Sunday, April 16, 2006

Taskmaster - Most Original Supervillain of the Past Thirty Years?

Taskmaster made his debut in Avengers #195, in 1980, and for the next 12 years or so, he was basically only written by his creator, David Michelinie, in a number of comics (Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, Amazing Spider-Man), except for a few cameos. Eventually, though, they let other writers begin writing Taskmaster, and at that point about half the following four unique attributes that made him (in my opinion) the most original supervillain of the past thirty years were dropped. However, at the time of his creation, all four of the attributes existed, and I think they make him the most original (while actually being interesting, as well) supervillain of the past thirty years. The four attributes?

1. Taskmaster's "Photographic Reflexes", which allow him to mimic the fighting style of anyone he sees. It's a great idea, and the one attribute that has continued to exist since Michelinie stopped writing him.



2. Taskmaster trains all those low-level lackeys that supervillains have. In this deay and age of "meta-EVERYthing," it might not seem all that clever, but when Michelinie introduced the concept of explaining how all those low-level lackeys are trained, it was a very original, clever idea. This attribute has BASICALLY continued to exist.

3. Taskmaster wants to keep a low-profile. This was another "meta-fiction" aspect of Taskmaster that I always found quite interesting. Unlike other bad guys, Taskmaster does not WANT to fight superheroes. If all goes according to his plans, he never has to fight anybody. All he wants to do is train low-level lackeys. If he is FORCED to fight, he can do so quite ably, but that is not his intention. This attribute has been totally ignored.

4. Taskmaster is the one supervillain who doesn't lose. He doesn't WIN, of course, but he doesn't LOSE either. In other words, he's the one supervillain who knows when (and how) to always get out of Dodge before it is too late. His first loss occurred in the pages of Joe Kelly's Deadpool - and it's been downhill ever since.

Anyhow, those are the four key attributes to Taskmaster that I think make him the most original supervillain (who is actually interesting) of the past thirty years!

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31 Comments:

Anonymous Omar Karindu said...

Actually, he went downhill before Joe Kelly. D.G. Chichester used Taskmaster in his very first arc on Daredevil, and reinvented him as a rather typical post-Miller Batman enemy.

Chichester's Taskmaster was a nutter assassin-for-hire who pathologically imitated others, to the point of having multiple plastic surgeries in an effort to look like everyone he mimicked.

It was truly awful, and ended with Tasky in Bellvue, of all places.

4/16/2006 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

awful avengers-amalgam costume design, though. TASKMASTER always struck me as a bit like morrison's PROMETHEUS, only not as high concept.

4/16/2006 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I always thought that Taskmaster's mercenary school was pretty stupid, actually. It totally makes no sense. Michilinie often gives his villains novel motivations that make them different than others. The problem is that he thinks the mere fact the motivation is novel makes it clever or interesting, which it often isn't. Since he falls in love with the concept and thinks it's much more clever and interesting than it actually is, he never bothers to define the character outside of that one, singular trait.

Most of his villain motivations are one-note and nonsensical: Venom (mad because Spider-Man messed up his scoop) to Solo (weak Punisher Clone) to Carnage (what was his motivation again?) to Justin Hammer (finances villains in exchage for a profit share). He never grows them past that initial motivation because he's convinced the motivation he gave them is so interesting (just because it's novel).

But Taskmaster training lackeys is dumb. If his skill is to automatically replicate any movement or fight style, how can he teach that? It's like someone with a photographic memory trying to teach you memorization tricks through mnemonics; if he does it on instinct without thinking, how can he properly communicate it to someone who lacks natural aptitude? It's like athletes who become coaches: the best coaches aren't the geniuses of the trade like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. They are such intuitive naturals that they never have to think about the steps A->B->C->D, they can just go from step A right to D. The best athlete-coaches aren't the geniuses but the hard workers, the one that have to think out every step of the process and practice and think hard in order to stay competitive with the natural geniuses, guys like Phil Jackson.

Check out this quote from Phil Jackson's wikipedia page: "In 1967, he was drafted by the Knicks, and found that the skills that served him well at the small-college level were all but useless in the NBA. While he was a good all-around athlete, with unusually long arms, he was limited as a shooter, and did not have great speed. He compensated for his physical limitations by sheer intelligence and extremely hard work, especially on defense, and eventually established himself as a fan favorite and one of the NBA's leading substitutes...Soon after the second title, several key starters of the championship teams retired, eventually forcing Jackson into the starting lineup, where his limitations were exposed."

