There are certain X-Men who are always considered go-to favorites. The classics. They’re the ones that everyone loves, the ones that someone who’s only seen one X-Men movie or has vague memories of the animated series could name. Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue… you get the picture. Then there are the X-Men beloved by even casual readers of the comics, like Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde. But there are tons and tons of mutants out there. The X-Men and their related teams and characters probably take up half of the Marvel universe, at least. And in that half, there are a whole lot of X-Men who are seen as less than valuable, at best. At worst, they’re punching bags. Characters from Maggot to Beak to Cipher and Jubilee always seem to find themselves lumped into this category, no matter how many stories are told to try and strip them of that “joke character” status.
A lot of people dismiss Dazzler as a part of this category and, no matter how many great stories have been told and how much development she’s seen over the years, that’s still culturally about where she’s considered to be. People still do not take Dazzler seriously. They still see her as a gimmick, and to be fair, that is basically how she was created. Alison Blaire’s origins are a little different from pretty much every other Marvel character as she was part of created as a potential album, film and comic book character all at the same time.
Originally, Dazzler was created as “Disco Queen,” a cross-promotion designed by Casablanca Records. The idea was for Marvel to create a comic book hero and Casablanca to find a suitable singer and for both to merge in the form of an animated special. Jim Shooter, EIC of Marvel at the time, wrote an insane treatment for the special—especially considering that it would be the introduction to the character—and iconic artist John Romita Jr. was hired to design the character. Initially, Dazzler was actually designed as an African American woman, distinctly based on Grace Jones. The special immediately was given even more momentum with talk of introducing the character through a live-action feature film. Filmworks, who would produce the movie, were very intent on promoting model/actress, Bo Derek. Thus, the design of the character was changed to reflect her rather than Jones. But the feature film project fell through when Filmworks drew the line at agreeing to let Bo’s husband John Derek direct the movie.
No other character in Marvel, or for that matter in comics history, has this origin. How she was created was the very first thing that set Dazzler apart as unique, but once she was introduced in the comic, she began to grow and develop as a character much more organically. Dazzler made her first appearance in the iconic, seminal Dark Phoenix arc in Uncanny X-Men back in 1980. She appears just for a small scene, as a musical act playing during Jean and Scott’s date night, which is interrupted by the Hellfire Club who are trying to manipulate Jean into becoming their Black Queen. Dazzler’s just a girl playing a local bar, as flashy as she can be but not huge by any stretch, and that’s one of the things that makes her so unique.
Alison Blaire is one of the only characters to have a professional passion that is just as important to her as her superheroics. When we first met Dazzler, she turns the X-Men down. She’s not interested in being a hero, because she doesn’t think that’s her calling. She was born to be a performer. Singing is all she has ever wanted to do. And she’s right at that crucial moment, getting out there, getting noticed, where she could strike big at any time. She doesn’t want to be a part of anything that could upset her chances.
Many of the X-Men are queer coded, often representing LGBT struggles on a metaphorical level even when the characters themselves are not always explicitly clear. Dazzler, more than most. As a musician with a flashy stage persona who understands that if the public ever found out she was a mutant it would destroy her career in an instant, she immediately brings to mind a musician like Elton John, who had to spend a long time putting on a straight public persona. And that’s just one of many musicians going through that at the time. Dazzler’s often been embraced as an LGBT character even if she herself has always been written for the most part as heterosexual because she’s a superhero who started out as a disco icon, getting her feet wet playing in disco clubs, which were often perceived as safe spaces for their brief period of popularity, particularly in New York in the early 1980s which is where and when Dazzler made her debut.
One of the most fascinating things about Dazzler as a character is that we’ve gotten to track her entire career. When we meet her in Uncanny X-Men #130, she’s playing local clubs and we get to see her rise into a record contract, become a worldwide pop sensation, and the apparent end of her career after it comes out that she is in fact a mutant. And the numerous ups and downs after that. Dazzler’s music, in general, is one of the best bits of world building in the Marvel Universe at large. It’s one of my favorite things to see her albums pop up in the background of various unrelated comics, to hear people like Moon Knight mention that they’re a fan.
