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New Black Widow Photos Are Extremely Revealing

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have already had to wait an extra six months to see Scarlett Johansson star in the Black Widow movie, and if the current release date finally holds, they'll be waiting at least another six for the original Avenger's first solo movie after it was pushed back once again to May 7, 2021, thanks to a series of COVID-19-induced delays.

What's been known for a long time is that the film is intended to be a prequel set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, but before Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. That slots the film's narrative somewhere within the sprawling (and recently concluded) Infinity Saga. In addition to Johansson, it stars Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, another Black Widow who underwent training in the Red Room; Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, an experienced Widow; and David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov, a Russian super-soldier known as Red Guardian who's intended as a counterpart to Captain America, but seems to have let himself go a bit. Little is known about the film's main villain, the masked and armored Taskmaster. We don't even know the name of the actor playing the role! 

Despite the production setbacks, the steady drip of new information and collateral materials from the film continues to trickle in, with a few new pictures showing actor O.T. Fagbenle in character as Rick Mason, described by Entertainment Weekly way back at Comic-Con 2019 as a contact from Natasha Romanoff's past and a potential love interest. The pictures appear to originate from Marvel's Black Widow: The Official Movie Special Book and were posted on Twitter November 1 by @yelenabarnes_, sprinkled in among a number of other behind-the-scenes shots of stunts and other big action sequences.

What is Rick Mason's relationship to Natasha Romanoff?

In one of these, Mason is chatting with Natasha outside a beat-up looking airplane somewhere in a grassy field. They look friendly, or at the very least like respecting colleagues. He's got his hands in his pockets; she's holding onto what looks like a jacket. It certainly appears as though she trusts him at this point in the film. 

This is notable largely because Mason is one of the prime suspects to be Taskmaster. The comic version of Taskmaster possesses the wonderfully named ability of "photographic reflexes," which allow him to duplicate the movements or fighting styles of someone after merely watching them. Basically, after little more than spending some time in the film room, he can teach himself to shoot a bow like Hawkeye, throw a shield like Captain America or fight like Black Widow. Based on portions of the trailer that seem to show him fighting with both a bow and a shield it seems fair to say the cinematic counterpoint will operate much the same in practice. If it turns out to be Mason under the mask, it looks like it will come as a surprise to Natasha, and will beg the question: Who did he learn his hands-in-pockets form from? 

Is Rick Mason Black Widow's Taskmaster?

What's a spy that hasn't been double-crossed by someone they trusted?  This wouldn't be the first case of a trusted colleague betraying a Marvel character –– heck, it wouldn't even be the first betrayal executed on a remote airstrip in the MCU's history –– but there's a reason Taskmaster's true identity is still up in the air, and that's because there are more suspects.

Whatever link to Natasha Rick Mason ends up having, it likely won't be as close as that of Vostokoff, who is described as a mother-figure to Romanoff and Belova and is present at the family dinner scene in the trailer with that pair and the Red Guardian. Vostokoff is likely already a skilled combatant, and however she might end up imbued with Taskmaster's unique abilities, they would make her a formidable threat to Natasha. Given the MCU's history of familial and even adopted family conflict, there's precedent for her to take a villainous turn

Fagbenle, though, has already dropped and deleted a pair of possible hints on social media — one where he included a hashtag "TM" in a post about his role in the movie and one reference to the "conspiracy theory" that he's Taskmaster in a video on Instagram Live.

The other photos are not much help resolving these mysteries. One shows Mason leaning against the same plane without Natasha in the frame, while another depicts Mason in a different scene, or at least in a different outfit, and confirms only his character's love of plaid flannels. Whether that makes him more or less likely to be Black Widow's evil mastermind, you'll have to wait until (at least) May of 2021 to see.