The breakout star of Deadpool 2 is unquestionably Domino, a mercenary with a mutant power that ensures the odds always fall in her favor — especially when it means gliding through brutal fight scenes unconcerned and unscathed. Thanks to a charismatic performance from Zazie Beetz and fight choreography that demonstrates just how effortlessly cool this power can look, odds are pretty good that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Domino in the future. Fortunately for filmmakers, there’s plenty of source material to draw from in Marvel comic books.
Her Catholic ninja origin story
Like a lot of comic book characters who debuted in the ‘90s, Domino is a perfect mix of a simple, high concept layered with a ludicrously complicated backstory. It’s so complicated, in fact, that she technically made her official debut a year after she showed up in the comics in 1991. See, in that first year’s worth of appearances, Domino wasn’t actually Domino. Instead, it was actually Copycat, a shapeshifting doppelgänger who infiltrated the X-Force team. She’d kidnapped and replaced Domino at some point before her debut in New Mutants #98, but after her real first appearance in X-Force #8, which was a flashback set years in the past. If that sounds needlessly complex, well, that’s because it is.
That complexity isn’t just a product of the ‘90s, either. Domino, a 2003 miniseries that filled in the gaps in her origin, began as a relatively straightforward espionage romp and quickly spun out into something truly wild. Over the course of four issues, Domino’s search for her mother led her back to the government lab where we learn she was genetically engineered to be a living weapon.
All things considered, that’s pretty standard superhero stuff, but it goes off the rails in the most enjoyable way possible when it’s revealed that her mother is actually leading a cult of Catholic ninjas called the Armajesuits, who have targeted Domino’s 20-years-younger clone brother because of a prophecy that says he’s going to end all religion with his psychic powers. It is exactly as weird as it sounds, but it’s arguably the single best Domino solo story ever.
Even beyond the Armajesuits and the classic “let’s save a kid” storyline that was at the center of both Deadpool 2 and Logan, it delves deeper into the ideas behind her powers, going beyond the vague concept of “luck” in order to drive the stories. Her mother can see the future and take steps to avoid a bad outcome. Her “brother” can manipulate reality around himself to get what he wants. Domino can do both, she just can’t control how it happens. And there’s one place in particular that this ability would work for her in a way that wouldn’t necessarily click with other big-screen heroes.
She needs to go to Murderworld
Given her ability to improbably escape from elaborately contrived peril, it’s surprising that she’s never really gone up against the character who would be a natural archnemesis: Arcade.
If you’re not familiar with him, Arcade is one of the Marvel Universe’s premier assassins, despite the fact that he has exactly the track record you’d think when it comes to killing people whose names are on the covers of their comics. As his name implies, his preferred method of killing people is to lure them into Murderworld, an amusement park full of deathtraps that are built out of stuff like giant pinball machines and roller coasters. Like Domino, he has that same kind of versatility that allows him to crop up anywhere. He first appeared as the villain of an unlikely team-up between Spider-Man and Captain Britain, then he spent a while battling the X-Men, then he settled into the role of showing up whenever someone decided that heroes needed to go through a theme park where the theme was violent death — which, honestly, should be all the time.
The most difficult part of writing Domino is coming up with situations that her luck can get her out of — all the wheres and whys to go along with the hows that you already have. Arcade solves that problem by being a character whose entire purpose is to drop heroes into convoluted situations where they need to be lucky to survive. What better conflict could there be for a hero who can always win at games of chance than a villain who only exists in the context of rigging the games? We already know that movies about assassins trying to out-assassin each other can be great, but imagine how amazing John Wick 2 would’ve been if it was built around the Six Flags of murder instead of a fancy hotel.
Imagine how amazing ‘John Wick 2’ would’ve been if it was built around the Six Flags of murder instead of a fancy hotel
It seems like a natural fit, but in the 27 years that these characters have coexisted, they’ve only crossed paths once, in a backup story in a Cable and X-Force Annual from 1995. Even that was less about Arcade himself and more about the fact that he tends to have robotic duplicates of superheroes laying around. Rather than being a full-on confrontation, it was more of a vehicle for Domino to ruminate on her past by fighting ersatz versions of former teammates and herself.
There is one weird hook, though: according to the story, this is something that Arcade and Domino do every single year, an idea that seems to be lifted from the way that Sabretooth always shows up to ruin Wolverine’s birthday. The difference is that that’s an idea that occasionally gets revisited, while Arcade swearing to conquer Domino’s uncanny luck hasn’t been followed up on once, let alone the 22 times that it should’ve by now.
But we can always hold out hope.
Obviously, Arcade and Domino’s eternal enmity for each other was more of a throwaway line in the second story of an Annual that very few people remember. That said, Domino is a character built on taking those little coincidences, those small, unlikely opportunities, and making them work in her favor.
Her powers are about luck — but also trusting your instincts
Her serendipitous powers are at the heart of what makes Domino compelling and put her in an eclectic pantheon of comic book characters that are supernaturally lucky, but with restrictions. In addition to her family, there’s also Longshot, another probability powered X-Men affiliate who is only lucky when he’s using his powers for the benefit of others, and Gladstone Gander, Donald Duck’s irritatingly fortunate cousin, who is only lucky as long as he’s not working. That’s an admittedly strange group to be a part of, but Domino fits right in with the kind of over-detailed sci-fi explanation for her powers. Instead of being magic, her powers are the product of an unconscious ability to manipulate reality around her, which extends to her own motions and reflexes.
In other words, she’s more of a Jackie Chan than a Buster Keaton — if she stands in one place, that famous collapsing wall would smash right into her, but if she was running through it, she’d be underneath the window at exactly the right time. Despite her name being linked to the domino effect, it’s as much about instincts as it is about favorable coincidences lining up. She’s always going to make the jump, punch in the correct code, or clip the right wire on a bomb, but because it’s unconscious, and because even she doesn’t always know what the most favorable outcome is in a given situation, those risks that she takes still have that thrilling element of danger. If you get shot, the bullets missing every vital organ is a very lucky outcome, but you still got shot.
Her powers codify exactly the kind of uncanny luck that we all take for granted in action heroes
Buried underneath all that complexity are two simple ideas, and that’s what makes Domino work so well. First, her complicated backstory functionally severs her connections to her past, freeing her up to be defined as a mercenary — or, at best, as a teammate — whose motivations can be entirely situational. Second, her powers codify exactly the kind of uncanny luck that we all take for granted in action heroes like Die Hard’s John McClane. When you put all of that together, it makes her the kind of character that you can drop into virtually any story and make it work.
That’s the same kind of adaptability that you see in great characters like Batman, or, not coincidentally, Deadpool. Even Spider-Man has a tough time working once you take him out of a city environment that’s full of walls to crawl and high buildings to swing from, but Domino? Like James Bond, she’s the kind of character who can go anywhere and work with a variety of villains. In the same way that Bond just needs M to slide a folder across the desk in order to jet off to exotic locations or Batman is willing to go to the ends of the Earth to fight crime, Domino just needs to be given a mission that would be suicidal for anyone who wasn’t the luckiest person on Earth.
There’s also an element of randomness that adds to the thrill, mixing with the idea that she has to trust in her own instincts and the power that’s guiding them, even when everything around her is telling her she’s wrong. As a character and even as a central hero, this makes her surprisingly relatable, despite a superpower that makes the most incredible feats as effortless as breathing. It might be difficult to relate to someone who’s defined by the ability to have everything working out in their favor, but a character whose only real weakness is doubting herself is something everyone can understand.
On the page or in front of the camera, Domino is all about taking long odds and building to the best possible outcome with confidence and determination. It takes luck, sure, but it only works if you’re trying.