Spotlight Sunday 7.15.18

Spotlight Sundays

A desire to accentuate the positive means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Domino #4
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: David Baldeon
Cover: Greg Land

“I resent that. I like a lot of snacks and sexy bits. I’m a well-rounded person.”

My sister passed away this past week, marking the second loss of a family member this year, as she was preceded in death by our mother in March. I frequently make decisions about what comic to focus on based on how they align with or in some way reflect personal events in my life, and with that in mind, I considered talking about Wonder Woman #50, as the story deals with the loss of a sibling.

Ultimately, that seemed like the wrong choice, though, given that the sibling lost was Diana’s twin brother Jason, and…well, I was glad to see him go, so despite the thematic connection, the wildly-divergent response to the “loss” kept it from being a fit. (For the record, Jason didn’t die, exactly, but he was taken out of play, and given that this issue marked the end of Robinson’s run on the title, I have my doubts that anyone who follows will be eager to take advantage of the opportunity for Jason’s return that the story left.)

I also considered The Immortal Men #4, but I have to say that I just haven’t been feeling it with this book and am considering dropping it. It’s not bad, and it was one of the small number of titles in DC’s “New Age of Heroes” line that I felt was worth taking a look at, but so far, of that already small grouping, The Terrifics is the only one I can say I actually enjoy reading, as opposed to simply not minding.

There wasn’t much that I could say about a book that I feel ambivalent about, and my intention with the feature is to share a love of comics, not a benign indifference.

The point is, I wanted to write about something positive, and what could be more positive than a book that features Shang-Chi, he of the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu?

…okay, that may not track if you’re unaware of the fact that Shang-Chi is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, but he is, and now you are aware, so it does.

But yeah, Domino.

There’s a pretty significant gap in my knowledge of a lot of Marvel characters and events, as I wasn’t reading many Marvel books even before I took my extended hiatus from reading comics at all, and in the time since I picked the habit back up I haven’t gone back and familiarized myself with the things I missed in the way I have with the DC books, but Domino had popped up often enough back in the day that I at least had a passing familiarity with her and her luck-based mutant gifts. And, of course, as portrayed by Zazie Beets, Domino was a breakout character in this year’s Deadpool 2.

Prior to this series, I wasn’t at all familiar with Domino’s friend Outlaw, a super-tough mutant gal from Texas (who also appeared in DP 2, albeit only as a cardboard cutout), but so far she’s been fun.

I’m much more familiar with the third member of Domino’s posse, the non-powered Diamondback, who is a thief turned (sort of) hero who used to date Captain America back in the day.

The Merc With a Mouth himself has turned up a time or two so far, as part of the fun for writer Gail Simone has been having the opportunity to play with some of her favorite toys in the Marvel Universe’s toy box, which, as should be obvious, includes the aforementioned Shang-Chi.

Anyway, the story so far:

Domino has luck powers. The “luck” isn’t under her control, and frequently comes at a price, as it may save her from getting killed, but might not save her from getting hurt in the process. We learn in this issue that the price isn’t always one that Domino herself has to pay.

Still, powers. She has them. And while they might not have always been ideal, she’s been able to rely on them, and use them – along with her other skills – to make a living as a mercenary and sometime-hero.

Until recently, anyway. Her powers have been failing her and given how some of her recent jobs have shaken out, it seems like one of her friends has been ratting her out, providing an unknown enemy – one who seems to be the cause of her luck running out – the opportunity to strike when Domino least expects it.

To resolve both problems, Domino decides to go on a bit of a journey, to study under the tutelage of the legendary Shang-Chi in order to sharpen the edge that’s been blunted by the recent unreliability of her powers, and to find out if it’s true that either Diamondback or Outlaw has betrayed her (accomplishing the latter by making certain they’re the only two people who know where she’s headed).

Studying under Shang-Chi either gets off to a terrible start, or a fantastic start, depending on your perspective:

Eventually, they move past the rocky start and the training begins in earnest.

Meanwhile, back home on their recently-acquired riverboat casino, Diamondback and Outlaw – after Diamondback puts two and two together and concludes that Domino thinks one of them is selling her out – decide they’re going to solve the mystery behind their recent troubles, and then head to Hong Kong to have it out with Domino for thinking that one of them could betray her. (Though the way this whole scenario plays out does make one suspect that Diamondback is the Judas in the group – as a former member of the villainous Serpent Society who went straight, this wouldn’t be the first time Diamondback has betrayed her comrades – though that seems too obvious and smacks of misdirection…unless that’s what Gail wants you to think.)

Last issue we caught a glimpse of Domino’s early life as a lab rat in one of those shady research centers that tries to create super-soldiers by experimenting on mutants – in the Marvel Universe they’re more ubiquitous than Starbucks – and in this issue we revisit that time, but from another perspective.

Domino’s mysterious new antagonists are an old man named Desmond and a woman named Topaz, the latter of whom has been the cause of Domino’s power malfunctions. Though they are unfamiliar to Domino, they seem to have a strong personal antipathy towards her. Topaz, in particular, straight-up HATES Domino, though Domino has no idea why.

In the flashback in this issue, we get a bit of an explanation. Desmond is also a mutant, and was born on the same day as Domino, and was raised in that same super-secret facility. Topaz was the daughter of the man in charge of the lab, and loved the poor little boy locked up in a cell.

