After a couple years of rumors and pranks involving the introduction of the character, 20th Century Fox has confirmed it will finally add the mutant singer Dazzler to the cast of characters in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This will be the big-screen debut of the longtime X-Men character who debuted in 1980 in X-Men #130 (an early part of the classic “Dark Phoenix Saga” by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin). However, amazingly enough, not only did Dazzler almost appear in a film decades ago, she nearly appeared in a film before she even debuted in a comic book! Read on to learn one of the strangest creation stories of any X-Men character ever.
The late 1970s were a difficult time for the comic book industry, as the news stand market for comic books was beginning to dry up, with a big sales slump coinciding with changes in the news stand market that led to many in the industry to wonder if the comic book industry was even going to be around by the end of the 1980s. It is often times of great uncertainty, though, that companies come up with the wildest and most inventive ideas. Marvel was trying all sorts of ideas to raise sales at the time. One project that had been successful was a comic book special starring the popular rock and roll band, Kiss, whose colorful painted facial designs and elaborate leather costumes made them perfect fits for a larger-than-life comic book adventure…
Kiss was the first hit act for Neal Bogart’s Casablanca Records, an independent record company that had initially been part of Warner Bros (the company name was a play on the film Casablanca, which starred Humphrey “Bogie” Bogart). While Kiss was their first major act, they quickly moved to a number of popular disco singers, with Donna Summer being the most popular one.
In 1979, Marvel came up with the idea of doing a cross-promotional singing superhero. They could have the character star in their own comic book while also having them become a real life singer, much like how Archie Comics had done a similar idea with the “Archies” having a major pop hit with “Sugar, Sugar.” Naturally, since Marvel had a relationship with Casablanca Records, they pitched the character to Bogart. Marvel’s pitch was for a disco superhero named either the Disco Dazzler or the Dazzler, and she would have light-based powers that tied in with her music. Dazzler was created by committee, but the main creative forces behind the character were Shooter and writer Tom DeFalco and artist John Romita Jr. (who had only recently begun working for the company his father had been working for for decades at that point).
Romita did a famous drawing showing the Dazzler pitching Bogart on the idea (Romita says he was told to draw her like Grace Jones)…
By the time, Casablanca Records, which also had merged in 1976 with Peter Guber’s independent film company, FilmWorks, had come to Marvel for the idea of an animated special that could introduce the Dazzler. Jim Shooter wrote a treatment (which was designed to feature all of the artists that Casablanca had under contract, including such disparate people as Donna Summer and Lenny and Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley) that Casablanca liked well enough that they wanted to make it a feature-length film!
Then, Bo Derek became interested in perhaps playing Dazzler. This was likely why Dazzler’s features then began to look like Bo Derek. Marvel even then had Dazzler debut in X-Men #130 (by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin) to help move things along with Derek.
There’s a classic issue of People Magazine from early 1980, right around the time Dazzler made her comic book debut, that shows Derek and her husband, director and producer John Derek, walking while carrying a pile of comic books, as they debated the project.
The screenplay for the possible film was by Leslie Stevens, and he gave Dazzler new powers, like the ability to make people tell the truth.
However, things were falling apart on all ends by this point, as Bogart was pushed out of Casablanca by his film partners (who split off FilmWorks as PolyGram) due to excessive spending and possible accounting irregularities. They were no longer interested in the Dazzler project. Meanwhile, interest also fell off in Derek’s film version of the character (she allegedly wanted her husband to direct the film) and ultimately, the multi-media aspect of the character was pretty much finished. However, Marvel had spent a lot of time promoting the development of a character that they had nothing else to do with now, outside of her single X-Men comic book appearance.
Shooter, then, had the idea to use the character to test out a new way people were using to buy comics called the direct market, where specialty stores could buy comic books directly from the distributor and they could get a larger discount in exchange for forfeiting the right to return unsold copies like newsstand sellers did. Shooter needed a title to test out whether Marvel could go Direct Market only on books. So he chose to launch a Direct Market-only Dazzler ongoing series in late 1980, with a gorgeous Bob Larkin painted cover…
The comic book industry responded to a Direct Market-only book with a lot of attention and the first issue of Dazzler sold very well. The Direct Market soon took off and it is mostly how comic books are sold to this day, and you could argue that they owe a lot of their success to how well Dazzler #1 was received.
Sales dropped off as the series went along, though, even when Jim Shooter got back involved by writing a graphic novel that had Dazzler’s career take a huge hit when she is outed as a mutant, likely the most famous known mutant in the Unites States at the time. Originally, Dazzler was then going to become a founding member of X-Factor, but after that fell apart with Jean Grey instead becoming part of the team (after coming back from the seeming dead), she then officially joined the X-Men as a team member. She is now best known for her connection to the X-Men, which sets her up to finally make it to the silver screen decades after she could have made it!
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