Wednesday, 2 May 2012
DAZ #21: "Alison Blaire, This Is Your Life"
(In which no-ones come out smelling of roses.)
We begin in the air, soaring over New York City as Angel takes Alison to try and get through to her broken father. The flight lasts just long enough for some expository flashbacks - and an entirely gratuitous cameo by Spiderman - and then we're at the Blaire residence. Carter's doctor isn't overly keen on Alison's plan, noting that from all appearances she's the reason her father has gone doolally in the first place, but Dazzler is determined to at least try and penetrate whatever is going on inside Carter's mind.
And what do you know, it works. Carter almost immediately regains sufficient critical faculties to tell his daughter that she can go fuck herself unless she's willing to toe the line. All of his recent suffering will be for nothing, apparently, unless she agrees that he's in total control of her for all of time and she apologises for thinking for himself. Prick. Clearly Alison agrees, pointing out that she's really not the one in this conversation who needs to be asking forgiveness. Loving daughter vs lunatic control freak who won't even talk about his only child's mother.
At the mention of Dazzler's mother, Carter flies into another of his patented doucherages. "I'll tell you what I've been protecting you from all these years -- and maybe you won't be so glad to have heard it when I'm through!". And so begins the story of Dazzler's mother.
Actually, for a moment, just for a second or two, I thought I'd finally worked out exactly where Carter was coming from. When he begins my mentioning Katherine was a singer as well, I figured I knew where this was going. There's a brilliant moment in Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human in which a character realises his arsehole father had spent years trying to pressure him into becoming a doctor because that was the only thing his father knew was definitely a good thing to be. Carter presumably feels the same way about being a judge, and if Katherine's singing career ended in tragedy, he'd have something he knew most certainly wasn't a definite good. Combine that with genuinely believing not talking about Dazzler's mother was an exercise in protection, and his supreme nobbishness actually starts to make a great deal of sense.
That's what I was thinking for about five panels, anyway. Then we find out he was ordering Katherine to quit singing the instant he stopped needing her income to get him through law school. Prick.
A prick who clearly doesn't learn from his mistakes, too - Alison was clearly the second person he drove away by constantly demanding he knew what was best for them. Alison responded by moving out and cutting all contact; Katherine's tack was to start screwing another guy, who despite getting her hooked on drugs, she apparently loved enough to start carrying his picture around alongside Carter's in the heart-shaped locket Alison now sports. Which, as little sympathy as I have for Judge Blaire, is clearly a bitch-move of gargantuan proportions. Worse is to come, though, when she waits until Carter is out with Alison to slouch off to her new man Phil and his drug den, leaving a note claiming she wants to protect her toddler daughter by never having to see her again. Wow.
Alison does not respond particularly well to any of this, and runs from the house, convinced her father is lying, or at the very least twisting the truth so far out of shape it might as well be a lie. It's time to head over to "Barbara London", then, to get the other side of the story, as Alison's mother opens up to a shocked Vanessa. Unsurprisingly, we learn that falling in love with and then marrying your drug dealer is A Bad Idea. Not so bad as Katherine's next move, though, who's response to learning Phil is cheating on her is to have another daughter, in the hope that her worthless shell of a marriage will suddenly become peaches and cream once the coke-pushing philanderer has another mouth to feed.
Readers will not be surprised to learn that this plan does not work. Instead, Phil decides to add wife-beating to his resume. It takes a good three or four years for Katherine to kick her habit and walk out on Phil, but this time she takes her daughter with her.
(I'm not sure whether there's a moral we're supposed to be seeing here: leave your husband and become a abused crack-whore. Perhaps that's just me being over-aware. Still, the horrible travails of Katherine Blaire/Brown don't serve the plot in any way, and were it me, I wouldn't just chuck in an abusive drug-dependent relationship just to provide colour. Maybe it's intended to fuel another theme in the issue, though, which is that a spectacular amount of men in show business are worthless goitlizards.)
Vanessa is sympathetic to this tale of woe, but only up to a point, which is basically that absolutely none of the horrible things Katherine went through has anything to do with the fact that she abandoned Alison, and needs to get over herself about that. This is not a message that is gratefully received (sugar-coated as it is), though, so Vanessa settles for persuading Katherine to at least finally watch Dazzler perform.
