Taskmaster Explained: Who Is Black Widow's MCU Villain?
Marvel Studios is finally giving Black Widow her own movie. Spy photos from the set had fans thinking the Taskmaster will be one of the villains going up against Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanov in the film, and now it has been confirmed with footage shown at Comic-Con and in the trailer.But just who is Taskmaster, and what makes him capable of going toe-to-toe with one of the greatest super-spies in the Marvel Universe? Read on to learn more about this dangerous yet tragic mercenary villain.
Marvel’s Taskmaster Explained: The Basics
Taskmaster is widely feared as one of the most dangerous mercenaries in the Marvel Universe. That’s because his photographic reflexes allow him to mimic the fighting style of anyone he studies. Taskmaster briefly turned to a life of crime, but he quickly realized that his skills are better used training other villains how to fight. Taskmaster will lend his knowledge and experience to any organization that can meet his price, be it Hydra, SHIELD, AIM or the Thunderbolts. Deep down he’s not such a bad guy, but Taskmaster will never let his morals get in the way of a paycheck.
Taskmaster’s Powers and Abilities
Taskmaster was injected with an offshoot of the super-soldier serum that unlocked the full potential of his mind’s memory processes. Because of this, he has photographic reflexes. He can recreate the movements and fighting styles of anyone he observes, and he can also predict their movements in battle with near-perfect accuracy. That effectively makes him as talented a martial artist as heroes like Shang-Chi and Daredevil and as expert a marksman as Hawkeye and Bullseye. Taskmaster carries a wide arsenal of weapons that further help him replicate the moves of other heroes and villains. He wields a shield similar to Captain America’s, a sword similar to that of Swordsman and Black Knight and various other projectile weapons.
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In addition to making him one of the deadliest fighters in the Marvel Universe, this unique talent has made taskmaster a very in-demand martial arts instructor. He often makes his living training soldiers in in the arts of self-defense and battlefield combat.
Taskmaster’s abilities do come with certain drawbacks. For one thing, he can be caught off-guard when battling unfamiliar opponents or someone like Deadpool, whose fighting style is chaotic and unpredictable. And his photographic reflexes come at a heavy cost. The more he relies on his abilities, the more Taskmaster’s brain literally overwrites old memories. Because of this, he remembers very little about his past and family.
Taskmaster: Origin and Background
Taskmaster first debuted in cameo form in 1980’s The Avengers #195, before making his first full appearance in the following issue. These early stories established a basic origin story and modus operandi for the villain. They also showed him capable of battling powerful Avengers like Captain America and Iron Man to a standstill, though ultimately his unfamiliarity with the relatively recent recruit Jocasta proved to be his undoing.
Taskmaster has appeared in a number of stories in the decades since, sometimes serving as a villain and other times more as an anti-hero. As various stories established, he only cares about getting paid, so he’s just as likely to work for SHIELD or the US government as he is taking on jobs that pit him against heroes like Daredevil and Spider-Man. Taskmaster even sided with Iron Man’s pro-registration faction in Civil War, eventually becoming a drill instructor at Camp Hammond and tasked with training a new generation of heroes how to fight. Eventually, though, Taskmaster returned to a more self-centered, illegal lifestyle.
It was only with the miniseries Taskmaster: Unthinkable that the character’s true origin story and background were revealed. Readers learned that Taskmaster’s real name is Tony Masters. He was once a SHIELD agent send to terminate a rogue Nazi scientist developing his own version of Captain America’s super-soldier serum. When Masters injected himself with that serum, he gained his signature photographic reflexes but forgot his old life and even his wife in the process. While he briefly reunites with his estranged wife, Masters is forced to tap into his abilities to save her life, losing his memories all over again.
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Taskmaster has continued to play both sides of the aisle since returning to his usual routine. One day he’s acting as a double agent for the Secret Avengers, the next he’s teaming up with Black Ant to kidnap various animal-themed supervillains for Kraven the Hunter’s amusement. As long as the money is good, there are few jobs this elite mercenary won’t take on. Yet the good man that was Tony Masters is never quite buried forever.
Taskmaster in Black Widow and Beyond the Comics
Taskmaster has appeared in several animated Marvel projects, including the TV series Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man and the direct-to-video movie Heroes United: Iron Man and Captain America (all of which featured the voice of Clancy Brown). He’s also appeared as a playable character in a number of Marvel video games, including Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Marvel Heroes and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (all voiced by Steven Blum).
Taskmaster’s most significant non-comics appearance to date is in the Playstation 4 game Marvel’s Spider-Man. Taskmaster (voiced by Brian Bloom) appears as a recurring foe in the game, forcing Spider-Man to undertake various challenges while studying his moves. After Taskmaster is defeated, he reveals he was hired by a mysterious group to determine whether Spider-Man is worthy enough to join them. Taskmaster will also appear in Marvel’s Avengers, which may be part of the same shared universe as Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Taskmaster was once rumored to appear in Marvel’s Most Wanted, a planned Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD spinoff, but that project was eventually canceled. Instead, he will now make his debut in the MCU in the Black Widow movie. As for who is playing him, or what his (or her?) true identity is in the film, only time will tell…
For more on the Black Widow movie, check out our explainers on David Harbour’s Red Guardian and Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.
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Taskmaster Explained: Who Is Black Widow's MCU Villain?