Dazzler, The Disco Superhero

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It’s 1979, and Marvel Comics have just scored a big hit with their Kiss comic books – two glossy super-specials (the first, memorably, ‘printed in Kiss blood’) featuring the band as superpowered heroes battling the likes of Dr Doom. It was a hugely successful collaboration, and both Marvel – who were looking to expand their market beyond the usual comic book readers – and Casablanca Records were keen to try something even more ambitious. The result was the sort of ludicrous idea that could have only emerged after long, cocaine-fuelled meetings of the sort for which Casablanca was infamous* – a female comic book superhero who would also be a real-life musical performer and a fictional movie character.

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While Kiss had been Casablanca’s first and most successful signing, the label’s main roster were disco acts, and the new character was conceived as The Disco Queen, later renamed Disco Dazzler and – thankfully for Marvel – simply Dazzler in the comic books. John Romita Jr was tasked with designing a character, and his initial idea was someone based on Grace Jones. This progressed through the design stages, with Casablanca helpfully suggesting that the character speak jive, before the label’s movie division Filmworks threw things into disarray when they announced that not only was the planned half-hour animated special initially discussed now going to be a feature film, but that they wanted Bo Derek to be the star of the movie. Bo Derek does not look like Grace Jones, and so Dazzler was – much to the dismay of Romita – retooled as a blonde-haired white girl. Some people, naturally, have put this down to racism. More realistically, it was probably a case of took many chefs and commercial considerations – 10 was a big movie at the time and Bo Derek was as hot as any star could be.

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Bo Derek

Marvel beavered away on the character, with Tom DeFalco given the writing job – she was introduced first in Uncanny X-Men and given use appearances with the likes of Spider-Man to build anticipation for the comic book. Dazzler‘s first issue shifted an astounding 400,000 copies. It looked like the character was a hit. Unfortunately, no one was able to take advantage.

Casablanca were suffering the twin woes of bad management (that pesky cocaine again) and the collapse of the disco market. They were suddenly in no position to put money or energy into anything, and so the Disco Dazzler never did get to record any music, and the role of the real-life performer was never filled. It’s probably just as well, as a real singer might have caused some head scratching when the fictional film starring Bo Derek came out.

Of course, the film was the next project to go.

Jim Shooter had written a delirious treatment for the film, which has to be seen to be believed. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it involves Spider-Man and the Avengers, Kiss battling the Village People, and suggests Cher, Donna Summer, Robin Williams and Rodney Dangerfield as cast members. Read it here.

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Once Casablanca were out of the picture, Marvel and Shooter shopped the project around, and there was some interest – after all, Superman – The Movie was a huge box office hit at the time and comic book films seemed less of a gamble than they might have a year or so earlier. But unfortunately, Bo Derek now came as a package with director husband John. Anyone who has seen films like Tarzan the Ape Man and Ghosts Can’t Do It can attest to what a bad idea it was to ever let him near a camera, and his controlling ways soon saw the pair leaving the film… at which point the whole idea was quietly dropped. This left the multimedia project as a decidedly singular media affair, and once the initial burst of interest had died down, Dazzler comic book sales began to implode. The comic was cancelled after 42 issues, which is more than you’d actually expect a contrived idea like this to get, and it’s probably down to the talents at Marvel reworking the character into something more credible that it lasted so long. The run was followed by the graphic novel Dazzler: The Movie, which adapted the unfilmed screenplay.

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Marvel being what it is, Dazzler has never quite died, being resurrected as a supporting character in other comics over the years. And there’s a certain cult following for the character today, often from people who are not big comic book fans but appreciate the kitsch disco fabulousness of the idea. But this does feel like an unfulfilled promise – I really wish that there was a movie featuring Bo Derek as a spandex-clad, rollerskating mutant who fires disco lights from her eyes and duets on I Was Made for Lovin’ You with Paul Stanley as they battle the Village People. The world is a slightly duller place for it not existing.

DAVID FLINT

* We should emphasise that the Marvel staff were famously very, very straight and we are not suggesting that any of their decisions were cocaine induced, however much that would explain some of their publications at this time.

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