Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

First Published: May 2009

Contents: Dazzler #22 (December 1982) to #42 (March 1986); Marvel Graphic Novel #12 (1984); Beauty and the Beast #1 (December 1984) to #4 (June 1985); and Secret Wars II #4 (October 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Frank Springer, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Shooter, Mike Carlin, Ann Nocenti, Don Perlin, Archie Goodwin, Paul Chadwick, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others

Story Continues From: Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential X-Men Vol. 6

Overview: The Dazzler is back in action! (And a quick Google search confirms that those six words have never been used in that order before!) While still trying to make it as a singer, Dazzler finds herself constantly caught up in situations that require her to use her mutant powers. Whether battling the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants (Rogue, Mystique, and Destiny), fighting in an underground mutant gladiator arena in Los Angeles, or trashing the San Diego Comic Con, trouble just seems to find our title character.

This title suffers from a rotating creator team, as writers and artists shuffle in and out for a few issues at a time. That makes it a challenge for the next team to come in and pick up the story where it left off. So after a moderately successful run as a New York City singer, we find Allison moving to California, where the singing takes a back seat to gigs as a model and as an actress. She dates a variety of characters, like Roman Nekobah (a Frank Sinatra wannabe), for several issues, before the next writer introduces their own character.

While I wouldn’t call these standout moments, there are some familiar stories in here that may trigger some fuzzy memories:

  • First, Dazzler was one of the titles that participated in Assistant Editor’s Month. Dazzler took a side-trip to San Diego with Marvel editor Ralph Macchio and fought a mutant lizard. Yes, that happened.
  • Dazzler was the feature star of a Marvel Graphic Novel. Dazzler: The Movie was to be Allison’s big break in the acting business. Instead, it just outed her to the world as a mutant.
  • Dazzler teamed up with the Beast (who was leading the New Defenders at the time) for Beauty and the Beast, a four issue mini-series. Dazzler was recruited (and drugged) to participate in a mutant fight club, and it was up to Hank McCoy to help get her out.

Issue #38 gave us a new direction for our heroine. Sporting a new uniform, courtesy of the X-Men (and their cameo appearances), and featuring a new creative team of Archie Goodwin and Paul Chadwick, Dazzler finds herself being chased (pun intended) down by the bounty hunter, O.Z. Chase. Dazzler does her best to be cooperative with Chase to clear out what she believes is a misunderstanding, only to find out it’s a group wanting to use her powers to energize their aging bodies. As if that was not crazy enough, there is a side story where Allison finds herself the center of the Beyonder’s romantic interest. Right or wrong (but I’m leaning towards right), Dazzler was finally canceled with issue #42.

What makes this Essential?: What a change! I was very skeptical heading into Vol. 1. Let’s be honest, “Essential Dazzler” is one of the best oxymorons of all time. I’m not saying Vol. 1 is a great collection, but it turned out to be not as bad as I expected. (I think that’s a compliment.) So heading into Vol. 2, I had slightly higher expectations than before. And then I started reading. Oh my gosh, this was just…. not good. The stories were just all over the place. Lots of one-and-done stories, new supporting characters introduced every few issues; the most absurd romances for Allison; and way-too-many villains that were never used again. (Seriously, if the Scourge of the Underworld doesn’t bother to kill you, you know you are a lame villain.) Unless you are a completest like myself, I think you would be OK skipping this volume.

Life After Death: Dazzler’s title came to an end with issue #42 (March 1986). But she was not off the stage for very long. Later that summer, she joined up (finally!) with the X-Men, as the Mutant Massacre story came to an end. The X-Men found themselves short-handed, with injuries to Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, and Colossus. So the team extends invites to Dazzler, Longshot, and Psylocke during this period. Dazzler would be a key member of the team for the remainder of the decade, before heading into the character limbo for most of the 1990s.

Footnotes: Beauty and the Beast #1-4 is also reprinted in Essential Defenders Vol. 7.

