Created By: TheHandle on October 24, 2012 Last Edited By: TheHandle on October 28, 2012
Nuked

All Competent

A stock character who can do anything perfectly, or at least exhibits a very wide range of abilities and knowledge.

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Trope
While not the first to use such a character type, the heroes (and heroines) of Robert A. Heinlein's fiction are generally All Competent men/women (with Jubal Harshaw being a prime example), and one of Heinlein's characters Lazarus Long gives a good summary of requirements:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." — Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enoughfor Love

Additionally, they don't just have a lot of skills, they're also excellent at using them. You'll never see them fumbling, bumbling or blundering. When Tintin has one bullet against a plane that's strafing him, he only needs to take careful aim, and the one shot brings the vehicle down. The All Competent person does not make mistakes, nor do they mess up or miss out. Cases of Didn't See That Coming, especially Diabolus ex Machina, arguably don't count if they come from unknown unknowns rather than from things the character could have legitimately foreseen; even then, some of them incorporate Crazy-Prepared (such as, most famously, the Bat Man) to their arsenal of hypercompetence, and have taken measures in preparation for the most unlikely situations. The All Competent are supremely effective characters... and, by the same token, that makes them rather unrealistic and implausible.

The All Competent person, more often than not, is written without explaining how they achieved their wide range of skills and abilities, especially as true expertise typically suggests practical experience instead of learning through books or formalized education alone. While not implausible with older or unusually long lived characters, when such characters are young it is often not adequately explained as to how they acquired so many skills at an early age. It would be easy for a reader to form the impression that the competent man is just basically a superior sort of human being.

Many non-superpowered comic book characters are written as hyper-competent characters due to the perception that they would simply be considered underpowered otherwise. Batman, for example, is typically depicted as a member of the Justice League of America alongside Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, all of whom are superpowered whilst he lacks superhuman powers of any kind. As a result, despite his original depiction as a vigilante, modern depictions of Batman portray him as having achieved the peak-human possibility in all things physical and intellectual. The same treatment has been applied to Lex Luthor, who has always been Superman's archenemy despite the former's total lack of superhuman powers.

Sometimes, though, the character is a bit more realistic; they are inhumanly competent in the field that is needed to solve the plots of their stories, and are otherwise normal or even impotent.

Compare with Mary Sue; many of them are nerfed in at least some point to avoid completely killing conflict, but it's usually more along the lines of ruining their personal life, rather than that there's any chance at all that they'll fail in their mission of the week.

Example:

Comic Book
  • Batman: takes Badass Normal to the absurd logical extremity. Anything a non-powered human can do, he can do too, but no non-powered human should rightly be able to do all the things he can! His only weakness is his extremely poor social skills, at least outside his Bruce Wayne persona.
  • Night Wing has all the advantages of Batman, and none of the weaknesses. He's the sort of guy who'll get villains to help him by asking nicely.
  • Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is an Omnidisciplinary Engineer, is an Instant Expert at using any technological device, and is an extremely socially skilled Magnificent Bastard whenever he tries to be (often, he's too impulsive to).
  • Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, is an extremely clever Boy Genius. If it weren't for his obsessive Samaritan Syndrome, the Secret Identity, and the tons and tons of bad luck, who knows what he'd have become?
  • Lex Luthor; basically like Iron Man above, but evil, and much more driven (read completely obsessed with being better than Superman). He became president of the USA.
  • V (V for Vendetta). You never see him fail at anything he attempts. And he's unstoppable; ideas are bulletproof.

Literature
  • Sherlock Holmes: He's an Omnidisciplinary Scientist, a CSI department all by himself. He's also a great fighter; in the novels, it is mentioned that he uses a variant of Jiu Jitsu. Additionally, he plays a mean violin.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn son of Arathron is a great tracker. hunter, close quarters fighter, does guerrilla and commando warfare, and can also successfully lead conventional armies. He's also extremely cultured and is a supernaturally competent healer. Then he becomes King, with all the competences that entails, and by all reports does an excellent job of it. There's, however, an explanation; he's a Numenorean and is blessed with immense lifespan.
  • Cyrus Smith from Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island and other protagonists of this author, who loved the Science Hero trope, and had his characters do all kinds of things for which they should not be prepared.
  • Doc Savage: typical Genius Bruiser Science Hero and all-around Bad Ass from the golden era of pulp. Nevertheless, he does have a small team of specialists to aid him.
  • James Bond: can proficiently use any gadget, has a Universal Driver's License with a minor in Incredible Stunts, is an impeccably good fighter at hand to hand or at any weapon, is extremely culutred (or at least feigns to be), especially in everything that relates to luxury and high-class life, has Nerves of Steel and is Born Lucky.
  • John Galt, from Atlas Shrugged (Who is he, anyway?)

