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If there was ever a character that deserved to be called “Magnificent”, that character is the Magnificent Bastard. The Magnificent Bastard is what happens when you combine the Chessmaster, the Trickster, and the Manipulative Bastard (Large Ham is optional): bold, charismatic, independent, and audacious. Capturing the audience with his charisma, incredible intellect, mastery of manipulation, and boldness of action, this character is a show-stealer, demanding your reverence at every turn. The term "Magnificent Bastard" was first used by General Patton in reference to Erwin Rommel in the film Patton, upon realizing that he was facing a man who literally wrote the book on deceptive warfare. It acquired its current meaning courtesy of Lionel Luthor of Smallville, who was given this nickname by the Television Without Pity boards.
So what makes a character a Magnificent Bastard? Let's break it down:
- They are brilliant and utterly devious, to an almost breathtaking, mind-boggling degree. Call it genius, call it virtual omniscience, but they always seem to know what everyone else is planning at any given moment, and exactly how to arrange the game so they win every time.
- They are smooth operators. They'll always know exactly what to say to position you where they want you, always have a backup strategy and never loses their cool. Even if on the remote chance something happens that wasn't in their plans, you'd never know it from their actions.
- They have a goal, and are not going to stop until they've completed it...whatever it is. To that end they will do almost anything. They'll move heaven and hell, and we want to see them succeed. Despite their choice of tactics, they are rarely if ever pointlessly cruel, and have reason for everything they do.
- They are charismatic, often charming, their personality like a physical force. People tend to like them, sometimes even when they know they aren't on their side, and even those who hate their guts have to admit respect. Even when at their darkest, they have traits which one can't help but admire.
A key difference that separates the Magnificent Bastard from other character tropes like the mere Manipulative Bastard or The Chessmaster is the Bastard's willingness to step onto the playing field in person. The risks are obvious, but the strategic advantages are numerous.
While usually an antagonist, especially if he's the Big Bad, the Magnificent Bastard can be aligned on either side of a conflict. Hell, he's so amazing he tends to forgo the idea of good and evil all together, instead following his own agenda, choosing to help whichever side will further his goals. However, it's true that his penchant for manipulation at the expense of others means it's common for him to be a Villain, Villain Protagonist, or at least an Anti-Hero, but purely heroic examples exist. Either way, he's almost always in charge of whatever organization he's involved with, or might as well be.
Aside from all the various aspects which come together to define the Magnificent Bastard, compare and contrast the Smug Snake, who may once have been a Magnificent Bastard in the making but fell short due to his own arrogance. When a villainous Magnificent Bastard becomes so over the top that he is no longer believable, then he becomes a Villain Sue (a regular Mary Sue for the heroic version). Also compare the Guile Hero, who uses cleverness, trickery and manipulation but lacks the flair and depth of-planning to elevate him to Magnificent Bastard status. Despite the term, he is not likely to be a Bastard Bastard, thanks to that person's inherent daddy issues, but there's nothing preventing him either.
Rarely a Complete Monster, because audiences are likely to find it harder to admire such a character, but some bastards are so magnificent that they can get around this. Being a Smug Snake is a common trait of bastards trying to be magnificent.
As Willing Suspension of Disbelief and popularity can vary from person to person in an audience, Your Mileage May Vary as to which characters qualify for the title or fall under some other trope such as those stated above. Check this page out if you want to Write a Magnificent Bastard of your own. No Real Life Examples, Please