Return to the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) when Black Widow hits Cineworld on the 1st of May.
Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, this blockbuster is the long-awaited solo outing for the eponymous Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), who of course emotionally sacrificed herself in Avengers: Endgame.
Returning home to Russia, superspy-turned-superhero Romanoff will reunite with some old acquaintances in her Black Widow ‘family’ (David Harbour, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz), where more light will hopefully be shed on the beloved character’s mysterious past. The latest trailer has given us a peek at the villain: Taskmaster.
He’s a fan-favourite from Marvel’s expansive rogues' gallery, and the film will mark the masked baddy’s big-screen debut. But who exactly is he?
He has 'photographical reflexes'
Created by David Michelinie and George Pérez, Taskmaster first appeared in the cliffhanger ending of The Avengers #195 in 1980, before making his full comic book appearance in the following issue one month later.
Real name Tony Masters, Taskmaster was gifted with the ability of ‘photographical reflexes’ since he was a child. Like photographic memory, this ‘power’ enabled him to copy the actions of others just by watching them; this included learning to use a lasso, or playing basketball by copying what he saw on TV.
While he doesn’t have any superpowers per se, Taskmaster is able to instantly learn his opponents’ fighting styles and use it against them. It’s likely he gained his archery skills (as glimpsed in the film’s trailer) by watching Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in action. Likewise, the trailers have shown him replicate moves similar to Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) – some trailer breakdowns have even highlighted his costume having claws, not unlike the latter.
But he can’t copy everything…
Taskmaster’s copycat ability allows him to undertake tremendous feats in the comics. He’s a master martial artist (he even learned to fight at double the speed by watching martial arts movies at twice the speed), expert marksman and proficient in various weapons. When he’s mastered his opponent’s style, he’s even able to predict their next move.
This will make him a tough opponent for the highly skilled Romanoff in Black Widow. However, there are limits to what he's able to replicate. This means no flying and no acts of superhuman strength. In the comics, Taskmaster learned this the hard way when he broke his back trying to mimic the reflexes of cartoon-based superhero Slapstick.
He’s injected with a super-soldier serum
He might not have any real superpowers of his own, but don’t think that means Taskmaster is just your average Joe in a fancy suit. When he was an adult, Tony Masters joined S.H.I.E.L.D – the same organisation that recruited Black Widow for the Avengers initiative. It was during this point in his life where he injected himself with an experimental Nazi version of the super-soldier serum that was given to Captain America.
However, instead of giving him powers similar to Cap, the serum greatly enhanced his gift, enabling him to replicate moves instantaneously. Given the MCU’s knack for tweaking their villains’ backstories, we don’t know if the Taskmaster of Black Widow will have the same backstory. However, seeing him go toe-to-toe with David Harbour’s Red Guardian in the trailer suggests that the villain will be just as formidable a foe as comic book fans expect.
He suffers from short-term memory problems
As it turns out, injecting yourself with an experimental Nazi serum also has its drawbacks. Although the concoction amplified Masters’ pre-existing abilities to near-superhuman levels, it had a severe impact on his brain, leaving him with serious memory loss. Consequently, he forgot about his time at S.H.I.E.L.D, and even about his own wife and colleague, Mercedes Merced.
Likewise, the short-term memory also affects his powers, whereby one skill is as quickly forgotten as a new technique is absorbed. As a bizarrely specific example, he can only retain eight languages at one time. Again: it’s unclear whether this Taskmaster will suffer the same flaw as his comic book counterpart.
Rumours about his big-screen identity suggest that the character will be closely connected to Black Widow’s past, so it’s unlikely that the villain would be an amnesiac. But only time will tell if this is true.
He trains other villains
Originally wanting to be a superhero himself, Tony Masters ultimately ended up using their gifts for selfish reasons. And with the stolen money he acquired for himself, he set up the Taskmaster’s Academy (where he adopted his alias) where he began training anyone who was able to pay. His first customer was Mexican crime boss Don of the Dead, which led to the creation of Taskmaster’s famous skull mask in honour of the country’s Day of the Dead celebration.
Other characters he’s trained in the comics have included a trio of interns for foul-mouthed anti-hero Deadpool (played on the big screen by Ryan Reynolds) and Crossbones, played in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War by Frank Grillo. In the comics, Taskmaster also went on to work as a mercenary for hire, fighting for whichever side recruited him. It’s unclear what his motivation will be in the upcoming movie, but we – like many other fans – can’t wait to find out and learn who will be revealed under the mask.
Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow him on Twitter.