I’ve been sitting on this epic length article that has been in the writing phase for months, now. The idea spawned from this conversation I had with Brian Solomon from The Vault of Horror about the connection between exploitation movies and Marvel Comics of the 1970’s. It seemed painfully obvious to me that Marvel editors and the writing staff were spending an awful lot of time in the scuzzy theaters of 42nd Street and were sourcing inspiration from the low-end crap that sleazy producers were marketing to people with remarkably poor taste in movies. Then I did some interviews with some of Marvel’s big dogs, Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas and Gerry Anderson and it dawned on me that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Often times, when I’d name check movies, these guys acted like they had no idea what I was talking about. I mentioned The Punisher in the same breath as Death Wish and Gerry reminded me that Frank Castle actually beat Bronson to the public eye by a couple of months. So I was out a really sweet article but I updated my hypothesis and came to the new conclusion that the similarities seemed so strong because comic publishers and exploitation filmmakers had a lot in common. Both exploited popular culture of the time in order to move units. One needed to sell tickets, the other needed to sell comics. The easiest way to do that is to tap into the familiar and Marvel Comics grabbed that crown early and has worn it ever since.
Comic publishers with a tremendous amount of continuity will inevitably produce some pretty ridiculous characters. It just happens. The publishing schedule moves fast and you need to stay productive if you intend to remain competitive and it means the occasional misfire but none were so poorly informed as Marvel’s disco dancing mutant, Dazzler. Dazzler falls into a classification of mind boggling mutants who have somehow managed to defy their sell-by date. Somehow, this character has managed to survive a couple of costume redesigns and popped up in mutant books throughout the 80’s even though her relevance was cut short in the early 80’s when disco music went critical mass and the public backlash forced it to submit to the raw fury of rock and roll and the emerging might of hip-hop. Somehow, Dazzler, with her completely fucking useless mutant power of transmuting sound into light, kicked around the X-Men line up for a while and even managed to take up a valuable spot in that sweet coin-op X-Men video game. Her creation, when viewed in its original context, makes perfect sense, though. Even if it is fucking retarded.
Then Marvel Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter, explained recently at his blog about how the heads of Marvel Comics, at the time reaching out to tap into other markets, had this idea to develop a character that could go full-on transmedia and occupy markets outside of comic books. Marvel had some success with The Incredible Hulk and were shooting to do a sort of reverse KISS. Where KISS were a rock band that landed in their own Marvel comic, Marvel wanted a comic book that would produce a rock star. A real one. This had happened in a serendipitous fashion with The Archies, who had a Top 40 hit with Sugar Sugar and were nothing more than studio musicians posing as those comic book characters from Riverdale. Marvel thought they could capture lightning in a bottle by fashioning a disco pop star and then partner with a record label to take that character out of the pages and put it on LP and 8-track. The end result was Dazzler, aka Disco Dazzler. According to Shooter, the character shows up for the first time Uncanny X-Men #130 and then the plan fell flat until Casablanca Records hit up Marvel about doing something with some of their artists. A plan for an animated short was in the works until Shooter showed up with a script treatment that looked more like a feature film to Marvel and Casablanca, both with dollar signs in their eyes. As with many projects that fly too close to the sun, the wind left the sails and the Dazzler feature was dead in the water, at one time attached to Bo Derek who further doomed the project when she insisted that her husband, famous for being box office poison, direct. Everyone backed off and the project eventually died a quiet death.
The treatment, by Shooter, reads like a 1970’s fanboy fever dream with Cher as a villain, Rodney Dangerfield playing four characters, three of whom are nearly identical. Robin Williams plays the love interest, Laverne and Shirley characters Lenny and Squiggy show up as court jesters and KISS faces off against The Village People, each endowed with super powers consistent with their stage presence. Fighting all of them are Dazzler, Spider Man and The Avengers, 1970’s Avengers aka The shittiest Avengers team of all time. If you can believe it, at Cannes in 1980, studios fell all over each other to court this movie, trying to outbid one another. Reading the treatment, it sounds like The Wiz with familiar super heroes.
Download Shooter’s treatment and see what I mean. I defy you not to laugh.