As Jennifer Walters Hulked out for the first time in February 1980, another heroine made her grand debut. Alison Blaire, a mutant lightshow better known by the stage name Dazzler, made her attention-grabbing first appearance in UNCANNY X-MEN #130. Her introduction into the Marvel Universe, and indeed her very creation, came about in a completely unique way.
Disco ruled the pop charts and dance floors in the late 70’s. Wishing to capitalize on the phenomenon, Marvel and Casablanca Records began creating an all-new character with multimedia success encoded directly into her DNA—along with her super powers. The record label had already accomplished similar success with KISS, a glam rock band that had gone from packing stadiums to starring in Marvel comic books. One could view their debut in HOWARD THE DUCK #12 as the first step towards Dazzler’s creation. This new character, the Disco Queen, would debut in a Marvel Comics series. Casablanca would then release a record from a singer playing the part, and a major motion picture produced by Casablanca’s film division, Filmworks, would round out the big launch.
To get the ball rolling, Marvel turned to an artist in touch with the real world scene that the fictional Disco Queen would rule over: the 23-year-old John Romita Jr. To inspire his design, he looked to Grace Jones, a Jamaican model/singer/actress that had taken the American club scene by storm. Her strong, enigmatic, and confident personality—in addition to her complex and fashion forward stage look—seemed tailor-made for a super hero. Romita Jr. completed the first images of the Disco Queen, which featured a Grace Jones-like, empowered and statuesque leading lady sporting a sleeveless and silver cat suit with a plunging neckline and oversized collar. He even gave the character blue face makeup in homage to KISS.
The Disco Queen’s character received significant contributions from a pair of writers as well. Tom DeFalco suggested that she have light-based powers. Off of that suggestion, Roger Stern changed her name to Dazzler. With these elements in place, alongside Romita Jr.’s design, the character seemed ready to go—except for one change made by Filmworks. Instead of modeling Dazzler off of Grace Jones, Filmworks wanted to use the new character to court actress Bo Derek for the feature film. Derek had just finished a career-defining turn in the comedy “10,” and Filmworks wanted to get into business with Bo. With that note, Dazzler changed into a blonde bombshell.
The decision to change Dazzler’s inspiration proved to be a hasty one; the disco phenomenon quickly died in the waning days of the 70’s and the deal ultimately fell through. While there would never be a Dazzler record or feature film, her comic book appearances went on just as scheduled.
The Bo Derek-ized Dazzler appeared loud and proud on the cover of UNCANNY X-MEN #130, her first appearance and the second chapter in “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” In the issue, Cyclops and Phoenix traveled to Lower Manhattan to find a powerful new mutant. They entered the nondescript nightclub, surprised by the crumbling walls and radically dressed clientele. Cyclops turned to his partner and asked, “Is this where old discos go to die?” When Dazzler took the stage a few pages later, she proved that no—disco still thrived in that club.
Dazzler used her power to transform sound into light to thrill the audience, but a group of armored Hellfire Club goons cut the show short. “Chuckles, I had one dy-no-mite debut goin’, till you jokers crashed the gate,” yelled Dazzler. “Now it’s ruined. And for that, sucker, you gonna pay!” She then demonstrated that her powers could be used for more than just entertainment. Dazzler helped half of the X-Men rescue the rest of the team from the clutches of the White Queen. She showed a natural aptitude for action, but declined Professor Xavier’s offer to join the group. “I appreciate the offer, Prof—but world-savin’ ain’t my style. I prefer the excitement I get on stage, singin’ my heart out to an audience that really digs me.”
Unfortunately for the fledgling pop star, Marvel’s plan to create a sensation would keep her deep in super heroics. Alison Blaire spent April 1980 appearing in both FANTASTIC FOUR #217 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #203. The former featured Johnny Storm trying—and failing—to chat up Dazzler at a nightclub, and then Spider-Man had to save the newcomer from being brainwashed by Light-Master in the latter.
Despite her big splash, Dazzler failed to make any more waves for nearly a year. Marvel tried to launch DAZZLER #1 on a number of occasions throughout 1980 and 1981, but each time the series faced cancellations and postponements. The book finally saw print and made history in the process. DAZZLER became the first comic book delivered exclusively to comic shops, and it sold over 400,000 copies in the process—a surprise success considering how hard it had been to get the issue made.
DAZZLER #1, by Tom DeFalco and John Romita Jr., presented Alison Blaire as a totally new type of Marvel hero. Alison’s main conflict came in the form of pressure placed on her to be something other than a singer. A flashback revealed that her father wanted her to be a lawyer, and Blaire fulfilled his dreams right up through graduating magna cum laude from a pre-law program. She drew the line at attending the law school of his choosing. “For too many years I've been split between law and music, your dream and my own! I must be true to myself.” With that, Dazzler’s destiny became clear—and her father abandoned her.
Even though most of the primary plots in DAZZLER dealt with the lead’s struggling singing career and social life, a number of heavy-hitting Marvel characters showed up in guest roles. Doctor Doom, Beast, Human Torch, Hulk, Klaw, and Galactus all appeared in the first year. The series had also found a regular creative team in writer Danny Fingeroth and artist Frank Springer, one that would stick around until 1983.
The series underwent a number of changes as it began its third year. Dazzler’s long lost half-sister Lois London—a mutant with a death touch—debuted in DAZZLER #22 and changed the direction. To keep her sister safe, Dazzler relocated with Lois to Los Angeles. At this time, DAZZLER became a bi-monthly publication and featured eye-catching painted covers by legend in the making Bill Sienkiewicz.
“The covers by Bill were always so captivating,” says Brian Michael Bendis, Dazzler's current writer in the pages of UNCANNY X-MEN. “They filled my head with stories about her in a way beyond even the comics themselves.”
DAZZLER #27-35 paved the way for the biggest change in the heroine’s life, which occurred in the 1984 graphic novel DAZZLER: THE MOVIE. In an attempt to get her acting career off the ground and temper growing prejudice, Alison publicly came out as a mutant. The decision backfired, though, and derailed her career. Her ongoing series later came to a close with DAZZLER #42 in March 1986.
Just because DAZZLER the series had ended didn't mean that Dazzler the character had as well. She became a member of interstellar rock star Lila Cheney's backing band for a brief period of time. Then, seven years after Professor X initially made the offer, Dazzler joined the X-Men in February 1987’s UNCANNY X-MEN #214. The team had fallen on much harder times than when she had first met them. Only Storm and Wolverine remained on the lineup, with new members Psylocke and Rogue—a former foe of Dazzler’s—rounding out the team. Longshot, a charming freedom fighter from another dimension, joined in the following issue, thus sparking the definitive romance of Dazzler’s life.
For all the hesitancy she initially showed towards the super hero lifestyle, Dazzler stuck it out with the X-Men through some incredibly dark times. She stood by their side during their last stand against the Adversary and their battle with the anti-mutant government on Genosha. Dazzler didn't leave the team until UNCANNY X-MEN #251 in 1989, when the team effectively disbanded.
Dazzler left the 1980’s as both a survivor of disco and the X-Men. Her strong-will and determination have most recently come into play again in Brian Michael Bendis’ UNCANNY X-MEN. Despite initially being tied to a passing music fad, the character has remained incredibly popular and—surprisingly—timeless.
“If you think about it, all popular music is disco,” says Bendis. “So by that math, Dazzler is the heart of all popular things. Really, it’s not the disco—it’s the character. Her character, when done right, is crazy relatable.”
Come back later this week to relive the birth of Elektra, plus see more on the 75th anniversary of Marvel at marvel.com/75 and join the conversation on Twitter using the hash tag #Marvel75!