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The weird and wild history of Dazzler

Contributed by
Jul 10, 2018

Dazzler is a rare character in that she tends to come up more in conversation than on the printed page. Despite a rather typical power set and a lack of solid characterization for the duration of her ongoing series, her very strange origin story blends with a bizarre publication history until you realize that TIME might have been onto something when they dubbed her one of Marvel's “top 10 weirdest characters.”

The Dazzler was a nameless concept proposed to Marvel as a joint marketing project between them and the record company Casablanca Records, which still exists to this day (albeit after a long series of change-ups within the company). In the late '70s, Casablanca had seen a great deal of success with artists like Cher and Donna Summer. Partially inspired by their merging with a film company, they started looking into multimedia ventures to expand their properties. The band KISS, whose over-the-top approach to merchandising was on par with that of the Beatles during Beatlemania, had included the publication of a successful comic book starring themselves as part of their brand. Taking a cue, Casablanca executives sought to make a deal with Marvel Comics to create a popular disco singer who would have a comic, a film, and an album all coincide with one another. It didn't quite work out that way.

The original design of the Dazzler by John Romita Jr. was visually based on the singer Grace Jones; however, the decision was made to base Dazzler's design instead on Bo Derek, who was, at the time, a newly popular actor, and whose blonde hair and physique were deemed more fitting for the character. This disappointed Romita and continues to frustrate fans, as Grace Jones went on to bear a much greater cultural significance. Jones' sense of style and performance are considered cutting-edge even by today's standards, and a Dazzler based on her appearance would have been a very different character indeed. Despite the many countless alternate realities of the Marvel universe, we have yet to see an appearance from a Jones-inspired Dazzler, and it is at best a missed opportunity, at worst another example of corporate racism breeding homogenization in comic book characters.

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There remains an 11-page treatment for a Dazzler movie available for reading on writer Jim Shooter's blog. It is utterly bonkers. Not only did the film call for a seemingly far-flung cast (including Rodney Dangerfield and KISS), but the plot incorporates so many different ideas that it becomes nearly impossible to follow even in treatment form. Unsurprisingly, the film never came to pass, but a comic book called Dazzler: The Movie did. There's been some comment on the highly uncomfortable relationship dynamics between Shooter's characters, and Dazzler: The Movie is no different. Dazzler is written as an object to be won by the less important yet strangely prominent male characters. While it's not exactly good, the comic remains strangely compelling in its utter novelty.

The Dazzler's first official appearance was, even more paradoxically, right in the middle of the X-Men's infamous Dark Phoenix Saga. While the X-Men are in the middle of one of their most epic and world-shattering sagas, they stumble into a nightclub where the Dazzler, looking like Bo Derek filtered through about 15 disco balls, is performing. This was Alison Blaire, a disco singer who had initially discovered her powers when performing at a talent show and honed them to enhance her singing career. Her father disapproved, treating her badly because he frowned upon both her life as a singer and her existence as a mutant.

When the X-Men barge into her show, attempting to flee from the Hellfire Club, Alison helps them fight the villains because it angers her that people are ruining her show. When the X-Men offer her a place on the team, she declines, claiming that her life as a singer and a performer is what she truly wants. Dazzler remains one of the very few mutants who uses her powers practically and for career purposes rather than simply to engage in knock-down drag-out fights with supervillains, and that makes her unique.

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When Dazzler got her own ongoing series, it stood out as distinctive among comics of the time. Although it only ran 42 issues, it focused more on her career as an actor and musician and her quest to find love than it did on her life as a reluctant superhero. Alison actively hid her identity as a mutant, which gives an indication of why queer readers have been some of Dazzler's most prominent fans over the years. 

Despite many issues featuring eye-catching covers by famed experimental artist Bill Sienkiewicz, and besides a few interesting issues where Mystique, her lover Destiny, and their daughter Rogue appear as villains, the Dazzler series wasn't a creative heavyweight. The issues seemed uncertain of whether they were part of a romance comic or a superhero book, and, while they make for a delightful read, there is never a successful merging of the two worlds. This reflects a great deal in the depiction of Alison's character. In short, the timing was off, and the series ended unceremoniously.

When the decision was made to reunite the surviving original X-Men team in a new book called X-Factor in the late '80s, Dazzler was considered for membership. While the four male characters survived, including Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Angel, there was a snag in the plan due to the fact that Jean Grey had presumably died at the end of the Phoenix Saga. Due to a particularly tricky retcon, Jean was ultimately discovered sleeping in a cocoon at the bottom of Hudson Bay, and Dazzler was in limbo once more. However, she didn't stay there for long.

