I found a copy of Dazzler 31 from Marvel Comics (1983) in a local used bookstore. Even though I didn’t ask, the Millennial-aged cashier was happy to opine, “Huh, I’ve never even heard of this comic.”
I died right there.
My retort was to point out that the comic had been signed by Jim Shooter. The cashier replied, “Who?”
I gasped, placed the back of my hand on my forehand like the Golden Girls’ Rue McClanahan, then collapsed dramatically into a sobbing heap on the floor. Eventually, I recovered myself enough to crawl out of the establishment, promising myself I’ll never again step foot into a place staffed by philistines.
OK, maybe dramatized exasperation isn’t the best way to evangelize Dazzler to the world. I’ve since collected myself, so let’s take a moment to talk about the comic, as well as the character’s look, and the book sales, because there is a lot of interesting history when it comes to Dazzler.
Dazzler: The Movie Star Look
To begin, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of Bo Derek from 1979.
The photo is from the movie “10,” which starred a young Bo Derek, chosen for the role because she was considered the ideal beauty. A “Perfect 10,” in other words.
The physical appearance of Marvel comic’s Alison Blair aka Dazzler was modeled after Bo Derek. In fact, Bo Derek was cast to play Dazzler in a live-action feature-length film project and Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter wrote a treatment for the movie.
And Shooter wrote the heck out of it, to say the least. The 12-page treatment was wonderfully weird, wild, and wacky. It was to feature Cher, Donna Summers, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, The Village People, Lenny and Squiggy, and the rock band KISS.
Film studio representatives attached model and actress Bo Derek to the project as Dazzler and insisted that the comic character design reflect Derek’s features, plus highlight the disco and roller-derby vibe that was popular in culture at the time. But Bo Derek’s controversial husband, John Derek, insisted that he would be the director of the movie. The film studio refused and the entire project was shuttered.
Dazzler: The Comic Book Sales
What does that bonkers story have to do with comic book shops? Well, Jim Shooter – never a man to let work go to waste – needed an exclusive title for the burgeoning direct market.
Comic books had been sold on newsstands alongside newspapers and magazines for their entire history, but that had begun to change in the 70s. Speciality shops had begun to emerge, small little stores that focused just on comic books that were the precursors of the friendly local comic shops (FLCS) that us Nerds love today.
Although comic books were still being sold on newsstands, this burgeoning “direct market” of shops was slowly growing. But it needed a catalyst.
That catalyst was Dazzler #1 in 1981.
Although its popularity was waning, disco was still grooving at the time. Like a scene straight out of Saturday Night Fever, virtually every bar or nightclub with a dance floor played disco. Dazzler had light powers, so was able to provide her own light show. It was perfect.
Dazzler had the look, the power set, and also cultural relevance. All of this helped bring readers to the title, and being that it was direct market exclusive, those readers had to come into comic shops to get it, helping the burgeoning direct market build a foundation.
Jim Shooter has an exact number for how much Dazzler #1 helped the early comic shop scene grow. That direct-market only comic book had orders of 428,000 copies. It was ironic, Shooter said, because Dazzler #1 was chosen because a new, untried character had been deliberately chosen for the test so as not to antagonize Marvel’s newsstand accounts. Yet the enormous orders that the title received served to underscore even further the enormous potential the emerging comic shop market had.
Dazzler: Getting to Know Alison Blair’s Story
The comic mostly holds up, although the dialogue is clearly a product of its time.
Legendary John Romita, Jr. launched the title, then handed it off to Frank Springer, who capably penciled most of the Dazzler series. Tom DeFalco was the writer through issue #6, but he then helped new writer Danny Fingeroth with several of the subsequent issues.
Midway through the run Dazzler was changed from a singer in New York to an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. To promote this new direction, Marvel artist Bill Sienkiewicz created painted artwork pieces for issues 27-35 that were clear homages to popular movies and actors at the time like Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, and more.
Alison Blaire aka Dazzler was a disco singer who had honed her mutant powers to build herself a singing career, yet her father objected, treating her badly because he disapproved of her career as well as her very existence as a mutant. As a result, Alison actively hid her identity as a mutant, which gives an indication of why gay readers have been some of Dazzler’s most loyal fans throughout the character’s existence.
Early issues had her struggle to pay rent and be burdened by an extreme lack of confidence, yet Dazzler always persevered as a hero. One of the best issues was #13 where Dazzler is forced to spend time at Ryker’s Island prison over a misunderstanding. She is singled out by The Grapplers who try to assert their dominance over her, but as good heroes do, she wins the day. Dazzler #13 is worth a read, as it’s Orange is the New Black decades before that was a thing.
The series was canceled in 1985 after 42 issues. Dazzler was considered as a possible X-Factor founding member, but the decision to resurrect Jean Grey put that idea aside. Dazzler instead joined the Uncanny X-Men team during the Australia years where her romance with Longshot blossomed.
Millennial-aged cashiers likely only know of Dazzler via a blink-or-you-will-miss-it cameo in X-Men: Dark Phoenix played by actress Halston Sage, but the less said about that movie the better.
Instead, let’s remember Dazzler by her fantastic comic book that helped launch the comic book shops us Nerds love today.