Dazzler the Movie

A story of drama and action, human interest and intrigue. Visual phenomena of exhilarating brilliance. Four talented and seasoned storytellers. And a heroine who is daring, determined, vulnerable, and vivacious. It’s a match made in heaven. Who knows? Maybe they’ll make a movie out of it?

– from Dazzler the Movie: The Behind-the-Scenes Story
by Sandy Hausler and Mark Lerer.

Dazzler the Movie, (1984), a graphic novel by Jim Shooter, James Springer and Vince Colletta ends with Alison Blaire doing a mirror-check before she walks out of a Beverly Hills mansion, saying to herself, “You’re going to be okay, Miss Alison Blaire,” in a narcissistic ballasting of the self. Tossing aside the shaky self-doubt that naturally stems from a singing and acting career that has gone nowhere, Alison Blaire reaches deep into the genre for the confidence that naturally exudes from Classical Hollywood Cinema.

Unlike some obsessive friends, I am not a Dazzler scholar. I cannot go into great lengths about the corporate partnership that first resulted in the first Dazzler pitch, nor can I expound on the original character design. I understand that she originally was going to be African-American, but that editorial settled on a Farah Fawcett style for Alison Blaire. Her first appearance aligns her singing style with disco, yet, I’ve seen her represented rocking out as well as performing R&B and lounge routines. Her representation has strongly shifted along with her many creative teams. As for as I can understand, the core concept is of a mutant who is far more interested in her singing career than in her father’s ambition for her to become a lawyer, or in super-heroic fantasy. Her power to ‘transduce’ sonic vibrations into light is secondary to the story of a woman trying to follow her dreams. Arguably, once Dazzler was forced by circumstances (and the cancellation of her book), to join the X-Men, all forward momentum ended for the character. Her core concept betrayed, Dazzler spent most of the 90s languishing in comic book limbo. Publicity for Dazzler the Movie played up someone who didn’t want to be a super-hero:

“Unlike the X-Men, who make a guest-appearance in the graphic novel, Dazzler doesn’t vindicate her ‘different-ness’ with super-powered heroics. She feels no need to justify nor apologize for her mutant powers. She tries to make it in the human world.”

Detailed art depicts Storm’s Adam’s Apple

The original Marvel Graphic Novel, Dazzler The Movie, however, is a stand-alone story, connected to her ongoing series, but sufficiently self-contained to stand on its own. Alison Blaire, whose stage name is the Dazzler, had recently moved from New York, where she had been pursuing a singing career, to Los Angeles, where her ambition became acting. This is where the graphic novel picks up: Dazzler is teaching aerobics during the day and singing at a club at night, looking for someone to discover her. Scipio points out that the series was heavily influenced by the 1960s Romance comic genre, which Marvel excelled in. The closest parallel would be Millie the Model — the interior art for Dazzler the Movie had a very “Mary Worth” feel that captured that sense of romantic longing and melodrama. Once arrived in LA, Alison Blaire’s tale shifted gears a bit; she left behind the Romance book melodrama, and her character was smoothly transitioned into the classic Starlet’s Tale, namely, a rise to success that causes her to forget her values, become too dependent on alcohol, dabble in drugs (coded as cigarettes), experience tragic career failure, and generally forget her authentic self only for a rediscovery at the story’s conclusion. Much like any classic from Hollywood in its hey-dey, Alison’s romantic problems tie up with her social/work problems, and both climax together at the end. The two plots become one before setting up a new status quo for Alison’s already ongoing series.

One difference from Classic Hollywood Cinema, however, is that pop psychology is much more body-oriented here than it is in the source texts. This is a natural by-product of the 80s, which saw an explosion of the gym phenomenon. A timely text, the plot places Alison in a gym where she teaches aerobics, but flourishes in her own independent weight-lifting. Weight-lifting, more than spontaneous, accidental, glowing or light-shows in the privacy of her apartment, sets her apart from others. Her awed aerobics students stare and gossip about the fact that she’s able to lift weights after teaching class. In the weight-room, she is told that she lifts more than most of the guys: “I bet you’re as strong as Lisa Lyons, the body-builder!” – gasps Freddy Stanachek, in a shocking but subtle reference to the body-builder made famous by a Robert Mapplethorpe nude series (1981-1983). Normally, I would think this would discount Freddy as a possible romantic suitor, but strangely enough he gets a kiss from her after the Mapplethorpe reference (going to show that the gays really do love Dazzler).

