So You Want To Write A Magnificent Bastard Discussion

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05:43:02 PM Jun 11th 2016
There is so much wrong with this page. It's stuff that's wrong with a lot of this site - hero/villain dichotomy stuff, moralizing, no ability to read between the lines (see the whole "debatable" section) Just. No.
06:14:00 PM Jan 5th 2016
My one major problem with this article as that it does not give any information on how to make a hero/anti-hero that is a Magnificent Bastard, yet it references an example. (Lelouch.) Also, could John Constantine go under the greats? He threw the entire cosmos out of wack, just to cure his own lung cancer. If that is not magnificent, I don't know what is.
01:18:50 PM Mar 29th 2015
edited by Rahkshi500
Would it be possible to have another section, or at least another article about how to make a villain both a Magnificent Bastard and a Complete Monster at the same time? Given how much the two tropes have been talked about being overlapped or combined in some examples, I think this would be an interesting idea to try out.

Because as others have pointed out, while Complete Monsters are meant to be hated in-universe, Love To Hate is still in affect for the audience: it's possible to hate a villain for how irredeemably evil they are, and yet also be in awe with how good they are at being irredeemably evil because of how well-written they are. And likewise, a magnificent bastard can still invoke just loathing and contempt even if they're suppose to invoke the opposite, so I think how an audience is suppose to feel about either one is something of a moot point by now. And even if some examples still end up being just Complete Monsters, it should be noted at least that it does not undermine the fact that many of them still have plans, adapt according to situations, are highly manipulative and charismatic(even if that charisma is ultimately fake, which both Complete Monsters and Magnificent Bastards tend to have), can be pragmatic, are dangerously genre savvy, and can still pull off moments that can genuinely out-magnificent a usual Magnificent Bastard. Likewise, a Magnificent Bastard can still end up being a Magnificent Bastard even if they end up treading into some of the tropes that the article says to avoid or be careful with.

Even if trying to play the two tropes together at the same time is a tricky feat, I still don't think it's something to shy away from when existing examples of two combined together can lead to potential for interesting ways of how write villains.
12:43:52 AM May 26th 2014
Would it be fair to list Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse/(Strauss) as "a Great", and an example on how to write a Complete Monster as one?

Strasse is generally agreed by the fandom to be at least around this caliber, and while the Wolfenstein games are not famous for their plot or characterization the rebooted series didn't botch them either.

And in Strasse's case, I think the benefit might be twofold:

A: The games (and especially their notes) actually provide a number of in-game material that actually details what would be a Diabolus ex Machina or Off Screen Villain Dark Matter, such as security details or experimental notes. For authors, these are a useful example of not just how to set up plot elements, but also how to expos a villain's character and the Crazy-Prepared antics of a Magnificent Bastard. Particularly since you can actually "reverse engineer" them by following things backward and thinking it through to figure out what the villain (in this case, Deathshead) is doing.

That's useful because it seems like the story is "playing fair" rather than just throwing competence balls around. Especially since Deathshead winds up defeated in every game to some greater or lesser degree and in the latest one has actually been killed, seemingly permanently, but still manages to be a credible threat.

B: The guy is no Wellintentioned Extremist or Noble Demon, at least by conventional standards. He starts off as pure evil and continues as it without stopping. So the fact that he is still regarded as being one by virtue of sheer competence and theatricality would probably be enlightening to authors who do not want to make their MB sympathetic.

Just throwing this out there.
11:30:29 PM Feb 15th 2014
Would Katherine Pierce of the Vampire Diaries be listed under "the greats"?
08:17:22 AM Oct 17th 2013
Why is audience sympathy so important? I thought this page was How To Write A Magnificent Bastard not How To Write An Anti-Villain.
10:56:26 PM May 29th 2014
Agreed. While some level of audience sympathy is useful for *most* M Bs, it doesn't work for all of them. Certainly you have overlaps of Complete Monster and Magnificent Bastard and they get short shrift now.
12:53:37 AM May 30th 2014
This is a page about Magnificent Bastard, which is to some degree an Audience Reaction. If your example doesn't trigger that reaction it doesn't work for the trope.
12:54:34 AM Jun 5th 2014
Agreed, and we were never doubting that. We are just skeptical of whether the Audience Reaction an MB rests on is *necessarily sympathetic.*

