The Taskmaster may be the chief villain of the upcoming Black Widow film, starring Scarlett Johansson. This is the belief of many comics fans, following the release of photos depicting an armored figure in a white hood driving a tank through the streets of Budapest.
There is an aura of mystery around the Black Widow movie equal to that of the Taskmaster, whose true identity was unknown in the comics for three decades. Little has been said about the solo film centered around the past exploits of the sole female founding Avenger and even less has been confirmed by Marvel Studios. Indeed, the movie has yet to be officially announced and its existence has only been confirmed by photos and video of a red-haired Scarlett Johansson on a set in Sæbø, Norway.
While Taskmaster's role in the movie is uncertain, he would be a worthy opponent for Natasha Romanova. Both characters have worked for multiple covert agencies and as freelance mercenaries over the years and Taskmaster's reputation is such that taking him on alone would cement Black Widow's place among Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Here is everything you need to know about Taskmaster's origins, powers and who might be playing him in Black Widow.
Taskmaster's Comic History Explained
Taskmaster first appeared on the final page of Avengers #195 in May 1980, with his origins being explained one issue later in Avengers #196. He revealed himself to Ant-Man (Scott Lang), Yellowjacket (Hank Pym) and The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne) after they accidentally uncovered one of his secret schools for supervillain henchmen. Taskmaster then demonstrated his skill to the captive heroes by defeating his current class single-handed, utilizing the weapons and fighting styles of their fellow Avengers.
Taskmaster explained that he first discovered he had a talent for mimicking the actions of others by replicating the lasso tricks used by a cowboy hero in the westerns he loved as a child. As a teenager, he used his talents to become the quarterback of his high school football team by watching professional quarterbacks in action and copying their moves. After graduation, he briefly considered becoming both a superhero and a supervillain, but dismissed heroism as unprofitable and costumed crime as too risky. This led him to become a teacher and personal trainer for anyone willing to pay him for his time.
Over the years, Taskmaster built up a lengthy list of clients, helping to train both heroes and villains alike. Despite the Avengers' best efforts to shut down his schools, Taskmaster has continually evaded capture and defied all efforts to uncover his secret identity. He has worked for both AIM and Hydra, yet was also hired by the American government to train newbie superheroes as part of the Avengers' Fifty State Initiative. He was even granted a full pardon for all of his past crimes after SHIELD hired him to test the security measures of their newly rebuilt Helicarrier base by breaking into it - a challenge he successfully met.
This background was retconned by a 2010 Taskmaster mini-series, which showed the true origins of Taskmaster and his powers. Taskmaster was revealed to have originally been an agent of SHIELD named Tony Masters and his memories of perfectly mimicking the actions of athletes and actors as a child were accurate. What Taskmaster did not remember, however, was that his memory and ability to perfectly emulate the actions of others were enhanced after he was injected with a Nazi scientist's effort to replicate the Super Soldier formula that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.
The formula worked, giving Masters a peak human physique and enhanced reflexes in addition to refining his existing powers. Unfortunately, the formula had an unintended side-effect and Tony began to lose his personal memories and sense of identity the more he used his powers to enhance his combat training. This memory loss became so severe that he completely forgot his past as a SHIELD agent and the existence of his wife and field-partner, Mercedes Merced.
Thankfully, Agent Merced was able to find a way to stay close to her husband and put his condition to good use, even if he didn't know it. Adopting the identity of The Org, Merced became Taskmaster's handler and began managing his appointments and finances, as Taskmaster proved incapable of remembering anything past a few days unless it directly related to his training. It was in this capacity that she began sending Taskmaster out on mercenary missions, not telling him that he was really working for SHIELD.
Agent Merced was also responsible for creating the Taskmaster identity for Tony and setting up the Taskmaster's secret supervillain training academies. Through these, SHIELD was able to keep tabs on the activities of the various villain groups that hired Taskmaster and learn what they were planning. This turned Taskmaster into the ultimate double agent in the supervillain underground, given that he had no idea who he truly was and could pass a telepathic scan without issue.