If you like this volume, try: Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz from 1986-87. OK, I’ve laid out that this is not a collection of good stories. I don’t need to bang this drum anymore. But if there was one glimmer of light in this book, it would be the cover work by Bill Sienkiewicz. (And for those of you struggling with his name, it’s pronounced “sin-KEV-itch”.) Sienkiewicz rose in popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s with work on Moon Knight and New Mutants. In the mid-1980s, the artist collaborated with artist-turned-writer Miller to create a direct-market mini-series released under Marvel’s Epic line. At this time, both men were at their creative peaks, and the collaboration produced an elegant and powerful story in the vein of the “Manchurian Candidate”,which takes place…. sometime. It’s been a debate whether this takes place chronologically before her first appearance in the pages of Daredevil, or sometime after her encounter with Bullseye. Regardless when it takes place, this is a must own series for any fan of Miller, Sienkiewicz, and/or Elektra. Sienkiewicz’s career has been filled with outstanding projects, but this title always ranks at the top of his comic book accomplishments.

Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

Essential Dazzler Vol. 1

First Published: August 2007

Contents: Uncanny X-Men #130 (February 1980) and #131 (March 1980); Amazing Spider-Man #203 (April 1980); and Dazzler #1 (March 1981) to #21 (November 1982)

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Tom DeFalco, John Romita, Jr., Frank Springer, Danny Fingeroth, and others

Key First Appearances: Alison Blaire/Dazzler, Blue Shield

Story Continues In: Essential Dazzler Vol. 2

Overview: Alison Blaire wants nothing more in her life than to sing. Whether it’s for one person or 20,000, Alison wants to take to the stage and sing her heart out. What most people don’t know is that Alison is a mutant, being able to absorb sound and transform it into light. All things considered, that’s a pretty good mutant power to have if you want to be a performer. Taking the stage under the name Dazzler, Alison is ready for her time in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, trouble seems to find Dazzler wherever she goes. Whether it’s the X-Men fighting the Hellfire Club or the Enchantress crashing an audition or Bruce Banner getting upset at a college campus where Dazzler is performing, she finds herself having to user her powers like a superhero, something she truly does not want to be.

In addition to our title character, we meet the members of her band, along with her agent and road manager. We also meet her father Carter Blaire, a lawyer who wants his daughter to follow his career path. Alison’s missing mother was a singer, but disappeared when Alison was an infant. But like any good dangling plot thread, we eventually find Alison’s mother at the conclusion of this volume.

Along the way, Dazzler crosses paths with many Marvel heroes. She meets She-Hulk in Los Angeles and Spider-Woman in San Francisco during a west coast tour. From the X-Men, the Angel develops a crush on her, and does everything he can to woo her over. And she gets the opportunity to jam with the Fantastic Four, with Johnny on guitar and Ben on sax. Seriously! I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

The Origins of Dazzler – The Story Behind the Story: In the late 1970s, Casablanca Records signed a deal to co-produce a character with Marvel Comics. Given the success of Marvel’s KISS comics, the goal was to have a comic to go along with a new recording artist that would perform under the name Dazzler. The long-range goal was to develop a movie around Dazzler. Marvel came up with conceptual designs and scheduled appearances for Dazzler in three of their most popular titles – Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four. (Fantastic Four #217 is not reprinted in this issue, but it does show the first meeting between Dazzler and Johnny Storm.)

The plan was to release Dazzler #1 to coincide with the album release. But Casablanca dropped the project and never released the album. Marvel went ahead and finally released the title nearly a year after her last appearance, and the series ran for nearly five years. The first year was one guest star (or villain) after another, in an effort to build up the fan base for the title — Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Dr. Doom, the Hulk, and even Galactus!

What makes this Essential?: OK, we can make a lot of jokes about “Essential Dazzler” being an oxymoron. Trust me, I made a lot of the jokes myself early on. That said, this is an important book in terms of female Marvel characters. In the late 1970s, Marvel introduced four titles focused on female heroes – Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Dazzler. The first three are just female analogs of their male counterparts. Dazzler was the only female character featured that was unique in her own right. Although these books were not the best sellers, Marvel remained committed to publishing the characters, long enough to warrant six Essential volumes from these four characters.

