For the first entry in our new retro comic review blog series, we are taking a look at Avengers #196, which was published in June of 1980. This issue features the first full appearance of Taskmaster, who briefly made a cameo appearance at the end of Avengers #195, having been revealed as the head of a combat training facility infiltrated by the Avengers.
The Terrible Toll of The Taskmaster
After revealing himself to be the man in charge of the secret supervillain training compound, Taskmaster takes Wasp, Yellowjacket, and Ant Man hostage. In classic fashion for a villain of this era, Taskmaster takes little time in showing off his own abilities. He offers to pay $10,000 to a group of his own henchmen to try and take him down. Naturally, they all fail, only serving to showcase Taskmaster’s photographic muscle memory ability. In the brief skirmish, he mimics moves he learned from watching Captain America, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Hawkeye. Despite running these supervillain training facilities for years undetected, Taskmaster apparently can’t let an opportunity to show off his own skill be wasted.
“It Just Comes Natural”
The onlookers are shocked at the amazing display of skill and physical prowess. Wasp questions how Taskmaster could be so adept, to which he replies: “It just comes natural.” At this point, Tasky reveals that from a young age, he developed photographic reflexes which he decided to utilize for financial gains. Though he briefly considered becoming a superhero, he ultimately came to the conclusion that there was more money in crime. Rather than risk jail time as a run-of-the-mill villain, he instead opened up several secretive henchman training facilities. After all, the bad guys have to get their henchmen somewhere.
After revealing his origin, Taskmaster next turns his ire on his administrator, Dr. Pernell Solomon, for allowing the Avengers to discover their facility. Though he gives Dr. Solomon an opportunity to defeat him in one-on-one combat, the frail doctor suffers a heart attack and dies.
Outside the facility, the rest of the Avengers await any word from Yellowjacket, Ant Man, and Wasp. We get a great sense of the friendship that has developed between Beast and Wonder Man, which even Iron Man seems to be impressed by, having himself experienced the friction of earlier incarnations of the Avengers. Ant Man then sends out several ants as an S.O.S. to let them know they are in trouble.
The Avengers burst onto the scene and demand Taskmaster’s surrender. However, the villain sees this as an opportunity to test out some of his trainees. While the Avengers take the fight to the henchmen, Captain America and Iron Man chase down Taskmaster and engage in battle with him. Taskmaster is excited to show off his skills against the very heroes that he has studied for years. He goes blow for blow with Captain America before anticipating Iron Man’s repulsor blast, countering with a disruptor arrow before he can strike. Taskmaster considers taking on all the Avengers in one-on-one combat before retreating instead.
The Great Escape
As the Avengers finish off the henchmen, Jocasta stalls Taskmaster. Taskmaster has never seen Jocasta before and therefore is unable to anticipate her moves. The rest of the Avengers join in. Just before they can apprehend him, he uses a magnesium flare to make his final escape.
The story comes to an end with Captain America expressing his appreciation to Jocasta for preventing Taskmaster from doing any more damage, officially welcoming her to the Avengers.
A Worthy Origin Story
Overall, this is one of the better supervillain origin issues. Taskmaster being an unseen criminal training instructor is a great way to introduce him to Marvel comics. The story makes sense and it gives a little more depth and explanation as to where some of the front-line henchmen come from. This character introduction also leaves ample opportunity for flashbacks, since it is revealed that Taskmaster has been at this for years.