Writer: Fred van Lente
Artist: Jefte Palo
Colors: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Cover artist: Greg Tocchini
Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Price: $3.99 US
With this limited series, writer Fred van Lente has really been telling two disparate stories that happened to be connected by the characters he’s chosen to use. On the one side, he offers up a wonderfully entertaining send-up of the secret agents and henchmen in the Marvel Universe, reminiscent of the kind of zany storytelling that Warren Ellis delivered in the memorable series Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.. On the other hand, van Lente also tells the story of an exceptional man who’s been driven to do awful things and who’s seeking redemption. These two stories require completely different tones — one silly, the other reflective and melancholy — so they shouldn’t work together. But they do, and that’s thanks in part to the extreme, over-the-top nature of the super-hero genre. What’s unfortunate about the story is that due to the nature of the title character, the shared super-hero continuity in which it’s set and the format in which it’s presented, it’s completely inconsequential. The ending is constructed so that the story can be ignored by others in the future and by other uses and interpretations of the title character. It’s a foreseeable development but disappointing all the same.
As the Taskmaster finally pieces the puzzle of his fractured memory back together and realizes that the seemingly innocent party he’s been protecting all along has been at the heart of the mystery he’s trying to uncover, the secret, defunct S.H.I.E.L.D. base in which they find themselves is beset upon by the collected forces of the Marvel Universe’s disposable soldiers, including the forces of Hydra, A.I.M., Ultimatum and more, all led by the maniacal, deluded but clever Redshirt. Meanwhile, former Captain America Steve Rogers and his Secret Avengers speed to the site to try to bring in Taskmaster and his handler.
Jefte Palo’s visual style is highly reminiscent of that of Kev (Thunderbolts) Walker. That makes him an oddly appropriate choice for this series, as this four-parter and T-Bolts are both about villains working on changing their colors (or at least fooling others or themselves that they are). His art here also reminds me of the work of other comics artists such as Leinil (Superior) Yu and even Howard (American Flagg!) Chaykin. Overall, the storytelling is pretty solid. I like how he conveys Taskmaster’s abilities by “overlapping” images of the title character and the superhumans whose skills he’s mimicking. I also especially enjoyed his take on Moon Knight; he grants the character a truly creepy, spectral look that’s unlike any interpretation I’ve seen before.
Redshirt and the forces of M.I.L.F. are just the latest in a series of hilarious antagonists in this series. Van Lente lets loose with the goofiness and zany ideas, and it’s always amusing. Obviously, these are throwaway characters (after all, this is a throwaway story, in its own way), and that’s appropriate, as the gags would get old in a hurry beyond these little tastes. I did enjoy the concept of the ace Redshirt had up his sleeve when it came to his inevitable conflict with Taskmaster. The notion doesn’t really work if one considers that he had to prepare for years for a fight he couldn’t have predicted, but hey, this is a fight between an unusual and novel character and a new, disposable villain named Redshirt. Logic isn’t really called for in the first place.
Turning the Taskmaster’s origin into a tragic love story is something no one could have predicted, and I’m honestly surprised that van Lente got it to work. Despite the impossible premise, his dialogue manages to sell the notion of the title character as a regular human being… or at least an irregular human being. The unfortunate choice he has to make at the story’s climax is a little cliched, but it serves a dual purpose. It ends the story on a touching, tragic note, and it resets the property so that the character isn’t hindered by these revelations in future Marvel stories.
In that regard, van Lente serves the intellectual property well. At most, change in a shared super-hero continuity is an illusion; it’s unwelcome. It’s too bad, because the character of the Taskmaster in this limited series is far more interesting than the one we knew before this series or after. I realize that the weight of this origin story isn’t feasible for incorporation into other stories; this one is meant to stand on its own. Still, it’s unfortunate that while most of this series makes the most of the super-hero genre and exhibits its strengths, the ending spotlights one of its shortcomings. 8/10
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