Need more convincing? Consider this thought — Dazzler was the first Marvel mutant character to have their own solo book. Before Wolverine and Gambit and Cable, Dazzler had her own monthly book. Dazzler! (And yes, while modern Marvel writers are trying to spin the narrative and make Namor the first mutant, I’m not buying that argument.)

Now, as much as I want to praise Dazzler as a character, Dazzler as a monthly comic was not that great. There are times when the story felt more like a romance book – does Alison want to date the ER doctor or her lawyer? And will she ever receive her father’s blessing for her career choice? While the art is serviceable, there are too many panels showing Alison changing clothes. That may be appealing to the young male reader, but it’s not necessary to show that scene in that panel to advance the story. EVER!

Footnotes: Uncanny X-Men #130 and #131 are also reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 2.

Amazing Spider-Man #203 is also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9.

If you like this volume, try: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder from 1999. I know I am crossing the streams here between Marvel and DC, but hear me out. Courtney Whitmore’s teenage life just gets worse and worse. Her mom has just remarried, and she now has a creepy stepbrother to deal with; her family has moved to small town Blue Valley; and then she finds out that her stepdad used to be a super-hero. Using a cosmic belt first developed by Starman and later used by the Star-Spangled Kid, Courtney becomes a modern day Star-Spangled Kid, fighting the surprising number of super-villains based in her small town. The series only ran for a little more than a year. Where I see the parallels with Dazzler is her post-title career. Using the new codename Stargirl, Courtney became a member of the reformed Justice Society, becoming a key member for many years. Her popularity led to Stargirl being used on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, and she continues to thrive in the new DC 52 universe. Following her title cancellation, Dazzler ended up joining the X-Men, and became a key member throughout the 1990s. She still remains a member of one of the many X-Men teams today. The entire Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. series is available in two trade paperbacks.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (December 1976) to #31 (June 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Sal Buscema, Archie Goodwin, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Frank Springer, Frank Miller, and others

Key First Appearances: Lightmaster, Razorback, Hypno-Hustler, Carrion

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Overview: Following the long-established comic trend of duplicating success, Marvel introduced another Spider-Man title to the newsstands in 1976. Currently featured each month in Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel TalesMarvel Team-Up, and Spidey Super Stories, a new title was added to the list with Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS).

In a column in issue #1, writer Gerry Conway explained that this new title was added to help give more room to feature the supporting cast of characters in Spider-Man’s life. We got longer stories involving Glory Grant, Mary Jane Watson, the White Tiger, and others. This title gave us more access to Peter Parker’s life beyond the red-and-blue costume.

Familiar foes like the Tarantula, the Vulture, Morbius, and Kraven make appearances in this run. But the new foes introduced are a mix of intriguing challenges (such as Lightmaster and Carrion) to downright pop-culture bad guys anchored in the 1970s (such as Razorback and Hypno-Hustler). In addition, a long story arc involving White Tiger and the Sons of the Tiger tie in with the popularity of martial arts at that time.

What makes this Essential?: This is a borderline essential book. Spider-Man was the most popular character at Marvel in the mid-1970s, and would be soon making the jump to television with the live action series, so introducing another title featuring Peter Parker made sense. However, within the first year, there were two fill-in issues, so I wonder how much effort was ongoing to make sure the book shipped on time. Compared to the stories in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up at this same time, I feel like these stories are a step below in quality. For the Spider-Man fan, this should be a must read. For the casual Marvel fan, you could skip over this and just concentrate on the Essential Spider-Man line of books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22 and #23 were also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #6 is a reprint issue from Marvel Team-Up #3. A new introduction and final pages were included, and a few panels were re-worded. This did lead into the Morbius storyline beginning in issue #7.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #11 appears to be a filler issue that was originally intended for Marvel Team-Up. The issue is written by Chris Claremont, the then current scribe on Marvel Team-Up, and this would be the only issue of PPTSS that Claremont would write. No reference is made in the story to the previous or following issues.

If you like this volume, try: the Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man released in 2002. This collects various issues that Frank Miller drew involving Spider-Man, including Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and #28, which are found in this Essential. There is also a cover gallery of the numerous covers that Miller did involving Spider-Man over the years. This is a great volume to read some classic stories done by one of the modern masters of the comic industry.