Bruce Wayne: A slender hope, Miss Kitka. More slender than you can know.
A plot in Superhero stories where villains take innocent hostages and use them as bait to draw out a specific superhero. There's just one difference from the standard Hostage Situation — the superhero's civilian identity is one of the victims. Now the hero must find a way to rescue the hostages, bring the bad guys down, and prevent anyone present, good and bad, from putting 2 and 2 together and figuring out that he and his alter ego are the same person. Obviously, he will, but the question is, how?
Note that the hostages being bait to draw out the superhero must be part of the villain's plot to qualify as this trope. If the villains don't specifically intend to draw out the superhero or known associates thereof, then the hero is merely the Right Man in the Wrong Place or they've unwittingly picked the wrong bystander to victimize.
Compare Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard. Contrast Safety in Muggles. In some variations, the villain may specifically target the hero's "civilian" identity for kidnapping based on their apparent personal connection to the hero; see Friend of Masked Self. Also contrast I Have Your Wife, where the purpose of the kidnapping is to force the hero to cooperate with the villain. Subtrope of Restricted Rescue Operation.
- The eighth episode of Bubblegum Crisis had Nene's job (AD Police Headquarters) get attacked by a villain trying to draw the Knight Sabers out.
- A curious inversion happens in Moldiver, during the episode with the space shuttle. Machinegal tries to steal the shuttle and takes the crowd hostage, and dares Moldiver to stop him. This is because he thinks Moldiver is in the crowd — specifically looking at an old student of his and a close friend of Hiroshi who looks just like you'd think Moldiver would look without a suit. Except he's not Moldiver, Hiroshi just modeled its physique after him because he wanted to look buff. So the villain, the poor guy's date, and the crowd want him to transform and try to save the day, while he tries to convince everyone he's not the superhero.
- A variation occurred in "The Make-Believe Superman", a Silver Age Superman story. During an attempted heist at a bank, some goons take a bystander hostage and force Superman to help them. Only the "Superman" they have is a lookalike in a Superman costume on his way to his son's school, and the "hostage" is Clark Kent, who they grabbed before he could change clothes. The real Superman ends up having to use his powers to covertly make his kidnappers believe the fake one is the real deal until he can get him safely away.
- A story in the Batman and Robin Adventures comic inverts this and then subverts it. Riddler takes all the occupants of a prestige Gotham City club hostage on Christmas Eve, similar to the Moldiver example, because he's apparently put two and two together and realized that Batman has to be pretty wealthy and connected so it's all but guaranteed he and Robin are at the club that night. They aren't. Then it turns out that the hostages are actually one giant distraction for the Riddler to secretly steal a pair of priceless gold statues in the club.
- PK2, issue #3: Donald Duck, now working as a mall security guard, is taken hostage along with a bunch of others inside of a clothing store by a mind-controlled hobo with a shotgun demanding to talk to Paperinik. Interestingly, Donald uses some makeup to draw a PK mask on his face and grabs a long, blue piece of cloth to wrap around himself as a cape so he can "pretend to be PK so the others can escape". His coworkers even remarks that he only barely resembles PK! He then runs a negotiation with the guy for quite a while... until the hobo notices the price tag on his "cape". Oops.
- The picture comes from an issue of The Superman Adventures, where the Mad Hatter takes Bruce hostage and demands Batman's cowl in exchange.
- In one of the Night of the Red Panda comics, Professor Zombie takes a group of socialites hostage to lure out the Red Panda—including the Red Panda's alter ego, August Fenwick.
- Played With in Spectacular Spider-Man #19, where a mastermind-type villain, Lightmaster, has deduced from a previous encounter that Spider-Man must be a student at Empire State University. He has the Enforcers take a bunch of hostages to call out Spider-Man, who easily defeats them. One student, Hector Aayla, himself the super hero the White Tiger, remains behind when the hostages flee in case Spider-Man needs help. So when Hector leaves the diner, alone, and no one saw Spider-Man enter, Lightmaster assumes this trope is in play and in the next issue kidnaps Hector to reveal his identity to the world.
- Referenced in an issue of Incorruptible, Lois Lane-Expy Alana Patel tells Max Damage that the Plutonian's secret identity was Dan Hartigan. After a moments Stunned Silence, Max begins smashing a nearby car in a rage, screaming that he kidnapped Dan Hartigan dozens of times,.
