Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Jefte Palo and Jean-Francois Beulieu
Lettering by Dave Lanphear
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
I'm always wary when a great villain gets a shot at a solo title. After that, it's a short leap to being revamped as a hero or anti-hero, or at least a consistent protagonist. In the Taskmaster's case, this title is actually his second shot at a solo mini-series, and Fred Van Lente seems less interested in turning the character into a hero than in playing in his sandbox. What results is a fun start to this series, that could become a classic, if it manages to overcome what little baggage it carries, and instead focus on the exciting bits.
The story opens with Taskmaster eating in a diner, using what is quickly established as one of his many mnemonic devices used to hang on to his fleeting long term memories. It's not long before members of nearly every gang and criminal organization in the Marvel universe move in to collect a bounty on Taskmaster's head, and he and his reluctant and snarky waitress are sucked into what promises to be a violent and exciting struggle to survive against unbelievable odds. The action scenes are moody and kinetic; Jefte Palo keeps the pacing quick, the storytelling clear, and never lingers too long or rushes too quickly away from a particular beat. His stylized art may not appeal to everyone, but it works very well for this story, and he employs some very cool visual tricks to illustrate just whose moves Taskmaster is copying.
Fred Van Lente also does an admirable job of bringing readers into the world of the Taskmaster, and though he's kind of a blank slate, there's something about the way Van Lente handles him that makes him very familiar. He's almost gentle in a way, enjoying some Brian Wilson tunes while sipping coffee and vaguely reminiscing about his past battles. He's got Van Lente's trademark sense of humor in tow, but an air of disconnected disinterest and a dearth of the rapid fire commentary separate him solidly from the shadow of Spider-Man, or Deadpool. The motives here are also selfish enough that this isn't Taskmaster finally giving in to the greater good, or serving some higher purpose.
My only real complaint is the waitress. It's a standard trope to throw a more down to earth character into an insane situation; that's usually the way the audience gets hooked in. Honestly, though, it feels a little trite in this case. Her dialogue doesn't quite ring true, and she spits out some of those Diablo Cody-esque lines that really only work in universes where everyone talks like an editor for urbandictionary.com. Her involvement simply feels like it's bogging things down, and the last thing Taskmaster needs is a love interest. There's still plenty of room to turn things around, and I trust Van Lente to toss in a nice curveball. It seems like he's having way too much fun with the story to let it linger on a hackneyed supporting character.
This is a great read, with lots of fun action, some really nice art, and just the right sense of humor, and if it doesn't fall into the "good girl/bad guy" trap, it'll stay that way for all four issues. New readers may feel a little lost, particularly since there's no recap page about the Taskmaster (maybe our memory is being tested???), but there's enough in the telling of the story for anyone who gives the book a shot to find out what they really need to know. All in all, this is Taskmaster being the same violent goon he's always been, but we're seeing more and more that there's more to him than meets the eye, and it's really working.What did you think of Taskmaster #1?