Monday, July 4, 2011

The Debut of the Dazzler

JayJay here. Oops... I left the whole bunch at the end of the story off when I first posted it. So if you read this before... please read the end. Sorry!


Wikipedia has much of it wrong….

Sometime in early 1979, Marvel’s in-house counsel and V.P. of business affairs Alice Donenfeld proposed that we create a super-heroine/singer character.  She was hoping to set up a joint venture with a record company—we’d produce comics featuring the character and they’d produce and market music using studio musicians, as was done with the Archies.

Disco was big at the time.  Virtually every bar with a dance floor played disco, from upscale nightclubs like the Ice Palace and Studio 54, to dance halls like the one seen in Saturday Night Fever to local joints.

I assigned Tom DeFalco and John Romita, Jr. to take a shot at creating the character.  In my initial discussions with them, I believe, we came up with the notion of giving her light powers, and therefore, being able to provide her own light show.  Hence the “Dazzler” part of the name “Disco Dazzler.”  I don’t remember who came up with which parts of the above.  I was the one who came up with the energy-transmutation rationale to explain her powers.

John did some nice design sketches—performer’s attire that looked just super-hero enough.  The part that Tom delivered was pretty standard.  She was a young woman who dreamed and struggled to become a star, born with a “gift,” like the X-Men.  She found she could use her powers openly while performing, under the pretense that it was some kind of stage magic, a closely guarded trade secret.  Tom wanted to name her “Evelyn Free.”  “Evil ‘n’ Free,” get it?  That didn’t seem appropriate and no one liked it.

Tom was in love with that name and ever thereafter was looking for a place to use it.  I don’t know if he ever did or not.

Anyway, somehow we settled on “Alison Blaire.”

Dazzler debuted in X-Men #130.

And nothing much happened after that….

Until one day, later in 1979, I was called to an impromptu meeting upstairs.  Present were Alice Donenfeld, President Jim Galton and our Hollywood rep whose name escapes me.  They seemed pretty excited.    

Alice and the rep had met with Neil Bogart of Casablanca Record and Filmworks who not only was interested in the “Archies” type recording venture, but wanted to launch it with a half-hour animated special.  Cool.

Bogart wanted lots of Marvel heroes in the special and he wanted the stars he had under contract to provide voices for the non-Marvel characters.  There had to be, therefore, characters to play for Robin Williams, Cher, Donna Summer, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny and Squiggy, the Village People and KISS.

They had a follow up meeting already scheduled with Bogart.  They needed a treatment for the story in four days.     

I was told I could hire anyone I wanted.  Price, no object.  The Hollywood rep, who could not have named a comic book writer if his life depended upon it, suggested Harlan Ellison.

The idea that Harlan could be brought up to speed, do the thing in four days and agree to do it work for hire—it had to be work for hire, I was told—seemed unlikely.

Better, I thought, one of us comics guys.  But who, in four days?  Archie would have been my first choice, but…four days?  Fast was not one of Archie’s strong suits. 

So, I did it.  For free, by the way, over a weekend.  If I was going to be the fool who blew the deal, I didn’t want to be handing in a bill at the same time.  What I wrote is posted below.

The treatment was presented to Casablanca and Neil, and the verdict came back, quoted to me by our rep, “This isn’t a half-hour special.  This is a FEATURE FILM!”

And it would have been.

However, around that time, Bogart had health issues, Casablanca was being bought out and accounting improprieties were being alleged.  The project fell into limbo.

But Marvel owned all rights.  Casablanca had no investment, no stake whatsoever in the property or my treatment.

Alice went to the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1980 with my treatment in hand. 

She managed to take a meeting with Bo Derek, and got her to read my treatment.  On the basis of my treatment, Bo agreed to become attached to the project.  She wanted to play Dazzler.

There’s a picture of Bo and her Husband John taken at Cannes that was featured on the cover of People Magazine, shown below.  If you look closely, you can see that John is holding a stack of Marvel Comics.  That’s the first issue of She-Hulk on top.

Alice was CUT OUT of this picture!  She was walking beside Bo!

Bo Derek was fresh from the success of 10, with Dudley Moore.  She was the hottest star in Hollywood, top of the “A” list of “bankable” stars.  Bankable means that the mere attachment of such a star guarantees studio financing.

Suddenly there was a BIDDING WAR among the studios for the project!

Now, the bad news, part 1:  Marvel commissioned a screenplay by Leslie Stevens.

Why not me?  I was the horse who got us there.  But, suddenly, because it was Hollywood, for real and big time, I was “just a comic book writer.”  They decided they needed a screenwriter.