- In Nymph and the Corrupted Miraculous, a Miraculous Ladybug fic in which Marinette gets the Butterfly Miraculous instead of the Ladybug Miraculous and becomes a superhero called Nymph, the supervillain Catastrophe takes a number of hostages including Marinette and demands that Nymph face him to secure their release. She gets out of it by faking having her period in order to have a moment alone in the ladies' room.
- Scarlet Lady
- Volpina holds Adrien hostage, unaware that he's Chat Noir. Fortunately for everyone involved, it was just an illusion that the real Chat Noir quickly breaks.
- Kung Food manages to capture Chloé, preventing Scarlet Lady from appearing until well after Chat Noir had done most of the work.
- In Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams, Lightmaster captures a group of Empire State University students in order to force Sleepwalker to fight him. Rick Sheridan, Sleepwalker's human host, provokes Lightmaster into knocking him and the other students out with light bursts, allowing him to release Sleepwalker while also covering Sleepy's emergence into the physical world.
- White Sheep (RWBY): Inverted. Whenever the humanoid Grimm "Hentacle" appears, Jaune is nowhere to be found, so his friends fight Hentacle to try to save Jaune from whatever the monster has done to him. Of course, Jaune is Hentacle, but can't shift back to human form without having to answer some very difficult questions.
- In Batman: The Movie, Catwoman lures Bruce Wayne into a trap designed to force Batman to save him. Wayne escapes by telling the snooping villains a "fish story about a radio."
- Batman Forever - when Two-Face threatens to detonate a bomb at a circus, killing everyone there unless Batman shows up. Two-Face actually points out that he wouldn't be surprised if Batman is in the wealthy and well-to-do audience. It turns out Bruce Wayne is in the audience and willing to reveal himself. He stands up and yells "I'm Batman", but no one can hear him because everyone is screaming in panic. He then tries to push his way down and either stop the bomb or give himself up in his civilian identity.
- In all three movies in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy Peter Parker is targeted in some manner by a villain who wants to track down Spider-Man (although this trope only really applies in the second film, as the Goblin and Venom were both aware that Peter was Spider-Man when they went after him while Doctor Octopus just used Peter to 'pass on a message').
- Superheroes Anonymous: Supervillains crash a party being held by Jessie Davenport, demanding that The Raptor face them. Jessie Davenport is The Raptor. This forces the protagonist, Gail Godwin, currently interning for Jessie, to don the armor.
- Arrow, episode "Legacy": A gang leader wants to prove himself by taking down the Green Arrow, so he decides to draw him out by kidnapping mayor Oliver Queen... who is secretly the Green Arrow.
Oliver Queen: Listen, the Green Arrow is not coming... I have it on pretty good authority that he's tied up right now.
- A variant of this happens on Black Lightning. Gambi is being tortured into revealing Black Lightning's true identity, but he won't budge. His captors bring in Jefferson and tell Gambi to reveal Black Lightning's true identity, or else Jefferson gets shot. Luckily, Jefferson uses his powers to cause a power outage so they can escape. Unfortunately, this clues the Government Conspiracy into his secret identity.
- Doctor Who: In "The Return of Doctor Mysterio", the villains attempt to draw out the Ghost by capturing Intrepid Reporter Lucy Fletcher, and, since he's there when they come for her, also take her friend Grant Gordon. Grant is the secret identity of the Ghost.
- In Batman: Arkham Knight, Hush takes Lucius Fox hostage and demands Bruce Wayne to be brought to him by Batman. Batman just decides to unmask himself on the spot, prompting a This Cannot Be! reaction from Hush, as it completely negates his "Bruce Wayne never had to fight for anything" argument.
- Invoked in one story branch of Batman: The Telltale Series. Batman needs a way to get close to the Penguin, and notes, "Penguin wants hostages to bait Batman. Bruce Wayne will be the perfect hostage."
- How to Hero discusses this concept in their post about kidnappings. The guide advises heroes who end up in this situation to roll their eyes repeatedly until one of their allies comes to rescue them.
- An Alvin and the Chipmunks episode parodying Batman even had this. The Jokester (Alvin) kidnaps Brice Wayne (Simon) and Nicki Nale (Brittany) and threatens to kill them unless Batmunk brings him the toy he's been trying to steal. Fortunately, loyal butler Happy (Theodore) takes on the role himself for this.