Alison has three potential heterosexual mates in the book; Fred Stanachek (normal guy), Roman Nekoboh (film star), Eric Beale (producer). Fred is the nice (gay) guy, who gets in one peck and a confidence boost. One would normally expect him to end up with the gal at the end, however this “movie” doesn’t have that sort of romantic closure. Both Roman and Eric are stalkers. Roman is the fat, non-threatening, washed up Hollywood star stalker, while Eric is the far more threatening producer, rich “fat-cat,” stalker who buys Alison’s gym just to circumvent the employee fraternizing with clients rule. When Alison denies him, she effectively loses her job. This sets up the rest of the plot wherein Roman, who is pursuing Alison separately, promises Alison a movie contract to get a date but can’t find financial backing for the film — Alison has been photographed in the past socializing with known mutants, such as the X-Men. No one wants to finance a starlet associated with such unsavory types despite Dazzler’s personal disdain for the X-Men, whom she privately refers to as “the Monsters’ Guild.” Roman secretly signs up for backing from Eric Beale, who wants to ‘out’ Alison and ruin her for denying him sexually. There is a strong parallel here with There’s Something About Mary, since, like the titular Mary, ‘things stick’ to Alison. Almost every man she meets transforms into a stalker, denying her any other kind of relation to men.

Roman gets ready for the big day.

I. The Mutant Threat as a Media One:

It was a basic staple of angsty mutant stories when I was growing up that there was a mob mentality that adhered to genetic freaks. Hatred of them found an expression in the “danger they pose” to normal citizens, when — on a genetic level — the damage has already been done. Mutants represent an anxiety about the atom bomb causing our children crippling, unseen, damage. I think Dazzler the Movie breaks away from this shop-worn plot point. Dazzler’s threat is the media threat. The X-Men write Alison off for the way she enjoys flaunting her powers in public. They sense that the damage she could cause if outed would be immense. Roman outs Dazzler as a publicity stunt, which causes no more of a media-effect than the typical celebrity rumor. It’s only when she actually uses her powers in front of reporters, that the response becomes truly hysterical. German film-maker and critic, Alexander Kluge, writes that “the challenge of the New Media [is] the ecological threat to the structures of consciousness.” Shooter et. al. understood in Dazzler that the mutant threat was less about what we thought the threat was about (nuclear contamination) and more an anxiety about the means by which the threat had entered our consciousness (film & television). The fear of contamination isn’t a fear of radiation damaging the ecology (as hypochondriac environmentalists would have it), but rather the very infiltration of our lives by mass culture.

Though she is reluctant and first, distrusting Roman’s disingenuous “You’ll be another Jackie Robinson” line of b.s., Alison eventually takes up the challenge after the first public relations disaster. She sincerely believes she can combat prejudice with a movie that positively represents the personal struggle of mutants.

I’m really committed now! I’ve got to make this movie now — for the sake of every mutant on earth! I didn’t ask for it, but I have the chance to win the respect and tolerance of humanity for all of us! And I’m not going to blow it!… Don’t ‘Look Ali’ me! I’m call the shots now, understand? It’s my overplump little ass on the line!

II. Dazzler’s Overplump Little Ass:

Alison’s body image issues aren’t just about needing to stay thin to ‘make it.’ Her work-outs always take place in front of a mirror. When she gets home from the gym, she turns on the stereo, fires up a light show, undresses and then stands naked in front of her mirror. On one panel she openly converses with one of her boobs about whether or not “we” need a bath. Her diet is spare and economical, mostly spaghetti and asparagus out of the can. This all changes when she starts dating Roman who is comically out of shape (he wears a girdle and orders his valet to do calisthenics for him). Ali’s descent into idleness is striking. One of the most surprising of the-ascent-to-celebrity panels has Dazzler demanding a drink from Roman’s valet at breakfast. There are then another quick series of panels that demonstrate Dazzler not only drinking, but demanding drinks to cope with stress, which are strongly reminiscent of ‘Angel’ Evans Conway in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, (1947). She stops working-out entirely, and takes up smoking as well.

A thin Dazzler baby-talks her left boob

These are all signs of how out of control she is. To any reader, Roman is absolutely disgusting and the thought of him tainting Ali with sexual contact is fairly revolting. Gross, creepy, guys, however, are kind of a staple of the classical cinema. These schlubs weren’t originally experienced by audiences as creepy, just wealthy and cultured. The 80s were a transition point where being rich and out of shape was paradoxically at odds with the gym culture, yet far less threatening than wealthy, rich, psychos like Eric Beale (American Psycho would be his ur-text). Roman’s stalkery behavior is treated comically, as light narcissism, unlike Eric Beale’s truly dangerous approaches. They both think they can buy Ali, but Roman offers her comfort instead of sexual slavery (the sexual slavery angle with Beale is, of course, played up by fan favorite, perv, Chris Claremont, when he gets his grubby mitts on Dazzler for Uncanny X-Men). She knows she can let herself go around Roman, whereas Eric only wants her for her body. Roman still loves her even after she gets fat.

At a certain point, Alison experiences a wake-up call. She turns off the lights, turns on the stereo, undresses and gives herself a body critique. “I’ve put on a lot of weight!” and (pinching herself), “I never used to get flabby there.” Reading it, I began to wonder if Roman’s true betrayal wasn’t in having Alison out herself in public, but in making her wear a bikini while doing it!

Alison invents the fat caliper.

Even after all his betrayals, Ali remains “in love” with Roman. My sense is that he provided a welcome relief from her rigorous care of the self. If she could get plump and be loved, there would be little to motivate her to continue fighting for her career and self-promotion.

