Much like DC’s Doctor Light, though with far more endearing proclivities, Marvel’s Taskmaster is a villain that has been perceived as both a legitimate threat to top tier heroes, and a laughable jobber to be dismissed by anyone with a cape. As such, it’s little surprise that The Rubicon Trigger, a five-issue mini from the creative team of Jed Mackay and Alessandro Vitti, sees Tasky operating as a bit of a joke. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a million times easier to root for a protagonist who struggles than it is a stone cold killer, but I think people drawn to this book from the character’s appearance in the Black Widow movie will see little resemblance to the guy on the page — not least of which because Agent Romanoff is the primary antagonist of this book!
The book begins with Taskmaster using his photo-reflective super skills as a ringer in a mafia/supervillain ProAm golf tournament. It’s actually a pretty funny conceit, though it does feel a bit too much like a setup in a Deadpool series. In any case, it isn’t long until things descend into chaos, when an assassin hits the links in an attempt to put a hole in one Taskmaster (I know, I’ll see myself out). When he’s rescued by Nick Fury of all people, Tasky learns that Maria Hill has been killed and that he is the prime suspect. So far so good. The MacGuffin here is that in order to discover why Maria Hill was killed, Fury needs Taskmaster to memorize the physical presence of three of Marvel’s top super spies in order to open up a vault that contains…well, I won’t go much further into that for this review, but that very idea of a motion-based vault is perhaps a little too silly of a concept to hang a series on.
The writing itself is fun, with Taskmaster coming off as a sort of sad sack Deadpool. The barbs and pithy commentary from Tasky and Nick Fury is lighthearted banter that add a good deal of fun to the read itself. The rest of the characters, however, are largely interchangeable and bland. While reading this trade, you’ll notice that the dialogue from Hyperion could easily come from the White Fox or Okoye. Similarly, the plotting has moments that are pretty great (the Hyperion fight in particular is a series highlight), followed by generic and familiar scenarios that just come off as bland. The biggest example is the section in South Korea, which sees Taskmaster perform a creative ruse to gain access to Ami Han’s office, only for it to devolve into the same superhero fight, replete with callouts of other (more interesting) heroes’ move sets we had already seen multiple times at that point. It’s not that it’s bad at all, it’s just sort of forgettable.
Much like MacKay, Alessandro Vitti’s pencils represent a collection of significant highs and middling lows. Overall, this is a strong and well-rendered book, with believable and fun choreography throughout. That being said, there are some elements that don’t land with the same oomph. The key struggle here is faces, which (again, I want to emphasize are not actually bad at all) are often over-defined. This leads to a lot of stray lines that end up aging characters’ faces considerably. This is most evident in Okoye, who is often in combat, and therefore donning an intense visage. This removes much of the femininity of the face in some instances, and adds a lot of skin furrows that make the character, at points, appear more like an old man than a vibrant warrior. This happens with Hyperion a bit too, though the fact that half of his appearance has him grimacing in pain does explain it all a bit too. That all being said, you really do have to appreciate the consistency of character design and the strength of the fight choreography, as the combat scenes are fun, if a bit familiar — sort of like Tasky himself.
If there’s a complaint to be made for this series, it’s about the end. The resolution of the whole central conflict comes in the final five pages, which is not super satisfying. MacKay builds a mystery in the first issue, admittedly not a grand one, but a mystery nonetheless, and the fact that it’s all just cast aside within a few panels left me feeling a bit defeated by the story overall. It feels as if the time invested in the piece was sort of a waste. I get that Taskmaster is a low man on the totem pole in the Marvel Universe, but getting him mixed up in the turbulent worlds of Maria Hill, Nick Fury and the Black Widow might lead some readers to expect more heft to the story. As such, wrapping the ending up in such a damp squib just amplifies any feelings of dissatisfaction with the book in general.
Overall, Taskmaster: The Rubicon Trigger is a perfectly fine book. It’s unlikely to stick with you for long upon completion and it’s not one that you earn a lot from on a second reading. It is a light and fun read, with some well rendered action and a few decent barbs, but little else. It’s a brisk read, suitable for a train ride or the waiting room at the dentist — and like those experiences, once they’re done, you probably won’t think about it for much longer.
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