Monday, November 23, 2009

True origin of Dazzler?

A comment from SallyP with regard to my last post mentioned Dazzler as let’s say a ‘questionable’ superhero. This made me think about the character.

I have to agree with Sally and just about anyone who nominates Dazzler for inclusion on such ‘lists of honour.’ However, I don’t want to get into the merits of the character, because ‘disco queen as mutant’ speaks for itself and Scipio has already done a wonderful job here, here and perhaps most tellingly here.

I do want to hypothesize about Dazzler’s genesis as character. In other words, what led Dazzler’s creation? What inspired such a memorable character?

As a mildly creative person myself, I often wonder how comic creators come up with characters and concepts. I am constantly entertained by the answers I find. For example, it was interesting to discover that the X-men were not named after Xavier, their founder and patriarch, but for the eXtra bit of power they possessed. Huh? What now?

I think I may be able to pinpoint the exact trigger for the temporary insanity that afflicted the minds of Tom Defalco and John Romita Jr. (and others*) when they created the mutant dancer in the late 70s (1979 or so).

*Jim Shooter, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern [who came up with the name] may also deserve some of the ‘credit’ for Dazzler – creation via Marvel committee. See how everyone is trying to spread the credit around on this one? Initially, no one wanted any part in Dazzler’s creation. How could anyone NOT want to be part something as high concept as Dazzler?

To fair, Dazzler was supposed to be a HUGE media tie-in character with a Graphic Novel, possible Movie, and definately a real-life singer styled after her. Things didn't go as planned - there were a lot of reworkings of the character. Today I really want to talk about the second or third reworking (out of a possible baker's dozen reworkings Marvel have approved over the years).

When a character isn't working after reconceptualizing, what do you do? You say, "Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!"

Is it just me or is Dazzler starting to do 'the robot' here? That unique sparking thing really gives the dance the freshness it needs. Dazzler, you're a true artist.

Dazzler at her disco best!
Here’s what I suspect happened:

The year was 1981. Defalco and Romita (or whoever the creative team were at the time) were hanging out at the Marvel Bullpen, wondering how they were going to rework the character whose original power was a voice with the same effect as Wonder Woman’s lasso (Bad guy: “I’ll tell you the truth. Just stop singing!”). I kid you not.

They decided to turn the radio on for some inspiration. Their favourite segment was on - the one where they play the song that was number one two years earlier to the day. The Bee Gees were singing a song called “Tragedy” (released in1979). That’s the instant when they came up with Dazzler’s mutant power getting in the way of her singing career, because that’s a tragedy.

Here are a few lyric excerpts from the song in question:

When you lose control
And you got no soul...

[That little bit sounds like Dazzler in a nutshell, doesn’t it?]

When the feeling’s gone
And you can’t go on
It’s tragedy...

[Apparently, she quit the whole hero gig at one stage. It was interfering with her vocal, musical, acting, and modelling ambitions. Our loss, I guess...]

And this little gem of an excerpt is kind of prophetic of fan reaction to Dazzler:

It’s hard to bear
With no one to love you,
You’re going nowhere...

Poor Dazzler. Her career as a superhero is the stuff of tragedy. [Cue the Bee Gees track. Then let the track fade out just as the spotlight fades on Dazzler.]


  1. A similar topic came up when I was trying to explain The Human Squirrel to my non-comics reading friend. I couldn't come up with an explanation of how he got created.

    I imagine it as going something like this:

    "Okay, boys. We need a villain for next month's issue of 'Tec. What've we got?"

    "I don't know. How about a giant mechanical bear?"

    "Nah, we did that."

    " about a guy in a giant squirrel suit with little squirrel legs?"

    "Yeah. I can't top that. Print it!!!"

    Whereas how characters like Arm Fall Off Boy were think some mind-altering chemicals might've been involved.

    But going back to Dazzler--makes you question the soundness of ideas created by a committee, doesn't it? I believe in the artist/writer/creator working on his/her own, with occasional help if they seek it out.

  2. BTW, "Disco" Dazzler makes me think of Disco Nightwing. I want to print out pictures of Disco Nightwing and hand them out to every Nightwing fan out there and say, "HERE! This is the origin of your hero!! NOW do you still like him?! Huh? HUH?!?!"

