Who is Taskmaster? What to know about the Phase 4 'Black Widow' villain

Taskmaster cometh! Here's what you need to know about Natasha Romanoff's next nemesis.

You can’t outmatch the Taskmaster, because the Taskmaster’s already matched you. One of the most exciting Marvel villains from the comics is on his way to the big screen in Black Widow, in theaters May 1, 2020. For his onscreen debut, the Taskmaster will go up against the world-famous super spy and Avenger, Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson.

But while everyone knows who Black Widow is, the Taskmaster is a different story. Just who in the name of Uatu is the Taskmaster?

At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, lucky fans who got into Hall H caught the first glimpse of Taskmaster in preview footage of Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland. The film, set after 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, will find Natasha confront her mysterious past in a battle against the Red Room, the shadow organization that trained her and other girls into becoming assassins.

The film will also introduce Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a younger sister figure to Natasha who underwent similar training; Red Guardian (David Harbour), Russia’s attempt to create their own “Captain America”; and Melina (Rachel Weisz), another Red Room graduate who helps out Natasha.

While Marvel fans who have read the comics or played some of the video games will be familiar with Taskmaster, others may be lost to who Taskmaster is and what tasks he’s a master of. If you were never subjected to the embarrassment of being owned by expert Marvel vs. Capcom 3 players on Xbox Live, here’s everything you need to know about the Taskmaster.

First appearance of the Taskmaster in 'The Avengers' #195, published in 1980.

Marvel Entertainment

Who is Taskmaster?

Taskmaster is a villain, sometimes anti-hero, who first appeared in The Avengers #195 in 1980. Created by David Micheline and George Pérez, the Taskmaster is Tony Masters, one of the most feared specimens in the Marvel Universe. His greatest power isn’t super speed or super strength, but super “photographic reflexes,” which give him the ability to master any movement just by watching and studying others. Taskmaster’s taken this very unique skills into battle with the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. on multiple occasions.

In his first origin, Taskmaster discovered his powers as a boy, when he mimicked the rope tricks from a Western on TV. Years later, he made quarterback of his high school football team just by watching a single NFL game. When he graduated high school, Taskmaster made the decision to use his powers and pursue a life of crime, as one does with such powers.

This was Taskmaster’s backstory until 2010, when the four-issue miniseries Taskmaster by Fred Van Lente retconned his origins. Rather than his reflexes being a gift, Taskmaster learns his powers came from a steroid formulated by a Nazi scientist that unlocked his brain’s memory potential. He also briefly remembered his forgotten history as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

Once during a mission, “Agent Tony Masters” came across the steroid and its creator, the Nazi scientist Horst Gorscht. While reserves of the steroid went up in flames, Tony injected himself with one surviving vial in the vague hope the powers could be reverse-engineered from him and used for good. But that never happened, and instead, he became Taskmaster.

The cost of Tony’s accelerated learning was losing his personal memories. As his condition worsened, Taskmaster fell under the care of by his wife, Mercedes, an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Tony/Taskmaster lost all memory of being married to. Mercedes disguises herself as “The Org,” a criminal intelligence broker, in order to keep watch over her husband.

Taskmaster in 'Taskmaster' #1 (2010) by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo.

Marvel Entertainment

Who is playing Taskmaster in Black Widow?

It is not known who is behind the mask of Taskmaster in Black Widow. The withheld identity of Taskmaster’s actor will undoubtedly fuel speculation, be it a surprise celebrity (Kevin Feige has previously mentioned the studio has tried to cast Keanu Reeves in a role) or a twist contained in the narrative of the film.

What are Taskmaster’s powers?

Taskmaster has the power of copying anything and anyone he sees. And after studying a subject, he is able to predict their next move. When necessary, he can also study the speech and vocal range of other people.

Because Taskmaster inhabits the Marvel Universe, he has studied all the most famous Marvel heroes and villains, including Elektra, Shang-Chi, Daredevil, Black Panther, Punisher, Silver Samurai, and more. His arsenal of ancient medieval weaponry comes from studying Captain America (shield), Black Knight (sword), and Hawkeye (bows and arrows).

Taskmaster in the trailer for 'Black Widow.' Due to Taskmaster's ability to master the movements of others just by watching them, it appears Taskmaster has studied footage of Black Widow's Avengers colleague, Hawkeye.

Marvel Entertainment

The only one to ever counter Taskmaster’s powers is Deadpool (in Deadpool Vol. 2, issue #2). Because no matter how much Taskmaster studied Wade Wilson, he could never predict what the fourth wall-breaking Deadpool would do next.  

One drawback of Taskmaster’s powers is that he does not actually have superhuman abilities. And watching subjects via video in fast-forward puts a strain on his body, which means he can only perform feats for a short period of time. A 2002 Taskmaster miniseries also introduced aquaphobia to Taskmaster’s personality, but he soon overcame his fear of water.

Where else can I watch/play as Taskmaster?

While his familiarity outside comics isn’t well-known, Taskmaster has made the leap to Marvel TV and video games a number of times.

Cult actor Clancy Brown (Highlander, SpongeBob SquarePants) has voiced Taskmaster in episodes of Marvel’s animated TV shows, including Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble. Taskmaster has also been a playable character in video games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (and its expanded edition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3), Marvel: Avengers Alliance, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, and Marvel Avengers Academy.

Taskmaster most recently appeared in the popular 2018 game Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4. Voiced by Brian Bloom, Taskmaster sets up challenges all across New York for Spider-Man to complete. He is also confirmed to appear in Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers game in 2020. So there’s plenty of Taskmaster to go around while we wait for his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The poster for 'Black Widow', which was released on December 2, 2019.

Marvel Entertainment

Black Widow will be released in theaters on May 1, 2020.

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