His lack of natural talent and his need to overcompensate for that with extra intelligence and hard work is what makes him a great coach, he knows how to make the most with a little talent. On the other hand, Larry Bird was just okay as a coach. Like Bird, Taskmaster is a total natural genius, so how can he pick up everything through sheer intuition and genius yet effectively teach unskilled lackeys?

But Michilinie, as usual, is so in love with the fact that Taskmaster's motivation, teaching lackeys, is novel that he never bothers to think it out any further than that or hold it to any scrutiny. It's a shame because he has a cool power and with a better motivation and writer he could have really been one of the all-time great villains. His visual is too busy of course, but it's a Perez design so what can you expect?

4/16/2006 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Larry Bird coached three years, in which he posted winning percentages of .707, .660 and .683 (and the team he took to a .707 record had won less than half their games the year before) and netted himself a Coach of the Year.

As for Taskmaster's powers helping him as a teacher, what it would do was to test his lackeys against the abilities that they will be facing.

4/17/2006 12:21:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Thanks, Omar, I must have missed those Chichester Daredevil issues.

Similarly lame!!

4/17/2006 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

I just think Bird had a lot of good veterans on the team like Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis and point guard Mark Jackson, plus Chris Mullin. There's already a chemistry, plus these guys don't need that much training since they're vets. That's a big part of their season win percentages, in my opinion. But if you watch his actual game decisions, Bird was not that good at on-the-fly critical decisons. For example in the Finals he would always let Travis Best overdribble and run down the shot clock and then get pressured to make a bad rushed shot, among other poor decisions. He let stuff like that slide because his overall strategy was to just expect his veteran superstars to produce.

But yeah, Taskmaster's motivation is just underwhelming to me, like most Michilinie characters. Yes, it's novel, but it's not particularly GOOD or well thought-out.

4/17/2006 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"I just think Bird had a lot of good veterans on the team like Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis and point guard Mark Jackson, plus Chris Mullin."

But other than Mullin, those were the exact same players who, the year prior, didn't win half their games!

That being said, I will allow that Bird's greatest strength as a coach was his ability to defer to his assistant coaches for specific strategy (he let Rick Carlisle run the offense and Dick Harter run the defense), while he mainly interacted with the players.

Still, I think he was a good coach. Just like Taskmaster! :)

And what is wrong with Justin Hammer's motivation? Bankrolling minor supervillains for a cut of the profits? That's totally cool!!

4/17/2006 02:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I freaking LOVE Tasky. Great power, great sense of mystery, and not motivated by the typical villain nonsense.

My thought was that potentially he was unbelievably capable, but his own personality kept him from achieving much, like your genius cousin who sits around in his bathrobe watching Galactica and eating Froot Loops...

Gail

4/17/2006 04:56:00 AM  
Anonymous kyle said...

YES! sports talk on a comic blog! its what every fanboy LOVES!

4/17/2006 04:59:00 AM  
Blogger Sleestak said...

My problem is how Taskmaster is written. All the authors seem to confuse mimicking the moves with the power. Just because he can duplicate Spider-Man's flips after watching him does not mean he has the physiognomy to carry out the acrobatic moves. Some of thoe twists and contortions are unique to a hero's ability.

I'd love to see Tasky do a set of Captain America-style fighting moves and start screaming that he tore something.

4/17/2006 08:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Omar Karindu said...

Mark Gruenwald showed, in Cap v.1 #334 or so, that Taskmaster's power lets him break anyone else's moves down into memorizeable katas; that's how he trained John Walker, the replacement Captain America.

4/17/2006 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Yes, I always agreed that he shouldn't be able to mimic Spider-Man.

Brian, you make a good point about Bird; he did actually improve the team. But you also bolster my point about how he's way too intuitive a player to break things down, since he delegates the task to people he knows are better at it. In that sense, I suppose that DOES make him a good coach, because he knows his limitations.

