Most of the Marvel Universe’s heroes and villains have perfected their skills through hard work and training, but not the enigmatic professional criminal known as Taskmaster. All he has to do to be able to fight like Captain America or shoot an arrow like Hawkeye is see those heroes in action. Then, thanks to his photographic reflexes, he can perfectly mimic those characters’ abilities. Nothing is free, though, and Taskmaster’s abilities do come with a price. In writer Fred Van Lente and artist Jefte Paolo’s upcoming four issue “Taskmaster” miniseries, the title character must find a way to regain what his powers have cost him before he’s killed by the horde of enemies that are hot on his trail. CBR News spoke with Van Lente about the project, which kicks off in September.
The Taskmaster debuted back in 1980’s “Avengers” #195, and over the years he’s primarily worked as, basically, a teacher. For the right fee, he was willing to teach villains, their minions and the occasional hero some of the skills he himself has learned through his special ability. Most recently, the character appeared regularly in writer Christos Gage’s issues of “Avengers: The Initiative” where he served as leader of the Norman Osborn-controlled Initiative and lead them into battle during the Siege of Asgard.
Van Lente is both a fan of the character’s earlier appearances and his most recent ones during “Siege.” Part of the reason the writer finds the character so intriguing is because of the way his power has impacted his personality and made the character arrogant and shallow. “I think douchey is an excellent way to describe him [Laughs],” Van Lente told CBR News. “He does have this major flaw, though, which is, while he retains how to throw Daredevil’s billyclub or Captain America’s shield, he can’t remember what his parents’ names were. So as with all well thought out super powers in the Marvel Universe, you don’t get anything for free. The gift always comes with a price.”
“If you think of your brain as a hard drive, Taskmaster’s problem is that he’s absorbed so many skills and fighting styles that he’s maxed out his memory. His super memory is actually erasing his own personal memories. By the time the series begins, he doesn’t really remember who he actually is. Plus, he doesn’t remember how he actually got this ability in the first place,” Van Lente continued. “In his first appearance, he claims he was born with the power, which I guess sort of makes him a mutant, and he grows up emulating various super heroes, which is supposedly how he became so skilled. But A) He’s not a mutant. This has been proven multiple times. And B) he doesn’t actually remember if that’s the truth or not. It’s just a vague story that he’s been telling people over and over again for many years.”
The plot of “Taskmaster” involves the title character paying the price for his career choices and being forced to discover who he was before he became a costumed super villain for hire. “Taskmaster is a professional criminal. He’s not someone who is really interested in conquering the world. He’s interested in charging would-be world conquerors exorbitant fees to train them and their goons. Then, of course, he’s someone who has been known to train heroes as well. I believe he was among the initial good guy staff of Camp Hammond. I believe he also trained USAgent, John Walker, when he became Captain America. Taskmaster’s loyalty is to whomever is writing his checks that day,” Van Lente explained. “And, unfortunately, that comes back to bite him in the ass because a rumor begins to circulate that the reason he was able to escape from Asgard at the end of ‘Siege’ is that he’s turned traitor. He supposedly now works for Steve Rogers. So the evil organizations of the world: HYDRA, the Maggia, A.I.M., the Sons of the Serpent, the Hand – all of them are out to kill him because there’s a billion dollar bounty on his head. They feel that if he turns on them, the amount of evidence he has would destroy their entire organizations. So Taskmaster needs to figure out who’s spreading these rumors about him and why. That requires him to figure out who he really is.”
At the end of the “Siege” tie-in storyline in “Avengers: The Initiative,” Taskmaster and his friend and fellow professional criminal The Constrictor had escaped the “Siege” of Asgard and went off to work jobs together as partners. In a story in “Age of Heroes” #3, on sale now, Van Lente and Paolo revealed how the two parted ways, and when “Taskmaster” #1 begins, the title character is once again on his own. “The story that Jefte and I did in ‘Age of Heroes’ #3 is a prologue to this series and serves as a bridge between ‘Initiative’ and ‘Taskmaster,’ but this book has the classic, ‘If you know nothing about Taskmaster ,you can pick this book up and enjoy it’ set up,'” Van Lente revealed. “So you can totally get into this without having read ‘Initiative.’ However, if you read ‘Initiative,’ you’ll be happy to know I’m carrying forward as much of the stuff that Christos set up in his characterization of Taskmaster and his doucheyness. So fans of that series will enjoy this as well – I hope!”
Since “Taskmaster” involves a super villain looking to rediscover his lost past, the tone of the series will in some ways be reminiscent of the book and the film “The Bourne Identity.” “I never thought about it that way, but there is definitely some of that in there,” Van Lente said. “Up the doucheyness factor, and we’re bringing in A.I.M. and HYDRA. Some of my fondness for the obscure characters, such as the Sons of the Serpent and Flag Smasher’s group U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M., will also be evident.”
Van Lente also revealed that the supporting cast of “Taskmaster” will include both new and familiar faces. “Since we are dealing in the world of espionage, you can expect to see some of the Marvel Universe’s top spies, but Taskmaster has to go completely underground because when he pops his head up, there will be 200 guys in crazy costumes armed with death rays waiting to kill him. ” Van Lente remarked. “So he makes his way from Tokyo, where we saw him in ‘The Initiative,’ to an undisclosed location that you will uncover in ‘Taskmaster’ #1.”
Van Lente is thrilled to have Jefte Paolo as a traveling companion for the journey that he’s taking Taskmaster on. “Jefte is terrific. He drew “Doctor Voodoo” and he did a wonderful job on the Lizard versus Man-Thing story that I did with him in ‘Web of Spider-Man,'” the writer remarked. “So I’m very thrilled to be working with him again. His work here will be similar to the style he employed for books like ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Moon Knight.’
Plans are already in the works for the Taskmaster after Van Lente’s miniseries wraps, so the writer is going out of his way to tell an exciting story that introduces new ideas and will leave fans wanting more. “There are lots of fun, new supporting characters and new villains. You will fall in love with the Don of the Dead. I predict this now. You heard it here first, Internet,” Van Lente said. “And this is definitely a dark journey into the heart of a mysterious character by the end of which you’ll know what he’s all about, where he’s coming from and where his powers come from in a way perhaps better than even he does.”