As a co-star in Deadpool 2 and lead of a new comic series by SYFY FANGRRLS fave Gail Simone, Neena Thurman aka Domino is finally getting her place in the sun after almost 30 years of kicking up trouble around the Marvel Universe. First appearing as Cable's somewhat loosely defined partner in X-Force and working with the X-Men in multiple team incarnations, Neena is a fan favorite, perhaps due to her somewhat enigmatic nature. While her methods have typically prevented her from serving as an official X-Man, she has helped them out in some capacity or another for years—usually in X-Force, a sect of the X-Men known for taking on more unpleasant, violent tasks in the quest for mutant equality than the X-Men are capable of.
Domino is the victim of a fairly standard shadowy past. She was raised in captivity as a lab experiment when "the government" attempted to engineer a perfect mutant killing machine, which is the kind of plot you saw a lot in comics from the '90s after the release of films like Universal Soldier. Her mother rescued her from her fate but dropped her off with a priest rather than make any attempt towards raising her, leaving the child reeling. Neena was already deeply damaged by the experiments, both physically and emotionally, and she fell in with a bad crowd. Over the years, she became a mercenary, utilizing her “luck” powers to survive a number of dangerous jobs. She joined a team known as The Six Pack, where she met Cable.
Meanwhile in comics, as the '80s became the '90s, major changes were occurring at Marvel. A group of young artists such as Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane made their mark and were often given even more control over the story and plot development than the writers. Looking back, in contrast to the meticulous stories from X-Men writers like Chris Claremont, it's painfully obvious that the plot choices in those comics were often made without a great deal of planning—but most of the artists in question were incredibly young and their writing chops are worthy of a grain of salt. The comics sold incredibly well despite the fact that the excesses of the time had a catastrophic effect on the comics market overall that lasted up to the present day. During this upheaval at Marvel, popular X-Men spin-off series New Mutants slowly dropped its heartfelt and youthful vibe in exchange for militarism and over-the-top macho dialogue. Introducing the futuristic, post-apocalyptic mutant known as Cable, the New Mutants became X-Force, with Domino playing a major role on the team as Cable's right-hand man.
The Domino that first appears in the New Mutants with Cable is later revealed not to be Domino at all but the shapeshifting Copycat—otherwise known as Vanessa Carlysle, the ill-fated former love interest of Deadpool. Eventually, Copycat's true identity is uncovered, but it takes some time for Neena to earn the trust of the team after that. She dedicates herself to doing so, and her relationship with Cable seem to blossom and grow for several years until he ultimately leaves the team to star in his own solo series, with Domino remaining with X-Force in a part-time capacity.
The first Domino mini-series from 1997 is largely forgettable. Domino shows up pages into the story dancing in a bikini, with an inner monologue about "gyrating, pulsating bodies" that only a man would write. This kicks off three issues in which we don't learn much about Neena; the story really just confirms that she has a shady past without exploring it too much. Her ex-husband Milo has been imprisoned by the cyborg Donald Pierce, who has died and been resurrected more times than anyone can count. Pierce is assisted by an unfortunately weak take on Lady Deathstrike (although even at her most mischaracterized and ineffectual, Deathstrike's appearance is probably the coolest part of the comic). Neena's lover dies despite her attempts to save him, and she ends up hanging out with Puck from Alpha Flight for a bit. You could skip this story entirely, but it's pretty standard for a late-'90s Marvel book, and mostly inoffensive. Despite its clunkiness, it does confirm that there's more to Neena's past than meets the eye.
The second Domino mini-series in 2003 fares a little better than the first and carries with it more consequences. It follows Neena as she tries desperately to find out where her mother is, and what happened that caused her to disappear in the first place. This is where we discover Domino's history as a failed military experiment, and we also learn that she has a young brother who was likewise held captive. Ultimately dropping him off at the same priest that raised Domino, Domino believes the situation has been resolved—even as we see her mother return to the church to take her brother away from the priest for unknown and as of yet unexplored reasons.In Cable & X-Force, Domino returns as a co-leader to the X-Force team. While Cable is preoccupied with raising his daughter Hope, Domino falls in love with Colossus, nearly dies multiple times, and teams up with Tabitha Smith, aka Boom Boom. Cable & X-Force focused more on interpersonal relationships between characters than many books do, so we got to witness a lot of fun stuff—including an incredibly salty series of exchanges between the mutants Forge and Dr. Nemesis. The best team dynamic was the relationship between Boom Boom and Domino, two women that more than live up to their namesakes. While Neena struggles against all odds to plan and control the chaos around her, Boom Boom is chaos defined, and they make for a highly entertaining team. Also highly entertaining was Neena's relationship with Colossus, typically a straight-laced and well-intentioned guy who met his match in the playful mercenary Domino. While their relationship eventually fizzled, it's definitely a fan favorite, and here's hoping it gets rekindled someday.
Cable & X-Force did a lot of great work capturing the essence of characters that often fall by the wayside in comics. While, for many years, Cable was known only as a gruff, gun-toting warmonger, his relationship with his adopted daughter Hope and his fear of death in this arc completely humanize him. It is perhaps Domino that benefited the most from Dennis Hopeless' knack for characterization, as her one-dimensional personality of previous story arcs becomes a facet of a more complex inner life.Domino's look for her appearance in Deadpool 2 is spot on, combining the militarism of the comics with Zazie Beetz's impeccable personal style, and it's promising to see her appearing alongside Cable for the first time onscreen as they've been a fantastic, convoluted, often endearing partnership on the page. Indefinable at its best, their relationship is one of my favorites in all of X-Men.
In the comics, Domino's powers are often described vaguely as “luck,” which has made her a great asset to the teams that she's been a part of. When you go to buy a lottery ticket, how great would it be to have Domino standing next to you? In truth, her powers have generally displayed themselves more accurately as exhibiting a sense of control over chaos and manipulation of probability rather than having much of anything to do with luck. Comparatively, the inter-dimensional mutant known as Longshot has luck powers, meaning he can run headlong into situations with zero planning and still barely make it out alive with himself and his friends intact.
Domino plans meticulously and is never unprepared, and when chaos breaks out her power seems to knock the problems down in single file, as her name would suggest. When considering who Neena Thurman is as a character, however, it's important to always remember that her relationship with chaos is much more fascinating than all her other relationships combined.