    But my rant against Dick Grayson shall wait for another day....

  3. Dazzler was a product of the BeeGees?


    No wonder I was queasy, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  4. Liss / Knower of Human Squirell: I have similar problem trying to show Hal as a hero to a Marvel-only comic reader (who knew what a GL can do but wasn't aware of the specific GLs). Tip: Don't point said reader to any stories where Hal's friend Chip features. I made the mistake of showing the true believer a GL annual from 1989 or 1990 where among other things, Hal gets tricked by a former GL Priest into choosing to save many or saving Chip. Of course, Hal chooses saving many. As mentioned it was a trick and Priest congratulates Hal. Chip is understandably upset because Hal was willing to sacrifice his life (and pretty easily at that judging from the 2 seconds he took to decide). If I recall correctly, Chip wouldn't have been in trouble if Hal didn't brought him along.

    Ah, Disco Nightwing...I can remember a time when some people referred to Nightwing as 'second only to Batman', but how could Bats keep his street cred with Disco Nightwing associated with him? I imagine Batman (as a brand) having 'his people' waltzing into the DC Editor in Chief's office, throwing a batarang that hits the EIC's chair, and saying, "Dick Grayson's embarrassed Bats for the last time...It's time we got rid of the second only to Batman bit."

    SallyP: It could very well be. However, since I only like the Brothers Gibb's late 80s / early 90s stuff, I can try to ignore this possibility. 'The 70s BeeGees are different from the 90s BeeGees.

    The most surprising part was how Marvel thought that Dazzler would be HUGE hit.

  5. hmph... well maybe I am the only one who likes Dazzler. I thought her power was awesome, turning sound into light... and her original costume was so yummy... long hair, silver body suit.... I think she was the (along with the Scarlet Witch) were like the epitome of womanhood.
    And why do ppl rip on poor "disco" Nightwing?! I think it was one of his cooler costumes?! How many times do we get to see male superheroes show skin??? Personally, I get so tired of seeing guys covered up head to toe. Mike Grell did an awesome job in LSH when he would have the girls AND guys show more skin. It makes for more fun reading.

    - Seafire

  6. One True: Chip is the best!! How could anyone not fall head-over-heels for him? :) Okay, I see how a squirrel Green Lantern could turn people off. I know what you mean--certain comics to either non-comics readers or to people not familiar with a particular character/title can have mixed reactions.

    Seafire, my problem with Nightwing is that he started out a dork and the editors of DC decided to make him the "ladies man" of the DC Universe and expected female readership to fall head-over-heels for him. They changed his costume to a more "sexier" one. Some female comic readers aren't aware of Grayson's less-cool "disco" costume a few decades ago. I doubt they would still see him as a sex symbol in that costume. To me, Dick Grayson comes off as a shallow attempt to attract female readership. (Example: my coworker is so in love with him, she's naming her firstborn "Grayson." I told her to name her son "Dick" instead.) If anyone tells me to like something, I'm automatically going in the opposite direction.

    Hey, you've got Hawkman and Martian Manhunter, and The Hulk to gawk at when it comes to half-clothed men. I can't think of any other examples. I'm sure there are other examples. (Thor?) I don't really see the need to see half-naked men or women to enjoy comics but I can understand your point.

  7. Also, Seafire, I thought your comment about Dazzler and Scarlet Witch being the epitome of womanhood was very interesting. I wonder if there is room in comics for average-looking women? (Or men?) Must everyone look like a model?

  8. Seafire: Sorry, I took so long to respond. I took a break from the intertubes for a few days.

    MAYBE you’re the only one who likes Dazzler??? Sorry about that, I’m sure there are other Dazzler fans out there. There is nothing wrong with her power. I think people are reacting to the way she is portrayed as well as her back story.

    For example, they gave her the whole Disco Queen treatment and in doing so DATED the character. But wait! They updated her to being an 80s rock singer or a 90s pop singer or whatever. Guess what, Marvel, that’s still DATING a character.