Stevens ignored what I had written completely and wrote a piece of crap that defies description.  In those days, despite the reasonable success of the first Superman movie, comics were still thought of as silly and campy, so that’s what Stevens went for.  It was moronic.

Stevens also discarded the light powers and gave Dazzler the power to make people tell the truth.  Why the name, then?  Oh, well.

Bad news part 2:  At the height of the bidding war, Bo Derek decreed that her husband, John HAD to be the director.  Famous for behind-schedule, over-budget debacles, John Derek had to direct or no Bo.

Every bidder withdrew.

That ended Bo’s involvement. 

Later, Marvel tried to shop the Leslie Stevens script around with Daryl Hannah attached.  No takers.

P.S.  Later, noting the strengthening of the still-fledgling Direct Market, I proposed to Galton that we publish a Direct Market exclusive issue.  Around that time X-Men and other top performers were selling around 30,000 copies in the Direct Market, in addition to their newsstand sales.

The Sales Department resisted, fearing angering the I.D. Wholesalers (the newsstand distributors).  The compromise was that we would use a lesser known character, rather than a top seller, which the newsstand people might pay more attention to, and might be upset by. 


I picked Dazzler.  I figured that would provide a good test.

Dazzler #1 was the first all-Direct comic book (at least from a major publisher).  It sold 428,000 copies.


Click to download the Dazzler Movie Treatment (7.8mb PDF file)

31 comments:

blacjack said...

I was in a panel with Chris Claremont once around 1994ish. He said that when he first heard about the Dazzler character she was going to be called "Disco Dancer" and he told the "higher ups" he would have no part of a character with that name.

Xavier said...

Ahh, the Dazzler legend, at last! :)
Man, was she tart....always falling in love with those old rich characters with wig...:p
Her serie has been translated in French. everybody pretty quickly hated it once the first 10 episodes were over so stey stopped starring her on the cover of the mag she was appearing in (titans). But we had some nice covers like this one:
http://www.comicsvf.com/scans/vf/lugsemic/titans/55.jpg
I was in love with the way she was using her handbag as a weapon :)

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

"Wikipedia has much of it wrong…"

LOL. What a surprise!

A real surprise: Alice Donenfeld started the Dazzler ball rolling!

I remember 1979. I loved and still love disco. Great, now anybody can Google me and learn that. So I would have liked the character at the time. But I didn't even know she existed until I bought #27 in 1983 and had no idea she had anything to do with one of my favorite music genres. I didn't even read her debut until 2000. Out of it, that's me.

Glad Dazzler wasn't "Evelyn Free." Naming a hero after "evil" makes no sense. Naming a villain after "evil" is too obvious. "Alison Blaire"? Much better. Maybe Tom DeFalco should've given "Evelyn Free" to a neutral civilian if he had to use the name.

LOLing at the idea of Harlan Ellison writing a disco cartoon! Trying to imagine animated versions of Rodney Dangerfield et al. as I read the treatment. It's a time capsule of American pop culture in 1979.

As we both know, Archie Goodwin would end up writing Dazzler years later. Funny how stuff cycles back ...

I never guessed this treatment involved a post-apocalyptic world before The Road Warrior was in theaters. Even before Thundarr was on TV. "Great Disaster" reminds me of Kirby's Kamandi. Insert Mighty Samson comparisons here. Imagine Queen Terra vs. Donna Summer and Cher!

I would have expected the Queen of Fire to be the foe of a Queen of Ice, but I guess that'd be too obvious.

I'm not sure if Donna Summer and Cher would have liked their characters to be outshone by a Sun Queen played by some unknown studio singer, but Dazzler is the star, after all.

No star gets to be Lord Chaos? The production had to save money somewhere - all those stars cost so much! And I get to read about what might have been their epic for free. Thank you!

Lastly, do you have anything to add to this article on the long road leading to the Dazzler comic? Does this 1979 picture of a black Dazzler with Neil Bogart by JRJR ring a bell?

leeedwardmcilmoyle said...

I've never been the biggest Dazzler fan, but I believe you helped imbue her with more gravity than a faddish concept like that was likely to receive from anyone else.

thegoldenagelives said...

When I returned to reading comic books in the late 80's, Dazzler was the first series I ended up collecting the whole set of.

uncannyderek.com said...

I don't know what's cooler: The creation of the Dazzler story, or Marvel comics being featured on People Magazine!

Clearly it's the Dazzler story.

jimshooter said...

Dear blacjack,

Chris must have heard wrong. There was never a time when "Disco Dancer" was considered. I would have been the highest higher up available to Chris. He never said anything to me. Maybe he said something to Louise, or whoever was the X-Men editor at the time.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

RE: "Long road": Bizarre.

