Anthony “Tony” Masters realizes at a young age that he has photographic reflexes and grows up to become a career criminal, able to replicate Super Hero moves. He makes quite a bundle training and distributing hired help to the Super-Villain trade, and when he’s not a hired combat instructor, he’s a covert operative for government agencies.
The man who would become the Taskmaster is born a prodigious savant of mnemonic talents in the Bronx, a borough of New York City to an unidentified mother. He discovers his unusual abilities in childhood when, after watching a cowboy television program, he finds he can duplicate the actor’s rope tricks. Growing to understand his ability, he sees a man perform a difficult backwards leap from a diving board; he duplicates the dive, but nearly drowns because he does not know how to swim. Afterwards, his mother calls in psychiatrists who study his ability, terming it “photographic reflexes.” He revels in his abilities in his youth, even becoming his high school football team’s quarterback after watching one professional football game. After graduating high school he contemplates becoming a Super Hero, but decides crime would be more lucrative.
He studies television footage of various Super Heroes and their techniques to expand his combat repertoire. Initially committing several grand larcenies, he decides it smarter to avoid risking direct confrontation with law enforcers, and uses his stolen capital to establish himself as a combat trainer for aspiring professional criminals—specializing in producing henchmen for Super Villains and criminal organizations around the world; one unidentified early graduate of his criminal academy would become espionage legend Spymaster. Designing a costume, he takes the moniker “Taskmaster”.
Taskmaster then sets up the Solomon Institute for the Criminally Insane as a front for one of his training academies, but its administrator Dr. Parnell Solomon develops heart problems and has Taskmaster’s science staff grow him a clone, Selbe, to harvest for a replacement organ; though Selbe escapes and runs to the Avengers, who expose the operation with the aid of their ally Scott Lang, AKA Ant-Man. Taskmaster single-handedly holds his own against both Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, and Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man in combat; while tempted to test himself against all the Avengers, he realizes that he would not be able to run his business from jail and ends up fleeing after the unfamiliar abilities of obscure robotic Avengers associate, Jocasta, throws him off balance
Taskmaster’s “photographic reflexes” enable him to watch another person’s physical movements and duplicate them without practice, no matter how unique or complex these movements might be. He cannot duplicate feats that require superhuman strength or other superhuman attributes. By reviewing recordings of movements periodically, Taskmaster can retain duplicated moves indefinitely. When facing an opponent he has already studied, Taskmaster can virtually predict his enemy’s attacks, and he can see through disguises of anyone he has studied by recognizing their unique body language, making it virtually impossible to conceal any identity from him. He can also use his ability to mimic the voices of others and to learn new languages. For a time, Taskmaster could double his speed and reflexes to the point where he could grab bullets mid-flight, but he could only maintain his heightened state for minutes before risking permanent physical damage to his body. Taskmaster also briefly gained the power to duplicate others’ superhuman abilities by watching them use their powers. These latter two powers, gained during Albino’s experiments, have apparently worn off.
A naturally gifted athlete, Taskmaster has trained himself into superb physical condition. His physical skills include multiple martial arts (modern and historical styles), boxing, wrestling, swordsmanship, archery, marksmanship, juggling, gymnastics, aerial acrobatics and sleight of hand. He is also trained in meditation, including a technique that enables him to conserve breath. Taskmaster has duplicated the fighting abilities of countless martial artists through watching movies, as well as the combat styles of Super Heroes and Super Villains including Ant-Man, Dane Whitman, AKA Black Knight, Boomerang, Lester, AKA Bullseye, Captain America, Shen Kuei, AKA Cat, Constrictor, Daredevil, Deadpool, Elektra, Hawkeye, Danny Rand, AKA Iron Fist, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Oddball, Puma, Punisher, Silver Samurai, Spider-Man, Thor, Logan/James Howlett, AKA Wolverine, Zaran and many others. His abilities also enable him to cheat at gambling, excel at professional sports and duplicate cooking techniques.
