Saturday, April 14, 2018

Luck Be A Lady (and Then Some): Domino #1

The following is my review of Domino #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Some heroes get all sorts of lucky breaks while others make their own luck in the crowded superhero market. As such, Neena "Domino" Thurman is unique in that she's able to do a little of both and not just because it's part of her mutant powers. Her superhuman lucky streak is on a bigger roll than usual. Between her upcoming role in Deadpool 2, the prospect of future roles in an X-Force movie, and a major presence in the X-men comics, these are good times for Domino.

That makes the idea of her getting a solo series, written by one of comics' most respected female writers in Gail Simone, all the more appropriate. Domino isn't just a colorful character with edge, grit, and attitude. She's the kind of character that requires a challenging story. She's not some hapless heroine whose only development comes through tragedy or loss. Her superhuman luck literally doesn't allow it. To make her mark, Domino's story requires a kind of nuance that Simone is in a unique position to pursue.

Like Red Sonja, another battle-hardened female character that Simone has written, Domino is fiercely independent. Since luck is always on her side, she's willing to take chances, be reckless, and explore uncharted territory. While that helps her survive the various rigors and frustrations that inherently come with the superhero genre, it rarely gives her time to pursue her own story. Domino #1 gives her the opportunity to really push the full extent of her luck. With Simone writing and David Baldeon providing art, she has even more going for her than usual.

Even with those advantages, Domino's story is a difficult one to tell. How does anyone go about making it interesting when luck is on her side in the most literal sense possible? Unlike the infamous Parker luck that plagues Spider-Man, Domino can usually count on the best case scenario. That means the particulars of a narrative have to be stronger than usual. Unlike Domino herself, Simone and Bladeon can't just throw this character into a series of action scenes and expect to get lucky.

That's exactly what makes the approach to Domino #1 so engaging because it doesn't rely on any one element of Neena Thurman's persona. She gets a chance to shoot things, as only she can. She gets a chance to self-reflect on who she is and where she's come from. She even gets a chance to show her softer side, but not in a way that feels forced or melodramatic. The plot doesn't rely on any one thing to flesh out Domino, but they all find a way to contribute. The fact a cute dog is somehow worked into the mix is just a nice bonus.

There specifics of the plot are somewhat chaotic. It starts with a cute dog, but builds itself primarily around some of Domino's most familiar traits. She's not a self-proclaimed superhero who sticks up for the little guy and hangs around adorable dogs. She's a mercenary who often works with other mercenaries to do gigs, make money, and shoot people who deserve shooting. It's not overly heroic, but it's hardly villainous either. It's not unreasonable to say that from a purely economic perspective, Domino maximized the value of her skills and powers more than any other Marvel character.

The business side of the story, though, is only a small part of a much larger narrative. She takes part in a gig that involves shooting people and teaming up with an old friend, Outlaw. There are guns, monsters, and even a fastball special. It's messy and violent, but not overly brutal. There's no Wolverine ripping out peoples' guts or Deadpool making R-rated jokes. For someone as inherently fortunate as Domino, those sorts of tactics aren't necessary.

To prove that she can still carry her own series without such tactics, though, Domino needs to show her more personal side. As a character who often finds herself in a supporting role to those with teams or movie franchises, she rarely gets an opportunity to reveal her thoughts, feelings, and insecurities. Outlaw ends up putting her in the best possible position when she drags to a surprise birthday party that ends up revealing more about Neena Thurman than any mercenary gig.

It doesn't end up being the craziest party that the X-men or a superhero team have thrown, but it plays out in a way that shows that Domino is capable of contributing more than quality marksmanship to a story. The surprise party doesn't just reveal that Domino is not that fond of celebrating her birthday or getting too close to anyone. It also reveals some of her insecurities, some of which are less obvious than others.

It helps give Domino #1 the kind of moment that demonstrates there is something to this character that's worth exploring. Domino may carry herself as a happy-go-lucky mutant mercenary who doesn't mind teaming up with the Deadpools of the world, but there are parts of her life and her personality that reflect deep scars. Simone doesn't probe too deeply, but does show the effects as Domino interacts with familiar X-men characters. Even when she encounters a cute dog, these insecurities show themselves.

It's a bit too subtle at times, but lays the foundation for more development. It also throws in a few larger conflicts that don't involve mercenary work or tolerating Deadpool's sense of humor. Those conflicts aren't as fleshed out as other elements of the story, so much so that the end is somewhat confusing, even if it is pretty jarring. Even so, Simone still leaves herself with plenty to work with in developing Domino's character.

Overall, Domino #1 offers a fairly diverse story that provides both basics and advanced refinements to a character on the rise. There's action, violence, and gunshots, as is often the case in any story involving Domino. There are also personal insights and unresolved issues that finally get to be part of a larger story for this character. She may not be Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, or Princess Leia, but Domino still finds a way to hold her own and she doesn't need to rely solely on luck.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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