That’s part of Dazzler’s unique perspective in the Marvel Universe. No other character is a recognized celebrity for something completely unrelated to their identity as a hero. Sure, everyone loves Iron Man and they have his action figure, but they love him because he’s Iron Man. With Dazzler, it’s often the complete opposite. This was part of the unexpected learning curve she had to deal with when she first joined the X-Men, realizing it was going to be a different experience for her than it was for everyone else. The first time that Dazzler is thrown into a fight against classic X-Men enemy Juggernaut, he stops mid-fight to become a starstruck fan, mentioning how much he loves her music and wants her autograph.
It’s such a bizarre, beautiful moment that speaks to the very surreal reality that is Dazzler’s day-to-day life. This is like being stopped on the street or at a coffee shop, by someone who recognizes you and wants to take a selfie. For an X-Man, a fight with Juggernaut is just as common as being spotted and recognized in a “normal” environment like that.
Dazzler’s been interpreted and re-interpreted many different ways, but the core of the character, someone who struggles to balance her passion for music with her, well, great power/great responsibility has always remained intact no matter what. In recent years, she’s gotten a bit darker. During Brian Michael Bendis’ run on X-Men Dazzler became an agent of SHIELD, only for it to be revealed that it was actually Mystique the whole time. During that time, Mystique had Dazzler basically locked away, sedated, while she used her body to produce and sell Mutant Growth Hormone. As someone who’s always considered herself to be a champion of her people, it’s one of the most horrific things Mystique had ever done to another mutant. It also forced Dazzler to re-evaluate her often positive and more upbeat stance on the world at large.
The Ultimate X-Men version of Dazzler, set in another universe, is also a huge standout because this total reboot reimagined Dazzler as a punk rocker playing dive bars with a band that was almost certainly going to go nowhere. Her attitude is gruff and she’s dead set to make a terrible impression on everyone she meets, but the core of the character as someone who has a passion for music and a passion for saving the world even when she doesn’t want to admit it, still shines through in an otherwise completely different interpretation.
Having spoken so much about how much being a singer and being an X-Man mean to Dazzler, it’s worth pointing out that she once had an entire comfortable life planned out for her that didn’t involve either. Alison’s parents sought to put her through law school and planned for her to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the country, only for her to explain that she had chosen to follow her passion for music instead.
That decision effectively cost her her relationship with her parents (especially her father) who told her that she was going to fail, and that her decision had neither their blessing nor their forgiveness. And even if one’s parents are supportive, this is still a decision that any creative person can relate to, because you have to understand the risks involved with following your passion, especially if you have to throw away what might be the only thing you have to fall back on to do it.
Since that time, Dazzler’s been through so much, not only in her singing career as a pop sensation, but her career as a superhero and an X-Man as well. She was briefly a herald of Galactus, she fell in love with an interdimensional celebrity named Longshot and mothered the time traveling alien mutant Shatterstar. Disco was already mostly dead by the time she got to it, but that never stopped her from slapping on a pair of roller skates with confidence. One could joke that it takes a lot of confidence to wear what she does, skate around and fight crime with a song in her heart, but… duh. Confidence is literally the key to her character, it’s the thing you need to make it at whatever it is you want to achieve, singer, writer, whatever it might be. The comic has never shied away from her doubt, either, nor her ability to feign that confidence and fake her smile for the public when it does not come naturally to her.
She’s almost always been considered a joke character. She’s made it onto almost every “Worst X-Men of All Time” list and I just don’t abide that, because she’s had to go through things that most of those other characters can’t even comprehend. And it’s not that other characters haven’t had it worse, for sure, it’s just that Dazzler’s experience is so different and unique unto herself that it—along with all of these other incredible aspects of her character—makes her worth celebrating.
Now, it looks like we might be experience a bit of a Dazzler boom, with her upcoming animated series and the fact that she’s set to make her live action debut in this week’s Dark Phoenix (a surprisingly clever nod considering she made her comic debut in the original arc) and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s a little ironic that she’ll see an animated and feature film appearance so close together as that kind of resembles the character’s origin, even though I’m sure (in classic X-Men movie tradition) that she’ll only be in one scene. I’m still delighted either way. No matter what, the character has my support. I’ll be there. I’ll forever listen to whatever sounds of light and fury she has to sing. I’ll be first in line for the eventual album, buying one for myself and one for Juggernaut.