Reading Project Reflections: Domino and Magneto

For the past couple of years, I’ve been reading all of the X-Men comics in historical order. Along the way, I picked up a few odds and ends that I hadn’t purchased the first time around.

The project itself has been a blast. I’ve enjoyed reading so many of my favorite stories over again, whether it’s Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, Joe Madureira and Scott Lobdell or Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.

The side project- buying the mini-series I skipped the first time- has been interesting as well, although for different reasons. For the most part, these supplementary series have been predictably mediocre. I have a good sense of my own taste- and I like to think I have a good sense of quality- so there are solid reasons why I skipped these series in the first place.

Even though these odds and ends have been mostly mediocre, I don’t feel bad about reading them. I was able to pick up most of them for a dollar so I’m a little more tolerant than if I was paying cover price. They can be interesting as historical artifacts. Plus, they’re the X-Men so I’m always going to like them a little bit.

However, every once in a while, a comic surprises me by being better than I expected. Those previously undiscovered gems are the one of the real joys of this reading project.

I recently read Magneto’s second and third mini-series from 1999 and 2000. The second series, Magneto Rex, was predictably awful. In the X-Men comics of the time, the United Nations had handed the island of Genosha over to Magneto so that he would relent from re-aligning earth’s magnetic field. It was a dumb idea at the time and the mini-series doesn’t make it any better. U.N. representatives and SHIELD agents are constantly second-guessing the reasons for giving the mutant terrorist Magneto a nation of his own. Huxley’s defenses fall flat. They fail the answer the problem behind the basic premise of the story. The Magneto side of the story is pretty boring, too, with as many boardroom scenes as anything else.

After reading Magneto Rex, I had incredibly low expectations for the third mini-series, Dark Seduction. But I figured I’m committed to this reading project and I might as well see it through. I’m glad I did. Fabian Nicieza impressed me with a surprisingly strong story. First of all, he set aside the problem with the premise. The question isn’t “How did Magneto gain control of Genosha?” The real question is “What will Magneto do now that he has it?” Whether Magneto received the country as a gift or invaded of his own accord was immaterial to the issue of subduing opposition, establishing order and rebuilding a nation wracked by war.

Second, Nicieza smartly focused on the main characters. He reduced the roles of Philip Moreau, Jenny Ransome and even Huxley. The story centered upon the relationships between Magneto, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Polaris. Their family struggles took center stage. Dark Seduction was a personal affair as much as it was a geopolitical crisis. Later stories, like House of M and Jeff Parker’s Exiles, wisely followed Nicieza’s lead. The underlying problem of the premise is still present in Dark Seduction, but Nicieza allows it to fade into the background while he focuses on more interesting issues like filial resentment, familial rivalry and lust for power.

I also read a couple of mini-series about Domino. The 1997 series was another clunker. It was one of the most laughably poorly plotted stories I had ever read. Domino was in Brazil when she received a warning that her former lover Milo was in trouble back in the United States. Meanwhile, Lady Deathstrike steals Milo from his prison for unknown purposes. When Domino arrives at the prison, the guards are lying slumped on the floor and Lady Deathstrike is standing in his cell. Milo, however, is long gone, having been shipped to a secret facility in Alaska. That’s right. In the time in which Domino flew from Brazil to the U.S., no one cleaned up this super-secure prison or even noticed that it had been infiltrated. And, oh yeah, Lady Deathstrike had apparently been standing around for hours while other characters traveled across continents but then she expresses surprise that Domino found her before she made her escape. This wasn’t supposed to be a comedy series, but I had a good laugh anyway.

Once again, I had pretty low expectations going into the second Domino series. But the 2003 series was a marked improvement. Brian Stelfreeze gave us a taut spy thriller. Domino is a mercenary and thief for hire. However, we soon discover that her payment isn’t money. It’s information about her long-lost mother. Domino is quickly caught up in a web of intrigue that leads her from one location to another. One ally betrays her. One enemy assists her. And the secret weapon she thinks she’s looking for turns out to be something completely different. By the end, Domino finds her mother and, in a poetic moment, makes one of the same choices her mother did when she was young.
One of the best moments is actually a little one. At one point, Domino realizes she’s in over her head and she does something we rarely see in solo superhero comics: she calls a friend. However, Cable is tied up with his own adventures and chides her to handle it on her own. It was a quick moment, but it answered several questions while simultaneously raising the stakes.

This wasn’t a perfect comic. There is a small editorial mistake early on when Stelfreeze can’t remember if Domino is fighting five or six goons in a room. But those little mistakes can be easily forgiven when the tone is right and the story is compelling.

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