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman does it to himself. A Tap on the Head has him thinking he's actually the gangster he's posing as, and he puts the Birds of Prey in a Death Trap, demanding that Batman come and fight him, or else.
- Happened to Drake Mallard in Darkwing Duck's episode "Adopt-a-Con". He managed to pull it off by moving very quickly from the bank he was held hostage into where he had a spare costume. Then the villain, Tuskerninni, and the law started arguing over whether hostage Drake had to be let go before hero Darkwing surrendered or vice versa...
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe:
- In the 2002 version, Prince Adam is kidnapped by Skeletor to serve as bait for He-Man. (Even worse, Skeletor sends Adam's sword with the ransom note to prove he's not bluffing, meaning Adam can't use it to become He-Man.) Obviously, it's a long wait, until a robotic stand-in for He-Man cobbled together by Man-At-Arms shows up to complete the ruse.
- A similar plot occurred in an episode of the 1983 cartoon, in which Prince Adam was frozen in phlebotinum along with other hostages by someone who wanted He-Man's help to save his daughter from Skeletor. Orko, the comic bundle of rags, was the only one available to float in with a sword and declare in a magically altered voice that he was He-Man and would only help if one hostage was freed as a show of faith. (Amazingly, this worked. The guy had no idea what He-Man looked like, and Orko managed to convince him, mostly because he was able to prove it by defeating the trained beast that the guy had, mostly out of dumb luck.)
- In "Revenge is Never Sweet", the evil wizard Kothos captures Prince Adam, Teela, Orko, and Cringer, then puts them on a raft with no paddles and pushes it out to sea, gambling that He-Man would eventually show up to save them. He doesn't even monitor the raft, and when it drifts too far away to see, Adam simply swims away and transforms.
- In one episode of the animated TV series The Mask, the villains take several people at the mall hostage, including Stanley. Stanley is forced to read out the threat on TV. He overemphasizes the fact that they need the help of the Mask, to give his dog the hint that it needs to bring him the mask.
- Iron Man: Armored Adventures, episode "Secrets and Lies": Maggia enforcers Killer Shrike and Unicorn kidnap Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and Gene Khan in an attempt to ransom Gene's father The Mandarin. What they don't realize is Gene is actually the current Mandarin they're trying to blackmail and they obviously get no response when trying to contact him.
- In Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003), Peter Parker finds himself among a group of hostages in a TV studio held by ex-KGB terrorists and volunteers to be cameraman so they can put forth their demand. The catch, of course, is that they want Spider-Man in person.
- A variant in Static Shock, in which the main villains start suspecting Virgil of being Static partly because the two of them look really similar, but also because they've noticed that Virgil hangs around Richie and Richie hangs around Static (in a previous episode, they kidnapped Richie to draw Static out). They kidnap Virgil and lock him in a room that Static would easily be able to bust out of in an attempt to prove their theory. Thankfully Virgil realizes this beforehand and manages to place a distress call to Richie, who hacks into the camera of Virgil's cell and alters the tapes so that Virgil can break out but still appear to be in the cell.
- Transformers, Beast Wars: In "Fallen Comrades", Megatron threatens to shoot two tigers unless the Maximals hand over the stasis pod with the protoform inside. What Megatron didn't realize was that one of the tigers was the protoform he was looking for, namely Tigatron.
- In an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, a villain kidnaps Peter Parker and forces him to become the host of the Carnage symbiote so that he can send Carnage out to attack Spider-Man.
- Miraculous Ladybug: In general, Hawk Moth's main goal is to lure out Ladybug and Chat Noir so that he can steal their miraculouses, so any time Marinette or Adrien get trapped by an Akuma victim before transforming qualifies.
- Adrien: In "Gorrizilla", Hawk Moth specifically targets Adrien because he's come to suspect that Adrien is Chat Noir. If Chat Noir doesn't come to the rescue, he's confirmed his suspicions. If Chat Noir does come, then he's eliminated a suspect and gets to go about the usual business of trying to steal his miraculous. But even when Adrien isn't specifically targeted, he seems to be among the first victims ("Riposte" and "Style Queen" jump to mind).
- Marinette: Marinette is a less frequent target, but "Befana" and "Weredad" do single her out.
- One special case is "Ladybug," where the akuma victim is Marinette herself. Hawk Moth is forced to recall the akuma before the situation plays out.