At 2019's Comic-Con International in San Diego, the first footage of 2020’s Black Widow was revealed to the world. It included a look at the film’s primary antagonist, Taskmaster, which left comic book fans thrilled and everyone else wondering “Who is Taskmaster?” The supervillain known as Taskmaster is one of Marvel Comics’ greatest fighters, but there are few who would put “Tasky” and The Avengers at the same level of prominence.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a habit of elevating lesser-known characters to new heights of popularity, and that seems inevitable for Tony Masters - an individual who was perhaps previously best recognized for the excellent Marvel Legends Taskmaster action figure currently on the market. Long-time readers of Marvel Comics, however, know that Taskmaster is far more than just a generic baddie with a sword and shield - he’s one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in all of comic books and has one of the most unique power sets to boot.
Tony Masters was born with the innate ability of “photographic reflexes,” though there’s never been any indication that he’s a mutant. While still a young boy, Masters discovers that his power allows him to replicate the movements of anyone he observes in motion, meaning he can learn to ball like a pro just by watching basketball on TV and can learn to dive like an Olympian just by hanging out at the pool.
In a world full of superheroes and other individuals with marvelous abilities, Masters’s photographic reflexes have potential - though he doesn’t realize their full implications until he reaches adulthood. His powers are what eventually lead him to become the villain known as Taskmaster, but not before a brief period in which he attempts to use his gifts for the greater good.
Upon reaching adulthood, Tony Masters decides to put his photographic reflexes to good use by becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., where he works for Nick Fury and meets his eventual wife, Mercedes. On one mission, Masters comes across an alleged rip-off of the Super Soldier Serum, and he injects the formula into himself in an attempt to increase his natural abilities.
The gambit works, with Masters gaining new powers like movement prediction and superhuman reflexes, though modern-day writers mostly choose to ignore the uncomfortable bit about the evil science and just act as though he always had these abilities. He even develops a form of limited super-speed in which he can replicate an individual’s moves at double the speed.
Unfortunately, these new powers come at a terrible cost.
A combination of Tony Masters’s newfound powers and the long-term use of his photographic reflexes leads to a terrible consequence - total memory loss. Masters is able to retain the movements of anyone he watches with perfect accuracy, but doing so pushes the existing memories out of his brain, making it so he eventually only recalls his recent past and completely loses touch with his moral compass.
Every time Masters picks up a new skill, he loses a piece of himself, to the point that his past is completely wiped from his mind and he can only ever remember a few years at a time. The reality is that the man who was once Tony Masters no longer exists, having been replaced by the Taskmaster.
With Tony Masters’s memory of the man he once was wiped from his brain, he’s in need of a new identity, and he finds it in Taskmaster, a swashbuckling supervillain with a skull-faced mask. The persona is created by Tony’s wife Mercedes, who decides to keep her amnesiac husband in her life by converting him into the ultimate double agent.
Mercedes convinces Masters that he’s a mercenary working for “the Org,” but in reality, she uses him to gather inside intel on supervillain organizations for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury. When Taskmaster thinks he’s doing evil, he’s actually spying for the good guys - until he loses touch with his old life completely and continues on as a legitimate mercenary.