It seems that Desmond is on the opposite side of a probabilistic coin from Domino; when something good happens to her, something bad happens to him. In the last issue, we saw young Domino get a kitten for her birthday. In this issue, we see the “birthday present” that Desmond gets as a result of that.

Due to this connection, the love that Topaz feels for Desmond becomes a polar opposite hatred for Domino, and, unbeknownst to her mutant-hating father, Topaz is herself a mutant.

With an assist from Deadpool, Diamondback and Outlaw make their way to the lab where Domino was raised as they search for their mysterious opponents. They hit paydirt, as Desmond and Topaz are there waiting for them. (Along with the mentally-broken doctor who ran the place.)

Desmond has been made young again and gotten a power boost from Topaz, and calls himself “Prototype,” and we cut away with the two villains seemingly victorious.

Back in Hong Kong, Domino’s training has gone well enough that she’s earned a break, and that break takes the form of a night of dancing with Shang-Chi. Not wanting to rely on her unreliable luck powers, Domino tries to make her own luck with Shang-Chi, but she soon learns that she’s not the only one who has enemies.

Okay, first of all…Shang-Chi!

Being a comic from the 1970s, The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung F, the title in which Shang-Chi starred, was problematic as hell.

Good lord, the coloring alone was just…yeesh.

And that’s before you get into “Black” Jack Tarr constantly referring to Shang-Chi as “Chinaman,” or the fact that Shang-Chi’s father was Fu Manchu.

Like I said: yeesh.

Still, I loved me some Shang-Chi, and at his core, the character is fantastic with plenty of material to work with even if you jettison all the rest of the racist trappings.

So I was glad to see him here, handled well, and I was especially glad to see a reference to his old enemy Razorfist, because this sequence that was so brutal and yet so beautifully-crafted has been burned into my brain for decades and is at the heart of my love for this master of the martial arts.

As for the comic itself, well, it’s Gail, and she rarely disappoints.

Again, I’m not that familiar with most of the characters (except for Diamondback), so they’re mostly new to me, but in four issues Gail has managed to give them all distinct personalities and a personal appeal that makes it easy to move past the lack of familiarity and appreciate them for who they are, to the extent that it’s troubling to think that one of them might be a rat.

There are obvious parallels to the Birds of Prey, but that’s not in any way a slight, as the kind of familiarity it evokes adds to the enjoyment of the distinctiveness of this group of women. The things that are similar help you appreciate the things that are different, I suppose, and vice versa.

Speaking of vice versa, I like the interesting twist on the interconnected relationship between protagonist and antagonist – though I’m sure that Desmond didn’t find the “twist” of his arm interesting – and the way it makes things simultaneously personal and impersonal.

That is, it is intensely personal for Desmond and Topaz, whereas for Domino, who has no knowledge of the why of any of it, there is no personal connection. Or at least there wouldn’t be, if it were merely a matter of the two interfering with her professional life, but they’ve made it personal for her, attacking her in her home, and sowing seeds of doubt into her relationship with her friends.

The art by Baldeon, as you can see for yourself in the included images, is fantastic, and is a perfect fit for the story being told, with smooth, flowing action, and clean, expressive line work.

On Twitter recently, Gail started a conversation about the ways in which comics have had a positive impact on the lives of readers, and many people shared great stories about how comics made them feel accepted, or that it was at least possible to be accepted, and to be true to their truest selves.

For my part, I mentioned how comics helped me deal with some of the nightmares that plagued me as a child, but that’s just one small example, and as I grapple with the loss of a sibling while still grappling with the loss of my mother, in what has been just a miserable year all around, between the general state of the world, and my own personal and professional circumstances, comics feel more important than ever, and I don’t care how silly that may sound.

That’s why I chose to talk about this book, because setting aside the actual story and the characters, at its core, this comic is an expression of love for the medium and for the power of comics. And sharing the love and power of comics is what this whole site and the vision behind it are all about.

And it’s also why I don’t write typical reviews or critiques, with star or number ratings and whatnot, and why, even when I do happen to write about a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy, I try to focus on the parts that I did enjoy (though, if I’m honest, I do also like to complain, so…).

I keep saying that these Spotlight posts are a conversation, and I mean it.

I’m talking with you about comics, and I’m doing that because I love them, and because they are a source of comfort – among so many other things – to me, and because I want you to love them, too, even if you don’t love the specific comics that I do.

I’m not a Christian, but there is a precept within Christianity that “they will know us by our love,” indicating that the best way to evangelize your way of life is to live your life well. To show your love.

I chose this comic because the comic itself loves comics just as much as I do.

There’s a lot of crap going on in my life – and in everyone else’s – but hey, at least we’ve still got comics.

I love comics. And I hope it shows.

Anyway, if you’re on Twitter and you’re not following @GailSimone, please remedy that. And if you’re not on Twitter, get on and follow @GailSimone.

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back on Saturday for the Showcase.

We live in a world in which people are trying to crowdfund $100 million so that they can give it to Kylie Jenner to push her personal worth past the $1 billion mark.

I mean, you can do what you want, but I think she’ll be okay with her $900 million, and will hit a billion soon enough anyway, so I would humbly suggest that maybe we could divert a small portion of those funds to supporting OpenDoor Comics on Patreon, or via PayPal.

Just putting that out there.

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