One of Marvel's next big screen villains is also one of the most mysterious adversaries in Marvel Comics - the Taskmaster, a villain who uses his ability to mimic the moves and fighting styles of anyone he sees to train villains and henchman in combat.
While there are still numerous questions about Taskmaster's place in the MCU when he's introduced in the upcoming Black Widow movie, his Marvel Comics origins are almost just as obscure, with even his secret identity in question.
Still, there's a lot we do know about Taskmaster from comic books, including how he fits into the world of the Avengers, his uncanny powers and abilities, and his current comic whereabouts.
We'll dig into it all right now, and get to know Marvel's Taskmaster.
Who is Taskmaster?
The man known almost exclusively as Taskmaster (and occasionally by the pseudonym Tony Masters) is one of Marvel's foremost mercenaries, henchmen, and soldiers of fortune.
Though he's occasionally used his formidable skills on the side of the angels, more often than not, Taskmaster's role in the Marvel Universe usually consists of either training elite henchmen for villains of the Marvel Universe to fight superheroes, or fighting superheroes himself.
Partially because of his reputation and vocation, Taskmaster is a man of great mystery in the Marvel Universe. But more than his own subterfuge, some of the murkiness around Taskmaster's past and identity is a byproduct of his formidable powers.
Sometimes classified as simply a natural ingrained talent closer to what some savants experience in the real world, Taskmaster is gifted with the power of so-called 'photographic reflexes,' which allow him to recreate any movement or fighting style he sees performed – including those of superheroes. He can also briefly push his body beyond normal human limits to mimic the actions of heroes with enhanced strength and speed, though this sometimes takes great physical toll on him.
Unfortunately, as a side-effect of his abilities, his personal memories are often lost in a form of amnesia that comes from his brain internalizing the moves and fighting styles he memorizes.
As a result, Taskmaster's early origins remain shrouded in memory lapses. The most common version of Taskmaster's origin has his powers developing in his childhood in the Bronx, in New York City. At first emulating the movements of characters and athletes he saw on TV, Taskmaster/Tony Masters initially considered pursuing an athletic career, utilizing his ability to mimic the movements and plays of the best competitors of nearly every sport imaginable.
However, he quickly decided that being a supervillain would be more lucrative, and began his career training soldiers, crooks, and goons to fight Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
How does Taskmaster fit into the Marvel Universe?
First introduced in 1980's Avengers #195, the team confronted Taskmaster while he was training henchmen for the mad scientist Taskmaster managed to take on Iron Man, Captain America, Scott Lang, Hank Pym, and Wasp single-handedly before the android Jocasta overpowered him.
Taskmaster has subsequently gone up against the Avengers and other Marvel heroes numerous times over the years, though his trainees in the art of super-combat include both heroes and villains. Graduates of Taskmaster's combat training include villains such Crossbones, Cutthroat, and (sometimes) Diamondback, as well as heroes such as Spider-Woman, U.S. Agent, and Agent X/Maverick of the Weapon X program.
Despite his usual occupation as a villain, Taskmaster's personal morality only goes so far as the goals of whoever is paying him (though some would say working for the Red Skull in the first place is a moral indicator all its own). He's been on all sides of the Marvel Universe, even briefly joining the Secret Avengers.
Along with the trademark skull mask that has almost always defined Taskmaster's eclectic costume, he's almost never without an arsenal of weapons based on the weapons of the Avengers, from Captain America's shield, to Hawkeye's bow, to non-powered versions of Thor's Mjolnir and Black Knight's Ebony Blade, and he's even employed other gear like Black Panther's claws, Spider-Man's web-shooters, and more.
Taskmaster may also have a daughter – Avengers Academy student Finesse, who possesses similar abilities, confronted Taskmaster believing he could be her father. Though Taskmaster conceded it could be true, he also confessed that his memories are so skewed by his abilities that he has no memory of having a child. However, in what might amount to the highest form of affection Taskmaster can show, he fought Finesse to a standstill in an attempt to remember her by her fighting style.
Most recently, in his current limited series, Taskmaster has been accused of the murder of Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders in the MCU) and sending the Marvel Universe's world of espionage into disarray – though the gaps in his memory (and the memories he does have) call that into question, with Taskmaster on the run from the authorities, trying to prove his innocence.
Taskmaster in the MCU
Taskmaster has yet to debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though he (or more accurately they – the MCU Taskmaster's gender identity hasn't even actually been confirmed, and the actor under the helmet remains a secret) has been seen as a prominent villain in the trailers for Marvel Studios' upcoming Black Widow film.
In those trailers, Taskmaster is shown fighting Black Widow, using their usual comic book tricks of mimicking the movements of Natasha's Avengers allies. Taskmaster is seen throwing Captain America's shield, shooting a bow and arrow, swinging like Spider-Man, baring claws a la Black Panther, and even fully mirroring Black Widow's own acrobatic fighting style almost perfectly.
Taskmaster is also seen watching footage of Black Widow's combat style, learning to mimc her movements.
It hasn't exactly been spelled out, but it appears that Taskmaster's role in the film may echo his comic book job, with Taskmaster apparently serving as the trainer for the newest version of the Red Room that turned Natasha Romanoff into the Black Widow.
Interestingly, as with comic books, there's a bit of real world mystery around Taskmaster's identity in the MCU.
As we said, the actual actor under the skull-ish mask of Black Widow's Taskmaster hasn't been officially identified. It's commonly thought actor OT Fagbenle, whose role in the film also hasn't officially been named, may be the Taskmaster, though with Marvel Studios, nothing is final until it's actually seen in a movie and the possibilities of all potential twists have been exhausted.
Though MCU fans have yet to meet the live-action Taskmaster, video game fans may recognize him from Marvel's Spider-Man on Playstation 4, in which he hosts a series of challenges in which players earn rewards for following his path, and for beating him in combat.
Marvel Studios' Black Widow is scheduled for release on May 7, and will likely answer most of the questions surrounding the MCU version of Taskmaster – though it remains to be seen whether the film universe will adapt and define his commonly accepted origins, or take Taskmaster's nature as a blank slate and run with it to create a new version of the character.
Here's everything we know about the Black Widow movie, from its cast, to its release date, to its trailers and more.