The next day, a distinctly distracted Dazzler arrives at Osgood's office to find her boss has sniffed out a job opportunity for her. Concert promoter Les Mitchell, also present, wants her to replace a cancelled act at Carnegie Hall, and pull her strings in the superhero community to bring out a crowd of capes, with the lion's share of the proceeds to go to a local hospital. Alison cautiously accepts (I'd probably have run it past the Avengers etc first, but what the hell; it's for a good cause), but finds herself immediately regretting it as Mitchell pinches her arse on his way out.
Now this is genuinely interesting. Not just "interesting considering it's 1982" interesting, but genuinely worth considering. The dilemma of a woman who faces accepting sexual harassment as a condition upon advancing her career has been explored at some length in fiction (though how much of it predated the '80s, I'm not sure). This is something different, though, this is whether a woman should swallow sexual harassment, even minor sexual assault, in order to ensure a charity gig that could raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the ill can go through. I'm not going to come within a thousand light-years of offering an answer on that, but it's at least a different and more complicated set-up than we often see.
Alison's response is to wait until Les leaves (though she may just have been fighting through her disbelief about what's just happen) and then explodes at Harry. Her manager's response, alas, is wearily predictable: she's over-sensitive, he didn't mean any harm, that's just what he's like, there's a lot of sleaze in show business. That's some weak shit right there, pal. At least "Pretend you haven't noticed he's a grab-happy pervert or the orphans don't get their kidney dialysis" is a point worth considering.
In any event, Dazzler resolves to do the gig, get the hospital their money, and stay as far away as possible from Fingerwander McSexpest. Alas, the combination of working for so vile a slug and her family meltdown make it impossible to concentrate during rehearsals. Even running through something by the Boss ("Hungry Heart" wouldn't be my first choice, but it's a solid pick) doesn't seem to work. Les, who's been hanging around the practice session, suggests Alison might do better if she tries some "happy pills". Basically, then, this is about Dazzler being offered/led down the same path her mother was, though since she doesn't really know the whole story about any of that, the parallels are somewhat lost. Regardless, Alison tells the mook to go fuck himself, and after taking the rest of the day to calm down, spends the next day bargain hunting with Vanessa and then venting first to Ken and then to Warren.
I'm still not sure exactly where everyone stands in this little love triangle. Alison insists she and Warren are just good friends, but she describes Ken as her best friend, which long and bitter experience has taught me is often not good news where romantic liaisons are concerned. And when the Angel knocks on her window and Dazzler opens it to talk to him, their exchange seems entirely platonic (he even apologises for messing around in her family's business), but their goodbye kiss seems a little too hel-lo, if you know what I mean.
A week later, and it's the night of the concert. Many of America's superhero royalty are gathering for the concert - the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Iron Fist and Power Man with their dates Misty Knight and Harmony Young, Wonder Man and his date Beast (please, like it isn't obvious). Peter Parker is there taking pictures, before slipping into costume and walking down the red carpet (I guess the Daily Bugle isn't going to be too complimentary about this particular charity gig), and Daredevil attends in his civilian guise. Even Wendell Vaughn, Quasar himself, arrives in a Project: PEGASUS car, presumably hoping showing up for a charity gig might win him back some of the points he lost for helping to keep Dazzler a prisoner ten issues back.
Also attending: Carter Blaire, and his ex-wife Katherine. Obviously, neither of them know the other will be there, and Dazzler has no idea about the arrival of either of them. More fun that way, no?
Besides, it's not as though Alison doesn't have enough things to contend with. Lance is being an arsehole, screaming at and threatening the roadies. Osgood is on her case about how crappy her rehearsals for the gig has been. And "Lucky Louie", the "vibe" player for the warm up band (The Tycho Brahes, nice) has volunteered to be the next guy to offer her some chemically-enhanced fun-times. Gods, this is being laid on rather thickly, isn't it? Alison's never had the easiest road to success, but so far her problems - idiots in charge, lack of opportunities and money, personal life getting in the way - are things that at least on some level resonate with the reader (it's one of the things I liked about the book in its earlier stages). This sudden onslaught of "men in showbiz are perverted shouty drug dealers" just as she's learning the truth about her mother is kind of hard to swallow. Especially since Lance being a dick to the hired help isn't really something limited to showbiz, and Osgood was well within his bounds to tell Dazzler she needs to shape up (Fingeroth may have been aware of this, hence why Alison jumps to the idea that Osgood might have sent Louie to dope her up in the hopes of improving her performance).
