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John Seavey’s Storytelling Engines: Dazzler

Here’s the latest Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Click here to read John’s description of what a Storytelling Engine IS, anyways. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented.

Storytelling Engines: Dazzler

(or “A New Lens To View An Old Idea”)

If the storytelling engine for ‘Dazzler’ doesn’t automatically seem familiar to most comics fans in the 1980s (when the series came out) or in the present day, that’s probably forgivable. After all, super-hero comics pretty much dominated the market from the 1960s onwards, and they still dominate it today, at least in financial terms. Looking at ‘Dazzler’ through the lens of super-hero comics, it stands out as something quite new and different…arguably so much so that the writers of the series weren’t quite sure what to do with it.

Alison Blaire, the Dazzler (she dropped the ‘Disco’ part of the name after a very short while) was a mutant with the power to absorb sound and convert it to light. But unlike every other person in the Marvel Universe, gaining super-powers didn’t make Alison decide that she needed to save humanity, or conquer the world. All Dazzler wants is to make it big in the challenging world of rock music, and to her, having super-powers is more of a hindrance than a help. It’s hard to make gigs if you’re getting kidnapped by Galactus, fighting the Hulk, or foiling the plans of the evil Enchantress, but despite her best efforts to be an ordinary rock star, she keeps bumping into the Doctor Dooms of the world and has to do her best to stop them. It’s an idea pretty thoroughly unlike any other Marvel or DC were publishing at the time…

And yet, when you take away the whole “super-hero” aspect, it’s a pretty normal idea for a series. In fact, ‘American Idol’ re-enacts it every season with a new cast. “Talented unknown struggles to make it big” is a classic concept, one that borders on hackneyed…but by taking the smaller storytelling engine of Alison Blaire and her quest for fame and acceptance (would it really surprise you to know that her father doesn’t approve of “show business” and wants her to become a lawyer?), and placing it within the larger storytelling engine of the Marvel universe, the storytelling engine suddenly finds new directions for exploration it never had before.

In retrospect, it seems like nobody was sure quite whether or not the traditional super-hero audience wanted to explore any of those new directions; after a while, ‘Dazzler’ turned into a “Fugitive” type series, and after its cancellation, Alison became a bog-standard super-hero and X-Woman, albeit one that spent lots of her thought balloons whining about how she’d rather be singing. But don’t underestimate the impact that ‘Dazzler’ had. Over the next two decades or so, as the idea gained currency, lots of comic books started taking storytelling engines from other genres, implanting them in a super-hero universe, and watching the resultant interaction between the two sets of ideas. You could make a case that ‘Powers’, ‘Top 10′, ‘District X’, ‘She-Hulk’, ‘The Initiative’, and ‘The Power Company’ all owe some inspiration to ‘Dazzler’. (Detectives, cops, detectives, lawyers, soldiers, and lawyers, respectively.)

The comic-book universes DC and Marvel operate are vast and strange, and operate under a set of rules that we’re rarely shown in any detail. Stories like Dazzler’s operate in parts of those universes that we don’t usually see, but that’s as much to their advantage as it is to their detriment. By exploring an old idea in a new way, they make a whole new set of options available to an old storytelling engine, making those stories fresh for the telling for a whole new generation. Not bad for someone who started off as a novelty disco act, huh?

10 Comments

If she absorbed sound, converting it to light, wouldn’t it make the music sounds crappy? “This rock concert would be great, but it seems that every sound wave that goes by the singer just…gets absorbed.”

…Though, it could be cool to pit her in a fight against Banshee or other shouter/screamer types…

despite her best efforts to be an ordinary rock star, she keeps bumping into the Doctor Dooms of the world and has to do her best to stop them. It’s an idea pretty thoroughly unlike any other Marvel or DC were publishing at the time…

Although it does bear some resemblance to Hanna-Barbera action/”mystery” cartoons. So many of their shows featured a group of kids who were just travelling the country (often a rock band), and just happened to consistently wind up knee-deep in some mystery or adventure.

Also don’t forget Alias… to me Bendis’ series is an excellent example of a character denouncing super heroics for a day job… Hey, Bendis, how about a new Dazzler series?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 27, 2007 at 5:22 pm

Also don’t forget Alias… to me Bendis’ series is an excellent example of a character denouncing super heroics for a day job… Hey, Bendis, how about a new Dazzler series?

How many series can the concept of someone not using their powers be interesting for?

…Though, it could be cool to pit her in a fight against Banshee or other shouter/screamer types…

She did fight Screaming Mimi, as well as Klaw.

Black Bolt was a guest-star once or twice, too.

Yeah, the Klaw story was interesting…she basically absorbed him whole, and was put on trial for murder. The jury ruled that it was self-defense, based mainly on the testimony of Quasar. Some cool stuff in there.

Um, superhero comics don’t dominate anymore. I see way more kids/teens/20s buying/reading manga these days… Besides, wasn’t Dazzler just a rip-off of that 80s glam rock cartoon Jem?

Um, no.
Dazzler made her debut in 1980,
while Jem didn’t air until the mid-80s.

My memory of the Klaw “death” aftermath (the trial story with a Quasar testimony) is that it kinda sucked, actually. It was a talking heads story (no action) where no one had any personality to speak of, despite a fair amount of gratuitous angst from Alison – who seemed to jump from being quite balanced at one moment to being at tears because “no one could guess the burden of being a mutant”.

Gee, lady, you have a power of absorbing sound and making light at will. A power that you don’t even have any difficulty controlling, and that you use for profesional advantage quite freely. Are we really expected to believe that you lose any sleep because you are “cursed” with such a power?

I agree with everything this represents! Kudos! Nice analysis!

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