We Talk TASKMASTER: UNTHINKABLE With Writer FRED VAN LENTE
Fred Van Lente Interview: Flexing The Memory For Taskmaster Unthinkable
Fred Van Lente’s rather fantastic Taskmaster mini series from 2010 has finally found itself collected and on shelves last week, it’s not quite sure how it got their, but it does remember kicking all sorts of ass along the way! We’ll have a review of the graphic novel collection up on the site during the week, but for now please enjoy our chat with one of the nicest guys in comics!
Taskmaster: Unthinkable was one of those comics you should have been reading in singles last year, but probably weren’t. With the graphic novel collection now upon us, it’s no longer something you should only consider – but a must own definitive bookshelf-worthy purchase. It’s time we we told you why.
Written by Fred Van Lente (Cowboys & Aliens/ Incredible Hercules) with art from Jefté Palo (Doctor Voodoo), Taskmaster: Unthinkable won our hearts last year as it followed the enigmatic super-villain on a crusade against the Minions’ International Liberation Front (It’s a bit of a mouthful…), a host of kick-ass Uber Henchmen and… err, a town full of Hitler’s. Yes Taskmaster: Unthinkable was as batshit crazy as it sounds and we love it all the more for it. We are in fact, quite happy to shout out to Asgard and the Nine Realms about how it easily ranked as one of the best things from Marvel’s roster closing out 2010.
Like all good ideas, Taskmaster: Unthinkable was first conceived in the ultimate think-tank… the pub!
“I was at a bar with Lauren Sankovitch [the books editor], she asked me if I’d be interested in this. I said I’d have to think about it.” Says writer extraordinaire Fred Van Lente. “At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I knew he was a big favorite with fans and creators alike, but I thought that was mostly because of how sparingly he was used.”
Sparingly used sounds about right when it comes to Taskmaster. Introduced in Avengers #195 back in 1980, he’s been used and abused in many roles throughout the Marvel Universe but never in anything substantial. A background character with a knack for turning up and being used to kick all sorts of ass or as a method of comic relief, it’s the mystery surrounding the character that has established his cult status among fans… like another and better known iconic pop culture henchman.
Van Lente agrees with fans that claim Taskmaster could be seen as the Marvel U’s answer to Boba Fett. But he worries, unlike George Lucas, that as soon as the mystery gets peeled away, the same pitfalls will be ready to plague Taskmaster like they did the Star Wars bounty hunter.
“He’s only cool because he’s so mysterious. When he comes to the forefront (<cough> ‘Attack of the Clones!’ <cough>) he can lose a lot of his appeal.” he says talking on Fett.
Thankfully, Van Lente has himself one hell of a pitch and a compelling hook that materialized as soon as he got home from the bar.
“I went home, and then, just that night as I was falling asleep, the idea struck me — that Taskmaster’s super-memory was overriding his personal recollections of his past with these “large files” of the fighting styles he’d absorbed.”
For those still unaware, Taskmaster isn’t just a badass in an iconic costume. He possesses “photographic reflexes” – in short, he has the unique ability to mimic any physical movements or attributes he observes. When you’re running a life of crime through NYC and going up against brawlers like Captain America and Spider-Man, being able to mimic a fighting style tends to come in fairly handy.
With Van Lente’s pitch ready to turn this ability on its head, the four issue series swung carefully between being genuinely laugh out loud funny and heart warningly touching.
“Initially I thought it was going to be a very serious Ultimate Comics type take, a real straight-up action movie thriller. But the more I worked with it and realized Taskmaster could encounter all these different crazy characters, that idea pretty much went out the window.” says Van Lente, who believes that the final product, “Does a good job combining the absurdity and insanity of life with real human feeling. That’s what I’ve tried to make a hallmark of my writing from the very beginning.”
It’s funny he should mention “Crazy characters” though, because that doesn’t even begin to explore the insanity of this book.
As the entire backlog of henchmen Taskmaster has trained over the years begin to hunt him for a piece of massive bounty he carries, it’s these characters where Van Lente channels in the humor he’s known so well for.
“I try to make every project I write fun to write. If I’m not enjoying myself it seems doubtful the reader will too.” Speaking on some of the character and organizations he introduced through Taskmaster: Unthinkable – he’s proud of one in particular,
“I felt especially proud of myself for the M.I.L.F acronym, honestly.” He laughed, before giving us a little insight into the Marvel office-fallout from one of our favourite characters; The Don of The Dead and his wild demands involving a 1987 DG-20 Casio Electric Guitar…
“Everyone in the Avengers office was saying “I sew jumping beans into ju privates” all day, so I knew I had struck the right chord.” he says before adding, “And the Casio guitar bit is of course a direct “Flight of the Conchords” reference so perhaps there’s a lot of Jermaine & Brett fans in the Marvel office too…”
Van Lente is no stranger to writing villains, cutting his Marvel teeth on MODOK’s 11, a book about “a bunch of Z-list villains pulling a super-heist”, ripping on popular movie Oceans 11. Before that he was also involved in indie book The Silencers (his road into Marvel) is, “about a team of legendary super-powered mob enforcers who become independent operators when the Mafia family they work for gets whacked!”
It could be his strong understanding of the role and mindset of a villain that allows him to get inside their heads in a seemingly effortless fashion.
“Nobody thinks of themselves as a “villain” in real life. Everyone thinks they’re the heroes of their own individual stories. That’s something you have to keep in mind when writing projects like this.
“How heroic or unheroic they aren’t is in the eye of the beholder…”
How true that statement is, you wont quite understand until you pick this collection up for yourselves. I’m not willing to sit here and ruin the surprise, suspense and volatile rollercoaster adventure that awaits you on this fantastical journey.
“Taskmaster was an exceptional joy to do. Hard, a huge challenge, but one that was ultimately rewarding in the end.” says Van Lente, before hinting at when (better yet: where) his next encounter with Taskmaster could be expected.
“I’m not sure about solo stories, but you may see him and Mercedes turn up in an unusual place…
“Like Canada…” he says with a cheeky grin and a nod towards his ‘Canadian Avengers’ Alpha Flight series, launching this week with a Point One issue with co-writer Greg Pak as a Fear Itself tie in. Nothing like a bit of shameless self promotion!
If you want to jump into a world populated by lunatics and full of insane fun; high intensity action, twists, romance and a story that will even have you wiping away the tears – Taskmaster: Unthinkable is the book for you!
Thanks for Fred for taking the time to chat with us. Taskmaster: Unthinkable is on shelves right now and is genuinely every bit as good as everyone says it is! Enjoy true believers!