Anything You Can Do He Can Do Exactly the Same: Taskmaster #1 [Review]
Taskmaster has been something of a fan favorite B-list supervillain in the Marvel Universe, using his abilities to mimic any physical skills he observes as both a mercenary and a trainer of fledgling superheroes, supervillains, and random cannon fodder. Now the star of a miniseries written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by Jefte Palo, the Taskmaster finds himself the target of countless former students out to collect a bounty that's been put on his head. he book is a great combination of clever concepts, character moments and over-the-top action scenes with a good sense of humor tying it all together. All of that makes it easily the most enjoyable book I read this week.
I've got something of a soft spot for comics that take time to shine the spotlight on the average John Q. Everygoons who fill the ranks of the countless sinister organizations that make up the Marvel Universe. Given that these men and women generally only exist to get taken out five at a time in a single panel, I'm intrigued whenever I get the chance to see individuals within those organization given a personality, even if only for a page or two. There's a weird sense of dramatic tension that comes from getting to know random Hydra operative #3 because, unlike any superhero or villain, not only is it possible that he could die at any moment, it's entirely likely that he will die within ten pages and so I want to appreciate what little time I do get to spend with the poor bastard. And "Taskmaster" #1 includes several nice little character moments like this.
But I came away most impressed with Van Lente's version of Taskmaster. He introduces the concept of a "memory palace," a mnemonic trick where you envision a known location and then connect specific pieces of information to objects in that location. Later, you can later mentally walk through that familiar location and easily remember the tiniest details. But in Taskmaster's case the memory palaces are so complex that they've taken over his mind. He's devoted so much effort to memorizing the skills of every person he's ever seen fight that it's pushed out all other parts of his past. The house he grew up in exists as a memory palace he uses to store fighting styles he wishes to remember, but he himself possesses no memories of anything that actually happened to him growing up in that house. It makes his existence a sad one, but it also kind of makes you root for the guy.
Of course, the other thing that makes you root for the guy is that you get to watch him methodically annihilate the representatives of about ten different factions of for profit evil doers. "The Org," a group that ties together all the individual supervillan institutions like A.I.M. and Hydra, has put a huge price on Taskmaster's head on the suspicion that he's working for Steve Rogers now.
Several of the usual suspects as well as a bunch of new faces show up to claim the prize, as Van Lente pulls in classic teams like the Sons of the Serpent and the Legions of the Living Lightning, throws in a '90s creation in the Cyber Ninjas, and adds a few of his own new groups including an alien biker gang called the Black Choppers and a group dressed in Revolutionary War costumes armed with technologically advanced weapons known as the Militiamen. They all turn out to be pretty good at getting killed in highly entertaining fashion.
"Taskmaster" #1 is the first part of a four issue miniseries and hit all the right points for me, including a surprisingly deep main character with an intelligent hook to his powers, a large cast of villains, and at least two Monty Python references, one blatant and one subtle. This is just the sort of treatment I enjoy seeing a lesser known character get and I strongly recommend it.