Taskmaster has access to a massive arsenal of weaponry which his hired scientists customize according to his needs, generally modeled after those whose abilities he mimics, though usually not as high quality as the originals. He often carries a concave, disc-shaped shield, 2.5 feet in diameter and weighing twelve pounds composed of a metal alloy that he wields in Captain America’s style. The shield serves as both protection and a hurling weapon, its unique composition allowing it to move through the air with minimal wind resistance and rebound from solid objects with little loss of angular momentum; a billy club that he wields in Daredevil’s style; a pair of .45 colt automatic handguns modeled after the Punisher’s; wrist web shooters based on Spider-Man’s; a bow and several trick arrows based on Hawkeye’s gear; Pym Particles used in Ant-Man’s fashion; various European and Japanese swords modeled after Black Knight and Silver Samurai; and throwing darts, knives, sais, a lariat, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, crossbows, and a variety of explosives. His costume is composed of lightweight bulletproof Kevlar and has a utility belt for holding weaponry and devices, including a communications device. An image inducer concealed on his person enables him to project a hologram of himself in civilian clothes, as well as disguise his face and impersonate others. It is not known how long Taskmaster has been using the image inducer, or what his present facial features look like. He can also rig the inducer to project a hologram of himself as a decoy to confuse opponents. Taskmaster’s mercenary costume is composed of lightweight high- tenacity ballistic aramid fiber plates and mask and equipped with a Kevlar mesh lining. Taskmaster briefly used an energy generator housed in his glove that could transform into an energy shield equipped to absorb and redirect kinetic energy, emit energy webbing, form into claws based on Wolverine, and other weapons.
Taskmaster briefly employed a group of androids modeled after various Avengers, but all have been destroyed.
After he injects himself with a Nazi-made Super-Soldier Serum imitation, his brain instantaneously absorbs knowledge and retains it, but also impacts his long- and short-term memory negatively.
Since Taskmaster makes a name for himself as a career criminal that trains villains in the art of heroic moves, he bases all his teachings off of watching Super Heroes like Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, Matt Murdoch, AKA Daredevil and Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, and the Avengers to name a few. While their movements are informative, Taskmaster still battles the vigilantes when he has to do so.
Criminal and Not-So-Criminal Colleagues
While Taskmaster goes in and out of training criminal operatives to become Super Villains, he joins with others typically as a hired blunt instrument. He joins the Frightful Four to go up against the heroic Fantastic Four but his membership is short-lived.
After recruiting criminals for Black Abbott, Taskmaster is arrested, but for a reduced sentence he is instructed to train others in the fighting style of Captain America—through the manipulative actions of Joann Shmidt, AKA Red Skull so that he could defeat the trainees in his own battle simulations. Red Skull also coordinated Taskmaster’s escape and resumed operations.
Taskmaster hires a mutagenics specialist, Augusta Seger, AKA Albino, to help him duplicate the Avengers’ members superpowers. He pits his recruits against the Avengers to study them and with the specialists help, he duplicates some of them but only briefly before the Super Heroes defeated him.
Taskmaster also assists Agency X after the Four Winds crime family clashes over the agency’s property. He teams up with Agent X, Inez Temple, AKA Outlaw, Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool, Deadpool’s assistant Sandi Brandenberg, former love interest of Taskmaster, and the East Wind against Taskmaster’s former ally Black Swan who double-crosses them. Later, Taskmaster and Deadpool go up against one another with the latter defeating the former, but when money’s involved, Taskmaster will accept payment to help Deadpool.
When Taskmaster is arrested, the government assigns him to the Thunderbolts for a time. After receiving a full pardon from S.H.I.E.L.D., Taskmaster is recruited to the 50-State Initiative as a drill instructor where he teaches MVP clones Spider-Man’s moves. He is later recruited into the Shadow Initiative by Norman Osborn, AKA Green Goblin, where he is promoted to lead alongside Parker Robbins, AKA Hood.
While working with S.H.I.E.L.D., he injects himself with serum that enhances his knowledge absorption and retention but also causes memory loss so he doesn’t realize he works for the government agency and thinks himself a Super Villain; he also doesn’t remember that he marries, Mercedes Merced a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and his handler.
The Taskmaster’s Criminal Record
Along with skull-crushing Canadian mercenary Tyrell Farsa and telepathic mind-altering assassin Black Swan, Taskmaster was hired to kill a militant group trying to maintain control of an airstrip in the third world country Zaire. Upon completion of the mission, Farsa disrespected the cultured Black Swan by using his silk handkerchief; Taskmaster assisted Farsa when the Swan attacked, but Swan defeated them both.
