Fred Van Lente Jogs TASKMASTER's Memory in Origin Mini

Taskmaster has been popping up as a foil for Marvel Comics heroes since 1980, but we still don’t know much about him — how he got into the mercernary/supervillain training business, his real name, or when he first developed a fondness for hoods and spooky skull masks. At least some of those questions look to be answered in Taskmaster, a four-issue miniseries debuting this Wednesday, Sept. 1, from writer Fred Van Lente (The Incredible Hercules) and artist Jefte Palo (Brother Voodoo). After a stint as a trainer in Avengers: The Initiative, Taskmaster is back on the merc market, but he’s finding that even his memory has a limit — the very same ability that allows him to mimic anyone’s fighting skills has caused him to forget pretty much every basic personal detail of his life. And that’s just the start of his problems.

Newsarama caught up with Van Lente over e-mail to talk the writer’s own history with the character, what other characters will pop up in the series, and the pressing issue of whether it’s “the Taskmaster” or just “Taskmaster.”

Newsarama: You’re a fan of a lot of Marvel Comics from around when Taskmaster debuted in Avengers #185, and since you're writing this, I'm guessing you're a fan of Taskmaster specifically. What are some of your personal favorite stories or moments with the character?

Fred Van Lente: One of the first comics I first remember buying with my own money (for a whopping fifty cents) was the Marvel Team-Up where Spidey and Scott (Ant-Man) Lang fought him. But actually I wasn't a huge fan of the character when editor Lauren Sankovitch asked me if I wanted to do something with him. Sometimes to figure out what makes a character appealing you need to break him down to his essentials, and it occurred to me that Taskmaster was basically a guy with a super-memory. The more I thought about that, the more I realized I could build a really compelling story around a character with that kind of a hook.

Nrama: It’s a fun concept, Taskmaster forgetting details of his personal life due to his very nature. When did you come up with that take? It seems like the kind of idea that you might have had kicking around in your head for a while, waiting for a chance to get a crack at the character.

Van Lente: Not really. It came to me later that night after Lauren brought Tasky to me. Like an earwig, it just kept gnawing into my brain! I realized it'd be interesting if Taskmaster's brain was like a hardrive, and the "big files" of all the different superhero fighting skills he's memorized were overwriting what he knew about his actual past.

Nrama: It’s also a good impetus for exploring the character's origin, something readers haven’t known much about in the past. What makes Taskmaster's origin an important story to tell?

Van Lente: Yes, it's the quintessential "secret origin" -- so secret we don't even know what it is! How we got where we are now is important to all of us, I think.

Nrama: That said, it doesn't look like this will strictly be an origin story, since there's also the present day issue with a gaggle of supervillains looking to collect the bounty on Taskmaster's head. Obviously the two stories are intertwined with each other, but is the book’s about a 50/50 split? Or is the present day story more of a backdrop to tell Taskmaster's origin?

Van Lente: We learn that Taskmaster has secret patrons, "The Org," the super villain underground that connects organizations like Hydra, AIM and The Hand together. We've never heard of this group before but it's existed behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe since World War Two. The Org has acted as Taskmaster's surrogate memory, his banker, and his handler for his entire career.

When the rumor starts that he's turned traitor and now works for Steve Rogers, thus explaining his escape from the Siege of Asgard, the Org turns on him and puts a billion-dollar bounty on his head. Taskmaster has to find the Org to get the bounty redacted — but he doesn't remember who or where they are, so he's go backtrack through his entire past to find them again.

And that requires him to kill a lot of people.

Nrama: And in exploring his origin, is this also perhaps an opportunity to humanize the character a bit? Have him remember some key moments that led him to what he is today?

Van Lente: Right. When you're done with this mini, you'll look at him a completely different way. You'll know how he got his powers, why he trains villains for a living, and learn what he had to give up to do that — and that will give him a tragic depth that I think guarantees no one will look at him the same way after.

Nrama: Given that billion-dollar bounty, what recognizable characters might show up to try and colelct? Seems like an opportunity to get lots of folks in there.

Van Lente: Every villain team in the Marvel U is after him, basically anyone Taskmaster ever trained. So we're going to see Hydra, AIM, Ultimatum, Sons of the Serpent, Lords of the Living Lightning, the Secret Empire, the Cyber-Ninja … as well as a couple groups I made up.

As for guest stars, how about Steve Rogers and Captain America? Nick Fury? And the Secret Avengers — I hear they're kind of popular right now.

But there are some great new villains introduced too, including the Don of the Dead (your new favorite Marvel character of 2010, I predict), the Town Where Everyone Is Hitler, and the mysterious Redshirt.

Nrama: You've said that this story is kind of a spy/espionage one, which coming from The Incredible Hercules and the upcoming Chaos War stuff seems to be a little bit of a different milieu for you. What kind of books/comics/TV shows/movies/etc. inspired you along the way?

Van Lente: This is right in my wheelhouse. I started out at Marvel with revamping the Scorpion as a super-espionage agent in the pages of Amazing Fantasy. I've always been a huge spy fan, from the novels of Ian Fleming to The Avengers TV show.

Nrama: How do you personally see Taskmaster as a character? He's nearly exclusively fought on the wrong side, but it's always as a mercenary instead of just being strictly “evil.” He also showed signs of having at least some semblance of nobility in Siege — though, that may just have been relative in comparison to, say, Norman Osborn.

Van Lente: And who knows, since he's trying to beat the bad guys this time, and all the people he's trained are trying to killed him, while trying to save the life of the woman who's inadvertently been pulled into this plot against him, maybe after this we'll actually see … gasp … a heroic Taskmaster in the MU?

Don't get me wrong, he'll still be a complete bastard. But maybe he'll be a complete bastard on our side.

Nrama: And since villains are traditionally a hard sell in solo stories, what makes Taskmaster a character that works in his own book?

Van Lente: Sometimes the hardest sells are the most rewarding. We have a guy trying to reclaim his past here — that's a motivation anyone can relate to. And he also can fight like Spider-Man. And Iron Fist. And Captain America. And 20 other super heroes you've never heard of. That makes for a killer combination of a story.

Nrama: How has working again with Jefte Palo been — someone you collaborated with over on Web of Spider-Man?

Van Lente: A blast! He's turned his best work thus far, and I think it'll really turn some heads. Jean-Francois is doing great on colors too.

Nrama: Bonus question — it's just "Taskmaster," right? I've seen "the Taskmaster," but that never looks quite right.

Van Lente: Agreed. We'll leave articles to The Goddamn Batman.

What are your predictions for TASKMASTER's past?

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