EDIT (2014-09-09): Originally posted 2011-04-26. Decided to rework everything, top to bottom, and then repost.
**This “HeroClix Ret-Con” focuses on: AV029 Taskmaster from the Marvel HeroClix AVENGERS (2007) set.**
Taskmaster! An otherwise non-superhuman with “photographic reflexes”, meaning he can watch someone perform a physical feat (that doesn’t require super-powers) and duplicate it. Sort of a hyper-learning for developing what athletes refer to as “muscle memory”, something usually developed through intense training. And Taskmaster trains intensively to boot. So, another super-villain. And not one of my typical “HeroClix Ret-Cons”, since this version debuted in the AVENGERS set with his own Special Powers. And he was found lacking by most. His “Photographic Reflexes” SP didn’t seem to give enough bang for the 140 point cost of the figure. The “Punch like Cap, Shoot like Hawkeye” was alright, though it just didn’t seem like enough. Most preferred to keep using the Taskmaster REV from X-PLOSION, since they were less points and were easier to use.
Now, in the comics there were a couple instances of his having almost superhuman abilities. A couple of frequent references for his “evasive” acrobatic moves in stories are Spider-Man and Daredevil. Always found both to be “head-scratchers” if Taskmaster is supposed to be a non-superhuman. Daredevil may be basically human in his physicality, an Olympic-level gymnast, but his evasion skills are in part enhanced by his “radar sense”; he has much better awareness of his surrounding than most. Same with Spider-Man and his “spider-sense”, further amplified by Spider actually being “superhuman” in other respects; strength, agility, reflexive response, stamina, and so on.
In other instances showing Taskmaster to be skirting the line of actual superhuman-levels of ability, one story showed him watching a video tape on fast forward, and being able to repeat the movements just as quickly. Another story actually had him copying an opponent’s powers. I think both of those were bad stories, and got away from something that I think is at the core of this character: He’s like an evil Batman (in that he’s an otherwise highly trained and focused, but normal, human being), with an innate ability that allows him a short cut (he’s a supposed to be a prodigy, “gifted”, not a mutant). Taskmaster isn’t supposed to be superhuman, he’s not supposed to “copy” a subject in the way, say, the Super-Adaptoid does.
Among other bad decisions [IMO] I found in reading up on him to update my “HeroClix Ret-Con Traits/Tweaks” for the AV029 version, they tried to finally reveal his true name, his real identity. From there it is “revealed” that his “photographic reflexes” basically erase his “explicit memory”, and thus he doesn’t remember who he is. Turns out, in this story, that his real name is Anthony Masters, and the “origin” involves Masters having been a SHIELD agent on the hunt a former Nazi scientist who had been trying to recreate the “Super Soldier Serum” the Americans had used to turn Steve Rogers in Captain America. This serum increases the subject’s ability to learn rapidly. Side effects: the aforementioned “explicit memory” loss. The “secret origin” style story further reveals Taskmaster has been unknowingly a pawn of SHIELD ever since the character was first introduced in Avengers #195. I HATE THIS SO-CALLED ORIGIN STORY! IT IS A BULLSHIT AND UNNECESSARY RET-CON THAT ACTUALLY DEMINISHES THE CHARACTER’S CORE CONCEPTS. So, I’m going to disregard it completely. I swear to God, sometimes Marvel Comics is its own worst enemy. The creative arm sometimes seems like it had some sort of passive-agressive self-hating split-personality. This story was a stupid stunt.
My View: As a Concept, you have to keep Taskmaster as nearly “peak human”, along the lines of Captain America. More to the point, a conceptual splicing of Captain America and Batman.
DC Comics’ Batman: one aspect is he has pushed himself through training and education, and honed his mind and body to its inherent “peak”. Marvel Comics’ Captain Ameria: The “super soldier process” of Operation: Rebirth, with its “super soldier serum” (one administered orally, one by injection) and “Vita-Rays” (some combination of radioactive wavelengths, bombarding the subjects shortly after ingesting the serum), changed — IMHO — Steve Rogers, from the DNA/RNA on up. He’s not simply “Steve’s peak”, he’s supposed to be “peak human”. *Just this side* of superhuman, mind and body, more or less operating at optimum efficiency 24/7, working longer before fatigue starts to set in and erode performance, and recovering faster from fatigue, injury, illness, et cetera.
Taskmaster: “Gifted” in two respects. Naturally athletic (putting him in Batman’s “sphere” of “normal human of exceptional skill”). Then, layered on top of that: “Photographic Reflexes”, the aforementioned “hyper-learning” for muscle memory (skirting the line Captain America’s concept has established). Layered on top of that, he has spent his life training intensively to take advantage of both. Layered on top of that, his instinctive “business acumen” and a degree of amorality. He doesn’t *need* to have been a former SHIELD agent. He could have been a “completely random person”, an anomaly in comics, in that he was born in a rural or suburban setting somewhere, to eventually onto Marvel’s “world stage” as a major player without some sort of “lineage” by being connected to any other Marvel organization or character. A “bolt from the blue”. Sometimes, I think Marvel over-does it with trying to tie everyone to everyone else in trying to achieve some “dramatic effect”.