Taskmaster briefly joined the criminal Frightful Four team with Bentley Wittman, AKA Wizard, Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool and Constrictor to battle the Fantastic Four, but when Deadpool went after Franklin Richards, the rest of the team left him to face the FF alone. This Frightful Four grouping broke up soon after. Afterwards, Taskmaster went back to training others, including Brock Rumlow (later Crossbones), Rachel Leighton (later Diamondback) and Sheoke Sanada (later Snapdragon).>
Spider-Man and Ant-Man soon discovered another of Taskmaster’s schools and battled him, preventing his theft of nuclear material. Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye and Ant-Man later exposed and halted Taskmaster’s use of the Carson Carnival of Traveling Wonders as a mobile recruiting center, and Spider-Man and Jack Monroe, AKA Nomad disrupted his recruiting street gangs for Black Abbott. After battling Benjamin Grimm, AKA The Thing, and Vance Astrovik (later Justice) in Ohio, Taskmaster was captured by FBI agents and taken into custody.
Under the guise of John Smith, the Red Skull manipulated the Commission on Superhuman Activities (CSA) head Douglas Rockwell into reducing Taskmaster’s sentence in return for training John Walker (later USAgent) as the next Captain America using Rogers’ fighting style. After completing this assignment, the Red Skull arranged for the Taskmaster’s escape so he could resume his operations. The Skull funded Taskmaster’s activities, and Taskmaster tutored multiple students in Captain America’s fighting style so that the Red Skull could kill them in his own training exercises.
Later, Taskmaster set up a new academy in a Brooklyn, New York mausoleum where he battled Spider-Man, who believed Taskmaster had kidnapped his wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker; using a magnesium flare, Taskmaster escaped both capture and Spider-Man’s wrath. When the Spymaster was believed slain, unscrupulous industrialist Justin Hammer hired Taskmaster to train a replacement; Taskmaster’s lethal elimination tests whittled the candidates down to one winner, Nathan Lemon.
Taskmaster briefly put his operations on hold when a faction of the Hand ninja cult created an assassination contest between Taskmaster and Tombstone to see who could kill the most targets. This led to a battle with vigilantes Matt Murdock, AKA Daredevil, and Frank Castle, AKA Punisher; Taskmaster wound up with the Punisher’s knife in his stomach and spent some time in a prison hospital recuperating.
Taskmaster later resumed operations for the Red Skull and attended an assemblage of Red Skull’s division chiefs, which included Watchdog Prime, Sin, Arnim Zola, Minister Blood, Curtiss Jackson, AKA Power Broker, a Scourge of the Underworld, the Resistants’ Byron Calleym AKA Crucible, the Secret Empire’s Number Seven and Hydra’s Baron Strucker. When Crossbones took a leave of absence from the Skeleton Crew, Mother Night, claiming Red Skull requested the training, had Taskmaster train Cutthroat as his replacement. Hired by the Red Skull to kill Spider-Man, Taskmaster took this opportunity to try out new graduates Michael Bingham, AKA Blood Spider, Timothy Karlskin, AKA Death-Shield, and Joe Emberlin, AKA Jagged Bow, whom he had trained to be criminal versions of Spider-Man, Captain America and Hawkeye. Spider-Man and the anti-terrorist James Bourne, AKA Solo, defeated the trio as Taskmaster escaped capture once again.
Afterwards, Taskmaster battled the Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, when he helped Tyrone McQuaid escape from one of Taskmaster’s academies; attended Robert Brasman’s, AKA Brass Bishop criminal auction in Canada, where he fought Spider-Man and Alpha Flight; crossed swords with Daredevil, Wilbur Day, AKA Stilt-Man, Tatterdemalion and the Wild Boys over restaurant grease believed to be worth half a million dollars; took on Spider-Man and Felicia Hardy, AKA Black Cat, during a bank robbery training session; and testified as a character witness when super-criminal Peter Petruski, AKA Trapster tried to sue the criminal mechanic Tinkerer for faulty equipment. When the amnesiac Earth-93060 (“Ultraverse”) heroine Jennifer Pearson, AKA Siren, was teleported into one of the academies, Taskmaster gave her an audition to join and eventually developed a relationship with her. Taskmaster also discovered that Diamondback, who had joined under the ruse that she desired more training, had double-crossed him by planting explosives around the academy. When the young mutant Kyi, AKA Jolt, who desired to join Taskmaster’s academy, accidentally triggered one of the explosive devices, Taskmaster had Jolt open a portal large enough for Siren, Jolt and himself to escape. During the journey through the portal, Siren was sent back to her own dimension, Jolt teleported to an unrevealed location, and Taskmaster was pulled forward in time by a dimension-hopping madman as one of many criminals pitted against the Avengers and a distant cosmos’ heroes before being returned to his own time.
