“The Rubicon Trigger, Part One”
Writer: Jed MacKay
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colors: Guru e-FX
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Valerio Giangiordano (regular)/Nick Bradshaw and Mike Henderson
Editor: Chris Robinson
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
I’ve always appreciated Taskmaster as a villain, as his “photographic reflexes” abilities have always proven to be clever in the hands of skilled writers. That proves to be the case with Jed MacKay’s take on the mercenary as well, so what we get is a fun, action-oriented romp that celebrates the connections throughout the Marvel Universe. I think the book, unfortunately, is hampered by a couple of factors that seem beyond the creative team’s control: bad timing, obviously, and a disconnect between the tone of this story and how it’s being marketed to its potential readership.
Taskmaster, looking to make an easy buck with his unique skills at an underworld golf tournament, finds himself the target of a hail of bullets, leaving him scrambling across the fairways to get to safety — guided by a mysterious benefactor helping him survive the onslaught. The villain for hire soon learns who’s hunting him and why, and how his photographic reflexes might be the only way for him to pull off a bit of espionage to get his skull-masked face out of the literal crosshairs.
Alessandro Vitti employs thick, bold lines to convey a surprisingly effective degree of action and motion, and he imbues an appropriately monstrous, ghoulish look in the titular character’s appearance. There’s some nice detail in many of the visuals, but wisely, the book never looks too realistic. This is an over-the-top story, and Vitti’s art embraces that tone. At the same time, it never appears too cartoonish either, walking a fine line between the farcical tone established in the dialogue and the sense of danger that also adds to the book’s appeal. As I was writing this paragraph, actually, I realized that Vitti’s art reminds me of another artist’s style: that of Bart Sears, whose work I came love on the similarly entertaining Justice League Europe (back more than three decades!).
I can’t help but think MacKay (or his editors, in giving him the assignment) took a number of cues for the book from Taskmaster’s turn in the pages of Deadpool years ago during Gail Simone’s run on that original ongoing series. This story scratches the same sort of itch. Despite his intimidating appearance, Taskmaster has worked well as a blue-collar type of super-villain. The average-Joe tone of his dialogue makes tempers the unreal circumstances of his chosen life, and MacKay leans right into that aspect. At the same time, he never makes Taskmaster seem dim. His resourcefulness and unflinching attitude in the face of his potential demise paint him in a positive light even though we know he’s an immoral thug at heart.
With the title character’s role as the main antagonist in the oft-delayed Black Widow flick, this comic likely would have been a major release for Marvel — had things gone according to plan earlier this year. Obviously, the pandemic has trapped that movie in limbo, and it also led to this comic’s release being held up since its intended debut in April. The comics publisher apparently decided it could wait no longer, so now it’s out in the world without the added boost of reports of the movie’s box office returns and customary gushing (usually merited) over Marvel Studios’ latest output. That’s unfortunate for these comics creators and the character.
Here’s the problem with this comic: it doesn’t deliver what the reader comes to expect from it. The movie marketing machine has led us to expect Taskmaster as a stoic and enigmatic figure, so newer readers will likely be taken aback by what they find here. And furthermore, the regular cover by Valerio Giangiordano points to an intense, dark and even ugly story of espionage and murder — hardly the sort of fun romp that MacKay, Vitti and company actually have to offer. That seems like a major misstep. As I read (and enjoyed) this story, lingering at the back of my head the whole time was how it didn’t match up with what the main cover suggests, and that might lead, unfortunately, to a sense of disappointment on the part of readers who might not be so receptive to the playful tone they discover in the pages and panels. 7/10