    It’s similar to me wanting to write an EVERGREEN / CLASSIC novel (perhaps aimed at young adults) where the protagonist is a really cool teenager in the present day and, being as clever as I am, I then decide to pepper the entire manuscript with the youth slang of the day. Unfortunately, the slang or lingo of young people (or even of the ‘mature’ internet) changes so fast that much of my dialogue will become dated in months. So, my novel can’t be evergreen (always relevant / cool).

    My point is: Many of the great (much beloved) heroes’ origins are NOT era-dependant. In other words, with minor adjustment you could have Bruce Wayne’s parents gunned in this year, Peter Parker can be bitten by a radio-active spider at 2 o’clock this afternoon, the Kents could find Kal-el this morning. There isn’t much to change. But Disco was just over half a decade in the 70s – that’s a pretty specific. I’m sure there are other singer/musician heroes out there, but they probably don’t embody a SPECIFIC genre of music that is SPECIFIC to a SPECIFIC era.

    Another point about Dazzler is that she is “manufactured” (created via Marvel committee after they signed a deal), to borrow a music industry term. That’s what some established musicians/singers often say about American Idol or boy bands. Though I tend to disagree about the talent shows and some manufactured groups aren’t necessarily bad. The big difference between American Idol and Dazzler is that the public didn’t vote Dazzler into existence. Not that the public get to vote when a hero first appears, but Marvel were going full speed ahead with Dazzler concept (ignoring her popularity or lack thereof). Having a tie-in character was their only goal.

    Scarlet Witch and Dazzler epitomes of womanhood? Tastes differ, I guess. With regrad to Wanda, I can never get into someone who create their own reality and fool you into living in that reality. I think Bizarro (from Superman) might be perfect for her in that respect...

  9. Disco Nightwing costume sexy or not? Who knows for sure. Anyway, I rip Nightwing for different reason than Liss mentions. To me, Nightwing should be better than he is. If DC and Marvel have another cross-over tomorrow, Nightwing should (given his training, experience, and certain personality factors [more social skills than Batman, etc.]) be able to at least eek out a draw against likes of Captain America in combat, out-daredevil Daredevil, and be a better leader than Captain America on his best day. But somehow Dick hasn’t reached these heights, be it as a hero or in the leadership role. We only ever see glimpses of it in crises (e.g. when he led a makeshift JLA reserves team to save the ‘JLA proper’ in the Obsidian Age). The worst part is that I can’t put my finger on why Nightwing isn’t as good as he should be...

    BTW, Seafire, no fan should EVER apologise for liking any hero. I hope I haven’t created the impression that you should renounce your faves, because I know I like quite a few that other people don’t get.

    Girls and guys showing more skin, eh? Check out MARVEL Smartass (there’s a link in my blog list) where I believe there is a post about The Thing (a topless hero) giving Hercules (another topless hero) a massage. No, it isn’t slash fiction, but...

    More seriously...Half-naked heroes? Hmmm, I think I have some double standards with regard to heroines. I’m fine with scantily clad or semi-scantily clad heroines who have physical powers and/or have tough personalities and/or are immensely powerful. However, if a hero gal’s power is seeing really far or teleporting, then she’d best served wearing something that leaves more to the imagination. As examples, Psylocke (x-men), Hawkgirl (JLA), Black Widow (Avengers) and Shadow Lass (LSH) can wear whatever they want, because they meet one or more of my criteria, IMHO. You need to be tough (physically or mentally) to pull off the skimpy look, in my book. I have no idea where this weird rule comes from and it doesn’t make sense to me, either.

    Male heroes? My rule for the guys is equally weird. You can wear next to nothing ONLY if you’re an alien or your culture dictates you wear very little or you’re invulnerable or extremely tough. For example, Hawkman meets two out of four and, more importantly, he can pull off the look.

    Liss: Must everyone look like a model? See the comments to the crappiest hero link in my Some Evergreen Laughter-inducing stuff post. It mentions She-thing.

    Your co-worker needs help...Grayson? Why doesn’t she just name her son ‘Jason Todd [insert last name here]’ or Robin Timothy Drake [insert last name here]? :) Every mom can hope to have their son have Jason’ or Tim’s fashion sense. How about JJ after Martian Manhunter?