That being said, I'm still not sure about Taskmaster as a teacher. Plus, such a limited motivation squaders the character so much. Look at Ras Al Ghul and Dr. Doom...their motivations are novel but ambitious, which gives the characters longevity and depth. Like Gail says, Taskmaster is just an underachieving slacker.

Here's a good interview with Michelinie about Taskmaster.

4/17/2006 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

"And what is wrong with Justin Hammer's motivation? Bankrolling minor supervillains for a cut of the profits? That's totally cool!!"

The problem to me is that it's just an interesting jumping-off point for a good characterization. When Michelinie made him, though, as you can see from the interview, his motivation was where the character began and ended, no further development needed. He exists solely to answer an age-old question (where do villains get their toys) with what Michelinie thought was a cool, novel answer. Similarly, Taskmaster was created to answer a single question ("Where do villains get their lackeys?") and that was the end of any development Michelinie had planned for him. So singular was Michelinie in his ideas for Taskmaster that he didn't even like him training superpowered people or marquee villains, it was only supposed to be all nameless lackeys, all the time.

4/17/2006 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

Gail: Now I've got an image in my head of Taksmaster eating Fruit Loops. Weirrrrrd.

I liked the way you wrote Taskmaster in DP/AX, particularly the scene in the final issue w/Sandy.

4/17/2006 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I could be wrong, but I think Omar is remembering wrongly with regard to Chichester and Taskmaster. I just re-read those issues not long ago, and Taskmaster is in an issue (when DD and the Punisher fight him), but there's no mention of plastic surgeries and ending up in Bellevue. He does a nice leap in front of a bus, however, because DD lures him there.

Maybe it was later in Chichester's run that these events occurred? The numbers I'm talking about are something like #292-293. Chichester wrote the book until #338 or thereabouts, so maybe he brought Taskmaster back?

4/17/2006 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Luke said...

Regarding the difficulty of performing feats that he saw definitely super-altered beings (ala Spiderman)do:

I believe Taskmaster is at least at a olympic level of physical fitness (whether through hard work or part of his power/mutation/whatever it actually is). Duplicating a flip of Spiderman's might not be too bad, though I'd imagine some of his sudden spider-sense-fueled extreme dodging would be very hard.

Taskmaster can hurt himself by duplicating things. In his solo miniseries from a couple of years ago he learns kung-fu from movies on fastforward so that he can fight a guy at the speed he needs to to win.

It hurts him, and his inner monologue counts the tears, pops, and fractures.

EvilLuke

4/17/2006 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"
My thought was that potentially he was unbelievably capable, but his own personality kept him from achieving much, like your genius cousin who sits around in his bathrobe watching Galactica and eating Froot Loops..."

Works for me!

What particularly irks me is when he shows up in, say, Elektra, taking part in an assasins challenge.

Or showing up in Wolverine in an...assasin's challenge (originality...depeleting....).

That is totally against his lack of wanting to get involved.

4/17/2006 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"
The problem to me is that it's just an interesting jumping-off point for a good characterization. When Michelinie made him, though, as you can see from the interview, his motivation was where the character began and ended, no further development needed. He exists solely to answer an age-old question (where do villains get their toys) with what Michelinie thought was a cool, novel answer. Similarly, Taskmaster was created to answer a single question ("Where do villains get their lackeys?") and that was the end of any development Michelinie had planned for him. So singular was Michelinie in his ideas for Taskmaster that he didn't even like him training superpowered people or marquee villains, it was only supposed to be all nameless lackeys, all the time."

I dunno.

I mean, sure, I'll give you that Justin Hammer did not have much of a personality (which I think is okay, as he was used by Michelinie and Layton as more of a means to an end - the story on supervillain island had plenty of OTHER characters to work with), but Taskmaster, as I've discussed, IS more than "just training super lackeys." Heck, in the interview you linked to, Michelinie even TALKED about how other writers got Taskmaster's personality (in his opinion) wrong!

Taskmaster, as Gail alluded to, is basically the ultimate slacker (well before that term was in popular usage).

That, to me, is an interesting/original motivation for a supervillain.

4/17/2006 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

In the interview I linked to, I thought Michilinie was complaining about other writers trying to make Taskmaster more than just someone who trained lackeys. As in, if you tried to deviate from that formula in any way like by having him train a superhero or supervillain, you ruined the character. Michelinie felt that he should only be a one-note character, a common failing of his creations. The irony is that I think the other writers who supposedly "ruined" him were the ones who used him better.

