So cards on the table: I’ve always been a fan of Domino. Maybe it’s because of when she debuted, her powerset (I’m also a bit of a Longshot stan, but we’ll get to that) or the fact that it was pointed out to me once that the woman I was dating looked a lot like her Wikipedia image, but I’ve always had a soft spot for good ole’ Neena. As such, I’m surprised it took me so long to get into Dom’s solo series from Gail Simone and David Baldeon. It’s a fun and exciting book that develops Neena more than any of her trysts with Cable ever did, and I’m happy to see the lore around the character expand. I bring all this up to say that I came into Soldier of Fortune, the trade collecting issues 7-10 and last year’s Annual, as an established fan of the character and it made a world of difference.
It’s a bit of an unwritten rule that Annuals tend to be superfluous to all but the most ardent fans of a series, so it’s no surprise that a trade that begins with one can feel a step undercooked. The issue in this particular trade is a bit of a doozy in and of itself, as it functions less as a singular story and more as a collection of smaller vignettes that speak to a theme for the character – commitment to her supporting cast. Yet while I enjoyed bits of it (notably the Story of how Dom and Diamondback joined up with Outlaw and her brief reunion with Colossus), the sequence is hampered by its second segment. While the other three sections of the story maintain Simone’s trademark pithiness and a fun, cheeky tone, Fabian Nicieza’s “The Good Fight” is a segment out of time. It’s not to say it’s bad, it just doesn’t belong. “Dead Drunk in Dry Gulch” is a barroom brawl capped off by one of the most ridiculous looking villains in recent memory (think Rick Sanchez riding a Sentinel’s head) and it dovetails into a dour aside about Cable taking a bath that reduces Domino to a side character in her own book. Fortunately the tone rebounds in…well, Dennis Hallum’s aptly titled “Rebound,” though it does swerve a touch too close to “very special episode” territory with Domino and the Rejex. Maybe it’s just the review copy I received, but a fifth story – titled “Saturdays are for the Bodycount” is mentioned on the contents page, but not featured in the trade.
The thrust of the trade follows Dom and the squad’s efforts to save the world from a series of catastrophes as predicted by the newly introduced Wakandan precog, Atlas Bear. This sets the squad on a globe-hopping adventure against vampires, mere-pires and a mind-controlled Longshot on a…well fairly mundane rampage that honestly seemed to pose no risk to anyone. That, unfortunately, speaks to one of the biggest issues with this trade, the series, and most of Marvel’s output from the past few years…at least in the X-books – the mini arc. As anyone who has read, heard or seen one of my rants about the many (MANY) failings of X-Men Gold can attest, the biggest issue I had with the series was that a three-issue arc structure just doesn’t allow enough time to develop stakes or emotional depth for a story. That goes doubly true for 2-issue arcs – which is what the 4 non-annual issues in this trade sadly are. Now, it’s a testament to the skill and characterizations from Gail Simone that the series maintains a sense of fun and heart despite these limitations, but it should be said that none of the threats our heroines face ever seem all that dangerous.
Take, for example, the vampire threat that brings Michael Morbius into the lives of Dom, Outlaw and Diamondback. Shoon’kwa (the Atlas Bear) paints the picture of an undersea alien force that could potentially wipe out all sentient terrestrial life, and yeah the ladies do seem overwhelmed facing off against the swarm of deep-sea vampires at the heart of the plight, but the problem is resolved in literally 4 pages. The threat posed by the amnesiac and infectious Longshot prompts a jaunt over to Mojo world…where the central threat is resolved in 9, and Dom is back home before the issue wraps. Now, again, the character moments are there (I love the dynamic between Domino and her friends) and I’ll even go so far to say that Baldeon has a real knack for action – I just wish there was some room to let these storylines breathe, rather than let this read like a “monster of the week” kind of book.
Now that I’ve gotten what I don’t like out of the way, it has to be said that Gail Simone’s is the best take on Domino in the character’s 20 plus year publication history. Often depicted as a cold, though competent, assassin, Simone finds the perfect playful tone for a character whose whole superpower is luck. She’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type and it helps color her relationships with her cohorts, each of whom boasts complimentary character traits that make this a winning ensemble. In Outlaw, Domino finds a partner in recklessness – someone who is willing to do anything and everything to help her friends achieve their goals. In Diamondback, we see a somewhat more sedate and responsible take on the female adventurer trope – one that’s still down for all the insane action that the trio tends to find themselves in, but maybe a bit more cautious in her execution. One could even extend this comparison to Shoon’kwa, who stands as an example of what these women could have been like without a moral compass or guidance. It’s a stellar cast that plays very naturally off of one another, which goes a long way to engendering a connection to the characters even in the face of a somewhat shallow storyline.
I also have to highlight the contributions of regular series penciler David Baldeon, as his fun and frenetic style helps contribute to the playful and energetic tone that helps the book rise above its shortcomings. The penciler’s manga influences really elevate the aesthetic, and his understanding of action sequences add to these sequences a great deal. A real highlight is the showdown with the wooded vampires in issue 7, which presents the villains as haunting, wraith-like menaces that appear to overwhelm our heroes before they use some of that classic Domino luck to survive the encounter. The deep sea vampires are similarly terrifying in appearance, and the segment is fun, if brief. If I’m honest, I have to admit Baldeon does his best work on his own, as issue 10’s battles in the Mojoverse definitely feel less developed, and with so much action happening off panel, it just feels a bit flat. The art on the Annual issue is a bit more hit and miss. Leonard Kirk’s pencils (Rebound) are fairly consistent with Baldeon’s, while Victor Ibanez (Dead Drunk in Dry Gulch) and Natacha Bustos (Domino & the Rejex) give their own slant on the formula, with Ibanez taking a more painterly approach to the subject matter, and Bustos utilizing a more modern cartoonish style. As for Juan Gedeon’s work on “The Good Fight,” it’s definitely of its era, but not something I’m too eager to revisit.
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