Anyway. Let’s switch to the versions of Taskmaster that have appeared in the game. First up, the “still much-loved” Rookie/Experienced/Veteran versions from 2003’s XPLOSION set —
Still pretty sweet for the points, at every level. Showing its age, each is still functional. Funny thing: Back then, payers scoffed at this version having both Stealth and Energy Shield/Deflection, saying having both was a “waste of points”. Given the gradual changes in the game’s mechanics over the years, the continued refinements of interactions, I don’t think anyone scoffs at it anymore. It’s sort of a “layered defense” now. Plus, the flexibility of the “Minions of Doom” wildcard Team Ability.
So effective for its points, I guess it’s no wonder why most fans of the character as well as hardcore “min/max” players of HeroClix had a collective conniption fit when 2007’s AVENGERS set gave us this version —
Problem player’s and fans of the character had:
- The “feedback” damage Tasky could potentially take.
- The fact that the character trains constantly and reviews video footage of characters in action, so he comes to the battle already knowing a lot of ways to fight.
- In short: fans and players would rather have had naturally higher attack values than this SP. (Exactly why the old REV is preferred.)
- The oddness of Taskmaster being able to “copy” the attack values of such characters as Galactus. Just doesn’t line up thematically.
Basically, he compared unfavorably to other pieces in his “weight class” of 140 points. The potential modification of stats didn’t seem worth the “feedback” damage.
Fast forward to 2012, and WizKids “redressed the injustice” with a new version in CHAOS WAR —
WOW. Much steadier combat values, a lot of “tricks up his sleeves”, a twist on the “leader” that thematically lines up with *some* of the stuff he’s done in the comics. He’s a more-reliable attacker, without the potential to “burn himself out” with self-damage like the AVENGERS one.
I do take a bit of an issue with the “leadership role”: In the comics, in the stories I’ve read anyway, he runs a school for thugs, teaching martial arts and weapons, bodyguard procedures, squad tactics, etc. Organized funding, training, facilities, all of that. Kept several secret routes out of every installation so that — personally — could escape if the facility was busted/raided. BUT,…. Not really a “Leader”. Instructor of advanced skills in a particular field and competent “small businessman”. Also, took solo contract jobs on the side. He’s done training of operatives even for the US government. But a “leader”? Doesn’t care about personally taking over the world and running it. Like DC’s Captain Cold, he’s in it more for personal monetary gain, maybe a certain level of “prestige” too. And, I think, the challenge. But, “fearless leader you’d die for”? Nah.
So, what to do? How to the AVENGERS version of him more appealing to run at that 140 points? The AVENGERS version *must* be the better attacker. I also want to take into account additions to the game since this version’s introduction.
Let’s tear apart the attack slot special power, “Photographic Reflexes“: Before any attack roll, Taskmaster can replace his attack value or defense value with the unmodified value of the same type from an target character within 6 squares to which he has a clear line of fire. After the resolution of an action in which Taskmaster uses this power, roll one d6; if the result is less than or equal to the difference between Taskmaster’s printed combat value and the replaced value, Taskmaster is dealt 1 unavoidable damage for each 100 points (or fraction thereof) of the target’s point value.”
And let’s take a look at his damage slot special power, “Punch Like Cap, Shoot Like Hawkeye”: Taskmaster can use Close Combat Expert and Ranged Combat Expert.
I’m going to “Ret-Con Tweak” both special powers, and add a “Ret-Con Trait” on top of all of that.
Homemade “Ret-Con Trait”: “Discretion Is The Better Part Of Valor”: Taskmaster may use Sidestep. When Taskmaster rolls to break away, he may use Plasticity.
INTENT: Represent his “Fend for yourselves!” mentality, his willingness to leave his trainees in the lurch. If he gets both of his Special Powers countered in some way, he can “escape”.
Homemade “Ret-Con Tweak”: “Photographic Reflexes“: Before any attack roll, Taskmaster can replace his attack value, defense value, or damage with the unmodified value of the same type from a target character of the same size within 6 squares to which he has a clear line of fire and has one or more of the following keywords: Assassin, Celebrity, Detective, Martial Artist, Pilot, Soldier, Spy, Warrior. After the resolution of an action in which Taskmaster uses this power, roll one d6; if the result is less than or equal to the difference between Taskmaster’s printed combat value and the replaced value, Taskmaster is dealt 1 unavoidable damage for each 200 points (or fraction thereof) of the target’s point value.”
INTENT: Yeah, I kept the “feedback damage”. I raised the “ceiling” a bit. Yes, I did restrict the kind of characters he could “borrow” from, quite harshly. “Same size” refers to Tiny/Normal/Giant/Colossal size classifications. Yeah, the choice of Celebrity, Pilot, Detective keywords is a bit “if-y”.
Homemade “Ret-Con Tweak”: “Punch Like Cap, Shoot Like Hawkeye”: Taskmaster can use Precision Strike, Close Combat Expert and Ranged Combat Expert.
INTENT: More ways for him to fight without *necessarily* having to copy stats via “Photographic Reflexes”, but as before, useful to have if he does.
This requires testing, but already “smells better”, more like he’s earned that Unique ring on the base. I think.