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Jun 28

Dazzler: X-Song

Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

The review backlog is really building up, so time to start the catch up.

And this is a Dazzler one-shot, which is a bit random.  It’s the sort of thing that once upon a time would have ended up in X-Men Unlimited, since it’s a bit too far off to the side to get away with calling it an X-Men Annual.  And it’s a welcome outing for a creative team we don’t normally see in these parts: Magdalene Visaggio, who got an Eisner nomination for Kim & Kim, and Laura Braga from DC Comics Bombshells.

So Dazzler is now playing club gigs with a band called “Lightbringr”, billed on their posters as “music for the meta/mutant revolution”.  The solicitations describe them as a Brooklyn punk band, which would fit reasonably well with recent takes on Dazzler, though the book actually goes for a more traditional design that muddies the message a bit.  But mainly, Dazzler isn’t that interested in being a superhero right now, and just wants to get back to performing.

As the posters might suggest, Lightbringr are kind-of political, in as much as they want to celebrate “mutant pride” and “Inhuman solidarity”, but the emphasis for Dazzler seems to be pretty firmly on the “celebrate” bit.  By the way, this is one of those stories where we’re back to assuming that there’s a large enough mutant population to have its own subculture, an idea which has reared its head from time to time going back to the Grant Morrison run, but never quite seems to have taken hold in the way that you’d want.  The recent Old Man Logan arc where they had a mutants-only dating app seems to be working on the same rules, but it’s not something that comes across in any other books, and it seems like the sort of thing where editorial really ought to pick a line and stick to it.

Are mutants on the verge of extinction, or are they out there in large enough numbers to support their own punk scene?  It’s hard to see how it can be both at once.  Option 2 has more untapped story potential, by the way.  Option 1 has been run into the ground.

The story, then: for all that this is a political band, Alison mainly just wants to perform.  But some of her mutant fans resent the Inhumans being there and are trying to drive them away, which Alison certainly doesn’t approve of.  And naturally, trying to defuse the situation from the stage doesn’t work, so eventually she has to take them on more directly, and you get the drift.   Dazzler is there to send the message that “We have to stand together, because we will always stand apart.”

It’s a great looking issue, helped by some lovely colouring by Rachelle Rosenberg – lots of oranges and pinks for a neon nightlife kind of vibe, which seems absolutely right for Dazzler.  The light in her comics should be a bit weird – and also a bit subdued, because the baseline has to be something that lets her lightshows stand out.

Obviously, this is a story that leans heavily on The Metaphor – mutants as oppressed minority group – in quite an explicit way.  There’s a school of thought which argues that this metaphor doesn’t really work because mutants in the Marvel Universe genuinely are pretty dangerous, which makes the public fear of them rational in a way that isn’t true of any real-life groups.  And true enough, some stories can run into trouble there if they take the metaphor too narrowly and literally.  But I think it’s a more interesting set-up precisely because it doesn’t map neatly onto the real world, yet it’s close enough, in enough ways, that you can make use of the parallels where they do stand up.

Similarly, this is a better story for not being overly specific about what the Mutant Action anti-Inhuman group are meant to represent, beyond a general issue of intolerance within minority groups.  There’s what looks like a fairly obvious gesture in the direction of arguments over women-only spaces: one of the Mutant Action people complains that the Inhumans are really just humans.  But Dazzler’s shows aren’t mutant-only spaces (she’s abundantly clear that it’s superhuman kids in general), and the visual cues are more about racist ska fans in the late 70s.  So it doesn’t really map very neatly onto anything in particular – and if it did, it would probably feel rather heavy handed.

And that’s fine.  It’s going for a broader message about marginalised groups having to hang together.  More to the point, it balances that rather nicely with a little story about Dazzler trying to get back to performing, not particularly wanting the responsibility that comes from having to deal with the situation, and getting over that reluctance to kick out the thugs, and unite her crowd.  So it’s about her reluctance to take on the leader role despite being on a stage, and also her recognition that she needs to enforce the boundaries to get the community she wants.

Mutant Action themselves are pretty one-dimensional.  But the story can get away with that because it’s not really interested in exploring their motivations; it’s far more interested in Dazzler’s reaction to them, and that’s where the good stuff really lies.

Bring on the comments

  1. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    “There’s a school of thought which argues that this metaphor doesn’t really work because mutants in the Marvel Universe genuinely are pretty dangerous, which makes the public fear of them rational in a way that isn’t true of any real-life groups. And true enough, some stories can run into trouble there if they take the metaphor too narrowly and literally. But I think it’s a more interesting set-up precisely because it doesn’t map neatly onto the real world, yet it’s close enough, in enough ways, that you can make use of the parallels where they do stand up.”

    I think this is what Tolkien would call the difference between allegory (Fictional concept x is actually real world concept y!) and applicability (Fictional concept x can be used to describe real world concept y, because they’re both part of a more general concept.)

  2. Si says:

    I’ve been to a punk gig or two. It’s generally a crowd of a couple of dozen people, and it’s always the same couple of dozen people. So that works out okay for a mutant population, unless the art shows her playing in a stadium or something.

