Dazzler #1 (March, 1981)
“So Bright This Star”
Writer – Tom DeFalco
Pencils – John Romita, Jr.
Inks – Alfredo Alcala
Colors – Glynis Wein
Letters – Joe Rosen
Edits – Jones, Shooter
Cover Price: 50¢
So, whatzis then? Dazzler? We really doin’ Dazzler now? Well, no promises or anything… but, I’m game to give it a shot.
Thing about Dazzler is… it’s a series I’ve spent the better part of 25 years collecting. It’s not especially difficult to find nor are any of the issues particularly expensive… but, this is one that I decided I would only ever buy in the cheap-o bins. That’s not me editorializing on the “value” or “quality” of the series… it’s just to say, I never really prioritized it enough to hit the “real” bins it. Another thing about Dazzler is… I’ve never read it! It’s been one’a those “on-purpose” blind spots in my X-Fandom. Just never bothered to sit down with it. Again, that’s no indictment on whether or not it’s any good… it just never really called out to me.
Figure now that I’ve finally completed my set, maybe it’s about time to rectify that. Just as with our recently-concluded X-Men Vignettes series, this project (if it actually becomes one — again, no promises) will serve to facilitate (or kinda “force”) me actually setting aside the time to read some long-neglected X-Stuffs.
But first… howsabout a Fake-Ass Comics History lesson?
I probably don’t need to go into the Casablanca Records stuff, do I? I figure if you’re reading a site as niche as this, you probably already know the broader strokes of the deal Marvel had with them, yes? Instead, I wanna talk a little bit about the Direct Marketiness of this series. It was Marvel’s very first foray into Direct Market exclusivity. If you look at the (really cool looking) cover, you might notice that it’s missing that li’l Spidey Head in the white box.
Jim Shooter, on his blog… which was a really awesome repository of information, for the few months he maintained it, said of Dazzler #1:
“At the end of 1980, Marvel published the first regular comic book that was sold exclusively through the Direct Market, Dazzler #1. It sold 428,000 copies. After that success, many more Direct-only offerings were published by Marvel and others. As the Direct Market boomed, increasingly it became the focus at Marvel. It was a low-margin business, yes, but it was a firm sale, and it was pretty easy to target Direct Market consumers. We knew what they wanted. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.”
So, what does that all mean? Well, if you listened to the Direct Market episodes of Weird Comics History, you’d know. In case you didn’t, lemme give ya the quick ‘n dirty: newsstand distribution had a “return clause” attached, where unsold copies could be sent back to a publisher (usually just the front cover of the unsold copy, for ease of proof). Simplified, the publisher would then credit back. The Direct Market was born out of an idea of Phil Seuling’s… older fans and fake-ass comics historians such as myself, will likely be familiar with Phil, as he was a big name in the earliest organized comic books conventions. The gimmick was, Marvel/DC/whoever, would sell HIM their product at a reduced price — without the risk of returns. So, Phil paid upfront for product… and he’d be stuck with it. Which, back in the long ago, when the back-issue market was starting to become a big bit’a business, wasn’t a bad thing at all. Phil didn’t operate a newsstand, so he had no worries about shelf-space… it made a lot of sense for him to pursue his business this way.
So much sense, that, here we are exactly 50 years later… and it’s been the market standard for most of the interim! Since I’ve already linked to the collected WCH episode, I won’t go all that much deeper on the Direct Market overall… it’s all there if you wanna hear it! Reggie and I spent the better part of two years researching that bugger… and, it turned out to be the final episodes of that program we were able to complete.
As you can see from the skinny image above (from The Comic Times #3), preorders for Dazzler #1… several months before launch exceeded a quarter of a million copies! Could you imagine? In a time before the Internet (as we know it)… a female-led Direct Market only book… pre-sold over 250,000 copies! Seems almost too good to be true — but, it’s true! Two months later, The Comic Times printed an update… which falls more in line with Jim Shooter’s 400k+ figure:
Nearly a half-million copies of Dazzler #1 were printed to meet order demands! Could that be due to fears of scarcity? Did folks just not wanna miss out. Did people want “in” on the Direct Sales experiment? Or, maybe there was some curiosity because of the rumored… oh, c’mon… Casablanca Films: Dazzler movie. Well, same as it ever was, eh? Maybe my recollections of comics past are more rose-colored than I thought.
