Sunday, May 22, 2011

TWT Checks Out Taskmaster: Unthinkable

I know I promised a review of John Byrne’s She-Hulk collected in trade, but I’ve been sidetracked by something else, so she’s going to have to wait a post or two. Sorry, Shulkie!

The story of how I came to buy and read Marvel’s Taskmaster: Unthinkable in trade is a funny one. Readers who know me from my other blogging gig at Action Figure Blues will know that I’m quite a fan of Bowen Designs’ Marvel Statue line. Randy Bowen recently released some initial designs for a Taskmaster Statue which looks completely stunning, and it sparked my interest in the character. When I saw Taskmaster: Unthinkable available at the Book Depository, I decided to pick it up and have a look. I’m very glad I did!

Taskmaster was introduced in Avengers #195 back in 1980, and since then has played various roles in the Marvel Universe. His power is “photographic reflexes”, the ability to mimic any skill or action after observing it once. He can draw upon the physical skills of anyone he’s fought or seen fighting, and can develop other skills from one observation, such as learning to land an airplane by watching a video of someone else doing it, as he accomplishes in this story. Pretty handy ability!

From various acts of general villainy, Taskmaster moved on to be a trainer for hire for both bad and good guys, a love / hate relationship with Deadpool, and most recently, a significant role in the Avengers: Initiative series as an instructor. Obviously he’d gained enough traction as a character to be allocated his own mini-series, and the character has well and truly been done justice in this four issue collection written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by Jefte Palo.

The basic plot of the story is this: Taskmaster is falsely accused of leaking information about the underworld to Steve Rogers and the “good” guys, and as a result a giant bounty is placed on his head by The Org, a mysterious criminal organisation that has been directing Taskmaster’s work. This leads pretty much every bad guy organisation in the Marvel Universe to take up the challenge of capturing Taskmaster’s scalp, and soon he has the likes of AIM, HYDRA, the Secret Empire, ULTIMATUM, the Cyber Ninjas, the Legions of the Living Lightning and several others, including some Van Lente created for this series, doing their best to take him out.

At the same time, we learn that Taskmaster’s massive store of skills has “deleted” his personal memory (read the book for a more complicated explanation), and in fact he no longer knows who he is and doesn’t retain memories of people or places from one task to the next. He goes back to a special point to try to regain his memory, which he describes as a “room” in his “memory palace”, the Ambrosia Diner, and when the hordes attack to try to collect the bounty on his head, the waitress he’d been exchanging some banter with, Mercedes Merced, becomes embroiled in his troubles and ends up along for the ride when The Org adds her to the bounty.

Without giving away the major twists of the story, what follows is the revelation of Taskmaster’s true origin, which seems to render his original origin as told way back in Avengers #196 null and void. I don’t see this as a major issue, as his original telling of his story could be seen as a way of obscuring his true identity - and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a villain has lied about his or her origin. Using a B-list villain like Taskmaster as a central character gives the writer some room to move, as his origin hasn’t been retold over and over. What Van Lente has come up with for his Taskmaster is extremely clever and creates captivating tale.

Van Lente’s writing is extremely solid throughout this book, and in my opinion the humorous edge he brings to the story is what really makes it. The funniest part of the tale is the revelation of the identity of the villain behind the plot against Taskmaster: it’s Redshirt, The Uber-Henchman, who has drawn together the lackeys of A.I.M., HYDRA and the rest of Marvel’s seemingly endless string of super-criminal organisations into an organisation he’s dubbed the Minion’s International Liberation Front to rise up against their leaders and take control of The Org. That’s right, the M.I.L.F. There are quite a few funny segments in the story (“Don of the Dead” is classic!), but Redshirt takes the cake - and yes, the origins of the term “redshirt” do get a nod.

Jefte Palo's style wouldn't suit every book, but it works well here. It's a sketchy style, but he still manages to convey emotion and detail when needed. I don't know that I'd want him to take over any of my favourite ongoing series, but his work here is quite effective.

While some may consider this story a retcon of Taskmaster, the end result for this reader is that it makes the character a much more rounded and accessible member of the Marvel Universe. I’d love to see Van Lente carry on with Taskmaster, as this mini-series has created a world for him and laid the ground work for many more interesting stories.

Prior to this I’d only read Van Lente’s writing in his collaborations with Greg Pak, so it was nice to hear his “voice” on its own. I’ll definitely be looking up more of his work, and I’m very psyched for Pak and Van Lente’s take on my dear old Alpha Flight!

Taskmaster: Unthinkable definitely gets two TWT thumbs up! If you think you’d like to read it, click here to buy it at Amazon and support Trade Waiting Tales!

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Happy reading!

2 comments:

  1. great review! love this book

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice. I'll add it to my buy pile next time I put an order in.

    ReplyDelete