Taskmaster's Powers Explained
Taskmaster possesses a power to duplicate any physical action he sees another person initiate, which he has dubbed "photographic reflexes." He also has a photographic memory, which allows him to effortlessly recall the many actions he has observed. By watching video footage of other superheroes and supervillains in action, Taskmaster was able to teach himself their moves and trained himself in a variety of disciplines. He has also developed a limited form of super-speed which allows him to perform a maneuver faster than normal if he observed it on a sped-up video. This is a tremendous strain on his body, however, and Taskmaster can only do it in short bursts.
Thanks to his training and powers, Taskmaster has acquired a particular set of skills that are second to none. He's mastered the acrobatics employed by Spider-Man and Daredevil, the marksman ability of Hawkeye and the Punisher, the martial arts skills of Iron Fist and Shang-Chi and even specialized moves such as Captain America's ability to throw his shield in such a manner that it can ricochet off multiple targets and return to his hand. His studies have made Taskmaster into a brilliant tactician, who can predict what a known opponent will do in a fight with near psychic accuracy. Taskmaster is also a talented vocal mimic who can impersonate anyone after hearing their voice and a master of disguise who can effectively double anyone of a similar body type whose body language he has observed.
All of these factors, coupled with the enhanced physique provided by the Nazi Super Soldier formula, have combined have made Taskmaster into a formidable opponent, whom Spider-Man has compared to "taking on all of the Avengers at once." He's accomplished several impressive feats over the years, such as fighting both Captain America and Iron Man simultaneously and winning. The only person known to have beaten Taskmaster in a one-on-one fight is Deadpool, whose chaotic combat style Taskmaster finds it impossible to copy or counteract.
This reveals the greatest drawback to Taskmaster's powers - there is a vast difference between knowing martial arts and being able to imitate a martial arts move. Because of his poor memory, while Taskmaster has augmented his powers with honest training, he's still not as refined as a dedicated practitioner who can take the basics of an art and build upon it. Taskmaster is not that creative and while he can remember the signature moves of hundreds of heroes, he's frequently thrown by the unexpected and will flee the field of battle when faced with an unfamiliar opponent or an old enemy armed with new tricks.
Why Is Taskmaster In The Black Widow Movie?
When word got out that Taskmaster might be in the upcoming Black Widow, many comic readers wondered why. The two characters don't have any long association in the comics, despite both being associated with the spycraft side of the Marvel Comics universe. However, a closer look at both characters' backgrounds suggests a dark mirror aspect that makes them ideal foils for one another. Both characters were trained agents of a covert organization who defected to the other side, with Black Widow leaving the KGB for SHIELD while SHIELD agent Tony Masters eventually went into business for himself.
Little has been said about the story of Black Widow so far, but there are multiple ways to introduce Taskmaster into Natasha's background. One possibility is that he was one of her instructors in the Red Room. Another is that he's a mercenary whom Black Widow has fought several times but never been able to bring down. It's even possible that Taskmaster has been a thorn in the side of SHIELD for years and was recruited into Hydra as a combat trainer while serving as a SHIELD agent.
Who Is Playing Taskmaster?
It is important to note that Taskmaster has not been officially confirmed as part of the cast of Black Widow and that his involvement is based purely upon the photos of a man in a costume similar to Taskmaster's modern body-armor based uniform and a character description in the casting notices that sounds like him. Assuming this masked man is Taskmaster, the question of who is playing him is still up in the air. The mostly likely candidate seems to be actor O-T Fagbenle, who has been cast in the movie in an unknown part. Fagbenle is an acclaimed stage actor, best known for his performance as Luke Bankole in The Handmaid's Tale.
Another possibility is David Harbour, who has also been cast in an undisclosed role. Harbour is no stranger to superhero movies, having recently starred in the Hellboy reboot. He is better known for playing Police Chief Jim Hooper in Stranger Things. It remains to be seen who will be playing Tony Masters in Black Widow, but either Fagbenle or Harbour are great bets.