Review – Domino: Strays (Marvel Heroines Prose Novel)

Domino: Strays (releasing October 6, 2020) is a prose novel featuring, unsurprisingly, Domino, one of Marvel’s many merry mutants. Best known these days for appearing in the film Deadpool 2 (where she was played by Zazie Beetz), I must admit that I am both old and geeky enough to remember her first appearing (sort of) in 1991 near the end of the original 100-issue run of New Mutants, after Cable showed up and just before the X-universe was reorganized and the New Mutants became the original X-Force (OK, technically that was a shapeshifter and the real Domino showed up a little later, but close enough). As a creation of Rob Liefeld and the 90s, Domino was originally associated with “edginess,” time-traveling mercenary Cable, giant guns, shoulder pads, tiny feet, and lots and lots of pouches. None of which, thankfully appear in Domino: Strays. Although she is still a mercenary and name-drops Cable and/or Deadpool a lot (you’re the star of the show here, Domino, you don’t need to convince us you’re worth paying attention to).

Domino: Strays weaves together narratives from three different time periods – events from Domino’s childhood, a raid where an adult Domino seeks (and finds) answers about her childhood and family, and a present-day mercenary mission to retrieve the employer’s children who have become members/victims of a cult. The former two are retellings of existing stories (with a lot of references to the applicable comic runs for those who are familiar, although not anything you’ll feel like you’re missing if you haven’t read them), while the third is (I believe) a creation of author Tristan Palmgren. Domino was herself originally raised as a test subject in a government program (Project Armageddon) that was later taken over by a semi-religious paramilitary group, and then in an orphanage, which Palmgren uses to emotionally tie together the third time frame with the earlier two. Palmgren’s writing is sharp and witty, although perhaps not as keen as they had hoped – I am highly open to the notion of using footnotes for clever asides in a work of fiction, but the payoff for the technique was rarely there in Domino: Strays.

The novel is written as a monologue by Domino, with her running commentary on the situation interspersed with a more factual narrative. Domino directly addresses the reader on subjects such as how they shouldn’t complain about her jumping between different time frames, but she hasn’t yet spent enough time with Deadpool to engage in his clear fourth-wall breaking. Palmgren uses the distinction between Domino’s actions and her subjective statements to the reader to good effect. Domino clearly likes to think of herself as much more chaotic than she really is, and more hardened than she really is. She will insist that her meticulously-planned operation is impromptu, and insists that she would never take a job like this one right up until she takes the job. Which is not to say that Domino is ‘soft’ – she carries (normal-sized) guns and uses them, and this is not a comic book where shooting and punching people somehow manages to never involve anyone actually getting hurt.

Domino is not alone in the present-day mission, instead acting as the leader of an all-female team that centers around her and a couple of her mercenary buddies, but also includes a few newcomers. The core is Domino, Outlaw, and Diamondback (referred to in comics as the Posse), while the expanded roster matches the lineup of 2019’s Domino: Hotshots comic. Black Widow will likely be the only character familiar to those who aren’t Domino diehards. Make no mistake, however – this is a book about Domino, not a team. The team only appears in the present-day time frame, not the time frames featuring a younger Domino. Outlaw and Diamondback (referred to by their given names of Inez and Rachel) primarily serve to give Domino people to talk about and to emphasize for the reader that she is not the detached loner she was in the early part of her career (that is, in the middle of the three time frames in the book). The other three are fairly peripheral.

Domino’s superpower is to be very lucky, which leaves Palmgren in the position of having to write in prose form a superpower that is so hard to depict as a superpower that it gets made fun of in the aforementioned Deadpool 2. Palmgren tackles this by providing a lot of internal monologue where Domino explains something of how her power works and how she uses it to her advantage. Accurate shooting? Not a superpower. Having one opponent back away from the gunfire just in time to mess up the aim of another opponent such that their shot blasts off part of a fire suppression system, causing the alarm to go off and cover the sound of the gunfire? That’s a superpower. Although Palmgren can’t always escape the limitations placed on them by the subject – Domino can say that it’s her luck powers that stop her from getting cut anywhere important when she jumps through a plate-glass window, but every action hero ever can do this. Palmgren places an emphasis on how Domino has to be actively doing something for her power to kick in – she can’t just walk around oblivious and be saved. This has the salutary narrative effect of always forcing Domino to be very proactive – although it also sometimes gets ignored so Domino can luckily not be shot by that sniper she was entirely unaware of. Ultimately, Palmgren’s depiction of her power is solid, if imperfect.

Overall, Domino: Strays provides a fun read for those who are new to the character, while providing a lot of unobtrusive shout-outs for long-time fans. Domino: Strays effectively deploys a casual, mouthy style that suits who the character has become in the comics, while not impeding the emotional impact of Domino’s history.

This is the part where I would normally say that promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy. But Marvel requires me to instead say that this book was given to me for an honest review (I’m not sure that loaning me an electronic copy of an uncorrected proof counts as “giving” me a book, but I did get to read a book without paying money for it, so who am I to quibble). Also Marvel requires me to provide you with this press release blurb:

“About Marvel Entertainment Marvel Entertainment, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a proven library of more than 8,000 characters featured in a variety of media for over eighty years. Marvel utilizes its character franchises in entertainment, licensing, publishing, games, and digital media. For more information visit marvel.com. © 2020″

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