III. ‘You’ve got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror…’

I am going to be up front and say that I have a lot of trouble writing about femininity in general. Partly, this is because I have a congenital inability to tell discern what conventionality is for women, when the line crosses into masochism, or what counts as “out of control” (unless it’s heavily underscored). I also have trouble trying to figure the difference between ‘bad’ narcissism and ‘good’ independence. To a lot of students of feminist criticism, these seem to be straight-forward categories. Not so, for me. I find that ‘femininity’ comes off as a flood of category mixing.

Since she is a media icon, the talisman for the Star’s Tale, the best I can do is to discuss try to think of what Alison’s attraction to the repulsive Roman is all about in Hollywood terms. Before funding is found for the movie, Alison attaches herself to Roman sensing that no movie is really in the works, aware that his finances are a mess, knowing in her heart that this ship is totally sinking (incidentally, the name of an excellent comic book industry analysis column), but decides to stick by him nonetheless. Her attachment to him is very reminiscent of Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. Lauren Berlant has written about Vicki Lester’s identification with her husband (who has just committed suicide), Norman Maine: “It is an embrace of the value of that man in the in the only terms a mass public schooled in the ways of Hollywood can be sure to understand, the terms that marry a fantasy of true love’s absolute authenticity to the power embedded in cliché and conventionality, which support the … fantasy of recognition and transcendence.”

Early on Alison is in the closet about her mutant powers, and refuses to let anyone get close to her. Roman finally confronts her about them, and uses it to create a wedge of intimacy. Does it matter much that Roman brings the subject up to feed Eric information? Once you’re in love with someone, should learning of a betrayal of confidence change one’s feelings? Is Alison’s refusal to abjure Roman a sign of masochism, or perhaps a star’s confidence in her own instinctive appreciation of Roman’s inner-goodness is a sign of a deeply abiding, and laudable, self-confidence? Alison tells the shy Fred Stanachek ‘you’ve got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and have confidence in the person looking back!”

Conclusion: ‘Go Suck and Egg’

Alison eventually discovers that Eric Beale only financed the film so that he could give her an ultimatum: effectively contract herself into slavery and become a star, or walk away with her career and relationship in ruins. The part that hurts the most is that the movie is actually very good. Alison calls it “a classic.” Both she and Eric know that its release could turn the tide of anti-mutant prejudice. Alison’s race wouldn’t simply be an ecological threat. It would have a consoling, conventionally recognizable STAR at its helm, guiding mutant-kind into a berth of eventual, predictable, acceptance. Alison Blaire loves like a normal woman (badly), and therefore bleeds like anyone else. Alison does sign the contract, but not with her name. She writes “Go suck and egg,” decks Eric, and uses a focused laser-dazzle to destroy the last existing print of the film.

Alison also decides that even though she still loves Roman, she can’t stay with him. She would never be able to use “success” as a measure of her own merits, constantly feeling as if what she achieved would be due to her association with him. In the final panel, she walks out of his mansion and back into her open-ended ongoing series.

Artist Depiction of Dazzler’s Subtle Treatment by Claremont, I
And, ‘no,’ Alison, ‘that is not the answer.’
‘The answer is to take that potato sac off your head and run for your life!’

Dazzler reached issue #42, and was ironically canceled so that Marvel could start up a line comics called The New Universe, based on superheroes in a ‘real-world’ setting. Dazzler was a victim to its own superior concept. The New Universe crashed and burned after about a year. Dazzler was schlepped off into Uncanny X-Men, where super-star writer Chris Claremont waged war on the character, obliterating her personal life and character history. Signing Alison Blaire off to Claremont — letting him get his lubed up hands on the diva — did the character far greater damage than signing with Eric Beale ever could have done. Eventually, she was consigned to comic-book limbo for over a decade. There are indications that Alison might be about to make a prominent return to comics this summer. In the meantime, fans honor the character-that-was since her flaws and travails continue to speak to readers.

— This discussion of Dazzler the Movie was commissioned for “Dazzler Week” at the Comic Book Resources forum. *

Artist Depiction of Dazzler’s Subtle Treatment by Claremont, II

Works Cited:

Berlant, Lauren. “‘It’s Not the Tragedies That Kill Us, It’s the Messes’ Femininity, Formalism, an Dorothy Parker,” in The Female Complaint. (Duke, 2008).

Kluge, Alexander. “Why Should Film and Television Cooperate? On the Mainz Manifesto,” trans. Stuart Liebman. October n. 46. Fall, 1998.

*Thanks to Ben for making me read Dazzler (it was good!) and forcing me to write down what I thought.

Dazzler Resources:

Dazzler Appreciation
Dazzler the Music Video (Your Disco Needs Dazzler)
Dazzler’s MySpace Page!
Go for it!
Storytelling Engines: Dazzler
This Diva, This Monster!
The Ballad of Dazzler’s Butt
Thus Stalks… The Dazzler!

For more, read Essential Dazzler, vol. 1!

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