Back to the Shooter quote. He mentions that Dazzler was the first… but her success on the Direct Market stands led to Marvel (and other publishers) seeing the Direct Market as a viable (ridiculously so) avenue to push their wares. In fact, in my research for this article, I dug through a stack of ancient texts… which is to say, early 80’s fan and industry mags… and, around this time, hardly an issue would pass without the announcement of a new Direct Market title… or, Newsstand title(s) that’ve been shifted over to Direct! Let’s just look at the next couple issues of Amazing Heroes:
Micronauts announced as going Direct in the the August, 1981 issue of Amazing Heroes… then, in the Fall:
… the ‘Nauts are joined by Ka-Zar and Moon Knight! I could go on listing examples… all day, if I’m being honest… but, I think ya get the point. The industry was dipping its whole foot ‘n ankle into the Direct Market… and, they found the waters to be quite pleasant… and profitable.
Across the street at DC, they too gave it a goo… just a few months after Dazzler #1, their Madame Xanadu one-shot would be their first foray:
Was this a successful endeavor for the industry? Well, I suppose we all have our opinions and definitions on what “success” means… especially with nearing a half-century’s worth of lessons learned and hindsight. I’m not entirely sure where I stand personally… as, I came into the hobby post-Direct Market, post-80’s Indie Boom, post… lotsa stuff! But, at the end of the day, our main takeaway for this piece is that… the book we’re about to discuss blazed the trail that changed the industry forever. She was the “canary in a mineshaft”… testing to see how “safe” the air was in this new marketplace. Turns out, the air was so nice that she could not only breathe… but also belt out plenty of disco funk.
But… is it any good? Let’s find out…
Our story… and series, opens with Dazzler on the run from a gang of street toughs. Why are they chasing her? Who knows! They’ve been “dogging her” ever since she left the disco, though. Ali turns into an… err, alley… and finds she’s hit a dead end. And so, she sits on a garbage can waiting for her pursuers to catch up. Lucky for her, she remembered to bring her analogue iPod, with which can can do her hoo-doo of turning sound (Pink Floyd, in this instance) into light! She also straps her magnetic skates onto her boots… to make this scene that much more awkward. As luck would have it, her lightshow has attracted the attention of a friendly neighborhood so-and-so, who swings on in to get a closer look at what’s going down. What he finds is… a bit of DAZZ SMASH… Ali is pummeling the blinded nogoodniks with garbage can lids.
The leader of the pack starts shooting wildly… missing everything with a pulse, but managing to hit the analogue iPod, thus ending the lightshow. Looks like it might be curtains for our gal… but, no — this is when Spidey arrives to scare all the baddies off. They’re not interested in tangling with a superhero… they were just in it to beat up who they thought was a poor, defenseless girl. But why? For sport? I dunno. The gang nearly manages to get away, but ultimately winds up stuck together in a web cocoon hanging from a lamp post. Pete checks to see if Dazz is okay… which prompts her to whinge a whole lot about how crappy her music career is going. Ya know, Ali… when people ask “how ya doin’?”, they really just wanna hear “good”. Spidey tells her to hang in there, and swings away into the night.
We follow Alison back to her overpriced and underheated apartment. It’s made plainly clear that she’s flat broke… can’t even afford ketchup for a bowl of poor gal’s tomato soup, even! So tonight she’s having half a putrefying cantaloupe and a sleave of stale Ritz Crackers — hey, those are name-brand crackers, how broke can she really be? Anyway, she’s still in malaise mode. She misses her father, but they had a bit of a falling out when she decided not to follow in his footsteps in becoming a power attorney. So, she decides to make a phone call — not to her father, mind you — but, to the X-Men. Hey, this is Marvel’s first direct market book… you really don’t think all‘a the heavy-hitters are gonna show up here?
