I always found the Taskmaster to be an intriguing villain. In fact, I feel that the true underdogs of the Marvel Universe are anyone with enough cajones to try and take down the Avengers. This review is for the Fred Van Lente written 2010 Taskmaster: Unthinkable trade paperback, and we are reviewing it because its goddamned awesome.
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Jefte Palo
Age: Older Teen
Taskmaster, to me, has always been a pretty straightforward character. He is a super villain with photographic reflexes who can mimic the fighting style of anyone he has ever observed in combat. This puts him in the class of villains that don’t really have incredible powers (by super hero comic book standards) so they often get relegated to fighting heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hawkeye… basically other characters who aren’t overwhelmingly powerful (and with the exception of Hawkeye that isn’t to say they aren’t interesting). What makes Taskmaster seem like an intelligent villain is that he really doesn’t seek to fight heroes at every opportunity he gets, and instead he focuses on using his skills to train other villains. Mostly this means that Taskmaster is responsible for teaching the uncountable legions of low-rent super villain goons for organizations like Hydra, AIM, and many more (we will get to just how many more later). As a comic book fan this always made sense to me. Taskmaster is a villain who knows what he excels at (physical combat and the duplication of fighting techniques), he knows he alone cannot take down any significant hero, so he markets himself appropriately to groups of villains. I assume this is in order to effect change on a larger scale, all while being paid handsomely. Its brilliant. He’s even known to have trained several “significant” heroes when the price is right (consider that by keeping hostilities going between heroes and villains he is ensuring himself a steady source of trainees IE. income, this makes him kind of like a martial arts arms dealer). So what more could Fred Van Lente add to the story of Taskmaster with his miniseries? Lets find out!
The premise is simple. Taskmaster usually does his work for a group called The Org. They typically set up all of Taskmaster’s jobs for him by telling him where to go and who to train. The reason he needs The Org is because his memory does not work the same as an normal person’s memory. His photographic reflexes comes a terrible price, he can’t remember anything about his personal life. He can’t even make new memories due to this amnesia.
The story starts with The Org putting a billion dollar bounty on Taskmaster’s head because they learn that he has been leaking information to Captain America (a detail that Taskmaster can neither confirm or deny, due to his sketchy memory). What follows is a 4 issue long chase scene. More and more outlandish characters get introduced as the series goes along, the peak of this zaniness is in issue 3 when Taskmaster discovers a town of Hitler-esque Nazis in South America. Every chapter is action-packed and Taskmaster’s fighting styles are represented in an innovative way by artist Jefte Palo, watching him fight is like reading a love note to all the characters he imitates. You can feel the nostalgia that Palo must have for characters like Captain America, the Destroyer, Daredevil, Blazing Skull and more. It’s as though every time Taskmaster fights he is constructing a playlist of ways to inflict pain on his opponents.
I mentioned earlier that Taskmaster has trained goons for pretty much every Marvel criminal organization you’ve ever heard of, and starting with this series, a bunch no one has ever heard of. In addition to usual suspects Hydra, AIM, and fringe groups Cyber Ninjas, Lords of the Living Lightning, we also get a bunch of new wacky groups with colourful names such as the Militiamen, Black Choppers, Trenchcoat Mafia and the Inquisition (which no one ever expects). Even though these are just throw-off characters, they still add to the humour, variety, and insanity of this book.
Taskmaster: Unthinkable is pretty much the perfect mix of action, hilarity and even contains a bittersweet love story that I didn’t hate. Palo’s art is spot-on, its gritty in places and clean in others, depending on what is happening. A lot of artists tend to over exaggerate Taskmaster’s cartoonish skull face, but that might be the only thing not over exaggerated in this book. He is just a dude with a hood and a real straightforward skull mask, nothing more, nothing less. Also on the topic of the art, I rarely notice the colouring in a book, but Jean-Francois Beaulieu does an impressive job of giving the scenes life and brilliance. This Taskmaster is the best I’ve ever seen and the character is in a great place for future writers. Despite this, I sincerely hope that he doesn’t become as overused as Deadpool, loaned out due to his shifting good guy/bad guy status and his adaptability as a character. This might not be the best place to start reading about Taskmaster, as its a pretty disorienting story but on the other hand it’s the best representation of him, so I say that if you are in the mood for a crazy action, a storyline that defies sanity and too many clever jokes, then why not try out Taskmaster. You won’t be disappointed (unless you hate fun).