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Sep 17

Domino #1-6: “Killer Instinct”

Posted on Monday, September 17, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Domino has been around since the early nineties, and she’s spent that time almost entirely as a team book character.  She’s had two previous miniseries, but only now is she getting an ongoing title.  When a character gets promoted after that length of time, you can’t help but wonder whether the concept was actually built to carry a solo book.

But Domino is a character who has drifted a bit over the years.  She started off as a rather serious mercenary who served mainly as a sounding board for Cable, and her first miniseries, back in 1997, tries to play her as somebody who takes life very seriously.  “A young woman often known for being wound too tight”, it calls her.  Admittedly, it then goes on to have her spend half the first issue fighting a cyborg dwarf while dressed in a bikini, but that was the nineties for you. That was what serious characters did back then.

By the time of her 2003 mini, by Joe Pruett and Brian Stelfreeze, she’s enjoying herself more but she’s still basically a hardened professional.  Of late, though, she’s drifted into being more of an agent of chaos, as her luck powers have been played up more, and her dubious nineties moral standards have evolved into a mercenary amorality.  Over in Weapon X, she’s become a reckless thrillseeker who only marginally sides with Warpath to keep the crew of lunatics on the right track.

This book ignores Weapon X altogether – which surely can’t last forever in an ongoing series? – but the basic take on Domino is along similar lines.  Having started her publication history as a sort of distaff Cable, she’s drifting over to Deadpool, a notional professional who really seems to rely more on everything kind of working out if she just charges at life head on.  Which, of course, is her power.  That makes her a good foil for a straight man like Cable (or Warpath) who can tweak their over-seriousness, but how does it work out in a solo title?

Pretty well, as it turns out.  It’s the classic playbook where that persona is given an undercurrent of seriousness; she remains flippant and chaotic, but there’s also a definite suggestion that she’s quite detached and isolated beneath it all.  That’s not to say it’s an act; it’s played more as a way of life that she’s built around herself.  She lives almost entirely in the superhero milieu because she doesn’t really want to settle down into a proper community; she disavows much of an interest in parties; she doesn’t want her friends to see her when the mask is dropped; in fact, she claims never to have really had any friends beyond the small group that she’s currently hanging around with (which, conspicuously, includes none of the characters she’s normally associated with).

The story for the first arc – other than gathering the supporting cast, and we’ll come back to that – is basically to bring her together with some bad guys from her back story who can mess about with her powers, depriving her of the safety net of good luck that she’s always relied on.  Simone and penciller David Baldeón hit the right balance with this; Domino has to vacillate from absurdly cool and in control to panicky and shaken when faced with the unfamiliar experience of things not going her way.  Shang-Chi shows up as a potential mentor in a couple of issues, and the contrast between the two is well played, with him remaining completely cool and unmoved by the nonsense going on around him.  (Granted, some of Domino’s fangirl stuff here is a bit over the top even for the tone of this series, but it just about works.)

Domino’s back story, then.  Both previous minis attempted to sketch it in, and neither did a very good job of it.  The 1997 mini saddles her with a dead ex-husband who’s never mentioned again, and seems to be entirely forgotten except for the surname “Thurman”.   The 2003 mini, while gorgeous to look at, gives her a “raised in a dodgy government experiment” back story – territory now thoroughly colonised by X-23 – and then goes completely off the reservation by tying her family to a religious cult called the Armajesuits.  And whatever you may think of that idea, it’s not something that conspicuously resonates with Domino.

There are no Armajesuits here (yet), but Simone has clearly read the 2003 mini – quite aside from a passing mention of her brother, the government experiment back story remains.  The big idea here is that Domino was, by apparent chance, and unknown to her, paired with another victim whose only mutant power was to be the flip side of Domino.  So her good luck rebounds on him.  Somewhat conveniently, the boss’s daughter Topaz is also a mutant, with the power to affect other mutants’ powers.  They’ve finally tracked Domino down for revenge, and the broad idea is that by messing with her powers and generally tormenting her, they can turn the tables and power him up instead.  This is a little bit confused – calling him Prototype seems a bit random – but the basic idea is fine as a vehicle for Domino to confront the fact that she’s been too reliant on letting her powers just work, and hasn’t been paying enough attention to self-control.  From the look of it, Topaz is a very low level mutant indeed, and it’s only Domino’s own overconfidence and erratic approach that makes her so susceptible to this kind of meddling.

The other main task of this arc is to set up a supporting cast and a headquarters.  This is a mixture of the expected and the random.  Outlaw and Diamondback are set up as her current best friends; Outlaw comes from Simone’s Deadpool and is a similarly erratic character who seems like she’d get on well, but Diamondback is a Captain America character.  She also seems to have undergone a personality transplant here, since I don’t remember the well-meaning snob angle being a thing for her before.  She’s fine as a character in her own right, but she doesn’t really feel that much like any version of Diamondback I can remember reading before.  These two are apparently here to be Domino’s support network going forward, together with a stray C-lister called Greywing who she picks up in issue #1 and who doesn’t get much to do in the rest of the arc.

One of the bigger problems with these first six issues is the amount of time given to a major subplot about which of Domino’s friends has been tipping off the bad guys about her plans.  The answer, it turns out, is “neither of them”, but this gets kicked into touch in a couple of captions in the final chapter, which doesn’t seem like enough after all the build.  It really does feel like the story just ran out of space to resolve its B-plot properly, and that’s a shame.

Still, the main story resolves nicely, with Domino finally cornering Topaz and killing her, despite Shang-Chi’s entreaties to take the higher ground.  Outlaw and Diamondback, in contrast, don’t exactly cheer her on, but certainly aren’t trying to talk her out of it.  The story seems ambivalent about whether Domino has failed to rise to the occasion, or whether she’s just acting reasonable in self defence.  And that’s fine, because that’s something to explore going forward.

Bring on the comments

  1. Hugh Sheridan says:

    Topaz and Prototype? Is this some type of Ultraverse name copyright play? Seems odd.

  2. Eric Travis says:

    I’m a big fan of a lot of Gail Simone titles, and a moderate fan of Domino, due in part to some of that classic X-Force nostalgia… I went into this title hoping for something akin to the magic of Simone’s Birds of Prey run. Chemistry between the cast, dynamic action, good humor…

    I just felt bored by the end of issue #4. Like I’d already read the story somewhere before. Maybe it’s Yet Another Menacing Government/Science Agency. Maybe it’s the ‘squee shang-chi is so hot’. Maybe it’s the Not-Quite Charlie’s Angels vibe.

    Ah well. Plastic Man is campy goofy fun, so I can get my Simone fix there, at least.

  3. wwk5d says:

    Have Domino and Diamondback ever met prior to this series?

  4. Drew says:

    “The big idea here is that Domino was, by apparent chance, and unknown to her, paired with another victim whose only mutant power was to be the flip side of Domino. So her good luck rebounds on him.”

    So… it’s a Longshot/Quark thing? (Well, technically I guess Quark wasn’t the one who got the bad luck, he just warned that someone would.)

    *Someone’s* been reading the first Longshot mini. 🙂

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