The mini-series Beauty & the Beast in 1984 focused on Alison Blaire after she had lost her career due to the public revelation that she was a mutant. In one of the most strangely characterized and plotted comics of the era, she and the X-Men's Beast have a fleeting if endearing affair. The Dazzler of the mid-'80s was wounded, her ego suffering from the crushing blow of losing her popularity due to factors beyond her control. Beast is characterized very differently than he typically was in X-Men stories, showing a more violent, masculine take on the blue bouncing Beast we've come to know and love. The series ended with the two going their separate ways, but it remains one of Alison's most interesting and important relationships.

Dazzler enjoyed a fairly long stint with the X-Men during their very odd Australian outback phase, in which most of the world thought them to be deceased and the team was comprised mostly of lesser-known mutant characters like Longshot and Havok. While this era helped bring characters like Rogue into the spotlight, it's considered to be a bizarre time for the team, as the previous storytelling methods underwent significant change and characters took on a much darker edge. Meanwhile, Alison herself underwent a great deal of growth. Not only did she begin her long-running relationship with famed alternate reality pretty boy Longshot, but we also grew to know her as a temperamental, jealous, yet ultimately charming and brave X-Man.

The Australian outback era of X-Men came to a close when much of the team met their deaths in very character-specific ways over several issues, and were then were cycled through a deus ex machina device known as the Siege Perilous, which led to them all being transformed in some way. Dazzler and Longshot ended up in his home dimension, otherwise known as the Mojoverse. Well ahead of the curve of reality television and social media, the Mojoverse was an alternate world ruled by a megalomaniac known as Mojo, who cared only for ratings and would hurt, enslave, and sacrifice anyone in his quest for power. Dazzler and Longshot rebelled against this power-hungry villain, but most of those stories occurred off the page as the two were vanquished to comic book limbo for over a decade.

After exiting the X-Men, Dazzler appeared only occasionally as a guest star. Much better remembered by fans of the '90s and early 2000s as a dated concept than the fully fleshed out and interesting character she had become, most of her appearances in mainstream comics during that long period were about the self-perceived failure of her career as a singer and her life as a freedom fighter in the Mojoverse. While it was hinted that she had become pregnant at one point, later to give birth to the mutant who would grow up to become X-Force's Shatterstar, the details around it remain hazy. She was also briefly immortal and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a hot second, which speaks to Alison's true character flexibility as much as it does to writers who genuinely never seem to know quite what to do with her.

Dazzler returned to a regular monthly book with New Excalibur, later canceled all too soon. It ended with her breaking up with Longshot, whose free-love philosophy had long made Dazzler uncomfortable and unhappy. In X-Treme X-Men, we were introduced to an alternate-reality version of Dazzler, who appeared as the leader of a particularly rough-and-tumble team of interdimensional X-Men. Following her successful appearances in that series, she was introduced as one of the main characters in A-Force.

Although it's been up in the air whether we'll be seeing Dazzler in any upcoming X-Men films, there is a small easter egg scene in X-Men: Apocalypse when Cyclops holds up one of the Dazzler's records. This ended up being somewhat controversial, considering the fact that the artist, the aforementioned Bill Sienkiewicz, was not given a heads-up by filmmakers or Marvel that his image (originally appearing as the cover of Dazzler #29) was being used in the film.

Despite not appearing in the films, Alison Blaire did pop up in the original X-Men Animated Series pilot known as Pryde of the X-Men, featuring a strangely Australian Wolverine and a lot of nonsensical comic plot elements thrown together to make an episode. Later, she showed up in the Dark Phoenix Saga as told by the animated series, albeit in her punk clothes rather than in her guise as a disco star. The disco outfit did, however, make a brief comeback in an issue of Deadpool, as well as an episode of Wolverine & the X-Men.

Most recently, Dazzler was given a one-shot by writer Magdalene Visaggio and penciler Laura Braga, called Dazzler: X-Song. Featuring a now-punk version of Dazzler living in Brooklyn, the story redefined the singer for a new era while keeping a lot of her essential character traits intact. Partly for nostalgia-based reasons and partly because of the fact that this is a character who has never really got her due, it's exciting to see her appear again in a more modern context. In spite of her very strange and tumultuous backstory, we hope to see Alison Blaire come into her own in the near future.

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