Comic fans were largely disappointed with the screen adaptation of Taskmaster, but chances are we haven't seen the real character yet.
But what if the character we believe to be Taskmaster in Black Widow is actually just another intentional misdirection by Marvel, and the fan-favorite on-again-off-again villain Taskmaster has yet to be revealed?
Black Widow reveals early on that Natasha believed she had killed the main antagonist and creator of the Black Widows, Genera Dreykov, years ago in a mission in which she sacrificed Dreykov's young daughter, Antonia, as collateral damage in order to get to Dreykov himself. But the shocking (or not so shocking) mask reveal at the end of the movie shows us that Taskmaster is actually a disfigured and mind-controlled Antonia Dreykov.
The letdown didn't just come from the gender-swap in turning the character from Tony Masters to Antonia Dreykov, but more so the lack of character development given to this enigmatic character. What was Antonia like as a child? Was she an innocent bystander to her father's sinister lifestyle? Even with a surprise plot twist that was surely meant to shock fans, the lack of understanding of Antonia's life led to a lackluster payoff. After Natasha frees Antonia from her mind-control at the end of the movie, the battered character speaks her only three words in the entire movie — "Is he dead" — before being heroically saved by the remaining freed widows.
So after everything, Taskmaster wasn't actually a villain, but a victim. But even with Marvel's attempts to add twists and meaning to the character, the lack of character development given to this enigmatic villain left die-hard comic book fans angry with a feeling that Taskmaster was underused and undervalued by Marvel.
The Comics Taskmaster
A fan favorite storeline for Taskmaster in the comics came from Siege: A story in which Normon Osborn tries to take Asgard, Taskmaster finds himself stuck between the Avengers and Osborn in an all out brawl.Photo/Marvel Entertainment
In the comics, Anthony "Tony" Masters, grew up extremely athletic, with a gift of having photogenic reflexes — meaning he could mimic another person's moves after minimal study.
Masters was originally recruited by Shield, where he took a Nazi experimental super-soldier serum that ended up enhancing his photogenic reflexes to the point of overload. But being motivated mainly by money, Masters tended to stick with mercenary work, which made it easy for the character to switch sides and fight alongside and against superheroes and villains alike. His history in the comic books spans over 40 years, with stints joining the Thunderbolts, training John Walker himself, and holding his own against most of the Avengers.
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The MCU is already known to retcon many characters from the MCU. For instance, after the huge disappointment and reveal that Ben Kingsley's portrayal of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 was actually a fake, fans were hopeful at the announcement that the MCU will be bringing the Mandarin into the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
This gives hope to comic fans that the MCU will do something similar with Taskmaster, as there may have also been some hints throughout Black Widow that suggest we have yet to meet the real Taskmaster.
Why might there be hope for a Tony Masters in the MCU? In Black Widow, we aren't introduced to the character as the "Taskmaster." When we first see the suited up character locked in a room watching Black Widow fight sequences, the phrase "permission to activate Taskmaster protocol" rings out, signifying that the Taskmaster aspect doesn't come from Antonia herself, but from the technology implanted into her skull that gives her similar abilities to the comic adaptations.
So although the character was a disappointment in the Black Widow movie, there is still potential to see a true Tony Masters comic adaptation.
The post-credit scene from Black Widow shows a present-time Yelena visiting her sister's grave when Val, a relative newcomer to the MCU, makes her appearance, and we learn that Yelena (along with John Walker) have been recruited by her mysterious team.
Will we meet Tony Masters as an associate of Val's? Will he end up training John Walker, as he did in the comics? Will he meet Antonia through Yelena and somehow come into possession of her suit and technology, turning him into Taskmaster? The possibilities are endless, but one thing is likely with the MCU: We have not seen the last of Taskmaster.