, the original Jor-El. During the Silver Age, Kal-El came to Earth as a toddler and had total recall of his days on Krypton. In the Christopher Reeve movies, the Timm/Dini animated series, Smallville, and the Post-Crisis Ret Cons, he didn't even know about the space ship until his powers developed to the point where his adopted parents couldn't just dismiss them any more.
  • In Wanted, Wesley's father was The Killer, a member of the Fraternity, a worldwide group of Supervillains. As expected Wesley has no idea about this, since his father left him and his mother while he was still young. It is revealed to him after his father is killed that his father left everything he has to him, on the condition that he takes up the mantle of The Killer.
  • Spider-Man: Peter Parker's real parents were actually special operatives, which is why his camera was automated.
  • William Warlock from I Hunt Monsters finds out about his just as the monsters he's supposed to keep sealed break out from their prison.
  • Played with in Invincible. Mark Grayson knew all his life that his father was an alien superhero and Mark would probably inherit his powers. However, Mark didn't find out until he began his own superhero career that his father was a scout for a race of conquering alien Nazis.

    Film 
  • George Lucas likes to use this for some reason.
  • In Wanted, the protagonist Wesley is told that his father (who left his mother the first week after his birth) was actually an assassin and was killed by an evil man named Cross. Wesley endures harsh training to kill Cross, but Cross unexpectedly saves his life. That doesn't stop Wesley from shooting him, and the dying Cross explains that he is actually Wesley's father, and the assassins he's been mingling with are the real bad guys, and they ordered Wesley to kill Cross only because they knew Cross would never shoot his own son. Being the hero sucks!
  • The second two Ocean's Eleven movies use this with Linus Caldwell's parents. In Twelve, his mother appears as a police officer, takes over the investigation of his crime, breaks him in the interrogation room, and we are treated to a stunning reveal in the cars on the way out of the station. In Thirteen, his father turns up and pulls a very similar stunt. In both cases, the twist works only because we don't know who these police officers are and they are introduced as if their credentials are valid.
    • In the second film, Isabel's father was a thief who taught her everything he knew. She later becomes a cop and starts using that knowledge to catch thieves, including the famous Gaspar LeMarque. In the end, she finds out that LeMarque is her father.
    • A blink-and-you'll miss it moment in Thirteen gives away Linus's father's identity. As Linus is being arrested by him in his day job as an FBI agent, Abigail calls him "Agent Caldwell". Before that, they take great pains not to mention his name, even when he picks up his office phone.
  • In The Mummy Trilogy, Evelyn is a quiet librarian who claims her mother was an Egyptian. She mostly plays the role of a damsel in the first movie. In the sequel, she gets upgraded to an Action Girl, which is revealed to be due to her being the reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian princess. Given her heritage, it can be assumed she is descended from the princess. Also, her husband is actually descended from a Medjai tribe.
  • Estelly Getty's eponymous character in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, as if the cover wasn't clear indication.