A lot of examples are, make no mistake about it. But I'd almost argue sympathy is less important persee than how impressed the audience is by the character in question.
06:04:00 AM Jun 5th 2014
^ What he said. Love to Hate is an Audience Reaction that relies on the villain NOT being sympathetic. Besides, there's a reason they call it a Magnificent Bastard.
09:47:32 AM May 12th 2013
Should Surrounded by Idiots be added to "Tropes to be Careful With"? I ask because some troper is deleting examples based on this trope and unless I get an answer I'm going to add those example back in.
09:25:30 PM Sep 12th 2013
I suppose that if everybody else in the cast is an utter moron then it would be a lot harder to consider somebody an MB.
04:24:20 PM Dec 4th 2012
Why do we exclude the Joker the "The Greats" section (a pretty much universally agreed on MB) because we "don't have Complete Monsters" but still include Iago, who has no redeeming features and is regarded as one of the nastiest complete monsters in theater? Surely if we have one, we should at least be consistent. Not to mention the only justification for barring complete monsters being "it gets confusing", which sounds awfully close to Tropers Are Morons.
09:58:26 AM Jan 5th 2013
IMO, both Iago and The Joker belong to the treat with caution section, as both are irredemable Complete Monsters despite all their magnificence.
12:14:38 PM Apr 8th 2013
Iago is being moved. And you know what? I would seriously dispute The Joker. He's not much of a chessmaster and he's too insane to be an effective Manipulative Bastard. He's missing two key traits there. This isn't the page for "awesome villain" it's the page for "How to Write an MB." We want classic examples.
04:51:20 AM May 14th 2013
Actually, The Joker is an extremely competant Chessmaster. Want proof?

Here you go:


1) Bank Manager has both Joker (disguised as Bozo) and Grumpy pinned down. During a brief period of silence, Grumpy asks if the Bank Manager is out of ammo. The Joker, who has been counting the whole time, knows that the Bank Manager has only one shot left but tells Grumpy that he's out of ammo. Grumpy leaps out of cover and the bank manager shoots at him leaving himself defenseless for when Joker attacks him while he's out.

2) The ENTIRE HEIST was timed to coincide with the Gotham City School Bus Department's timetable. By making his escape in a school bus and timing the heist so that the bus's would be going past at just the right time for him to slip into the line. He ensured the perfect gettaway. After all, no one looking for a gettaway car is going to suspect a line of school bus's.


1) This one's actually pretty straight-forward. He made sure the commissioner's favourite brandy was laced with explosives, and ensured that it was his own men disguised as police officers who pick up Sorilla and trick her into getting into a car that is rigged to blow.


One of Joker's more brilliant moves.

1) Because the parade is in am area filled with windows, the police are going to be focusing their attention on the buildings, rather than the street below where the real threat is.

2) The Joker ties up the original firing squad and places them in a room in one of the buildings. Of course Batman finds them, but the Joker had already planned for this eventuality, setting a trap for the batman. By the window is a scope over looking the city below. As the Joker anticipates, Batman's natural curiosity compels him to take a look. When he does however he causes the blinds to fly open, revealing himself to the cops who, already jittery from The Joker's terror tactics, will shoot at the "assassin" if they kill him, okay. If they don't, still okay because that movement distracts them from the real threat of the fake firing squad.

"It's not that simple. With The Joker, it never is." - Batman


This is where the Joker proves his status as a Magnificent Bastard.

1) He diverts all of of the armoured vans down Lower Fifth where, as one cop put's it "We'll be sitting ducks!". Special points for using a Fire Truck ON FIRE!! (Irony, thy name is Joker :-))

2) When the armoured cars finally get topside, they immediately call for air support. However The Joker predicted they would do this and set up a trap to snare the helicopter.

3) So the Joker is captured and the day is saved!! Except the Joker PLANNED to get caught.