Dazzler was never "cancelled" before first publication.

There was no "collaboration" with Casablanca.

DeFalco never had any direct contact with Casablanca. Nor did I.

Casablanca never suggested any powers or anything else.

Casablanca never rejected a plot, nor were they in a position to.

His reference to Casablanca being willing to "...pay for it over and over again" is nonsense. We never were paid a dime by Casablanca.

Casablanca made no demands regarding characters or story (other than as pertains to my treatment), nor were they in a position to.

No one at Casablanca saw any comic book art, much less gave direction for same. Their wanting many characters was, as per my description, with regard to my treatment for the animated special.

The first issue of Dazzler seriously contemplated was the all-direct first issue. There was no wrangling with Casablanca or anyone else about it. There were no prior false starts, though options may have been discussed.

Exception: Of course, for the short time the abortive movie deal with Casablanca seemed real, we contemplated publishing a comic book based on my treatment. Maybe that's the "Super Special" mentioned in their muddle.

After the Casablanca deal quickly died, as I said, Marvel had a screenplay written and got Daryl Hannah attached. The rep was trying like crazy to sell the film.

Tom's confusion (and Louise's, if she is confused), may be due to comments and thoughts advanced during that time by Marvel's, rep, who was a pushy sort. Maybe they thought he spoke for Casablanca. No, he didn't, and besides, Casablanca was out of the equation by then. The rep was not in any position of authority over the comics. He had no say over the book. If we took any of his suggestions, it was with my consent.

They may also be getting confused by the changes to our concept wrought by Leslie Stevens in his screenplay, which, if the movie had gone forward, might have led to changes in the character as presented in the comic book.

The rep would have been the one to ask for the black Dazzler card J.R. Jr. drew, obviously while the Casablanca deal was still alive but fading.
I never specified race. Didn't matter to me. If the movie deal with Casablanca had continued, Marvel would have left that up to them.

P.S. Our rep was the person who suggested and pushed for development of the Teen Hulk around the same time. A little later, actually.

jimshooter said...

Dear Chris K,

Thanks for the correction. I knew it was while we were doing Avengers together.

My apologies, then, to OM. George must, as OM speculated, have been behind, and that must have been the reason he had to bail. When I became EIC, George had a contract to pencil four books a month. That's a lot. For various reasons he started falling behind and we mutually agreed to trim his quota back. That must have been around that time.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Thanks for the extremely detailed response concerning Dazzler. I'll try to keep all this in mind when I get around to reading the reprints of the complete series that I just got in the mail. Having listened to a lot of Casablanca music and read Marvel comics, I appreciate all the information you've provided about the interaction between the two companies.

Daryl Hannah as Dazzler? Wow, years before she made her big Splash or ran with a Blade!

"Teen Hulk"? Any relation to the Teen Hulk strip in Crazy?

According to GCD, George Pérez drew no stories for monthly comics dated between June and November 1978 after penciling the interior of Avengers #171 (May 1978). He only drew ten covers. Like ChrisK speculated, I wonder if Pérez was busy with the Beatles comics. Although his Sgt. Pepper didn't appear in the US, it seems to have been published in France and a Dutch-speaking country (either the Netherlands or Belgium).

Tom Hartley said...

Other online accounts of Dazzler's origin have claimed that the story from the first two issues, a singing contest between Dazzler and the Enchantress (Stan Lee Presents: Der Meistersingers!), was based on a Dazzler movie treatment. But your movie treatment is a completely different story, which manages to be even sillier, and certainly more entertaining. Since you're not aware of any other Dazzler movie treatments, does that mean the story in Dazzler #1 & 2 was Tom DeFalco's own invention, that he gets the credit, or blame, for Dazz's comic book origin?

jimshooter said...

I have to re-read the stories, but if Tom is credited as writer he probably did the majority of the work. Given the circumstances, the plot was probably vetted and abetted by the editor and me. I'd have to have a look. It was not based on my treatment or any other treatment (there were no other treatments), and it wasn't based on the Leslie Stevens screenplay, that much I know.

In any case, Tom and J.R. Jr. were the principal creators of the first iteration of Dazzler, which, Leslie Stevens be damned, was what survived as the basis for the series. And my treatment.

Nick Marino said...

That treatment is intense! I bet KISS and the Village People would've been thrilled about the super powers you gave them.

Daniel Danny Dan said...

Interesting that it wasn't Casablanca who approached you as well as knowing she wasn't SPECIFICALLY designed to be a black woman. Many an online troll will be shaken to the core with that one!

I've always thought it a bit humorous that the man who reportedly declared there were "no gays" in Marvel Comics is partially responsible for a character now so endeared by the gay community. Maybe we'll get a blog clarifying that topic someday, hmm?