    But I don’t know, Dazzler doesn’t strike me as punk. She should be a pop star, that matches her powers and personality. I could see her being internet famous, doing shows sometimes but mainly out there on Youtube and stuff. Not mainstream, but definitely not counterculture. Of course, a whole comic about mutant kids staring at their phones with headphones in may not be the most thrilling story …

  3. SanityOrMadness says:

    Did Dazzler’s M-Pox ever get fixed? They just seemed to forget about it abruptly with Rogue (despite the terrigen going away only preventing future problems, not the already-afflicted, she went straight from “glimpses of arms covered in boils & scars” to “waking up from a nightmare in a tank-top, with perfectly clear skin”). You’d think that might come up in a story with her dealing with anti-Inhuman sentiment amongst mutants.

    Also, wasn’t this issue enormously delayed? I’m pretty sure it was originally announced as Dazzler #43 as part of the Marvel Legacy one-shots) and their numbering gimmick.

  4. Brian says:

    Yes, it was supposed to be Dazzler #43. Having read those one-shots on Marvel Unlimited on recent weeks, I had to stop and wonder if I’d read this one (having seen it in the list in the back of those books).

    As for the new title, why “X-Song”? That makes no sense as even a phrase. Given the Mutant-Inhuman story here, it should be “X-Over Act”!

  5. Mikey says:

    OT:

    How many issues of the new Astonishing team are we going have to suffer through until Greg Land leaves? Ballpark guesses?

  6. ASV says:

    She’s “punk” in the way Avril Lavigne is punk.

  7. Luis Dantas says:

    Do mutants in the MU and inhumans have some way of readily realizing whether someone else is a member of the other group? This story seems to assume so.

    I was surprised to hear that there are now more Inhumans than Mutants. At this point X-comics carry so much baggage that there ought to be a primer in the first page.

  8. Voord 99 says:

    I think part of the problem with Dazzler is that no matter what genre it is to which you assign her, the reader is likely to know damn well that she was conceived entirely as a Disco Goddess. Her powers, her original visual design (and no subsequent design has ever, I think, come close to displacing that one as “iconic), even to an extent her name (“Dazzler” doesn’t have to be that, but it definitely works as that) — she’s framed in terms of a very specific pop-cultural moment.

    So whatever you do with her as a singer, the reader’s first thought is likely to be “Oh, this is what the writer is doing with her instead of what she ‘really’ is, to update her.” I don’t know that you can update the concept to fit a new context — the original context *is* the concept.

    It’s a shame we can’t have more period pieces. I’d be totally up for a miniseries about original model Dazzler set in 1980 from the perspective of 2018.

  9. Chris V says:

    I don’t know. Whenever I think about Dazzler, I always place her a “New Wave” singer, not as involved with disco music.
    Disco was, basically, dead by the point that Marvel introduced Dazzler anyway, so it’s a lot easier to place her with New Wave, in the 1980s.

    I don’t see being associated with New Wave as being as embarrassing as Disco. Besides, look at how Madonna updated herself through the years. No one said, “What is Madonna trying to do? She’s a New Wave diva. That’s all she’ll ever be.” It’s entirely possible for Alison to update her music too.

    Based on Marvel’s sliding time-scale though, she wouldn’t even have been born when New Wave was popular.

    Luis: There’s the Death of the Inhumans mini-series coming up in July. It may solve the problem of all these new and uninteresting Inhumans running around the Marvel Universe. Hopefully.

  10. Voord 99 says:

    Disco was certainly on its way out when Dazzler was introduced (not quite dead, though – Super Trouper was an enormous hit for ABBA in 1980, for instance).

    But that’s the usual phenomenon of people scrambling to catch a pop culture phenomenon and getting there too late. Cf. Xanadu. Notoriously, Claremont’s description of the discotheque in the UXM issue that introduced Dazzler strongly suggests that he was not writing from a place of extensive familiarity with the scene. 🙂

    But I defy anyone to look at the first page of Dazzler #1 (on Unlimited) and not to think that she’s clearly meant to be disco. Look at her necklace, bracelets, and handbag! Absolutely agreed that in 1981 she *should* have been New Wave, but I don’t think that was the intention.

  11. Dave White says:

    Nice continuity touch: “Lightbringer” was the name of the Dazzler Thor’s hammer from A-FORCE #3-7.

  12. mark coale says:

    “She’s “punk” in the way Avril Lavigne is punk.”

    Or Marvel Comics writer Phil Brooks.

  13. Thom H. says:

    Yeah, the big collar, mirror ball accessories, and roller skates of her original costume clearly give away the disco theme.

    Marvel and Claremont smartly pivoted away from that when he had her officially join the team and don the asymmetrical blue costume. So if your first introduction to Dazzler was in the mid-to-late ’80s (like mine was), then she was definitely much more New Wave than disco.

  14. wwk5d says:

    She had that costume before she joined the X-men. She began wearing it in Dazzler #38 (July 1985) and doesn’t join the X-men until Uncanny #214 (February 1987).

