Everyone knows Domino. A founding member of X-Force, a sometimes love (lust?)-interest of Wolverine, and newly minted movie star.
But does anyone really know Domino? Beyond the sex and violence there’s a vague, rarely examined superpower and a whole lot of blank backstory canvas. In Domino Vol. 1: Killer Instinct, superstar writer Gail Simone aims to change all that.
It starts with a puppy. Because why shouldn’t it? Right out of the gate, Neena Thurman gets a pet and a crew of equally sketchy compadres, Outlaw and Diamondback, and a birthday party full of guest stars (yes, Deadpool was there). It’s a deliberate and conscious choice to put Domino in a setting we’re not used to seeing her in, one beyond X-Force and grit and death. One with, could it be, friends?
Domino’s as surprised as anyone, feeling grateful and undeserving. Cue the heinous villains to take it all away from her. An elderly man and the angriest woman you’ve ever seen put Neena in a bad way early on, before going after her newly-found extended family.
Spoilers ahoy — it turns out that the old guy, calling himself Prototype, was born (literally) from the same testing program that fostered Domino. Though not actually related, they share a connection, in that every time Domino uses her mysterious luck power, it hurts and ages Prototype, and whenever Domino suffers, he recovers. And he’s been suffering for far too long.
Topaz, his companion, has a method of shutting off Domino’s luck, and along the way we get some neat descriptors of what it’s like to experience the mutant power of good fortune. Domino likens it to a tingling, a rat crawling up her spine, and when it’s gone, it’s like part of her is missing and she feels lost. Turns out she has more voluntary control over this thing than we first thought, so all it takes is a little refocusing.
Thank goodness for Shang-Chi! Domino seeks out the Master of Kung-Fu to center her, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s nice to look at. Domino’s relationship/infatuation with Shang-Chi is emblematic of how Killer Instinct looks at her sexuality, in that it exists, but it’s not exactly the focus. It’s nice to see a female character have wants and desires, but not be dominated by them when there’s a more life-and-death narrative unfolding.
And Shang-Chi’s not just eye candy, either, as all the supporting characters are more than just wallpaper. This is definitely Domino’s story, but the rest of the cast is detailed enough that you still care about them. Outlaw and Diamondback even get to go on their own little side quest. Some characters do kind of flit in and out with little impact (or less than they actually should have), like when Amadeus Cho shows up for no reason, or the butler whose importance is outsized by his brief panel time.
Despite the character development, the action keeps moving, thanks to the frenetic style of artists David Baldeón and Anthony Piper (who helps out on issue #3). It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s incredibly dynamic and the faces are remarkably expressive. Michael Shelfer heroically fills in on #5, and you’d probably never know if you didn’t look at the credits. Jesus Aburtov does his typical job on the colors, bright but not too bright for this tale of a darker character trying to lighten up.
Don’t let the generic name, Domino Vol. 1: Killer Instinct, dissuade you from giving this book a chance. Simone clearly takes her duty of forging a real origin for the character and solidifying how her powers work seriously. A couple of the middle issues feel slower or repetitive, as often happens in arcs collected for the trade, but you’re still wanting more at the end, of Domino and of the unique cast of adversaries and acquaintances assembled here.