While the version of Taskmaster seen in MCU’s Black Widow movie was tragic, the character’s comic origins were even more heartbreaking.
That Marvel Cinematic Universe has made many changes in the adaptation of the original Marvel Comics to the big screen. One of the most radical was the change of Taskmaster from the cartoonist’s agitated henchman training to the silent and deadly assassin Black widow, with one of the biggest tweaks to their respective origins.
Taskmaster for MCU had a tragic origin – but it’s not nearly as bittersweet and cruel as the origins of the comics Taskmaster, which actually transformed from a potentially heroic figure into the morally dubious mercenary.
I MCU, Antonia Dreykov was the daughter of General Dreykov – one of the commanders of the Red Room. Although she was innocent, Antonia was caught in the crosshairs by Natasha Romanoff’s attempt to murder her father, resulting in her apparent death at the hands of the black widow. Antonia survived, however, but was seriously wounded in the attack. Dreykov inserted a chip into her that could suppress her pain and emotions, which in turn allowed her to be shaped into a deadly agent for Dreykov and his secret continuation of the red room.
However, the Taskmaster of Earth-616 had a very different origin. Born Tony Masters, he proved to have the ability to copy the actions of everyone he saw in motion (unlike Antonia, whose powers stemmed from her color technology). As revealed in the second Taskmaster miniseries (by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo) the Masters eventually joined SHIELD and became one of their most formidable agents. He even found love with his field partner, Mercedes, and they ended up getting married.
Eventually, the pair were sent up against Horst Gorscht – a World War II doctor who had developed a damaged variant of Super-Soldier Serum who turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Not long before today, the Masters were sent on a mission to confront the scientist. There, he discovered that Gorscht had developed a new form of Super Soldier Serum that enhanced the mind instead of the body, allowing the subject to instantly absorb knowledge and increase short-term memory.
To become the best possible agent, the Masters used the only viable sample of it on its own. This completely unlocked the true potential of his ability – albeit at the expense of his ability to preserve his own memories. Although he could easily adapt and pick up skills, the Masters no longer remembered anything about his own life, including his story with his wife. Mercedes then accepted a position as the newly christened Taskmaster’s dealer, directing him around the world as “support” for a suspected criminal brain, Org. In essence, this allowed her (and her husband) to continue working toward SHIELD interests over the years, even though the chair of the assignment never quite knew it. In this way, Mercedes could also be close to Tony and try to guide him back to his true memories.
Fighting with her again Taskmaster brings back specific memories of their relationship, but he is forced to access his full potential to save her life and cost him his memories again. And so the cycle continues with Taskmaster, a former heroic but ambitious man with all the potential in the world, reduced to simply being a skilled mercenary with a wife he does not remember having tried to point him in the right direction. It’s a heartbreaking revelation and hints at the heroic edges the cartoon incarnation of the character may have always possessed.
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