Cover-Blowing Superpower

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

It goes without saying that a Superhero, member of a Masquerade or Witch Species shouldn't use their powers when in their Secret Identity mode—but sometimes they are unexpectedly thrown into dangerous situations for which a simple usage of their powers could quickly and immediately get them (and/or everybody else) out of.

Except for one problem: It will reveal who and what they truly are behind all that Clark Kenting, with all the awkward consequences that such a reveal might entail. Maybe a Love Interest is watching and this isn't the time they want to reveal their powers to them yet. Or maybe an enemy is watching, and revealing their powers might cause said enemy to attack their Secret Identity directly.

But for whatever reason, the character will try to get out of this situation "normally", without revealing themselves in the process. Whether or not they succeed, and the particular consequences for failure, vary by situation.

This is almost guaranteed to occur if the enemies have Bruce Wayne Held Hostage—sure, maybe Batman could slip out of those binding ropes easily, but billionaire playboy Bruce?

Compare Clark Kenting, Obfuscating Stupidity, Revealing Skill, and Do Well, But Not Perfect. See also Masquerade, an overarching reason to not use one's powers in front of any normal people.

No real life examples, please; at least, not until somebody in Real Life develops superpowers.

Examples of Cover-Blowing Superpower include:

Anime and 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.
  • Done unsuccessfully by the protagonist of Darker than Black. 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.
  • Dragonball Z
    • Happens when Gohan picks a fight with a group of gang members; however he sees Videl coming towards them so he let them punch him in the face. Videl is surprised to see that Gohan hasn't a scratch on him, let alone a black eye.

"Shoot, it's that skinny kid that has me confused. I think I busted my hand on his face. No joke! I felt like I was hitting a wall of solid steel!"

    • A similar incident happened when he is playing baseball during school. The local Jerk Jock decided to try to brush Gohan away from the plate but he didn't even bother to move. Everyone cringed in pain as his helmet flew off but Gohan merely double-checked with the umpire that getting hit gave him a free base. During that game, he also caught a pop fly by jumping dozens of feet into the air and doubling a guy off third who was standing there with a one foot lead off the base. In each case, he thinks he's successfully blending in, which is what happens when the only Muggle you've ever met is something of a Gadgeteer Genius Adventurer Archaeologist who has been hanging around ridiculously superhuman warriors longer than you've been alive.
      • This particular one is a bit ridiculous anyway, since while deciding where to throw the ball, he's effectively hanging in midair. That's not suspicious at all...
    • When most of the fighters are signing up for the world martial arts tournament, most of them have to hold back when punching a strength-testing machine in order to produce believable results. Sadly, they're so obviously holding back that the officials still think it's poorly calibrated or that they're just cheating—at least until Vegeta just hauls off and flattens the thing.
  • 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 Damsel in Distress even worse than he would be by the opponent.
  • Bleach
    • Ikkaku Madarame has a Bankai, but he doesn't like to use it for no other reason than because they would like him to be a captain if they found out, and he wants to keep serving under Kenpachi.
    • In the same vein, 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 his squad, the melee-loving and brutish 11th Division, loathes. Instead, by calling it by the fake name, it releases into a more melee-centered form, but shaves off most of its actual power. Word of God has stated that Yumichika is actually Ikkaku's equal in strength.
  • Sumomomo Momomo
    • Sanae is wearing a corset which is overly sexy and revealing, however this mystical piece of clothing increases the power of her kicks well beyond reason. When she's forced to save Koshi from her fiancé set up by her grandmother who is in front of the entire school being attacked, she puts on the outift and runs out to save him. The only way to match her opponent however is to make the outfit even more revealing than it already is and risk exposing her mostly nude body to her school. She manages to defeat her opponent and keep her identity secret, but a massive number of pictures are now circulating in her school.
    • A lot of characters have what could be considered awkward abilities as well. Tenrei fights by using pool balls and a cue stick, Tenchi goes nuts with the soccer ball, and Tenka has the abilities of a cat (for better and worse). Also don't forget the other animal themed characters, such as the teacher who is like a turtle, and who even knows what that cow woman that shows up at the very end can do.
  • Rin, the hero of Blue Exorcist can't draw his sword in front of his classmates. This is not just because he spontaneously combusts when doing so, but because he is literally the only person that can use blue fire aside from Satan, who aforementioned blue fire is much more readily assosciated with. Keep in mind that he and his classmates are studying to become exorcists... Yeah.
  • Both Nanoha and Fate in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha are forced to rescue their friends Alisa and Suzuka when the pair are attacked by the Book of Darkness. Yhe Book of Darkness removed all non combatants in the area already ... except Alisa and Suzuka, leading some to wonder whether they have special abilities of their own.
    • Averted at the end of the third Sound Stage of the first season. Nanoha shoots off some magical fireworks for Fate, but realizes Yuuno has forgotten the barrier that was supposed to make them Invisible to Normals. Arisa and Suzuka notice them but don't realize what they are.
  • In Yu Yu 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.