  15. Voord 99 says:

    I do think, though, that it’s her original costume that’s the “classic” one that is more strongly associated with the character in collective memory.

    [Although admittedly this is an argument to the contrary:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=k3MIEhCk40g ]

    I’d say that the blue-with-red-headband look (which frankly does not say “New Wave” to me so much as “Olivia Newton-John in the ‘Let’s Get Physical’ video — it’s definitely ‘80s, but in a fairly generic sort of way) and her being characterized as generically a singer is the beginning of thing that I’m talking about, in that it screams, “We are trying to update her, OK?” and tends to make one think about what it’s trying to avoid in the act of avoiding it.

    Mind you, to clarify I don’t think that there’s anything particularly embarrassing about Dazzler’s disco origins from the perspective of 2018. I mean, aren’t we all clear now that the backlash against disco had a generous helping of racism, sexism, and homophobia to it, even if it can’t entirely be reduced to those factors?

    It is, however, a little awkward that she’s a case of taking a character who was conceived as African-American and making her white, even if the reason was a practical one (Bo Derek was interested in playing Dazzler in the movie).

  16. Luis Dantas says:

    @Chris V: You may have misunderstood me. I do not particularly dislike the Inhumans, certainly not over mutants. I am just a bit stunned that the MU now has so many of them. It did not strike me that such was the case.

    It is however rather ironic that inhumans are now accused of “being humans” and that their appearances are said to be generally closer to the human norm than that of mutants. That does not exactly make sense, but yeah, comics.

  17. Brendan says:

    I always thought Dazzler would best transition into Trance or House music rather than Punk. Punk makes as much sense as Mutants being Inhumaphobic, or how ever we’re suppose to lable this one.

  18. Taibak says:

    Madonna isn’t a bad comparison, but why not embrace Dazzler’s history? This is someone who has presumably disappeared from performing while she was running around Australia and the Mojoverse so it seems like her career should have suffered as a result. With that in mind, why *wouldn’t* she constantly reinvent herself in an attempt to stay relevant and rebuild her celebrity?

  19. Dave White says:

    For some reason the thought of Dazzler being involved in the EDM scene makes me think of that one scene in POPSTAR where they make poor Jorma Taccone’s character wear a Deadmaus-style helmet with lights so powerful they burn through the roof of the arena and interfere with airplane traffic.

  20. Si says:

    Funny thing is, disco sort-of came back on the wave of 80s nostalgia a few years ago, and Dazzler missed it (again!). But she would fit seamlessly as a generic pop club musician, a Lady Gaga or what have you. Kids are always going to get off their faces and dance in large groups, so you don’t have to worry about it being dated. Punk is an attitude as much as a genre, and it’s not an attitude a pretty woman who makes lights really fits into.

    As for inhumans, those clouds were changing people left, right and centre. It makes sense if there’s more of them than mutants, who have to be born that way and get genocided every two years. But yeah, surely the only way to tell the difference is to peek at the character sheet.

  21. Luis Dantas says:

    I am trying to think of the social consequences. For instance, Kitty’s X-Men team seems to be trying for a high visibility approach. I don’t think that makes much sense without some effort at reaching out for Inhumans if there are more of them these days.

  22. Nu-D says:

    Circa uncanny #235 Dazz performs “Proud Mary” to a bunch of drunk cowboys in the outback. By this time she’s left behind disco for bluesy rock. I always thought she spent the late 80’s as an ersatz Concrete Blonde.

    Also of note, her time as backup to Lila Cheney was definitely New Wave a la Blondie.

  23. Mika says:

    Yeah, if I remember correctly, Dazzler’s solo book had a tendency to use Janis Joplin as the comparison point, so I think (some) writers tried to get her away from disco almost as soon as she was introduced.

  24. Adam Farrar says:

    The first time I saw Dazzler she was in her blue bodysuit with the headband and the jacket in the X-Men arcade game. In the early ’90s she was barely in the comics but a staple of the arcade scene.

  25. Chris says:

    This got me to google something that always bugs me in my head…

    When Claremont wrote Dazzler into the X-Men comic as a member in 1987, did he retcon out a bunch of stuff in the Dazzler comic… including her fights with Black Tom and Juggernaut in that series?

  26. Un-D says:

    @Chris,

    I haven’t read Uncanny 217-218 in a long time, but IRC the dialogue strongly suggests Dazz and Juggs do not recognize each other. If they met before that, it would come as a surprise to those of us who read those issues and not her solo. As for Black Tom, I don’t know of any appearance of Dazz with him.

  27. Nu-D says:

    In Uncanny 217 Dazz recognizes Cain “from the X-Men’s files,” and Cain doesn’t recognize her or her powers until she shouts her own name in typical Claremont Style. So yes, if they had met before then, CC either didn’t know or was ignoring it.

    But continuity error aside, they’re two quite good issues. In particular, the second scene in 218 where Dazz is buried alive is really delightful. And so is the full team-up against Juggernaut at the end of the issue.

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