The X-Men are, where else, the Danger Room. Since this is a Jim Shooter-edited book, it fits perfectly well into what was going on in the X-Books. That also goes for all the rest of the guests stars in this book. Marvel was a tight ship back then. Anyway, while Kitty monitors Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine — the… uh, Danger Room phone rings! The Uncannies all rush to be the one to answer it, even Wolverine… which is weird. Ororo manages to get their first… and, upon hearing Ali’s voice, immediately assumes she’s going to take up their offer and join the team. Also, give up singing… which, it’s weird that it couldn’t just be one or the other. Must Alison give up music if she chooses to join the X-Men? She really couldn’t do both? I dunno. In any event, Ali says that ain’t the case… and she was simply calling to see what’s up. It’s a short phone call.
After hanging up, Ali stares out her window so we can hop into flashback land. She talks about her time as a little girl who loved music. Loved it so much, she actually had thought balloons which read: “I want to sing… to dance… to entertain!” C’mahhhhn. Daddy Blaire wasn’t a fan of his daughter’s dreams… and made sure she knew it. She’d often run crying to her Nana for support.
From here, we jump ahead to the Gardendale High School Spring Spectacular… where she’s going to take part in a talent show. It’s here where her mutant powers first manifested. She sang and lit up the school gym with… do we have a name for the disco funk “Dazzle Balls” that she manifests? Are they just Dazzle Balls? Blaire Balls? Ali-Orbs? There’s gotta be a catchier name than that. We’ll have to think on it. Anyway, it’s during her set where… hey, we got more street toughs! A gang, calling themselves the, ahem “Blazing Lords” bust in through the double doors to… uh, cripple anyone who moves? Okay, but… why? Guess the early 80s were far simpler times… bad guys didn’t really need to be all that goal oriented.
So, one’a these scumbags spots Ali on stage… and announces that she now belongs to him. Our Ms. Blaire ain’t gonna just let herself be taken, however — and so, she proceeds to pop off s’more disco funk — blinding everybody in attendance! The police and emergency services arrive, and the happening is assumed to be some sort of “freak power overload”. Dazz, the only person present without her eyes bandaged up, knows that the only “freak” here… is her.
During and after High School, Ali would play with several bands. She’d also enroll and graduate from a pre-law program. Upon her graduation, however, she informs her father that she will not be continuing on to law school. She’s got dreams, ya see, and they don’t include… whatever it is a lawyer does. Daddy Blaire stomps away like a scolded child. In the next few months, she’d become the skating sensation known to all as Dazzler. She’s been in the game two years now… and feels like she’s finally hit rock-bottom.
From here, we shift scenes to… Asgard? What!? That can’t be right. Okay. Here, we see a couple of big warrior goofs stood atop the endless golden Asgardian stairwell. A man approaches after an eight day climb. He’s here to meet with the Enchantress… and unfortunately for him, if he wants to see her — he’s going to have to fight his way in. And so, we fight… and he wins.
He continues his way toward the Enchantress’s Chamber… so he might tell her that he is a slave to her loveliness. To thank him for the sweet words, she turns him into a tree. Welp, punishment fits the crime.
She then wanders over to the Fountain of Forever to take a peek at anything that might catch her eye Midgard-way. Something that might help her take over the entire universe, even! What she sees is… oh, c’mon… the glittering of a disco ball. She calls the disco a “glittering palace of raucous sound”, which… again, c’mon. Though, in fairness, “sound” might be the kindest thing one can say about disco.
Next stop, Avengers Mansion for our next set of guest-appearances. We’re a Fantastic Four sighting away from hitting BINGO, or something. Sadly, we won’t be seeing them. Anyway, it’s here where Beast is reading the newspaper… and sees something that really gets his attention… and so, goes to leap away… nearly crushing the poor Wasp in the process. She zaps him in the butt, because… why not, I guess?
The fracas manages to get the attention of Captain America and Iron Man, who are in the middle of moving that stuff over here… to that spot over there. Anyway, they check to see what all the hub-bub’s about, and Beast apologizes for getting a bit too carried away. He then leaves, claiming that he’s about to chat up a mutant he’s never met before… but has always wanted to.