Taskmaster later kidnapped computer hacker and arms supplier Jack Hammer, AKA Weasel, to retain his services, but after Deadpool defeated Taskmaster, Weasel declined this offer, though he offered his services in the future. Seeking his own death, the mysterious Architect, last of the Shining Ones, arranged a contest involving Mark Scarlotti, AKA Blacklash, Boomerang, the mercenary Bullet, Carl Burbank, AKA Bushwacker, Elektra Natchios, AKA Elektra, Fatale, Alfonso Lopez, AKA Machete, Douglas Scott, AKA Razor-Fist, Shatterhead and Maximillian Zaran to see which was fit to kill him. During the contest, Taskmaster overpowered Elektra using Daredevil’s fighting style, but she later returned and defeated him.
Later, Taskmaster hired Augusta Seger, AKA Albino, a world renowned biologist specializing in mutagenics (the study of effects of human mutations), to help him duplicate superpowers. Taskmaster employed Batroc (Georges Batroc), Machete (Ferdinand Lopez, Alfonso’s brother), Zaran and Elton Healey, AKA Oddball, along with androids of Henry McCoy, AKA Beast, T’Challa, AKA Black Panther, Captain America, Hank Pym, AKA Goliath, Bruce Banner, AKA Hulk, Iron Man, Quicksilver, Namor, Thor Odinson, and “Victor Shade”, AKA Vision, to analyze the Avengers’ powers, pitting his operatives against several Avengers members.
Taskmaster briefly duplicated the powers of the Avengers Firestar and Justice using Albino’s technology, but he was defeated by the duo and Hawkeye, and his new powers apparently faded. When the Avengers began using proactive tactics, they targeted Taskmaster’s numerous academies, briefly putting a stop to his operations and denying criminals, terrorists and super villains a valuable resource; however, Taskmaster continued to elude them. Taskmaster briefly employed Constrictor, Copycat (disguised as Titania/Mary MacPherran) and the “Deadpool Interns”—Deadair, Deadend, and Deadweight—to seek revenge on Deadpool. Afterwards, Taskmaster entered Madripoor’s Bloodsport tournament to help boost his price in training super villains, but was defeated by the telepathic mass murderer Mr. X.
Trying to make up for the lost profit, Taskmaster returned to mercenary assignments and accepted Sunset Bain’s commission to sabotage a semiconductor being built by Tony Stark. Taskmaster completed the assignment, but when Bain tried to have him killed, he tricked Triads gangs into attacking her, ultimately harming her organization enough that she finally called off her hit. During this time he became involved with Sandi Brandenberg, but eventually broke it off; while they remained friends, he found it difficult to give her up. When Deadpool employed Sandi as a secretary, she brought Taskmaster in to aid him against the Black Swan. Taskmaster helped set Deadpool on the path to facing the Black Swan, and he also found time to execute Sandi’s then-boyfriend when he learned he had beaten her. When Deadpool seemingly died in an explosion battling the Black Swan, Sandi believed the amnesiac Alex Hayden, AKA Agent X, was Deadpool, and Taskmaster trained him on Sandi’s behalf, then aided Agent X and Outlaw, when the Four Winds crime family clashed over Agency X’s property. Discovering Agent X was an amalgam of Black Swan's agent Nijo, Deadpool, and Black Swan, they arranged to restore themselves to normal, but when the Black Swan tried to double-cross them, Taskmaster, Outlaw, Sandi and the Eastern Wind helped Deadpool and Agent X defeat Black Swan.
The Committee, a cartel of financiers ostensibly dedicated to reviving the US economy through illegal activities, hired Taskmaster to assassinate vigilante Marc Spector, AKA Moon Knight, who had been instrumental in defeating them in the past, after their agent the Profile determined that Moon Knight was without friends or determination. Taskmaster found that this was not the case, as Moon Knight’s friends came to aid him, and he tried to get out of his Committee deal, but Moon Knight pursued him to the Committee’s base and defeated him in battle.