4/17/2006 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous trilobite said...

I just noticed for the first time that Tasky's outfit looks a lot like Deathstroke's. And they came out about the same time. And they're both basically non-superpowered, with mental quirks that let them use standard fighting skills effectively against metahumans. Hmm....

4/17/2006 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Any similarities, trilo, I believe are just as a result of George Perez designing both costumes. His style is a bit consistent, as far as costume designs go.

But good point about Deathstroke, in that HE might be a good challenge to Taskmaster in the "Most Original Supervillain of the Past Thirty Years" category.

The pickings are pretty slim.

4/17/2006 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

You know, Deathstroke is a great example of how much Taskmaster could have rocked if he was created with a well-rounded character. Design-wise and ability-wise, they aren't that different, but one creator was trying to create a well-rounded character, the other was trying to milk one decent idea and make no effort to expand past that. Now Deathstroke has a life of his own well past that original appearance, while Taskmaster appears sporadically, gets his butt kicked and is shuffled right back into limbo.

4/17/2006 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I don't buy Deathstroke (until Identity Crisis) even BEING a strict villain.

Even when he was fucking over the Titans in the Judas Contract.

And that, I believe, is what made him so interesting to people.

4/17/2006 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff R. said...

I personally am going to have to go with Tao (from Alan Moore's WildC*A*T*S run) as the most original supervillain of the past thirty years. A super-genius character who is able to apply his intelligence socially...

4/17/2006 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Tao's a good choice, Jeff.

Quite possibly the only original supervillain Moore has come up with (as his other supervillains have all been pastiches).

4/17/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I chalk it up to my dyslexia, but I read that headline as:

"TicketMaster - The most Original Supervillian of the past Thirty Years"

Which I suppose is also true!

4/17/2006 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

My main problem with Taskmaster is the style of speech that he's often given. It's the same annoying kind of thing you see sometimes with someone like Random or Lobo. It's this bizarre "villain with attitude" voice that sounds sort of like this:

"Hey, Buddy! Looks like ya got into seom trouble there, huh? Lemme help you with that!" as he punches the hero.

It's really stilted and awkward. It seems like they're trying to make him sound badass and irreverent, but it comes out sounding like Randy Savage.

It bothers me.

4/17/2006 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a sec, T.

I don't see how you can dismiss Bird's coaching because he inherited a crew of veterans like Smits, Miller, and Mullin but praise PHIL JACKSON~! who has never walked into a job without superstars like MICHAEL JORDAN, SCOTTIE PIPPEN, SHAQUILLE O'NEAL and KOBE BRYANT on his roster. That seems deeply hypocritical.

If you want to say Bird is a poor coach because he inherited a lot of talent, give it a shot. But to make that argument, while talking about how Phil Jackson is so wonderful means you don't know how to add up your own evidence.

Bill Russell - hall of fame player, championship coach
John Wooden - hall of fame player, greatest college coach in the history of the game

4/17/2006 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

The Bulls when Jackson inherited was not a team full of stars and veterans. They were a one-man team centered around Jordan. As Wilt Chamberlain learned, one man can't win a championship. His skill was in emphasizing defense and convincing Jordan to relinquish some of his offensive role to make his surrounding players better. It sounds glaringly obvious, but it worked. It made the whole team better. Who Pippen was before Jackson became head coach and who Pippen was at the end are two very different things.

Now the Lakers, I'll give you. That was a team he inherited full of stars and veterans..

4/18/2006 12:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Omar Karindu said...

No, the stuff I'm talking about is in DD v.1 #293 -- when Daredevil visits Taskmaster in his hospital bed for information, he remarks that "Bellevue's for crazies,' thsue setting the scene; and then notes that his radar sense is detecting the aftermath of various surgeries on Taskmaster's body.

4/18/2006 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Shoot, you're right, Omar - I had forgotten about that little scene. Of course, Bellevue IS a hospital, too, not just for mental patients ...

That is kind of lame, though, even though I like Chichester's early issues.

4/18/2006 10:46:00 AM  

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