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Cover-Blowing Superpower

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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.

It goes without saying that a Super Hero, member of a Masquerade or Mage 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.

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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.

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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.


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Examples:

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    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 Jerkass boss through several walls, all the witnesses need to have their memories wiped.
  • 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.
  • Although not technically a superpower, when the titular hero of Robin Hood disguises himself as a stork in order to enter an archery tournament, he fails to realize that while he needs to be good enough to win, he shouldn't be that good. Prince John figures out it's him due to his Improbable Aiming Skills, and unmasks him during the victory ceremony.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Gwen follows Miles to school because her spider-sense told her that something was up with him. It isn't until a newly-bitten Miles gets his hand stuck to her hair that she figures out exactly why. note 

    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.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • In Man of Steel, a young Pete Ross (and probably an entire schoolbus, really) finds out about young Clark Kent's Super Strength when he saves them all from drowning by pushing the bus out of the water. Not revealing Clark's powers to the world until he's "ready" is also a major concern for his adoptive father Jonathan.
    • Justice League has Bruce Wayne show up in Barry Allen's hideout. When Barry tries to deny who he really is, but then 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.
  • When mild-mannered family man Tom Stall kills two gun-toting robbers to save his friends and customers, he is celebrated as a hero. But soon loved ones and strangers alike begin to question if Tom has A History of Violence...
    Carl Fogarty: Ask [Tom] why he's so good at killing people?
  • 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.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • A variant in Captain America: Civil War: when Tony is talking to Peter about the "Stark Internship", Peter initially denies being the "Spider-guy", even when Tony pulls the costume out of a hole in his ceiling. It's not until Tony threatens to tell Aunt May that Peter webs his hand to the door, blowing his cover once and for all.
    • Later, in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter climbs into his bedroom after a long day of being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, drops from the ceiling, and takes off the mask ... and a moment later, his best friend Ned, whom Peter had invited over a while ago and was sitting in his room the whole time, drops a LEGO set he had been working on, revealing his presence. Peter still tries to deny being Spider-Man, and takes off the suit in a hurry, revealing him to be way more muscular than a 15-year-old should be.
  • In Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), 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 Rōnin, 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 Film Series:
    • X-Men: By taking a beating in the cage match without a single bruise, Wolverine gives his opponent fair reason to suspect his mutant status. Then the guy goes at him with a broken bottle and Logan busts out the claws, removing any doubt.
    • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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).
  • In In Nomine, use of many supernatural powers will trigger Disturbance, a psychic noise that reveals to any Symphonically aware being in the area that an angel, demon, or other unusual being is in the area. Using Essence to manipulate a skill roll can make this obvious even to ordinary mortals since it creates supernatural side effects, like swathing a bike in green flame as it jumps a canyon.
  • Siren: The Drowning has it as a core mechanic known as Refraction. See, Sirens are created by a mysterious phenomenon known as the Song, which comes from a Bad Future reaching back to prevent it from coming to pass. As such, in reverse of most other World of Darkness gamelines, the Song wants The Masquerade broken, to pass on its warning to as many people as possible. Because of this, a Siren who uses her Verses or Alterations in front of mortals have a chance of suffering it. If it happens, it forces a Siren into their mermaid form. This is a problem for Sirens because they have plenty of pragmatic reasons to stay hidden from Muggles as well as the fact that their mermaid form tends to be useless on land.
  • 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.
  • Promethean: The Created has another version. Any use of a Transmutation, even relatively subtle ones that can boost the Promethean's strength or fortitude, will cause the Pyros holding the Promethean's illusion of life to flicker, allowing others to see the Promethean as the walking corpse it is. Doing so around mortals is a very good way to accelerate Disquiet.
  • Stratego: Scouts are allowed to move more than 1 square per turn, but since they are the only pieces in the game that can move in this manner, doing so will instantly tip off your opponent that it's a scout they're dealing with.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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 and what their Achilles' Heel is. 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. Of course, he's so incredibly egotistical that he rarely cares whether people know who he is; in Fate/Zero he introduces himself to the other heroes by name.
    • 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 from the future, he is not properly in the Throne of Heroes and knowledge from the Throne does not include him. He had to engage in Loophole Abuse to get summoned at all.

    Web Animation 
  • Early in Red vs. Blue, Church dies but comes back as a ghost who can possess a robot duplicate of his armor, something he tries to keep private from outsiders. When he and Grif are locked in a jail cell it seems like an ideal time to use that ability, only for things to be subverted when the door is opened before Church can try it, so Grif ends up thinking he has telekinesis. In Reconstruction, Church tries not to show Washington he can step out of his body, but Simmons sucks at making distractions so Wash finds out anyway. But then it turns out Washington isn't surprised in the slightest, and explains that Church isn't a "ghost," but an AI.
  • RWBY: When using her power, a Maiden's eyes develop a tell-tale flare of magical fire that is the same colour as their Aura. However, one Maiden learned to hide her powers by creating a distraction to hide the source of the magic, allowing her to avert this trope when necessary. When Cinder's team demands proof that Vernal is the long-lost Spring Maiden, Vernal closes her eyes and extends her arms to summon a storm. Her bandit leader, Raven Branwen, remains by her side, wearing her signature raven-shaped helmet. The villains are convinced by the display, never realising that Vernal is only a decoy and that the helmet's true purpose is to hide the eye-fire surrounding Raven's eyes.

Alternative Title(s): Awkward Ability

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