That mutant is, of course, Dazzler. Beast pops up outside her window, like a creep. He shows her the newspaper, which has an article about there being a sick singer… and a “disco boss” who is looking to hire a replacement. I mean, stop the presses, am I right? Oh, by the way… this is the same disco as the one seen in the Fountain of Forever… though, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.
Next we know, Alison – in full face-painted Dazzler glory – has arrived at the disco. Unfortunately for her… the Enchantress has beaten her to the punch. Since she’s, ya know, the Enchantress, the “Disco Boss” is totally infatuated with her… so, it seems like a no-brainer.
He begrudgingly gives Ali the opportunity to sing… but tells her she’s wasting her time. Turns out, our gal knocked his socks off! She gets the gig… much to the chagrin of the Enchantress. We wrap up with our baddie vowing revenge.
Okay, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from this… this issue managed to both meet my expectations, and surprise me. Lemme explain. Over the years, as I’d be entering the issues of this volume I’d find in the cheap-o bins into my Excel Spreadsheet… something that really jumped off the screen at me was the names of those involved in creating it. I wondered how these creators would “jive” with the young lady whose exploits they were telling. I’m sure Tom DeFalco was a much younger man than I’m assuming he was back in 1981… but, to me, he’ll always be the stogie-chomping middle-aged man who appeared in those early 90’s Bullpen Bulletins cartoons.
So, the idea that he’d be writing a young woman… I dunno, made me kinda furrow my brows a bit. It’s kinda like reading current-year Blondie and Dagwood strips… or, I suppose most newspaper strips… you get the feeling like the people writing/drawing them are in a cave somewhere… cast in amber or something. Just outta touch, and way, way, wayyyy behind the times. There’s a “charm” to them, sure… but, they aren’t anything you’d recommend to anyone.
That’s how I thought this was going to feel. Old, stodgy, stale, outta touch. But, surprisingly enough, I didn’t get that feeling one bit! Again, DeFalco was only 30-31 when this issue hit… though, back in the long ago, 30 actually was 30. Nowadays, 50 is 30. I’m… getting off-topic. This book felt surprisingly “current”, is what I’m trying to say… and, I understand that’s not really high praise… but, I assure you, I am praising it! This was fun… and makes me wanna read more, which is about as high a compliment one can give to any piece of media.
This issue carried a lot of weight on its shoulders. Being the first Direct-Only book… with nearing a half million pre-sales… I suppose it should go without saying that there was a lot of pressure for it to deliver. Many of us experienced the Image boom, yes? Those suckers sold like they were going outta style (which… hrmm), but… looking back, so few of us actually talk about what those books were about. They were collectors’ items masquerading as literature. This first push into the Direct Market was different. Back then, and this could be more rose-colored recollecting of a time I didn’t actually live through, comics were only “valuable” to the folks who actually wanted them. I mean, as late as 1983, you could get a copy of Action Comics #1 for… $13,500! That’s only $38,968.92 in 2022 bux!
So, (and I admit I might be projecting) there was a lot riding on Dazzler being both a hit financially and creatively. It couldn’t just be a one-n-done… and, while sales charts weren’t really a “thing” just yet… maybe as we work our way through the series I’ll be able to dig up some sort of evidence as to how well this book sold throughout the duration of its run. Though, as the final issue (#42) comes with the tagline: “Because YOU Demanded it — the LAST issue of…”, my hopes aren’t too high.
As far as this issue is concerned though? It was fun. Star-studded (as it should’a been), an engaging (yet wildly silly) story, a telling of Ali’s origin. It really is everything you might want out of a “first issue”… back when being a “first issue” actually meant something. Overall… I’d recommend this. It’s a fun look at the Marvel of the day… and, armed with the knowledge of all the Direct Market drama and history surrounding it, it makes the read all that much more interesting (at least to me).
Now, as far as this reading/blogging “project” is concerned… I can’t promise these’ll be hitting every day. Hell, I can’t even promise there’ll be a “part 2”! I’m hoping for the best though. I hope you enjoyed this, as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It’s not often I find myself sprawled out on the carpet surrounded by (relatively) ancient comics mags. Made me feel like a kid again!
Thanks for reading.