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Domino #1 Review

by Charles Martin on April 11, 2018

Domino #1 Review
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: David Baldeón
Colourist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Like your tough-girl comics with the polished refinement of DC art and the independence of a strong creative voice like Gail Simone's? Has Marvel got a new comic for you!

As usual, when I feel out of my depth, I'll kick off by confessing my Marvel scholarship shortcomings. I know very little about Domino. I saw her buzzing around the edges of some of the 90s' most dreadful works. When I saw her again in Greg Pak's recent Weapon X debacle, I was displeased by her apparent lack of growth - her role was still shooting guns irrelevantly and making snarky sideline comments while bulletproof testosterone monsters punched each other into oblivion on centre stage.

Gail Simone and David Baldeón are here to fix all that!

I admire the opening, which pits Domino against a fearsome opponent: A mordantly cute puppy with Domino-themed colouring, clearly introduced to cutesify and humanize the story of a morally-ambiguous mercenary. Somehow it succeeds at doing both of these things while also nodding at its own gimmicky nature. Good writing helps, but so do some incredibly expressive faces drawn by Mr. Baldeón.

That last sentence applies to the whole book, not just Neena's new pet relationship.

The story smash cuts to a more "bladow bladow" introduction that shows Domino and Outlaw teaming up on a standard mercenary gig. "Standard" doesn't mean boring, and Ms. Simone dredges a fascinating premise out of research land: The two mercs are out to stop "timber pirates." Illegal logging is Totally A Real Thing and yet also crazy enough to make for a compelling comics action scene.

Timber pirates! Or we could call them lumber jackers! No, wait.

Domino in action provides an excellent excuse for Ms. Simone to explore one of the most challenging bits of the character: How her mutant power works. I came into this comic with only the vaguest understanding of Domino's "luck" power, and at the end, I'm still unclear on the details. 

That's actually the smart way to write it; to lay down rules for a power this weird would be counterproductive. Instead, Ms. Simone concentrates on how that power feels to Domino, how unique and razor's edge-y "pushing your luck" is when you actually warp probability around you but not in a neat, controllable way. It's a fascinating peek into her head and one that turns thematically important by the end of the issue.

This comic is showing us Domino's birthday, which includes a surprise party complete with surprise guest stars. The supporting cast assembled here looks solid, but the ongoing plot threaded through the heart of the party keeps any of the "ooh, lookit who showed up" gags from feeling too superfluous.

Okay, one thing: Deadpool dropping by to play "kooky friend" feels a little contradictory with his current "Despicable" characterization. But frankly, when you tempt Gail Simone back into the Marvel Bullpen and she wants a Deadpool cameo, you give her a Deadpool cameo. And as noted above, Deadpool brings some essential plot connections along with him.

There are just a few hints in the continuity gags and the general tone that suggest Ms. Simone has grown ever so slightly rusty with the Mighty Marvel Manner. (Calling powered people "metas," for instance, feels very DC.) But that's really more of a good thing than a bad thing; with the way DC's beaten Marvel's brains out in sales recently, putting out a book that whiffs of DC style without feeling derivative is a good idea - and that's exactly where Ms. Simone parks this first issue of Domino. It's a DC book starring Marvel characters in a Marvel world. That shouldn't work but it does, very very well.

Where the storytelling starts getting just a little weak is in exploring Domino's character beyond her mutant power. Domino was originally characterized by chucking darts at a board of 90s female character clichés: beautiful, gun-happy, down for casual sex, mysterious past, etc. So far Ms. Simone has just updated the dartboard for the 2010s: hyper-competent, works too hard, clever quipster, suffers no fools, socially isolated but fiercely loyal, etc. Strong traits, but ones that seem to apply to every female protagonist today. The good news is, this is a problem that should disappear in time as Ms. Simone pulls us deeper into Neena's head.

Just when I tote up the strengths and weaknesses of the script and am about to declare this book "good not great," I have David Baldeón's art to contend with. I've been a fan of his since Web Warriors, and I've always thought of him as the contemporary Bullpen's best choice for cartoon-y funnybooks. But now I realize that's an unfair limitation.

Domino #1 is a tour-de-force for David Baldeón and blazing proof that he shouldn't - can't - be pigeonholed at any level below "top-shelf premium artist." In fact, given the flavour of Gail Simone's script, this feels a lot like Mr. Baldeón's audition for a full-time gig on A-list DC books.

I wish that "this Marvel book looks as good as a DC book!" weren't such an accurate compliment these days, but I think it is. And this book certainly does look as refined and exciting as anything either of the Big Two publishes right now.

I just hope that Marvel recognizes what lightning they've caught in this bottle and does whatever it takes to hang onto Mr. Baldeón. As shown here, he can be a formidable asset and a major attraction. At least one star of our rating below was earned entirely by Mr. Baldeón's art.

Here he delivers an astonishing level of polish without surrendering his distinctive command of expressive facial exaggeration. He also has a fine eye for acrobatic panel blocking, throwing Domino (literally) through imaginative poses that make her look just as dangerous as she should be.

Colourist Jesus Aburtov helps out a fair deal, twisting a vibrant palette through rain-soaked woods and shiny high-rise apartments with equal aplomb. The way he subtly dials in warmer colours to make the final scene more menacing is gorgeous.

Gail Simone's take on Neena "Domino" Thurman is entertaining as all get out if just a tiny bit generic. That problem should disappear as the story grows, and the very slight weaknesses in the script are more than compensated for by David Baldeón's incredibly expressive and polished art. This is a just great comic in general, and if you feel that Marvel could stand to learn a few things from DC, you should find it particularly satisfying.
 

Our Score:

9/10

A Look Inside

Comments

Charles Martin's picture
Super low-key shame-out to whoever did the title page and wrote of Domino, "she operates as a renown mercenary." C'mon, people!