[AC:Live-Action Film]]
  • Indiana Jones knows everything about history and archeology, can almost-instantly translate texts from dead languages he doesn't even know, and is otherwise utterly inhuman in stamina, use of a whip, firearms, driving vehicles, and so on.

Live-Action TV
  • The Doctor (Doctor Who) is a hyper-competent Insufferable Genius, who is also very resilient physically. He's an immortal Time Lord, so, allegedly, he had the time to build his skills.
  • Gregory House is another Insufferable Genius who is all-competent only in the field of medicine; there isn't a case he can't crack. He has unorthodox social skills, but his charisma and attractiveness manage to keep him employed (and very wealthy).
  • Angus MacGyver. For God's sake, don't lock him in a cupboard!
  • Jarod - The title character in The Pretender TV Series, an extreme example who acquires competence at nearly superhuman speeds. See the Real Life section for his inspiration, Ferdinand Waldo Demara.

Real Life
  • Nikola Tesla: as long as it involves electricity, he could do anything, and is the template of the modern Mad Scientist. However, he sucked at social skills, business, and at being a bastard, which is why Thomas Edison was able to screw him so badly.
  • Ferdinand Waldo Demara - A real-world Competent Man whose exploits inspired numerous biographical and fictional works including The Pretender TV Series. During Demara's "careers", he was, among other things, a ship's doctor, a civil engineer, a sheriff's deputy, an assistant prison warden, a doctor of applied psychology, a hospital orderly, a lawyer, a child-care expert, a Benedictine monk, a Trappist monk, an editor, a cancer researcher, and a teacher. Many of Demara's unsuspecting employers, under other circumstances, would have been satisfied with Demara as an employee. Demara was said to possess a true photographic memory and was widely reputed to have an extraordinary IQ. He was apparently able to memorize necessary techniques from textbooks and worked on two cardinal rules: The burden of proof is on the accuser and When in danger, attack. He described his own motivation as "Rascality, pure rascality".
  • José Echegaray was an engineer, mathematician, statesman, businessman, novelist, playwright and poet, and won the Nobel Prize of literature in 1904.

Tabletop RPG
  • Writer S. John Ross once created a set of GURPS advantages for a character who was truly Bad Ass. One was "Up to the Challenge", which allowed a character to use any action-related skill needed.

Examples yet to be sorted (give me some time or give me some help, folks ^_^)

Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • October 24, 2012
    Khantalas
    How is this separate from Renaissance Man?
  • October 24, 2012
    Chernoskill
  • October 24, 2012
    TheHandle
    I see amazingly little overlap between the examples of this and those of Jack Of Al Trades (and its subtrope Renaissance Man), which makes me suspect that, despite the superficial similarity, we are in fact talking of different things. This is probably because the title Jack Of All Trades seems to suggest trades, rather than, you know, being a Genius Bruiser Gentleman And A Scholar, for example.
  • October 24, 2012
    StarSword
    We have this already. The Ace ring a bell?
  • October 24, 2012
    TheHandle
    The Ace seems really ill-defined. The tropes are similar, and do have some overlap, but they don't quite fit together. Goku is only competent at one thing: fighting. Ash from Army Of Darkness has a little technical and strategic skill, but it's mostly by contrast to the Medieval Morons. Carrot Ironfoundersson from Discworld is good at being a copper and at getting obeyed, and that's about it. Tidus from Final Fantasy X is a sports specialist. And so on.

    I think the Ace places the accent on "This character is legitimately awesome", and in fact could be renamed Awesomely Accomplished Character. This trope is more "this character is unbelievably proficient at an unbelievably large set of fields". That seems closer to Renaissance Man, but that trope is more about arts and science rather than about being able to, say, infiltrate a street gang one second and repair a nuclear reactor the next.
  • October 24, 2012
    Chernoskill
    Hmm, I think some examples might be a bit off. V from V for Vendetta I'd say would fit, but Tony Stark? Does he really have a wide range of abilities? Genius engineer and businessman, sure, but does he really have many other skills which he excels at? Being a philantropist and playboy is more of a trait. Same with Indiana Jones, he's a great archaelogist and decent hand-to-hand fighter, but otherwise fairly average.
  • October 24, 2012
    Koveras
    So many Zero Context Examples in the write-up...
  • October 24, 2012
    McKathlin
    The trope title Competent Person strikes me as too understated to indicate what this trope is really about. How about All Competent Person or Hypercompetent Person?
  • October 24, 2012
    TheHandle
    ^ I like your titles better.