A) he has his men kidnap Harvey and Rachel and place them no opposite sides of the city. Giving directions to each of their locations. Now the Joker is Dangerously Genre Savvy and knows that Batman is all but guarrenteed to save whoever he goes after, and incorporates this into his plan. He invokes Always Save the Girl so that Batman will rescue Harvey while thinking that he's saving Rachel. You see The Joker doesn't want to merely kill Dent, he want's to break him so that if can use him as his ace in the hole for his ultimate plan to corrupt the citizens of Gotham.

B) His escape was planned from the beginning as he had an inmate planted within the MCU who is rigged with explosives. While the majority of the Major Crimes Unit is running around like headless chooks trying to save Dent, the joker executes his plan.

C) even more brilliant: by looking himself within the MCU he ensures that he will be able to bypass Gordan's security, and capture Lau (the chinese man in charge of the mobs funds. At the beginning, Gordan locked him in the MCU in order to keep him safe from The Mob and The Joker. The Joker knew that the only way to get to Lau was to allow himself to be captured. Thus putting him in the same building as Lau, with am escape plan already in place.)
09:28:01 PM Sep 12th 2013
Couple of things—first of all you are only talking about the film version. The comic version never really hits MB. Second of all, the film is so blatantly on the side of the Ledger!Joker that considering him an MB becomes an incredibly difficult prospect. His schemes run entirely on luck, and tend to fall apart if you think about them too hard (seriously, I could write a dissertation on what's wrong with the end of that film), and his general nastiness kills any audience ability to sympathise.
01:17:10 AM Sep 13th 2013
You make a couple of good points, now allow me to present my counter-points:

  • "You are only talking about the film version."
    • Yes, I thought that it was clear from the beginning that everyone was talking about the film version.
  • "His schemes run entirely on luck."
    • Hmm... I'm not sure you actually read my previous post, since I just explaind at length the amount of foresight and pre-planning involved in his schemes.

  • "His general nastiness kills any audience ability to sympathise."
    • True. However, I would argue that having the audiences sympathy, is not neccessary so long as you have the audiences admiration and respect (A Magnificent Bastard is STILL a Bastard after all), and admiration and respect is something Ledger!Joker gets in spades.In fact, considering the strong Draco in Leather Pants treatment he gets, one could even argue that he does have audience sympathy(Though in this case, that might not be a good thing.)
12:55:11 PM Oct 6th 2012
I don't get how The Trickster trope plays into Magnificent Bastard, especially since the relevant entry talks about "ability to think on the fly, adapting to new situations and altering plans with ease", which is a lot more about Xanatos Speed Chess than The Trickster, who is all about... well, trickery and mischief.
11:04:53 AM Feb 28th 2012
I think Adrian Veidt from Watchmen and Servalan from Blake's 7 should be added to the Greats section.
04:26:25 PM Dec 4th 2012
Adrian certainly, especially in the sense that he gets people talking and has audience sympathy up the gazoo. Servalan though - bit obscure? Not to mention her Bond Villain Stupidity.
06:12:45 PM Sep 18th 2011
edited by Kersey475
How do you make a Magnificent Bastard antagonist in a story if the story is told from an entirely first person viewpoint like a first person shooter or a private detective novel? I mean, it's easy in any other story since you can show a scene of the MB shrugging off a defeat as if it were a setback or have him in the shadows explaining to another character how he has still won in spite of his "defeat", but in a first person story told entirely from the Point of view of one person it would be difficult to portary a Magnificent Bastard. How do you present a MB in a story with such a narrow POV?
07:36:31 PM Oct 25th 2011
If your aim is to create a genuine MB in a first person story (as opposed to simply an exceptionally memorable villain) one thing you might do is a set up a Big Bad Friend situation. If you do this, we'll get to see the MB's manipulations in full effect as he uses them on the hero himself. This is also a case where cranking up the secondary tropes is exceedingly important.
02:40:28 PM Oct 26th 2011
edited by Kersey475
Thanks. Oh, do the examples in the Treat With Caution still barely count as Magnificent Bastards or are they NOT Magnificent Bastards at all?

I also think that Blatant Lies should be removed because if the lies are too blatant, instead of making the Magnificent Bastard look magnificent it will make the heroes look like they're carrying the Idiot Ball. Social Engineering should be added in its place because the Social Engineering tropes (Bavarian Fire Drill, Reverse Psychology, Sarcastic Confession, etc.) are all focused on convincing people to do things they normally wouldn't do and thus greatly fit the Manipulative Bastard (which is one of the essential ingredients of a Magnificent Bastard).

