Marvel's master of mimicry, the mercenary Taskmaster, debuts his own limited series with the eponymous Taskmaster #1. Written by Jed MacKay with art by Alessandro Vitti and GURU-eFX, Taskmaster #1 sees Tony Masters take on a would-be assassin at a Maggia golf tournament. With a humorous story and action-packed artwork, Taskmaster #1 sets out to introduce characters to the supervillain while also setting him up for a showdown with some of the Marvel Universe's heavy hitters.
Written by Jed MacKay
Art by Alessandro Vitti and GURU-eFX
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Taskmaster #1 forgoes a traditional title page, instead dropping readers directly into the story, as Taskmaster explains his career choices via narrative captions overlayed over images of Maria Hill's destroyed home before ultimately settling on an arm of a presumably murdered Maria Hill. This juxtaposition of humor and violence sets the tone for the rest of the book, giving readers insight into Taskmaster's everyman approach to his mercenary work, and setting up the story. When Taskmaster finally appears on page, it's at a Maggia golf tournament, where he's serving as caddy/golfer/bodyguard for a mob boss. This meeting gets rudely interrupted, and away the comic goes into a chase sequence between Taskmaster and an armed assailant on a motorcycle.
The plot is a bit thin here, as Taskmaster #1 focuses on delivering an exciting and humorous action sequence. While there are some misses, most of the humor lands. A big boon to the comedy is Alessandro Vitti's expressive facial work with the characters. The comic isn't limited to witty one-liners and captions as Vitti's line art is able to build into the humor with reaction shots and visual humor. The end result is a book that provides the laughs without feeling like the action is stopping to tell a joke – which is great because Vitti lands the action as well. Rather than going for wide panels that evoke a more cinematic feel, Vitti uses square panels to really isolate moments of impact in the sequence, creating this feel of bursting snapshots to sell the movement. Color artist GURU-eFX also shines here. When depicting the tire effects of the vehicles, GURU-eFX opts for a light-bloom effect in the color, creating visuals that convey a sense of kinetic motion without overshadowing the more naturalistic colors of the scene itself.
This mix of humor and action works well for the book, but some readers may find that combination a detriment. While Taskmaster #1 never dives into the absurdism or meta-humor of a Deadpool book, if you're someone who found yourself thinking that Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was derivative of the Ryan Reynolds Deadpool films or that all the Marvel Studios films are too 'jokey,' this is probably not the book for you. While an exposition-heavy back half to the issue sets up the more serious elements to the story, the book never abandons the humor, and it's likely that future issues will continue to use it.
Unfortunately, while that sense of familiarity isn't a death knell on its own, it is a symptom of a bigger problem. While Jed MacKay and Alessandro Vitti have created a fun comic book, the thin plot also leaves little room for a character arc. The book gives Taskmaster a strong personality, but not a solid look at what drives him or what might change about him as the story progresses. There's not a good reason to care about him or the mission he gets tasked with. There's the mystery of Maria Hill's death, but the impermanence of death in the Marvel Universe means that hook isn't particularly compelling. Future issues in this limited series need to build something deeper here, otherwise, this story will likely only be revisited by existing Taskmaster fans, rather than creating new ones.
Read our interview with Taskmaster series writer Jed MacKay on what he has planned for this limited series.