    Literature 
  • In Greystone Valley, Sarah's ability to read Kay's spellbook and wield magic of her own is eventually explained as something she got from her mom, who is the original Emerald Enchantress.
  • Jim Butcher's Proven Guilty of The Dresden Files: Charity Carpenter doesn't tell her oldest daughter Molly that she once had potential to be a wizard but chose not to use it even after Molly is almost executed for misuse of her power.
    • When she finds out, Molly even cites the parable of the talents (long story short, a story from the Bible whose Aesop is "make the best use of what you're given". Gee, Charity, are you saying the Bible only applies when it makes you look good?).
    • Harry invokes this for his daughter.
    • To some not-yet-fully-explained extent, Margaret LeFay McCoy Dresden.
    • As Harry figured out, to be eligible to be a Knight of the Cross, one has to be the descendant of royalty. Since most people don't know whether they are partially royalty, Knights of the Cross are this.
  • In Codex Alera... guess who. No, really. Go on. We'll wait. It was Tavi, in case you were wondering. He has the dubious distinction of being the one and only normal guy in a world where everyone has Elemental Powers. He proceeds to save the world repeatedly anyway through a combination of badassitude, intelligence, and leadership skills. It turns out that in this last especially, he, Gaius Octavian takes after his dad, Gaius Septimus. The reason Tavi is a Badass Normal is that his mother stunted his growth and magic to hide him, knowing that as the heir to the throne, he'd be a huge target. And eventually he starts to display the other traits he inherited...
  • In Karen Chance's Hunt the Moon, Cassandra Palmer finds out that the reason the power of the Pythia transferred to her after the reigning Pythia died is because her mother is Artemis, the goddess of death, and the other candidates, despite being well-trained (and under the mages' control—while Cassie had no training whatsoever) stood no chance because of that.
  • Subverted in John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory. Calliope learned, very young, that she was the only daughter of a king to be smuggled to safety after her father's throne was usurped. Not that that doesn't lead to complications on its own.
  • In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, the children are kept ignorant of their own legacy with systemic Laser-Guided Amnesia and Restraining Bolts. They learn in due course that they are being held hostage.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire, where should we start? Gendry, Arya's companion in early books is King Robert's bastard.
    • Young Griff hasn't any Tyroshi mother and blue hair as well, he dyes his hair to hide his natural silver-blond hair beacause he's Aegon IV Targaryen...or maybe not.
    • Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen are not so royal blood they are Lannister from both parents side as a product of Twincest of the queen and her brother.
    • In "Bael the Bard" song, the Lord Stark grandson of Brandon the Daughterless had no idea that Bael the Bard was his father and kills him.
    • If certain fan theories are correct, there's also Jon Snow's lineage.
  • The Marin family in Tranquilium is somehow connected to the metaphysical management of the titular Alternate Dimension. The main character of the book is one Gleb Marin, who didn't know.
  • The entire Royal line of Valdemar is secretly descended from Vanyel, the Last Herald-Mage, through a bargain struck to preserve the continuity of the Monarchy during a time of major political upheaval. This is crucial to the plot, as his descendant, Princess Elspeth, takes up the mantle of being Valdemar's first new Herald-Mage six hundred years later. She subsequently meets up with yet another descendant of Vanyel, Firesong K'Treva of the Tayledras — in fact, he's the one who tells her, as the Hawkbrothers were the only ones Vanyel entrusted with the knowledge outside of the inner Royal circle.
  • In the Army of the Sun trilogy, the main character is an orphan whose mother told him that he was born from a one-night stand with a crewman on a spaceship. In the third novel, he finds out that he is the direct descendant of the last human emperor, thus being the only human with the genetic key to the Solar System.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov's Wrong Time For The Dragons, Victor is an ordinary man from our world ends up in the Middle World, which is located between the world of magic (Trueborn World) and our non-magical world (Outworld). He is destined to become the next Dragonslayer, tasked with defending the Middle World from invasion of the Winged Lords of the Trueborn World (i.e. dragons). He is being hunted by the previous Dragonslayer who now believes that it is necessary for a Dragon to survive. In the end, Victor has a vision that reveals that his strange grandmother is actually from the Middle World and was banished by the Dragonslayer after being raped by him (It Makes Sense in Context), making him the guy's grandson.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born", Salome learned that she was born to the royal family and her sister was queen.
    He had told me who I was, of the curse and my heritage. I have returned to take that to which I have as much right as you. Now it is mine by right of possession
  • In the backstory of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is raised in Rivendell as 'Estel' and not told of his lineage and destiny until he is twenty-one. This is to protect him from his allies and allow him a normal childhood (as normal as a Man raised by Elves can have).
  • In Rudyard Kipling's "The Three-Decker", he tweaks the use of this trope for both heroes and heroes in the Victorian three-volume novel.
  • In Wen Spencer's Tinker, Tinker and her cousin Oilcan learn a secret about their ancestry.
  • In Dan Abnett's Ravenor vs. Eisenhorn novel Pariah, Beta learns, late in the novel, that she is not quite a clone of another Alizabeta Bequin — making her name a Meaningful Name.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sydney Bristow on Alias, like, whoa. First it's the discovery that her mild-mannered father didn't sell airplane parts, but was rather one of the scariest double-agents in CIA and SD-6. And then it's the discovery that her mother was a double- no, triple- no, make that quadruple — okay, at this point, we have no idea WHO Irina was working for — agent up to her eyeballs in Rambaldi.
    • Never mind her sister, Nadia, as well as the other two Derevko sisters. Man, JJ was really shooting for Lamarck Was Right with these ladies, wasn't he?
  • In Power Rangers Mystic Force, Red Ranger Nick knows prior to season start that he's adopted, but doesn't learn until episode 23 of 32 that his biological mother is his team's White Ranger and mentor, and his father was the leader of the previous group of warriors 20 years ago, who fell to enemy forces and was brainwashed. This is obviously a slight change to the formula, as he knew the two were super-powered beforehand. He just didn't know he was related to them.
  • Gendry in Game of Thrones is a apparently a low-born apprentice blacksmith,actually he's King Robert's bastard son.
  • In the first episode of Heroes, Angela Petrelli is introduced as a bored society matron shoplifting socks as a cry for attention/attempt to liven up her day. She's since been revealed to be a superpowered human who gave her son his first power, one of the founders of the Company, and an all round Magnificent Bitch.
  • In Chuck, Papa Bartowski turns out to be the mysterious Orion, the creator of the Intersect that got his son into the spy business in the first place. And it looks like Mama Bartowski is in the espionage business as well.
  • Eddie in Mockingbird Lane gets as far as his preteen years without ever knowing he's a werewolf. His parents go to rather extreme lengths to hide his own bloodthirsty full-moon rampages from him.
  • In Supernatural, Sam and Dean are raised to be hunters by their father but there's no indication that the three are anything more than a family of ordinary people thrust into the lifestyle by bad circumstances. Later we learn that their mother was descended from a line of hunters and was a hunter herself. Much later we learn that their grandfather was a hereditary member of a secret society of supernatural information brokers.
  • In Tracker, Mel spends most of the series thinking she's an ordinary human who just happened to run into the alien Cole after he landed, only to find out near the end that she's part of an ancient hybrid bloodline devoted to guarding a Doomsday Device from the bad guys.