I also think we should add Iago from Othello to the examples of the greats. If I had to take a shot at explaining why:

04:23:43 PM Nov 19th 2011
Nevermind. I'll just add them in myself and let Wiki Magic do the rest.
10:55:16 AM Aug 27th 2011
How do we deal with weaknesses for the Magnificent Bastard? What I mean by that is that the "How to Write" says to avoid making the MB a Villain Sue, but at the same time don't have him go Oh, Crap! or have a Villainous Breakdown. What would be acceptable flaws/weaknesses for a Magnificent Bastard?

Personally, I think that overestimating enemies would be a good flaw for an MB (in contrast to the Smug Snake who constantly underestimate her/his foes).
09:47:41 PM Aug 30th 2011
It doesn't actually say to avoid those things. It says to use them carefully. The main thing is that the MB, like the Smug Snake, usually isn't as good as he thinks he is. The difference is, that unlike the Smug Snake, it's not as apparent. A Smug Snake will try to drive home how much smarter they are than the hero; thus when they lose, we tend to notice that it's due to arrogance. An MB, on the contrary, is usually so self-assured that we notice not the failure (and how deserved it was) but how close they came to success.

In short, the Smug Snake and the MB have almost the same flaws typically. The difference is all in how it's presented.
07:03:31 AM Sep 2nd 2011
edited by tropetown
The best way to limit an MB is to give them a Worthy Opponent in series; if that's not doable for whatever reason, making them proud/hubristic (which isn't quite the same thing as arrogant, which is what Smug Snakes are) might work. Another possible weakness can be something which the Magnificent Bastard is particularly attached to, such as a Morality Pet, Love Interest, or treasured object; this will show that your Bastard is still emotionally vulnerable, which goes a long way toward humanizing him and making him not seem so invincible. Finally, limiting his appearances in the work is also a good idea, since if he's in every scene winning and showing everyone just how clever he is, he'll seem like a Villain Sue or a Wesley.
03:56:06 AM Nov 17th 2011
Also, remember that for all his planning and manipulation, there WILL be something that the MB fails to take into account
04:33:02 AM Jan 4th 2012
I would also like to add that the difference between a Smug Snake, Magnificent Bastard and Villain Sue, is how they handle the set back of defeat

Smug Snake: "No this can not be!!!!! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!!!!!!"

Magnificent Bastard: After spending about 30 seconds in shock. The Bastard congratulates the hero on his ingenuity, before using his manipulation ability and remaining resources, to make an awesome comeback
01:47:31 PM Jul 10th 2011
Out of curiosity, is it POSSIBLE to deconstruct a Magnificent Bastard? If so, I imagine it would combine the deconstructions of The Chessmaster, Manipulative Bastard, Large Ham, and The Trickster
10:27:22 PM Aug 18th 2011
It would be hard. Subvert sure—you set a character up as an MB then reveal that they're really just a high-functioning Smug Snake. But deconstruction? How would you do it?
04:22:46 PM Aug 21st 2011
As I said before, I would probably deconstruct the individual aspects of what makes a Magnificent Bastard. My guess:

  • The Chessmaster: They may be so busy planning for every likely outcome that they will unable to be able to live for the present.
  • Manipulative Bastard: They may be good at manipulating people and their emotions and desires, but ultimatly will be unable to truly connect with them.
  • Large Ham: I honestly have no idea how to deconstruct a Large Ham
  • The Trickster: See The Chessmaster above.
  • Wicked Cultured: Being high class and "worldly", it will most likely be difficult for them to enjoy the simple things in life since being cultured often comes with high standards.

I think Tom from Miller's Crossing could count as a deconstructed Magnificent Bastard. He successfully plays both mob families during a mob war so that his best friend stays on top, but he frequently gets beaten up and ultimatly ends up alienating his best friend, Leo, and the woman he loves, Verna, who end up marrying each other.
04:29:38 PM Aug 21st 2011
That sounds more like a subversion of the magnificent part than a true deconstruction. If you want to deconstruct this, just have them win.
08:01:37 PM Aug 21st 2011
You can't really deconstruct Large Ham. It's a character trait, not an ability. It's like trying to deconstruct Blue Eyes. Doesn't really work.