Comic Books

  • 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 explanaions 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 the 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 an early comic-book 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 the villainous parasite, all 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 the 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.

Fan Works

  • 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 (it must've been running Windows Vista then...) and the computer had not been able to handle near-simultaneous input and output. Luke apparently crashed it three times, then decided to slow down.
  • In lots of Alex Rider fanfictions, terrorists will attack his school, forcing Alex to use his spy/martial arts abilities to take them out in front of his classmates.

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 the Parasite, all without breaking cover.
  • Early drafts of The Incredibles opened with Bob and Helen Parr, having put their superhero-ing days behind them, attending a neighborhood barbecue. Bob is cutting the steaks and he accidentally breaks the knife on his hand. When several others notice, he pretends to be injured and Helen pretends to rush him off to the hospital. (This particular scene didn't make it into the final film, but was included as a deleted scene on the DVD.)
    • Also this is the main reason they didn't want Dash to join a sports team, believing he wouldn't be able to hold himself back from using his powers to win. At the end of the movie, he joins the track team with his family yelling at him to slow down to the confusion of the people next to them.

Films -- Live-Action

  • In Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jane Smith reveals herself to be an assassin when she reflexively catches a bottle of wine her husband drops. She gets the most priceless "Oh Crap" look on her face and drops it, but by then it's too late.
  • Another revealing-breakable-object drop is in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with Jen catching a teacup that another character deliberately dropped to make her reveal her skills.
  • The same thing happens in Ronin, with Sam (Robert DeNiro) dropping a coffee cup to test Grego (Stellan Skarsgård)'s reflexes.
  • In Star Wars, anyone in the film (and any complete newcomers) might believe Chancellor Palpatine is just a normal guy who knows old legends. That is, until we actually see him using Jedi powers.
  • In Superman2, Lois suspects Clark is Superman and tries to force Clark to reveal his identity by jumping into a river. Clarke quietly uses his laser eyes to get a branch to Lois so she can get out. Later, Clark accidentally trips and falls into a fireplace in front of Lois and the lack of injury proves her original suspicions.


  • The O. Henry story "A Retrieved Reformation": Ex-safecracker Jimmy Valentine has settled down to live the quiet life, building up a name for himself. Until one day a little girl gets locked in a safe....
  • A recurring theme in the ur-superhero novel Gladiator, where Hugo Danner tries to keep his powers secret. When a man is trapped in an unopenable time-release bank vault, he tries to open it while not revealing his strength. He succeeds in both saving the man and preserving his secret, but the president of the bank decides he doesn't want a man with a secret way of opening bank vaults walking around.
  • Wizard's First Rule includes a scene where Khalan hesitates to user her power in a fight so as not to expose her nature to Richard. Then she gets stabbed, and uses it anyway. Luckily Richard's back was turned at that moment. And then he starts catching on that something is up anyway.
  • An unsuccessful example in The Fifth Elephant. Inigo Skimmer, an assassin, pretends to be a normal clerk. Vimes throws a piece of fruit at him, and he lets it hit him and bounce off. Instead of making him seem harmless, this actually shows Vimes that Skimmer is more than he pretend to be—a normal person would flinch, duck or try to catch it. Skimmer knew there was no threat and so did nothing.
  • Somewhat like the Star Trek example below, Corwin in book 2 of the Chronicles of Amber is lugging huge stones around rather easily, despite not being at full strength—until somebody spots him, at which point he has to pretend the task is difficult.
  • In Margaret Weis's The Death Gate Cycle, this is basically the story of Alfred Montbank. He is one of the last of the "Sartan", a race with godlike magical power, and is always nervous about doing magic in public for fear of being taken advantage of. The fact that he has a spine like a wet noodle doesn't help.
  • 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; disguised as another man and elected mayor of a rural French village, he hauls a cart off an injured man. Inspector Javert recognizes the tremendous strength, and tells M. le Maire how much he resembles a parole-breaker that Javert used to chase - so much so that he would call the mayor a suspect if it weren't for the fact that they just caught the real Valjean the other day...

