Issue(s): Daredevil #292, Daredevil #293
D.G. Chichester starts his run with a fun story involving the Taskmaster and Tombstone and guest starring the Punisher.
The story starts off with Taskmaster learning how to smash granite from a martial arts expert.
If you talk to someone who studies kung fu, the concept of "chi" is as much mystical as it is physical. It's not a matter of your muscles being strong enough to deliver a powerful blow. You are literally channeling your "chi", your mystical energy, into your blow. Expert martial artists can smash through wood or granite blocks with a close punch from the body, with no wind up or momentum behind it. And that is kind of how the martial artist, Ernie Saltes, describes it above, although he's using less philosophical terms. But if chi really were a mystical thing, then the Taskmaster wouldn't be able to learn it, since he can only learn physical, non-superpowered abilities. And he does learn it.
So i guess it's fair to say that, outside of Iron Fist, chi doesn't really exist in the Marvel universe.
Why would the Taskmaster want to learn how to smash granite? I already gave it away with my introductory sentence. Tombstone is currently seen assassinating an Asian mob boss and then adding a notch to a tally in a notebook.
Daredevil is later seen investigating the murder of Saltes (by torturing a stoolie) and he learns that the Taskmaster was the last person to go looking for him. it seems that Saltes taught martial arts to the local criminals, making him a kind of low rent competition for the Taskmaster, but that seems to be incidental to the Taskmaster's reasons for going after him.
Meanwhile, Chichester picks up on the plot established by Ann Nocenti, where the Kingpin is trying to establish some legitimacy for himself, in part by creating a media network. To that end he is hooking up with an investor named Colonel Strang.
Strang is not at all what he seems. That is hinted at in these issues but it will soon go deeper than what we see here (spoiler: he is in fact the Hydra agent Garotte that was introduced in this year's Nick Fury Series). We do see already that Garotte is working this deal to gain access to the Kingpin's bank accounts. And we see someone tapping a monocle on a desk, so i haven't given you too much of a spoiler.
When Typhoid Mary asks the Kingpin why he'd work with "Strang", the Kingpin says it's because Strang has the necessary FCC connections, and he might as well use someone else's money.
Matt Murdock and Foggy are back together, but Matt is already not holding up his end of the partnership. His mind is on his Daredevil stuff. The irony is that they are working to get Matt reinstated to the bar.
You can see the post-Born Again religious angle of Daredevil getting played up.
And then we get to the meat of the story. Taskmaster and Tombstone are in a competition being run by unnamed judges.
The two of them get to fighting, but break it up because direct fighting between them is supposed to be against the rules. Daredevil, meanwhile, has tracked them down. But he also senses that the Punisher is closing in ("That heartbeat -- I know it. Strong, heavy -- chilling in its methodical steadiness"), ready to assassinate the two villains. So Daredevil winds up jumping in to save them.
Funny to hear the Punisher talking about the big picture. A little prior to this in Punisher annual #3 he was preventing Nick Fury from arresting a Hydra agent because Punisher saw the bigger picture: the agent had info on a drug gang that Punisher was pursuing.
So what follows is a knock-down three- or even four-way fight.
The Punisher wasn't prepared for the new super-powered Tombstone.
And Taskmaster is able to match anything Daredevil throws at him.
Daredevil is able to defeat the Taskmaster by tricking him into following him in front of an oncoming taxi (that Punisher and Tombstone are fighting on top of). The idea here is that Daredevil's super-hearing alerts him to the taxi but Taskmaster isn't aware of it. But i mean, Taskmaster can still hear, right? The cab isn't a Prius.
Both Taskmaster and Tombstone take a fall. Daredevil disarms the Punisher, stopping him from killing the villains. But after that, Daredevil tries to bluff the villains, saying that he will shoot them if they don't tell him what the contest is about. Taskmaster, despite saying that with the people involved "you don't name names", seems to believe that Daredevil might shoot him, and almost talks, but he's interrupted by a knife throw from Punisher. Daredevil is able to shoot the knife, causing it to hit Taskmaster in the belly instead of the heart. Tombstone leaves, telling Taskmaster that he's "out of the game". Punisher also withdraws as the police arrive. Taskmaster is taken to the hospital.
As Matt Murdock, Daredevil infiltrates the hospital room. Here's Taskmaster's unmasked face.
Taskmaster is in bad shape, but Murdock stops his morphine drip long enough to get a little information out of Taskmaster regarding the contest. He learns that Tombstone's next target is Christine Harris, a city commissioner. She's giving a speech during a circus event at Grand Central Station. Tombstone disguises himself as a clown to infiltrate.