Anyway, this has left Dazzler in more of a mess than this story is. What better time for her father to walk in to her dressing room?
This time, though, it's with good news. Carter has emerged from the crucible of madness with clear eyes: he was, after all, just being a dick all these years. He can hate his daughter's career and support her right to choose it at the same time. Dazzler is delighted by this development, of course, and so happy to have her father back in her life that she's prepared to admit recent developments have made her realise he's at least been right about some of the less savoury aspects of show business. And because of that, and because of Carter's apology, she makes a momentous decision. From now on, her career is going to be on her own terms.
She picks up her coat to walk home with her father.
Listen here, you worthless preening egomaniac: you have a show to do. A show you agreed to do. A show the mightiest heroes in the world have taken time out from saving that world to come support. A show for which the resulting not inconsiderable revenue will be donated to healing the sick. You do not get to blow it off because this is the first day since you were sixteen that your father hasn't been a cunt.
(All this less than a fortnight after she couldn't decide whether breaking a promise to herself was an acceptable cost to saving her friends and their baby. God, how is a woman who's mother abandoned her and father disowned her such a spoilt fucking brat?)
Fortunately for Riverside Hospital, Vanessa arrives backstage just in time to wish Dazzler well, and on learning of the massive strop in-progress, spills the beans about Katherine, hoping that performing for her mother will appeal to Dazzler in a way that saving lives and not giving the finger to 98% of the friends she has in the world clearly doesn't.
Because she's her, of course, this becomes a moment of great personal anguish. Sure, she'd like to not let her friends or her mother or charity down, but she'd also rather hang out with her dad now instead of after the show (maybe, though this isn't said, she's worried he'll cut her off again if she goes on stage. In which case, bollocks to him). In the end, she manages to force herself to do exactly what common human decency would require, and she goes out on stage.
Credit where it's due, she might have been half an inch from quitting, but once she's decided to go ahead, Dazzler always plays a blinder (pun very much intended). After two hours of knocking it out of the park, she finds time to thank her audience, and to let them know there's someone very special sitting out there. She dedicates one of her own songs to her mother, and let's rip.
It is, let's not beat around the bush here, a fucking awful song. Well, it has fucking awful lyrics, at least, though that in itself has certainly never stopped people from loving a pop song (and plenty from other genres as well). Dazzler hopes that if nothing else, "A Young Girl's Dreams" will persuade her mother to come to her dressing room after the show; to that end she kicks out her superhero friends, Ken, and an apologetic Harry. Katherine doesn't quite get as far as Alison's room, but our heroine hears her skulking around backstage, and a long-overdue reunion is finally conducted, not just between mother and daughter, but former husband and wife as well, as Carter arrives on the scene. Frankly, I can't believe either of Dazzler's parents would want to be within ten miles of each other, but it might ruin the happy ending if the two of them started sniping straight off the bat.
Instead, Katherine takes her leave, promising that she'll keep in touch. Immediately regaining one parent will have to be enough for Alison. Well, that and a massive superhero shindig back at the flat; clearly the Avengers aren't to good at taking "no" for an answer. At times it's been more of a struggle for me to get through the first volume of Essential Dazzler than it was for the eponymous heroine, but this is a nice not to leave it on, as Alison and Ken dance through the small hours to the Rolling Stones.
This issue begins immediately after the previous one ended, and takes place over around ten and a half days.
The X-Men don't attend Dazzler's charity concert. An editorial box explains this is because they are currently in space, but according to our timeline, they've just finished fighting Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, and are having a night in listening to Kitty's fairy tales. I guess they were too knackered to head out for a concert. Or maybe the promoters decided (perhaps wisely) that mutant superheroes might be more trouble than they were worth, speaking both in terms of promotion and health & safety.
X+5Y+33 to X+5Y+42.
The space shuttle Challenger makes its maiden voyage.
Gloria Swanson dies, aged 84.
"Here comes my favourite platter: "Beast of Burden"!" - Beast
Ah, Hank McCoy. Biologist extraordinaire, unfailingly courageous and moral righter of wrongs, and now kick-ass DJ into the bargain. It's not even slightly difficult to understand what Wonder Man sees in you.