Live-Action TV

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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; Westen has to struggle to find ways to plausibly lose fistfights, or allow his arm to be dislocated. This is usually played straight (e.g. the arm dislocation), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, thus pretending to be a clumsy swordsman but still blocking every of the villain's attacks. He then, for the witnesses, tries to pass off his success as sheer luck. 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. Keep in mind the villain was considered the best swordsman in the province.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Inverted in Smallville, 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.
    • This trope is also 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.
  • Sister Bertrille from The Flying Nun doesn't like advertising that she can fly.
  • 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.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • Completely averted in Batman: Arkham City. Bruce Wayne gets abducted, processed and thrown into the eponymous Arkham City, a penal colony, but has no qualms about using his badass fighting skills to defend other political prisoners or to defeat the Penguin and his thugs, despite everyone knowing that it's clearly Bruce Wayne. Nobody puts two and two together, and once Bruce aquires a batsuit, everyone just assumes that he's gone to ground or been killed by someone.
  • This is a big motivation behind Servants wanting to conceal their identity in Fate/stay night. Generally, the only ways one's true name will be discovered are if the Servant tells someone, another Servant is familiar with them, or they use their Noble Phantasm. Knowing a Servant's identity is a huge boon for when you face them, since you'll have a pretty good idea of how they will fight. Saber, for example, would be outed as King Arthur very quickly if she were throwing around EXCALIBAAAA! willy-nilly.
  • Completely averted in Dragon Age 2. 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.
  • The Pokémon Zoroark has the ability Illusion, which causes it to take on the appearence of another Pokemon in the party. It also has a signature move: Night Daze. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, using Night Daze will immidiately 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 an Animorphs game for the Game Boy Color, transforming around people results 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 Back Stab an opponent, since he will instantly disguise as them and render their corpse invisible - however, it still pays to be on the lookout for enemies behind you. The Spy-cicle is even worse in this respect, as any backstab victim will turn into an ice sculpture and play a distinct freezing sound, alerting enemies of a spy in their midst.
  • Alex Mercer and James Heller in Prototype can't use their shapeshifter weapons and powers without attracking military notice (not that doing so is partiularly dangerous). Extreme parkour or running up buildings, however, draws no notice.
    • ...For Mercer, anyway. If Heller tries his Blacklight-infused Le Parkour around any soldiers, they'll start noticing. Do it too much and it blows your cover.
  • Nero and Neris in Monster Girl Quest Paradox are reluctant to use their full power, the latter explicitly stating this at one point. This is because when they do so, they gain purple skin with Power Tattoos, white hair, wings made of energy and (in Neris' case) a serpentine lower body. These are all obvious indications that they are the children of a (part-)angel (which explains the wings) and a Monster Lord (which explains everything else).

Web Animation

  • 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.

Western Animation

  • Zuko of Avatar: The Last Airbender has dealt with this several times, since firebenders aren't exactly popular in the Earth Kingdom. In "Zuko Alone", he just wants to preserve the good opinion of the kid he is trying to protect, but the earthbender he's fighting is a bit too tough to beat while holding back, and the villagers decide to shun him. In "City of Walls and Secrets", when he could have been arrested and worse if revealed, he fares rather better against Jet.
    • Aang gets a Played for Laughs version of this in "City of Walls and Secrets", too, albeit briefly. He accidentally makes a woman spill her drink on herself while undercover at a party, and tries to use his airbending to dry her off. This reveals his identity to the whole party.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Peter Parker successfully dodges many water balloons thrown by Flash Thompson. He notices a crowd is gathering, admiring his skills, so he has to stop dodging and let himself get soaked.
  • During one unlucky occasion in Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Wayne and a reporter are held captive by a ninja. Bruce is put in the unenviable position of having to fight his captor at about half-strength to keep his companion (who knew of his ninja training, but not his identity) from putting two and two together. He probably would have lost had Robin not rushed her out of sight before he got too beaten up. Not to mention the fear Bruce almost certainly felt when facing the ninja, who according to Alfred was the only guy who could beat him at the Japanese dojo where Bruce learned the martial arts. It's worth noting that Robin didn't seem to have any trouble fighting the ninja, and it's just as likely that knowing Robin had his back was what allowed Bruce to fight back and win. A later episode reveals that the ninja himself was not fooled by the ruse in the long run. Having fought both Batman and Bruce Wayne (even holding back), he could tell that they were the same man.
  • Batman Beyond: Based on a hunch, Terry throws a glass of water right at Willy Watt's head. Yup, Willy has Telekinesis and halts the glass mere inches from his face. And since it was caught on a security camera, Terry doesn't have to worry about blowing his own cover.
  • Spider-Man: The New Animated Series
    • In the episode "Tight Squeeze", this trope is played straight when ex-KGB agents capture a group of civilians, including Peter Parker.
    • "The Party" has Peter standing up for Max when he is being made fun of by some jocks. Peter reacts instinctively when they attack him, flipping out of the way so they all hit each other. Realizing that he looks too good to be able to do that, Peter sees the next blow coming and does nothing to stop it, lest it arouse suspecion.
  • 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 in a hospital. 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.