Arrested and imprisoned under unrevealed circumstances, Taskmaster was recruited for government service by the CSA during the “Civil War” between US super heroes following passage of the Superhuman Registration Act (SHRA). Assigned to the Thunderbolts, Taskmaster joined other superhuman criminals in attacking Captain America’s anti-SHRA forces. Following Cap’s surrender, Taskmaster was rearrested, but before being transferred to the Negative Zone prison 42 he was quickly released by Deadpool, who had hoped to re-establish his reputation by defeating Taskmaster in a public display of combat.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Maria Hill gave Taskmaster a full presidential pardon after he helped test the defenses of a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. The CSA then recruited him to train three clones of accidentally slain 50-State Initiative cadet Michael Van Patrick, AKA MVP, in Spider-Man’s fighting style so they could become Initiative agents as the Scarlet Spiders. Afterwards, Taskmaster was assigned to Camp Hammond as the Fifty State Initiative recruit drill instructor, where his many students included Ant-Man’s successor, Eric O’Grady, Bengal, Abigail Boylen, AKA Cloud Nine, Z’reg, AKA Crusader, Tako Shamara, AKA Dragon Lord, Geiger, Melati Kusama, AKA Komodo, Melee, Rage, Red 9, Speedball (Earth-8101’s simian Robbie Baldwin), Cassie Lang, AKA Stature, Triathlon and Ultragirl.
Later, super-criminals Russ Broxtel, AKA Firebrand, Klaus Voorhees, AKA King Cobra, Brendan Doyle, AKA Mauler, and Calvin Zabo, AKA Mr. Hyde made a failed attempt to kill the Taskmaster for joining the Initiative. When inept Initiative recruit Butterball was sent home, Taskmaster and Constrictor felt sorry for him and arranged a photo where it looked like Butterball defeated the pair in combat.
After the Skrull invasion, the Initiative fell under the control of corrupt, unstable tycoon Norman Osborn, AKA Green Goblin; he restructured it, assigned Taskmaster to the Shadow Initiative along with Bengal, Constrictor, Komodo and Mutant Zero, Mary Walker/Typhoid Mary, and sent them to Madripoor to apprehend Initiative defector Roger Brokeridge, AKA Hardball, who had joined Hydra. Completing the mission, the Shadow Initiative returned home to find Osborn replacing Camp Hammond with his new Camp HAMMER. Osborn placed Taskmaster and supernatural crime boss Parker Robbins, AKA Hood, in charge of the Initiative and began welcoming many active super criminals into the organization. These new recruits were supposedly reformed, but Osborn would allow them to continue their criminal careers in secret as long as they posed as heroes in public, so Taskmaster and Hood trained many of these criminals in how to fake heroic behavior. Meanwhile, Taskmaster secretly helped Deadpool battle Osborn’s Thunderbolts as payback for Deadpool previously having helped Taskmaster escape prison.
After a rumor starts that Taskmaster turned traitor, working for Captain America, a bounty is placed on his head by The Org, a secret criminal organization. Hordes of villains, including his psychopathic students go after him. Suffering from memory loss, and trying to discern who framed him, Taskmaster is required to look deep into his past at who he really is. Teaming up with involuntary sidekick/love interest Mercedes Merced, their hunt for the truth meant engaging Don of the Dead and a town full of Adolf Hitlers. A fight breaks out and Taskmaster with Mercedes ended up in an underground tunnel that led to a room all too familiar to Taskmaster. He recalled the last time he was there, while working under S.H.I.E.L.D. he discovered Primer, a Super-Soldier Serum imitation, and with his desire to be the best, he injected himself with it--which caused his lapse in memory. As his memories flooded back, he recognized Mercedes voice and shot her only to discover that she was and still is his wife<.
When the Secret Avengers sought Mercedes, a former L-3 S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, it is revealed that she and him together run The Org, which is technically a S.H.I.E.L.D. front. But his memory issue returned and he left Mercedes after defeating the Red Shirt, a villain who forged the bounty and sought the Org’s true identities. Mercedes escaped as well but not before leaving an audio recording for Captain America explaining that her operation with Taskmaster had a 20 percent success rate according to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, and that every time Taskmaster loses his memory, he thinks he’s a villain.