Black Widow’s Taskmaster is a twist on an old Marvel favorite
Every good Marvel superhero needs a supervillain, so as Black Widow stepped up for her solo movie debut, it’s only natural that she got a signature bad guy to go along with her. In Black Widow, that’s Taskmaster, the mysterious killer with the ability to learn any fighting technique simply by watching it.
Even with their true identity shrouded in secrecy, the maniacal masked mimic is the biggest recognizable threat of Black Widow, and the latest supervillain entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The villain was co-created by the legendary writer-artist George Pérez and writer David Michelinie, who also co-created Venom, Scott Lang, and James “Rhodey” Rhodes. The character first appeared in the pages of 1980’s The Avengers #196, in a story called “The Terrible Toll of the Taskmaster.” That’s not important, it’s just great alliteration.
In the comics, Taskmaster’s true identity has always been unknown, but his abilities are well-documented. When he was a kid, he discovered he could master any physical skill simply by watching someone perform it, a phenomenon doctors referred to as “photographic reflexes.” As an adult, he turned his talent to the criminal sphere, observing the techniques of as many superheroes and villains as he could, in order to master their skills. Eventually, he branched out from trying to defeat the Avengers or working as a hired killer to using his ill-gotten gains to open training facilities for other criminals and henchmen.
This has often made him a formidable enemy for low-powered and martial-based heroes like Captain America, Daredevil, and Iron Fist — and now the Black Widow.
[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for Black Widow.]
Taskmaster’s movie costume favors navy blue, and orange and chrome accents where comic Taskmaster has orange and white. They have a skull-like mask and a sword and shield. The movie clearly shows off Taskmaster’s trademark superpower of instantly learning an opponent’s skills, showing off the martial stylings of Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Panther in Black Widow.
Movie Taskmaster doesn’t have the cool white cape of comic book Taskmaster, but where the film really diverges from comics canon is that its Taskmaster does have a secret identity.
Natasha spends much of the movie reflecting on a singular moment of red in her ledger, a day in Budapest when — while assassinating General Dreykov, the man in charge of the Red Room where she was indoctrinated and trained as a spy — she chose to allow her target’s young daughter, Antonia, to become collateral damage, rather than calling off the hit. In the climactic moments of Black Widow, Dreykov reveals that Antonia survived (the adult version of her is played by Olga Kurylenko), whereupon he pressed her into the Red Room program, supplementing her damaged body with electronic parts that gave her the ability to copy others’ moves and techniques. Against her will, he turned her into his most useful assassin.
At the end of Black Widow, Taskmaster’s future is unclear — she has left her vendetta against Natasha behind her, and joined with the rest of the Red Room Widows. But whether she’ll return again in a future Marvel movie or TV series is anyone’s guess.