If you haven’t seen Marvel Studios’ Black Widow yet, it’s now streaming for all Disney Plus subscribers – meaning that it’s the perfect time to get to know Taskmaster, the mysterious villain whose identity is part of the film’s plot.
Fittingly, Taskmaster is one of Marvel Comics’ most enigmatic villains (and sometimes anti-hero). Like his MCU counterpart, the comic book Taskmaster has the power to mimic the fighting styles and mastery of weapons of anyone he can simply observe – even superheroes. Often using this unique talent to train Marvel villains and their endless supply of henchmen and henchwomen, Taskmaster has made his bones as a long-time and usually very effective adversary of the Avengers – although much of his real history and true identity remains ambiguous.
But the nature and identity of the MCU Taskmaster have remained even greater question marks … until now, that is … right down to what actor is actually behind the mask.
Now that we know the answer to those questions, Newsarama will break down everything you need to know about Taskmaster’s comic book history, how it compares and contrasts to the MCU version, and what it may mean for the MCU moving forward.
Who is Taskmaster?
The man known almost exclusively as Taskmaster (and occasionally by the pseudonym Tony Masters) is one of Marvel’s foremost mercenaries, henchmen, and soldiers of fortune.
Though he’s occasionally used his formidable skills on the side of the angels, more often than not, Taskmaster’s role in the Marvel Universe usually consists of either training elite henchmen for villains to fight superheroes, or fighting superheroes himself.
Partially because of his reputation and vocation, Taskmaster is a man of great mystery in the Marvel Universe. But more than his own subterfuge, some of the murkiness around Taskmaster’s past and identity is a byproduct of his formidable powers.
Sometimes classified as simply a natural ingrained talent closer to what some savants experience in the real world, Taskmaster is gifted with the power of so-called ‘photographic reflexes,’ which allow him to recreate any movement or fighting style he sees performed – including those of superheroes. He can also briefly push his body beyond normal human limits to mimic the actions of heroes with enhanced strength and speed, though this sometimes takes a great physical toll on him.
Unfortunately, as a side-effect of his abilities, his personal memories are often lost in a form of amnesia that comes from his brain internalizing the moves and fighting styles he memorizes.
As a result, Taskmaster’s early origins remain shrouded in memory lapses. The most common version of Taskmaster’s origin has his powers developing in his childhood in the Bronx, in New York City. Initially Emulating the movements of characters and athletes he saw on TV, Taskmaster/Tony Masters initially considered pursuing an athletic career, utilizing his ability to mimic the movements and plays of the best competitors of nearly every sport imaginable.
However, he quickly decided that being a supervillain would be more lucrative, and began his career training soldiers, crooks, and goons to fight Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
How does Taskmaster fit into the Marvel Universe?
First introduced in 1980’s Avengers #195 (opens in new tab), the team confronted Taskmaster while he was training henchmen for a mad scientist. Taskmaster managed to take on Iron Man, Captain America, Scott Lang, Hank Pym, and Wasp single-handedly before the android Jocasta overpowered him.
Taskmaster has subsequently gone up against the Avengers and other Marvel heroes numerous times over the years, though his trainees in the art of super-combat include both heroes and villains. Graduates of Taskmaster’s combat training include villains such Crossbones, Cutthroat, and (sometimes) Diamondback, as well as heroes such as Spider-Woman, U.S. Agent, and Agent X/Maverick of the Weapon X program.
Despite his usual occupation as a villain, Taskmaster’s personal morality only goes so far as the goals of whoever is paying him (though some would say working for the Red Skull in the first place is a moral indicator all its own). He’s been on all sides of the Marvel Universe, even briefly joining the Secret Avengers (opens in new tab).
Along with the trademark skull mask that has almost always defined Taskmaster’s eclectic costume, he’s seldom without an arsenal of weapons based on the weapons of the Avengers, from Captain America’s shield to Hawkeye’s bow, to non-powered versions of Thor’s Mjolnir and Black Knight’s Ebony Blade, and he’s even employed other gear like Black Panther’s claws, Spider-Man’s web-shooters, and more.
Taskmaster may also have a daughter – Avengers Academy (opens in new tab) student Finesse, who possesses similar abilities, and confronted Taskmaster believing he could be her father. Though Taskmaster conceded it could be true, he also confessed that his memories are so skewed by his abilities that he has no memory of having a child. However, in what might amount to the highest form of affection Taskmaster can show, he fought Finesse to a standstill in an attempt to remember her by her fighting style.
Most recently, in a limited series, Taskmaster (opens in new tab) has been accused of the murder of Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders in the MCU) and sending the Marvel Universe’s world of espionage into disarray – although the gaps in his memory (and the memories he does have) call that into question, with Taskmaster on the run from the authorities, trying to prove his innocence.
Taskmaster in the MCU – spoilers ahead for Black Widow
Taskmaster has finally debuted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while Marvel Studios is generally faithful to its comic book roots, this time the adaptation has little in common with its comics inspiration.
Black Widow reveals Taskmaster is Antonia Dreykov, the daughter of the film’s main villain General Dreykov played by Ray Winstone. Slyly namechecked by Loki in Marvel’s The Avengers in the iconic interrogation scene with Natasha, Antonia was seemingly killed by Nat while she was targeting Dreykov in a revenge assassination.
And on purpose. Antonia wasn’t just accidental collateral damage. It’s a significant part of the red on Natasha’s ledger.
Played (very briefly) by former James Bond Ukrainian-French actor Olga Kurylenko with heavy facial prosthetics, like Dreykov himself, Antonia survived the blast unbeknownst to Nat and has significant scarring.
Her mimic powers aren’t really explained other than she has a computer chip in the back of her neck, and like most other women in Dreykov’s circle, she’s significantly mind-controlled by him and is completely silent the entire film.
She’s both seemingly the head trainer of all the other Widow’s and the program’s most effective field agent, with shades of Sebastian Stan’s early MCU appearances as the Winter Soldier.
And like Bucky, she may have a future in the MCU, which is likely considering Marvel Studios chose a name actor to portray her despite never uttering a word and only being seen without her mask for mere minutes.
General Dreykov is defeated at the end of Black Widow, of course, and seemingly all the Widows under his mind-control are freed, including Antonia/Taskmaster.
After a remorseful Nat frees her so she won’t die with the Red Room’s destruction, Yelena, Melina, Red Guardian, and the remaining Widows all act protective of her, and they all flee together in the final scene while Natasha stays behind to confront Secretary Ross.
While she isn’t referenced in the film’s post-credits scene with Yelena and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (yes, she’s back!) it is unlikely Marvel is going to one-off such a prominent villain in its pantheon.
Given her lack of inner life and her powers to mimic anyone, she’s instantly a prime candidate to be recruited on a team like the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers along with Yelena and John Walker/US Agent. And while ultimately portrayed as a victim of both Natasha’s checkered past and her father’s cruel manipulation and seen in a sympathetic light at the end of Black Widow, her tragic ‘origin’ lends itself to her going in any number of directions – villain, hero, or something in-between.
So while we don’t know where or when we’ll see the MCU’s Taskmaster again, you can probably bank on her eventual return.
Yes, of course, Taskmaster is one of the greatest Avengers villains of all time.