This trade came in with my last bunch of comics and even though I don't normally review trades (don't know exactly why, just don't), why not?
The mini-series is set after the conclusion of Siege, when a lot of criminals were apparently arrested at Asgard. Taskmaster wasn't one of them, and the word is he's working for the good guys now (not an impossible premise), and a group known as The Org has put a $1 billion bounty on him. So Taskmaster needs to find The Org and set things straight. Or kill them, if they won't listen to reason. The problem isn't the hordes of cannon fodder from practically every criminal organization in the Marvel Universe (including several writer Fred van Lente made up for this mini-series).
The problem is Taskmaster can't remember anything about The Org. Or anything at all, really. He's absorbed so many fighting styles, languages, and other assorted skills that his memories of actual people, places, and events are overwritten. They're still there, but buried under mountains of stuff he uses in his work. So we follow Taskmaster and an unfortunate waitress named Mercedes Merced as they try to work backwards through Taskmaster's memories to The Org.
I like all the bits of strangeness van Lente puts in this story. The different criminal organizations he created (the Black Choppers especially), the Andean village where everyone is Hitler as a result of an old operation SHIELD tried to destroy years ago. The Don of the Dead and his songs about his criminal exploits. The more oddball stuff that populates the Marvel Universe the better. It's all things other writers can play with if they want, and even if they choose not to, it's still adding something to the tapestry.
OK, van Lente sort of changes Taskmaster's origin. He had a mini-series years ago that told us he'd had these abilities since he was a kid (as demonstrated in a scene where he's copied Olympic diving techniques, but forgets he hasn't copied how to swim yet). Which would make him a mutant, I guess. van Lente makes it so Tasky gained his ability as a result of a drug he chose to take as an adult. It does add a certain Marvel element to his story. He chose to take the drug so he could be the best, but in so doing badly hurt someone close to him, and he can't stop hurting them the same way over and over. It has a bit of Spider-Man, where a moment of selfishness lead to his Uncle Ben dying, and maybe a bit of the Hulk, where no matter how well things are going for Banner/Big Green, eventually the Hulk will overdo it and wreck everything and be alone again.
The question is whether Taskmaster needed that added to his story. Before he might do the right thing, but it was down to whether he felt like it or not. Or if he was paid enough to do it. Or he might attack the Avengers, or open another cannon fodder training facility. Either way, it was his call. If he helped Agent X fend off a group of super-powered killers, it was probably because X's partner Sandi was in the line of fire and Taskmaster was sweet on her.
Now that isn't really the case. He has such a vague idea of who he is, he probably wouldn't remember Sandi well enough to know why he'd care she was in danger. He's reliant on guidance from The Org (more specifically The Hub). Or he's pushed by an instinct he can't explain that he's a bad guy, which seems to give him the attitude that if he feels like a bad guy, he ought to be one. The origin's twist is that the end result of his drive to be the best makes it that he can't use those skills for his won goals anymore, because he can't remember who he is well enough to have goals. The gift comes with a curse. A reverse of Iron Man, where the suit originally keeps his heart going, but then advances further to becomes a weapon he can use to rectify mistakes, protect people, throw his friends in a Negative Zone prison, etc. It makes Taskmaster a little more tragic, but I don't think he needed that. A guy who was just good enough you might be able to get his help, but would be looking over your shoulder the whole time just in case seemed more interesting. He can still be that, I suppose, but if he turns on someone, it'll be due to forgetting who they are, or The Hub tells him to, rather than a conscious decision on his part.
Jefte Palo's the artist for the series, and lets hear it for an artist who doesn't need fill-in help to finish a mini-series. What? That's seems rarer than you'd think these days. I last saw Palo's work on the last arc of the Moon Knight series I was buying, right before it was canceled. Which was only two years ago, but we're on our second Moon Knight ongoing since then, which is nuts. I liked Palo's action sequences more there than I do here. I think the difference was Moon Knight was doing anything fancy in those fights, mostly punching and being punched. Taskmaster's being a lot more acrobatic and varied, since he draws on skills from close to a dozen characters over the mini-series, but the art doesn't convey the grace I'd expect. There's a sequence where Taskmaster says he'll use the Destroyer for acrobatic skill, but he doesn't really do anything acrobatic. Just charges at the machine gun nest and lunges.
I haven't seen Palo's method of showing whose skills Taskmaster's using before. The one I see most often is a sort of after-image either superimposed on Taskmaster, or floating around him. Palo opts for a sort of sepia-toned square. Any parts of Taskmaster outside the square look like him. Any parts inside look like whoever he's mimicking. It works, and it did make for a nice visual when Taskmaster unleashes multiple styles simultaneously.
I did like Palo's expressions and body language. One in particular was at the start of issue 3, as Tasky and Mercedes climb a mountain. Taskmaster's leading a llama, Mercedes is following, holding onto the llama's tail. Everything about her, from the way she's hunched over, to the way Palo drew he with a sort of stomping tread, how her hat is pulled low over her eyes, and the little bit of an outthrust lower lip, sell that Mercedes is seriously aggravated by all this, and actually, probably a little pissed. Understandably. And Palo does this with what looks like relatively few lines, so I was seriously impressed.