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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ^_^)
- Sam Beckett, from Quantum Leap (television)
- Yoko Tsuno
- Professor Philip Angus Mortimer — a leading physicist in the Belgian comics series Blake and Mortimer
- Peter Wimsey
- P. G. Wodehouse's Psmith, and Jeeves
- Stile, from Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series
- Francisco d'Anconia, from Atlas Shrugged.
- The Stainless Steel Rat, hero of Harry Harrison's series of the same name.
- Wesley in The Princess Bride
- Nicole Des Jardins (Rama II and its sequels by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee), is an example of a competent woman.
- John Taylor of Simon R. Green's Nightside series, most especially his ability to take bullets out of people's guns without their noticing.
- Michael Westen from Burn Notice
- The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis advertising campaign.
- Edmond Dantès from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père
- Many of Alfred Hitchcock's early protagonists
- Many of Clive Cussler's protagonists, for example Dirk Pitt.
- Many of Neal Stephenson's novels
- Many of Robert Ludlum's protagonists, for example Jason Bourne.
- Samurai Jack
- Buckaroo Banzai
- Paul Muad'Dib
- Paladin from Have Gun — Will Travel
- Neal Caffrey from White Collar
- Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek: The Original Series. In fact, ALL captains of the Starship Enterprise qualify as fully competent men or women, including Jean Luc Picard and Kathryn Janeway.