What you've got their probably would be a deconstruction. Problem is, a lot of people likely wouldn't recognise it as such. They'd simply see him as a Smug Snake or something similar.
08:58:57 PM Jun 14th 2011
I would like to point out how great a Magnificent Bastard The Joker is, even when he does a jig up and down the line and crosses the Moral Event Horizon because he can, kicks dogs just because he can, and for being a Complete Monster. These qualities are generally not supposed to be found in a well-written Magnificent Bastard, but he pulls it off beautifully all the same.
06:55:41 PM Jun 20th 2011
True. I would like to know if it is offically (by tvtropes standards) possible to have a villain that is a Magnificent Bastard and a Complete Monster at the same time.

If audience reactions are the issue, then this Magnificent Bastard/Complete Monster combo villain could cause audiences to become conflicted/split on whether they should hate or admire the villain. Both tropes are YMMV after all.

I don't see why a villain can't meet the five requirements for Complete Monster and the four requirements for Magnificent Bastard. The Dark Knight Joker and Hans Landa are stellar examples of this intriguing fusion.
10:18:03 PM Aug 18th 2011
edited by AmbarSonofDeshar
Of course it's possible. But it's very, very tricky. This is a page on how to write a good, solid MB, not how to fuse the trope with CM. That's why examples that totally cross the Moral Event Horizon are not requested—they provide poor inspiration to inexperienced authors. The kind of authors who can pull the fusion off (such as the writers of Hans Landa and Johan) don't need this pages' help,

Also, which version of the Joker are we talking about? The comicbook variant displays little in the way of Chessmaster ability, and often is little more than a Laughably Evil Large Ham. The Jack Nicholson variant is too Axe-Crazy to have a plan, and the Heath Ledger version...his scheme only works because the plot bends over backwards to accomodate him. Remember, MB and Love to Hate are not interchangeable. They often overlap, but they're not interchangeable.
11:09:21 PM Aug 21st 2011
edited by tropetown
It's doable, but it's not easy, because you need to make them monstrously evil, as well as equally intelligent and charismatic at the same time. If he's deeply evil, but his Chessmastery, Manipulative Bastard tendencies, and charisma overshadow this, he'll just be a Magnificent Bastard who does horrible things, not a completely vile and repulsive Complete Monster. If the reverse happens, where the evil overtakes the Magnificent Bastardry, then he will just be a Complete Monster, full stop. Using Johan as an example, he's certainly quite bad, but the story makes him into a Magnificent Bastard as well as a Complete Monster by turning his intelligence and charisma Up to Eleven, but not shying away from the extremity of his evil. Explaining how to do this properly would take too long, and even then, it's very easy to screw up, which is why the page just says to avoid a Moral Event Horizon.
04:12:06 AM Nov 17th 2011
I remember a quote that describes a Magnificent Monster perfectly is -

''"He's the type of character that you want to hate, but on some level you have to admit 'Damn! He's good' in other words, while you are absolutely horrified by the cruelty of his actions, you have to admire the style in which he pulls it off. Take a look at Xykon he's a Complete Monster and yet every Moral Event Horizon crossing is listed as a Crowning Moment of Awesome for him.

10:16:58 PM May 9th 2011
Megatron in Beast Wars actually wins at the end, he even taunts Optimus in the sequel Beast Machines with this.
10:19:02 PM Aug 18th 2011
He didn't win the Beast Wars. He won inbetween series by sending a virus ahead of him to Cybertron. He got his ass kicked in the finale by the Maximals.
04:15:53 PM Jan 24th 2011
I have to ask for a rewrite on Scorpius. After all, he's indeed beloved in the fanbase. And he's listed as a Draco in Leather Pants.
10:18:26 PM Aug 18th 2011
edited by AmbarSonofDeshar
Then rewrite him. I didn't write him up. Also, the fact that he recieves Draco in Leather Pants treatment is arguably a bad thing—a good bastard is recognisable as the villain. Love to Hate is what we want here. And he also goes through some pretty major Villain Decay and Badass Decay. If you want to expand his entry, that's great, but please, leave him were he is. He's not clear-cut enough for The Greats section.
06:01:01 AM Jan 20th 2011
Alright.... So, what about a Magnificent Bastard that has an issue with a Complete Monster personality? Sort of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing, but with a Complete Monster dead set on a Thanatos Gambit? Could something like this, if written correctly, contribute to a Magnificent Bastard's Badassery if he sets up a Thirty Xanatos Pile-up (or some sort of contingency plan) to mess with his alternate personality?

