While the version of the Taskmaster who was seen in the MCU’s Black Widow film was tragic, the character’s comic origin was even more heartbreaking.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made numerous changes in adapting the original Marvel Comics for the big screen. One of the most radical was the alteration of Taskmaster from the snarky henchman-training anti-villain of the comics to the silent and deadly assassin featured in Black Widow, with one of the largest tweaks being to their respective origins.
The Taskmaster of the MCU had a tragic origin — but it’s not nearly as bittersweet and cruel as the origin of the comics Taskmaster, who actually transformed from a potentially heroic figure into the morally dubious mercenary.
In the MCU, Antonia Dreykov was the daughter of General Dreykov — one of the commanders of the Red Room. Although she was innocent, Antonia was caught in the crosshairs of Natasha Romanoff’s attempt to assassinate her father, resulting in her apparent death at the hands of the Black Widow. Antonia survived, however, but was seriously injured in the attack. Dreykov inserted a chip into her that could suppress her pain and emotions, in turn allowing her to be molded into a deadly agent for Dreykov and his secret continuation of the Red Room.
The Taskmaster of Earth-616 had a far different origin, however. Born Tony Masters, he proved to have the ability to duplicate the actions of anyone he saw in motion (as opposed to Antonia, whose powers stemmed from her suit’s technology). As revealed in the second Taskmaster miniseries (by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo), Masters eventually joined SHIELD and became one of their most formidable agents. He even found love with his field partner, Mercedes, and they ended up getting married.
Eventually, the couple were sent up against Horst Gorscht — a medical officer from World War II who’d developed a corrupted variant of the Super-Soldier Serum that transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. Not long before the present day, Masters was sent on a mission to confront the scientist. There, he discovered that Gorscht had developed a new form of Super Soldier Serum that enhanced the mind instead of the body, allowing the subject to instantly absorb knowledge and increase short-term memory.
Wanting to become the best agent possible, Masters used the only viable sample of it on himself. This fully unlocked the true potential of his abilities — albeit at the cost of his ability to retain memories of his own. Although he could adapt and pick up skills with ease, Masters no longer remembered anything about his own life, including his history with his wife. Mercedes then accepted a position as the newly dubbed Taskmaster’s handler, directing him around the world as the “support” for a supposed criminal mastermind, the Org. In essence, this allowed her (and her husband) to continue working towards SHIELD interests over the years, even if Taskmaster never fully knew it. Also, this way, Mercedes could be close to Tony and try to guide him back to his true memories.
Fighting alongside her once more in Taskmaster brings back specific memories of their relationship, but he’s forced to access his full potential to save her life, costing him his memories all over again. And thus, the cycle continues, with Taskmaster, a formerly heroic but ambitious man with all the potential in the world, reduced to simply being a highly-skilled mercenary with a wife he doesn’t remember trying to point him in the right direction. It’s a heartbreaking reveal and hints at the heroic edges the comics-incarnation of the character may have always possessed.