Taskmaster was always a fairly interesting villain, able to mimic the skills of anything he's seen. With this new "Taskmaster" mini-series by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo, though, I'm feeling slightly blown away. Van Lente's taken everything we've known about the character and kept it more or less intact, but he's now building a brand-new back story around him that makes him far more interesting.
The idea that the Taskmaster has almost no memories of his life and relies entirely on muscle memory (and a mask to hide surprised expressions on his face) is clever, and opens up the entire "Taskmaster" mini-series to a wide variety of possibilities. At first I was a little afraid that it was leading to a series of "I don't remember this" moments and jokes, but Van Lente hasn't disappointed, instead constructing this as a man's search for his true identity while going up against increasingly insane foes and situations.
Van Lente's strong sense of humor comes into play here; instead of going for slapstick or bad jokes, it's a sly, situational build up throughout the issue. This is, after all, a comic which in the second issue has introduced the mercenary organization run by a skull-masked conquistador named Don of the Dead. It's a pun wrapped up in a pun, but it also builds up to something larger at the end of the second issue, as "Don" has his true identity revealed and we start to view the big picture forming within "Taskmaster." It's almost like a more serious version of Warren Ellis' scripts on "Nextwave," and I mean that in the best possible way.
Palo's art for "Taskmaster" is excellent as well, a sharp, angular style that results in some of the most beautiful faces you'll see in comics. I love how he draws both Taskmaster and his waitress sidekick Mercedes, almost scratched into existence on the page with rough jagged lines going every which way. It's a careful, deliberate style that looks like it took a lot of work and it pays off wonderfully. Even the little details like the lush green forests of the Mexican wilderness are perfectly composed, here. Palo is an artist to watch out for.
"Taskmaster" could have been, by all rights, a throw-away mini-series. Instead it's one of the smartest new books I've seen come along in a while. Van Lente and Palo have kicked their work up several notches, and I'm dying to see the remaining issues. Who knew a mini-series about a villain that trains other villains could be so entertaining? Definitely check this book out. "Taskmaster" is fun from start to finish.