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‘Warriors Three’ #1 and ‘Taskmaster’ #3: Evil Science and Endless Hitlers [Review]

If the current political landscape of the United States makes one thing clear, it’s that certain aspects of science can polarize a populace. It often seems as though scientists are viewed less as benevolent knowledge-seekers and more as dangerous charlatans. And it’s starting to occur to me that the regular portrayal of evil and/or mad scientists in popular fiction for the past century or so probably isn’t helping matters. Comics certainly shares in the responsibility for depicting sciences more as the domain of villains the Weather Wizard than Mr. Wizard. This week’s debut issue of Warriors Three, for example, sees science terrorists from Advanced Idea Mechanics release monsters from out of Norse mythology into the Midgard. Taskmaster #3 also contains its share of science motifs with a band madmen playing “let’s see how many Hitlers we can clone.”The trouble is that evil science, particularly when it’s done as well as in these two cases, is so much fun to watch run rampant in a story. It’s the perfect mix of hubris and technobabble and unfettered imagination. And if the price I have to pay is that whenever I see someone in a lab coat walk down the street I must to fight back an urge to tackle them to the ground yelling “Ha! I have foiled your nefarious plans!” then I consider this a price worth paying. So stand back while I cackle madly and throw the oversized switch that activates the machine to converts my brain waves into words that describe how good Warriors Three and Taskmaster are.

Warriors Three
is not, at first glance, a book about science. Written by Bill Willingham with art by penciler Neil Edwards, inker Scott Hanna and colorist Frank Martin, it’s a story that stars Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun, three Asgardian heroes who readers are accustomed to seeing take a supporting role in the adventures of Thor. But this tale of the trio’s adventures is narrated by a scientist, an A.I.M. agent by the name of Helen Gable who was part of a mission to the Norse realm of Nifelhel where A.I.M. sought to gain the aid of the monstrous wolf Fenrir in exchange for freeing the creature from its imprisonment by the Asgardians.

Helen plays as big a rol in the first issue as the Warriors Three, and it’s her villainous quest that paves the way for events of the rest of the book, which invites the reader to consider the role of science in a world where mythological beasts are known to exist. Willingham fully plays up the contrast between the A.I.M. agents, relying on their super-science powered technology to function in a world based in myth, and the Warriors Three, wielding god-like powers, riding mystical horses and carrying swords as they attempt to fit in with the ordinary world.

I don’t want to give the impression that Helen’s story means Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun don’t have ample opportunities to bask in the spotlight of their own book. I’ve been a fan of the trio — Volstagg in particular — for years, and each warrior gets a wonderful introductory scene as the book opens. Willingham and Edwards tell readers everything they need to know about each warrior in the tidy span of a page or two each. This miniseries has three issues left, so if you’ve been wary of the sheer number of Thor tie-in series being released ahead of the upcoming film, don’t hesitate to give this book a shot.

Taskmaster, written by Fred Van Lente with art by Jefte Palo, released its third issue this week. First of all, here is the cover:

Now if that image hasn’t already convinced you to at least give the series a shot, I’ll go on. This series follows long-standing Marvel Universe villain Taskmaster, who has the ability to memorize and duplicate the physical actions taken by anyone he observes. But it’s come at the expense of his own memories. Now suspected of turning good and aiding Steve Rogers and SHIELD, Taskmaster finds himself with a bounty on his head and tracked by the Org, an alliance of various henchmen-reliant evil organizations he’s helped to train over the years. In order to figure out how to escape, he needs to retrace key life events he’s forgotten.

The series started strong with an action-packed first issue and has gotten even better with each subsequent release. Taskmaster and Mercedes Merced, a woman who’s been helping him on his journey, arrive at a remote mountain village in Bolivia where everyone is Adolf Hitler. Which is to say that every man, woman and child in the village has the mindset, mannerisms and memories of the notorious Nazi leader.

Van Lente takes the concept in an entertaining direction, and rather than the standard approach of a South American conclave of fanatic Nazis, instead creates a small town filled with bloodthirsty power-mad despots each intent on annexing their neighbor’s home through violent means in order to ensure enough living space for their family. It could have been a throwaway gag, but the cause of the town’s Hitler problem is handled in a way that ties in with both the backstory of Taskmaster that we’re gradually learning in tandem with the established history of the Marvel Universe.

The issue also introduces the man behind the wider plot against Taskmaster. I don’t want to give too much away about him, but I will say that the first few pages of his appearance constitute one of the finest crafted comedic moments in comics I’ve read in some time. Van Lente has taken a lesser-known characters from the Marvel Universe, and in the span of a few issues, turned him into the star of a book that is now a must-read for me. There’s even a big reveal about Taskmaster’s past here that, while it may have some crying retcon foul, it only increased my anticipation for what comes next in the title. Taskmaster #3 was my favorite book I read this week, which should say something considering how many other great comics hit the stands.

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