Note that Tombstone's goal is to join the organization that is running the contest. Taskmaster told Murdock that he was only in it for the "good times". I don't know if we should take that at face value (he could be lying, and he was on morphine). But my one hesitation about Taskmaster's role is that i like him best as a behind-the-scenes villain that trains other villains. I prefer him as someone that doesn't take hitman or similar type jobs directly. This contest is a different enough sort of thing that it's not a problem, but whenever the Taskmaster appears i try to take note of when stories kind of genericize him. Again, it's not necessarily the case here, but it kind of edges up to a slippery slope.
But back to the plot at hand. Punisher has also found his way to the circus, so Daredevil again has to stop him from assassinating Tombstone.
A pretty impressive feat.
Daredevil is also able to stop Tombstone from assassinating Harris.
That's a fast acting epoxy in the cream pies that Tombstone was going to use to suffocate the commissioner.
Daredevil also tells the Punisher that hunting season is closed in New York.
He still lets the Punisher go, though.
Tombstone is reduced to tears for failing to complete his task and join the mystery group, which we learn at the end is the Hand.
After Ann Nocenti's more symbolic run, including a journey to Hell, it's nice to have some straightforward street action in this book. A good cast of characters (Taskmaster, Tombstone, Punisher) and factions (Kingpin, the Hand, and, secretly, Hydra). Some nicely choreographed action, including the bus/taxi sequence and the scene of Daredevil spotting and grabbing Punisher's sniper rifle at the top of the circus tent. Other little touches, like Daredevil squeezing Taskmaster's morphine tube, give the book a feel similar to a gritty mob movie. Matt already going back to taking Foggy for granted is the one thing that i think misses the mark a bit, not because it's out of character but because it happens so quickly; literally the first time they work together after renewing their partnership and Matt is already back to his old ways. It might have been nice to see their relationship developed in a positive way for a while first. But that's a small matter in a pair of issues that are mostly action focused.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showBaron Von Strucker, Christine Harris, Daredevil, Foggy Nelson, Garotte (Hydra), Larry 'Mad Dog' Cass, Punisher, Taskmaster, Tombstone, Typhoid Mary
Chichester and Lee Weeks leading up to the awesome #300 created some of my favorite DD issues. Weeks has terrific art, perfectly suited for grit and fluidity. It is insane that it is the Image boys that became famous rather than a superior draftsman like Weeks. I also really like the use of both Tombstone and Taskmaster, they work real well for Hell's Kitchen. Sadly few writers after Chichester use them for DD.
Posted by: PeterA | September 28, 2015 12:08 PM
You have the scan of Punisher falling into the subway car twice, and "Daredevil is able to defeat the Punisher by tricking him into following him in front of an oncoming taxi (that Punisher and Tombstone are fighting on top of)." I'm guessing it was Taskmaster Daredevil defeated.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | September 28, 2015 5:20 PM
Posted by: fnord12 | September 28, 2015 5:25 PM
Note that the previous issue made it seem like Foggy had already gotten Matt his license back and this issue makes it seem like they're still trying to figure out how to get Matt his license back.
Posted by: Michael | September 28, 2015 7:45 PM
These issues with the Punisher got me into this title in real time and caused me to go back and collect the Miller and Nocenti runs. I loved this arc though I was upset with what happened in issue 300 to one of my favourite villains.
Posted by: Grom | September 28, 2015 8:49 PM
I enjoyed the Chichester-Weeks run too. The art is particularly good.
Posted by: Chris | September 28, 2015 9:53 PM
It stands to reason that Taskmaster might get involved in something like this: he needs to keep adding to his moves, and a mission like this could give him exposure to new fighting styles. He can learn from video, but there are chance encounters to be had from this kind of thing.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | September 28, 2015 11:55 PM
sorry but DD beating Taskmaster makes me want to call shenanigans. Taskmaster can do everything DD can do plus loads of better stuff.
I know, who cares? but of all the heroes to hand Taskmaster his first defeat, DD it should not be.
Posted by: kveto | September 29, 2015 5:29 PM
The problem with Taskmaster here isn't that they're genericizing him, but rather that Chichester tries to make him into more of a Batman villain, complete with psychosis.
So Taskmaster's imitative gimmick is turned into a psychotic compulsion to be like other people, down to the "repeated plastic surgeries" line in one of the scans above. The idea seems to be that Taskmaster's insanity is what lets DD trick him into jumping in front of that cab.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | January 3, 2016 10:09 AM
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