  10. "My point is: Many of the great (much beloved) heroes’ origins are NOT era-dependant."

    I think this is because the greatest heroes are either archetypal or mythic in nature. Creating a character based on a fad is a less-primal way to connect with an audience.

    1True, I think I have odd standards for superhero dress as well, now that I think about it. I'm guessing under your definition, that Wonder Woman's outfit is acceptable? Her outfit doesn't really bother me. Power Girl's (useless boob window) outfit does. The reason being: when something is so blatantly obviously created for the FANS, not for the STORY, then I take issue with it. There is no Kryptonian heritage of wearing a leotard with a cutout in it. Whereas we could chalk up Diana's outfit to a modified version of Greek warrior dress. Sort of. Carol Ferris's Star Sapphrie outfit really doesn't serve any purpose other than for fanboys to gawk at. (IMHO.) But Indigo-1's outfit doesn't bother me--because she comes from a "primitive" tribal culture. The other issue is practicality of outfits, but that's a whole other ball of wax.

    I remember the authors' commentary in 52 where they were saying originally Natasha Irons was going to be welding her suit in full-out overalls. That was changed to a low-cut top, the authors said, "for obvious reasons." It made me laugh and roll my eyes at the same time. Okay, guys like to gawk at beautifully-drawn women and vice versa. As long as it's not over-the-top I don't care too much. (Carol, I'm looking at YOU!)

    Hawkman looks fine the way he is, though occasionally some artists will draw him with his chest shaven. No. He needs to be all RAWR and hairy--that just fits his personality. Not everyone needs to look like a male model.

    I just read Obsidian Age. I didn't think Nightwing acquitted himself all that well. I really have issues with the poor guy, and it's probably because my coworker has a crush on him and it just annoys me and I take it out on poor Dick. Plus I'm still bitter over Batman RIP. It's hard to be a sidekick and go solo, so I guess I should be nicer to him.

    lol...yes, my coworker drives me nuts, 1True!!! She doesn't like JJ. The horror!!! As much as I love comics, I wouldn't name progeny after them, and I don't having any kids anyway. A dog, maybe. I was thinking Ollie would be a quite name for a dog, even though Green Arrow is not one of my favorites. But c'mon, a cute little tough (horny, left-wing) dog named Ollie? It's a win in my book.

  11. Liss, good point concerning great heroes being archetypal. Fads are exactly that...fads. You can't cash in on them forever and creating a character based on them is ill-advised.

    Powergirl is everyone's example of this costume idiocy.

    Yes, peeps from primal/warrior cultures are exempt from my raised eyebrow regarding costumes.

    Hawkman has to have the hairy chest and arms with mace in gloved hand. Looking ruthless and mean.

    That's exactly what I meant with the Obsidian Age. His leadership goes from great to being overshadowed by Kyle and Raven Manitou (a character I really don't like). In fact, they should've killed him off and let Tezumak live. That dude was awesome.

    Maybe you should go out and buy the crappiest old Nightwing comics you can find and give it to her as a gift (while pretending that they're just random comics you picked because you knew she liked Dick Grayson).

  12. "Maybe you should go out and buy the crappiest old Nightwing comics you can find and give it to her as a gift (while pretending that they're just random comics you picked because you knew she liked Dick Grayson)."

    OMG. This is what I need to do for Christmas! I never have any idea of what to get her. LOL.

    I had some issues with Obsidian Age...having poor Plastic Man live as atoms for 3000 years really bugged me for some reason. It seemed a bit of a stretch. (No pun intended.)

    Didn't Tezumak come back in Blackest Night?

  13. I meant that I wanted Raven Manitou to be killed off DURING Obsidian Age and that Tezumak should've joined in the next issue (instead of Raven M). I never get the characters I want. *pouts*

  14. Raven is a pretty generic Native American Shaman type character. One of my favourite heroes is also a native american shaman, sdo it's not that I'm against the concept...but some originality would help.

  15. I never get the characters I want. *pouts*

    All my favorite heroes have gotten killed off. Except Adam Strange, I think half of my Top Ten is dead!