Regardless of how she came about, she's a wonderful character - my all-time favorite, in fact - and I'm forever grateful that she exists.

... but that treatment was awesomely insane.

Tom Hartley said...

As someone who remembers what it was like to be a gay teenager in the '80s, I can tell you that the world was a lot more homophobic than it is now. Most of Marvel's straight readers would not have been ready for gay characters back then. Any straight people who were teenagers back then and who are honest will admit this.

Chimeradave said...

Here's a link to my reaction to your article. Thank you for sharing this story and the treatment with us all.

http://chimeradave.blogspot.com/2011/07/jim-shooters-1979-dazzler-cartoon.html

Dimitris said...

First of all, thanks for those posts Mr.Shooter, they are very interesting and enlightening.
On the matter of Dazzler's race here is what John Romita Jr. said in his interview for Modern Masters:
"They asked me to design it, and then they asked me to do some shots with the character in it...Originally it was supposed to be Grace Jones...Grace Jones was a very popular singer at the time, and I wanted her to be the basis of the character, because I thought that was realistic. And then, all of a sudden, it became Bo Derek in 1981 because of the movie 10. And that's when I said "That's it. They've sold out for some whitebread blonde chick." She was very hot at the time, but I thought she wasn't as realistic a choice as Grace Jones was...If I thought of a nightclub chick, that was Grace Jones."

jimshooter said...

John obviously doesn't know all of what was going on at the time. He should check out my post! : )

P.S. I don't know who told him it was supposed to be Grace Jones, but that's not a bad idea.

JayJayJackson said...

I'm so sorry, guys! I left off the end of Jim's story when I posted it. Please go back and read the rest.

Tony said...

I assume Leslie Stevens was hired because he had just done the pilot / TV movie of BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (1979). Since that was based on a well-known comic strip, I imagine Hollywood types would have seen Stevens as highly qualified to work on a comic book property.

Sharkey360 said...

Hi Jim, I'm from the Philippines and I'm a fan of Dazzler. I enjoyed all the comics I managed to read following her adventures. Your work in Dazzler: The Movie is very memorable. How I wish she played a great role in the other adventures of the X-Men, especially in the 1990s. :)

Tue Sørensen said...

io9.com has picked up on this post, by the by:
http://io9.com/5820598/read-the-insane-dazzler-script-starring-cher-and-robin-williams

valerie said...

This entry made my day. As cheesy as the whole Dazzler concept seems now, it got at least one 8-year old girl into comics.

Anonymous said...

On Mark Brights bio on his website he had some something to say about Dazzler and some nice words about Jim.

http://www.mdbright.com/MDBsaysMarvel.html

"Shooter looked at the pages and somewhere around page five he put them down and looked up at me. "Captain America" has a cleft in his chin, Mark..."

LOL, love it.

I was a big fan of his work on his run with Iron Man.

Ferran Delgado said...

Dear Jim,

Do you remember why the splash of Dazzler #1 was completely redrawn and who was the artist responsible of it?
http://tinyurl.com/77kzppc

This is the complete drawing by Romita Jr with the black Dazzler.
http://tinyurl.com/6qk4l32

Thanks in advance!

Ferran

jimshooter said...

RE: "Do you remember why the splash of Dazzler #1 was completely redrawn and who was the artist responsible of it?"

Probably because Dazzler looks just awful in the original version. Looks like J.R.,Jr.'s dad, John Romita, Sr. did the fix. And probably sent young Johnny to bed without dinner. : )

Ferran Delgado said...

LOL! Thanks for your quick reply...

bmcmolo said...

Additionally, that original design looks like it might have awakened the litigation instincts of KISS... is it just me or is that Ace Frehley's Space Ace face-mask?

Anonymous said...

[MikeAnon:] I love that Dazzler's first line is, "I'm gonna get wasted!" SO unclear. I got the impression she had just gotten paid for her last gig and was now running off to buy dope and get high. Then I hit the 2nd sentence and realized, "Okay, maybe not." [--MikeAnon]

Ferran Delgado said...

I just found the original art of the image used in the final version of the splash of Dazzler #1:
http://tinyurl.com/c6xc6tp

It's signed by both Romitas. Probably hungry and punished Romita Jr got better in the second version.

I also noticed that you asked for a change of the expression in the second version:

http://tinyurl.com/bo8datr

Imho, it was a great choice, because when you get chased by muggers, you don't get a happy look, rather a worried expression.

Ferran Delgado said...

I just asked to Bob McLeod about who were the authors, and he said that he inked it, and that it was penciled by John Buscema with retouches in face by Romita Sr.