The Domain #1 Review: Art Imitates Art

The Domain #1 is unquestionably the sort of comic promised in the pages of Public Domain.

The Domain #1 adopts the imagined comic from Chip Zdarsky's Public Domain into a 5-issue Image Comics miniseries in collaboration with artist Rachael Stott. It is the modernization of a familiar superhero dating back decades in the hands of relatively young creators seeking to diversify the themes and characters of what came before. That concept is a perfect fit for Public Domain, a send up of the superhero comics industry, and that's because it's an exceedingly familiar pitch for readers of superhero comics. For better or for worse, The Domain #1 succeeds in being exactly what it's pitched as and joins an oversaturated market.

The issue cannot be criticized for its construction. Zdarsky and Stott only require 20 pages to introduce a trio of protagonists, characterize their personalities, motives, and relationships, provide them with distinctive superpowers, and summon antagonists, both terrestrial and celestial. It's an impressive level of comic book craftsmanship that winks at the Big Two as it checks off every box for what constant readers seek out in a relaunched title. 

It is a testament to Rachael Stott that this busy reimagining of a non-existent series is so capably delivered. Character designs effectively deliver transitions in both time and space allowing readers to keep up with compressed pacing. The few alien elements witnessed here range from adorable to imposing. An action sequence that simultaneously introduces an unfamiliar superpower is made effective in its focus on clarity. Additional examples of honed storytelling instincts abound throughout the issue.

For all of the confident artisan skill on display, The Domain #1 joins a world stuffed full of similarly well-crafted debuts – efficiently laying out a story that's been told in so many iterations before. When I finished reading the first issue, however, my first thoughts were not about what was to come in this story but how it related to Public Domain. For any faults I might find, it is a unique comic book filled with lifelike characters and genuine humor; it's a comic with heart and The Domain lacks that ephemeral quality.

The trio of protagonists may all be fairly qualified as sympathetic, imperfect, admirable, and relatable but they also all fall into the vaguely familiar zone of "nice, young superhero lead." Even as the issue frames themes of collaboration, readers are reminded of how much more fraught and funny those same ideas are in the pages of Public Domain. It's not that the two stories demand comparison—they are radically different in both genre and tone—but that their connection reminds readers of how stale this superhero formula has grown across more than a decade of repetition.

Lacking any cynical or satirical flair, The Domain #1 reads like an outstanding model for something current readers of superhero comics encounter seemingly every week. It is a testament to the craft brought by both Zdarsky and Stott, but lacks any essential element to differentiate itself from the crowd. This issue's only tragedy is that it's exactly the sort of thing it purports itself to be.

Published by Image Comics

On July 10, 2024

Written by Chip Zdarsky

Art by Rachael Stott

Colors by Eren Angiolini

Letters by Jeff Powell

Cover by Rachael Stott and Eren Angiolini