    Videogames 
  • As it turns out, most of Final Fantasy V's player party can claim this. We know Lenna is a princess from the start. Then we learn that Faris is her sister, making her a princess. When Galuf gets his memory back he's a King, and his granddaughter's a princess. And Bartz, Ridiculously Average Guy who got involved in this completely by chance, is actually the son of one of the original heroes who sealed Exdeath in the first place.
  • In Final Fantasy X, protagonist Tidus knows he's following on his father's footsteps as a star Blitzball player. What he doesn't know, not until he's thrown into Yuna's service as a volunteer Guardian, is that Jecht was the Guardian of Braska, Yuna's father.
    • Or that the Jecht is the Final Aeon.
  • In Psychonauts, Raz is saved before the very final boss by his father. Despite Raz's belief that his father was prejudiced against psychics, his father was in fact a psychic himself, and had actually been trying to help Raz control his powers more effectively all along. He even gives Raz the psychic boost he needs to defeat the final boss.
  • In Fable, the player characters mother - Scarlet Rose, was a powerful hero, who was an Arena Champion and a Balvarine Hunter. When we finally meet her however...she's not.
  • Ace Attorney example: Both Apollo's bracelet and lie-detecting abilities were handed down to him from his mother Thalassa Gramarye, a talented (stage) magician. However, while the viewer finds this out at the end of the game Phoenix and Thalassa decide they will tell him when he's ready and we never see his reaction to this rather important piece of news.
  • In the Dragon Age II DLC "Legacy", Hawke and (possibly) their siblings discover their father Malcolm's Secret Legacy. Turns out Malcolm was a very powerful mage, who helped the Grey Wardens reinforce the seals of a prison containing a particularly powerful, Ancient Darkspawn.
  • Dragon Quest V, any of the three wife heroines the protaginist marries will turn out to be a descendant of the Zenithian, winged humans who once lived in the sky, and is destinated to give a birth to the legendary hero. Note that this only happens to the girl you marry with. Bianca (DS) once lampshades as a joke that her life wouldn't be have been so suck if she didn't marry The Hero.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Up until Billie Wilson got her superpowers, she had no idea that her parents were superpowered mutants who work for the C.I.A. Or that her annoyingly-perfect older brother was a superpowered mutant with a low-level Paragon power. Or that her incredibly annoying kid inventor younger brother was also a mutant. Okay, her brothers were also clueless on this until she manifested and became Tennyo. (On the other hand, Jadis Diabolik has known about her father since she was old enough to keep a secret, because he is one of the most wanted supervillains on the planet.)

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: Ben discovers long after receiving his Imported Alien Phlebotinum that his grandfather is a former Men in Black-esque alien hunter who Missed the Call.
  • Kim Possible's Nana was resented by Kim, primarily for criticizing her clothes as too revealing and saying her world saving was just a phase, and that she'd grow out of it. What Kim's father never told her, but Dr. Drakken somehow knew, was that in The Sixties Nana studied with the Shaolin monks, was a top-rated aviatrix, and was the first woman to pass the Navy's underwater demolitions training course. He then uses a mind-controlling hearing aid to force Nana to fight Kim, a fight Nana wins.
  • Subverted in Filmations Ghostbusters: Jake and Eddie were fully aware of their fathers' legacies. Messrs Kong and Spenser, Sr. were more than ready and willing to pass the torch (or, in this case, the Dematerializer).
  • An episode of Justice League Unlimited reveals that Batman Beyond hero, Terry McGinnis is actually the genetic son of Bruce Wayne as part of a secret experiment by a government group to create a new Batman. Basically, they gave Warren McGinnis an injection that replaced his reproductive material (and thus DNA) with Bruce Wayne's. So, when him and Mary decided to "get down to business", his "love gun" was loaded with Bruce Wayne bullets. And they hit the "target".
    • Then again, it's rather a subversion. In the end, the program was called off before the defining moment of his life could be recreated. Terry ended up becoming Batman all on his own, mostly through coincidence, wholly independent of his genetic heritage.
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Teela has this. She struggles to understand why she's called upon by Castle Greyskull to replace the Sorceress when the Sorceress goes missing. She has no idea that the reason is because she is the Sorceress's daughter and her future successor. In the 2000s remake, a village believes she's a sorceress who once saved them from danger come back to help them again. The villagers are remembering the Sorceress and Teela almost uncovers the truth about her relationship with the Sorceress as a result. On another occasion, she's badly wounded defending the castle from Skeletor's army and the Sorceress gives her a transfusion of her own blood. It makes Teela temporarily telepathic as a result of the dormant abilities she doesn't know she possesses precisely because she's the Sorceress's daughter.


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