Who Is Taskmaster? A Guide to the Awesome 'Black Widow' Marvel 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 and cult favorite Marvel villains is on his way to the big screen in 2020’s Black Widow. But who is the Taskmaster?

At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Marvel fans got a glimpse of the Taskmaster in preview footage of Black Widow, the anticipated solo film starring Scarlett Johansson as her world-famous spy. The movie is expected to explore Natasha’s unseen history while confronting those who made her into a living weapon.

While specific plot details remain vague, we know Johansson will star in what may be a prequel to one of the Avengers films. Whether it takes place before a specific movie, or before all of the MCU is unclear.

The film, directed by Cate Shortland, will also introduce Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a younger sister-figure to Natasha who underwent similar spy training in the “Red Room,” as well as Red Guardian (David Harbour), Russia’s answer to Captain America in the Marvel Universe.

And of course, the supervillain Taskmaster will also appear in the movie played by a yet unidentified actor.

While Marvel fans who have read the comics or played Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will be familiar with Taskmaster, general audiences may be lost as to who he is and exactly what tasks he’s the master of. If you never had the unfortunate feeling of getting owned online by expert Marvel vs. Capcom 3 players on Xbox Live, here’s everything you need to know about the one who calls himself the “Taskmaster.”

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

Who Is the Taskmaster?

The 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 subjectively one of the coolest characters they’ve imagined. (And Pérez co-created Deathstroke!)

Real name Tony Masters, Taskmaster is one of the most feared specimens in the Marvel Universe. His greatest power isn’t super speed or super strength, but super “photographic reflexes,” or the uncanny ability to master any movement just by watching and studying others. Taskmaster’s taken this very unique skill 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 perfectly mimicked the rope tricks from a Western he saw 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 when given special powers.

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

This was Taskmaster’s backstory until 2010, when the four-issue miniseries Taskmaster by Fred Van Lente retconned Taskmaster’s origins. Rather than a natural gift, Taskmaster discovers his powers came from a steroid formulated by a Nazi scientist that unlocked the brain’s procedural 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/Taskmaster’s accelerated learning is the cost of losing personal memories. As his condition worsened, Taskmaster fell under the care of by his wife, Mercedes Merced, 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 Marvel Comics Black Widow
From 'Taskmaster' #1 (2010).

What Are Taskmaster’s Powers?

Taskmaster has the enviable power of masterfully copying anything and anyone he sees. And after studying a subject, he is able to predict their every 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 many more. His arsenal of ancient medieval weaponry comes from studying Captain America (shield), Black Knight (sword), and Hawkeye (bows and arrows).

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 Can I See/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 genre actor Clancy Brown (best known as either the guy from Highlander or Mr. Krabs from SpongeBob SquarePants, depending who you talk to) has voiced Taskmaster in episodes of Marvel animated TV shows, including Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble.

Taskmaster has also been a playable character in 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.

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