Or would this constitute some sort of descent into Villainous Breakdown?
01:33:05 PM Mar 8th 2011
The basic problem is that you "love to hate" a Magnificent Bastard. You simply loathe a Complete Monster. There's no "love to" about the hate for him. You just hate him.
03:48:16 PM May 12th 2013
Actually that definition has been changed in recent years. There are PLENTY of Complete Monsters {Cell, Freeza, Johan, The Joker, Bellatrix Lestrange, Professor Umbridge, Jim Moriarty, Abridged!Freeza, Lord Xykon, Judge Claude Frollo) who are all listed on the Love to Hate page. Complete Monster does not mean "Villain everyone despises." that's Hate Sink, or The Scrappy.
07:21:49 PM Dec 20th 2010
Is a Magnificent Bastard allowed to Face Palm or have a Surrounded by Idiots moment in responce to the stupidity of his underlings or the people he's manipulating?
04:21:27 PM Mar 26th 2011
I would say, yes. After all, the Magnificent Bastard definition doesn't require Magnificence from his underlings. I just wouldn't overdo it, otherwise one begins to question why he surrounds himself with ineptitude in the first place.
05:02:32 PM Apr 12th 2011
edited by Kersey475
Thanks. One more thing, I think that Dangerously Genre Savvy and Wicked Cultured should be added to the Supplementary Tropes. I would add them myself, but I really can't think up of a detailed explanation on why these would be good suplementary tropes. I also think that Grand Admiral Thrawn from Star Wars should be added to the examples of the greats. He's a Dangerously Genre Savvy Wicked Cultured Chess Master who uses Pragmatic Villainy and the Sherlock Scan and was even the trope picture for a while.

Anyone agree with these suggestions? I wonder if anyone will answer this. HELLO! ANY TROPERS OUT THERE!!!
10:20:56 PM Aug 18th 2011
edited by AmbarSonofDeshar
I'm the guy who wrote the original page (as well as it's self-appointed minder). The reason that Thrawn isn't in the examples is that I'm not that familiar with the character, and already had a military example in Treize. If you can write him up in a way that doesn't simply repeat what's in our other military examples, go ahead, but please be very careful. As for Wicked Cultured and Dangerously Genre Savvy...if you can't think of a reason for them to be their, that might indicate that they shouldn't be.
11:31:55 AM Aug 21st 2011
Thanks for replying. I didn't mean that I couldn't think of a reason to add Wicked Cultured and Dangerously Genre Savvy, it's just that I'm not that good at thinking up of detailed yet interesting ways to phrase my reasons. If I had to give it a try:

I also know you said to be careful about Evil Gloating, but can a Magnificent Bastard still indulge in this if he finds a way to use this effectively? (for example: instead of gloating about his plans because of arrogance, he's intentionally gloating about how the heroes have missed the "weaknesses" in the plan as part of a Batman Gambit or Xanatos Gambit to trick the heroes into taking advantage of those "weaknesses" and furthering his real goal in the process)
08:03:47 PM Aug 21st 2011
There's nothing wrong with legitimate Evil Gloating either. Look at Beast Wars Megatron, Dr. Doom and loads of others. The trick is just to never take it so far that he looks like an idiot. That's why it's listed as a trope to be careful with. A really good Evil Gloat, especially if combined with Hannibal Lecture, "The Reason You Suck" Speech, or a Motive Rant can be something an audience remembers for years. Just don't make them stupid about it.

Your descriptions are fine. Add 'em.
03:32:28 PM Aug 23rd 2011
Thanks. Adding them now.
03:02:24 PM Apr 18th 2010
I have no idea what's wrong with the indexing, sorry.
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