    ^^^As a rule of thumb, if the character has a Universal Drivers License, he's probably this, especially if they can pilot all their vehicles in stunteriffic ways. Indiana Jones has absolutely unbelievable acrobatic skills, and the impossible extensiveness and depth of his skills as an archeologist and historian also qualifies. As for Tony Stark, he can kick kinds of ass he has no business kicking given the way he was brought up, and he borders on Omnidisiplinary Scientist (or rather, Engineer).

    ^^Åœee, whe're already giving them "context", or should I say, explanation.

    Lupin The Third (and many other Cat Burglar characters) is an extremely capable fighter, a skilled social manipulator, a skilled detective and investigator, and a master of all kinds of gadgets and devices. Basically, anything the plot requires him to do, he will do with no difficulty at all, whether it be disarming a bomb, diving deep underwater, or impersonate someone he barely knows). Oceans Eleven and sequels averts this trope by involving an entire team of specialists.

    I'm starting to think that this trope is like Strong As They Need To Be, but related to competences and skills. Competent As He Needs To Be? Basically, if the plot requires that this character does something unlikely, either they already know how to do it or they'll learn to expert levels in no time at all.
  • October 25, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Writer S. John Ross once created a set of GURPS advantages for a character who was truly Bad Ass. One was "Up to the Challenge", which allowed a character to use any action-related skill needed.
  • October 26, 2012
    TheHandle
    ^ I can't thank you enough for showing me that page. It is absolutely awesome. And, yes, Truly Badass and Up To The Challenge pretty much sum this up.
  • October 26, 2012
    TheHandle
    bump
  • October 26, 2012
    Psi001
    Sounds a bit like The Ace.
  • October 27, 2012
    TheHandle
    I think The Ace is very ill-defined, and the article has contradictory parts. All in all, I think The Ace is about perceived awesomeness and better-than-you-ness, while All Competent is about being able to do whatever needs to be done.

    "You are an action hero, and action heroes can handle any kind of action! You might not be able to pilot a Jet-Ski for recreation, but if you need to chase an enemy across a lake, you'll handle one like a pro. If a conflict-action scene (including chase scenes and sports conflicts) requires a physical Animal, Athletic, Combat/Weapon, or Vehicle skill that you lack, you gain it for the duration of the scene at a level equal to your DX (IQ-based gun-bonuses and other special modifiers are ignored)."
  • October 27, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    I think The Ace involves a certain emotional reaction: you either admire them for being so awesome (Superman), you loathe them for being so smug (Blackadder's reaction to Lord Flashheart) or you're outraged that their superlative reputation is based on lies and rumour (Zapp Branigan).

    This still needs differentiating from Renaissance Man though. Look how similar the page quotes are.
  • October 27, 2012
    shimaspawn
    Almost all the examples listed have a large range of things that they are absolutely horrible at. For example House and Sherlock have no real social skills. They struggle with addiction. House can't even walk with out a cane. None of these characters are all competent. They're just really good at a small handful of skills not all of which are related.

    Motion to Discard.
  • October 27, 2012
    TheHandle
    If you're unhappy with the examples, help me trim them. In any case, both of them are inhumanly good at their specialities, and both have some social skills, otherwise no-one would hire them. House is at least good at keeping his boss seduced, Holmes is at least good at keeping his friend Watson and at impressing clients.

    Alternatively, the trope can be redefined to mean "all competent in the setting where their stories take place".
  • October 27, 2012
    McKathlin
  • October 27, 2012
    shimaspawn
    But the trope isn't inhumanly good at a speciality. It's "being good at everything" which doesn't really apply to any of the examples. You don't have a trope here. You have "characters should be good at something."
  • October 28, 2012
    TheHandle
    ^ I cannot make sense of your post. For one thing, Nightwing at least is good at everything.
  • October 28, 2012
    Chernoskill
    "A stock character who can do anything perfectly"

    As stated above, most examples (if any) don't fit this.

    "or at least exhibits a very wide range of abilities and knowledge. "

    Hard to say either, "a very wide range" would have to be equivalent to someone spending 20+ years studying different fields at university.
  • October 28, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    The movie version of Mr. Belvedere takes competency into the realm of magic; he can literally do anything, including the impossible.

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