Friday, 7 June 2013

MGN #12: "Dazzler: The Movie"

(File under "softcore erotica".)


Ye Goddesses, this is problematic.

I mean first of all, it's not very interesting. Yes, it's never going to be another "God Love, Man Kills", and given the focus of Dazzler as a book on the soapiest aspects of the already soap-heavy world of superheroics means it's right not to even try. Even so, seventy pages is a long way to wade through such thin material - Dazzler gets a movie deal, Dazzler is outed, Dazzler is hounded by bigots, Dazzler destroys her own film rather than be exploited.

But that's just why the graphic novel isn't all that interesting. What makes it actively unlikeable is, unsurprisingly, a strong dose of mid-'80s comic book sexism.

Fundamentally, this is a story about three men who are all hot to trot for our heroine. There's slimy moneybags Eric Beale, faded mega-star and expert in self-deception Roman Nekoboh, and self-professed awkward geek Freddy. Given the target audience of this story, it's not particularly difficult to figure out which of the three the audience is supposed to be rooting for. So when Dazzler accepts a ride home from Freddy in his car as the story opens, telling him how wonderful he is and letting him kiss her ("you're a great kisser", she insists), it seems abundantly clear that this is intended to be a blow for geeks everywhere.

And look, I'm not remotely unsympathetic to the idea that it's nice to make geeks feel better. Sure, Geek Pride Day gets some stick every year for allegedly attempting to draw parity between the centuries-old struggle of minorities with the decades-old discomforts of a subculture which frequently has problems with interacting with those same minorities, but that's an argument (to the extent it's fair at all) about how to boost the self-image of the geek, not that it shouldn't be done at all. If a comic mainly bought by geek boys wants to do a bit about how being a geek boy is not an automatic social death sentence, I'm all for it.

Except here, there's something else going on as well. Dazzler, as I have argued more than once, isn't really a tremendously nice person. Which is fine, because she's often not tremendously nice in some fairly interesting ways (though, much like Buffy twelve years later and - far more obviously - Doctor Who's Rose, there's an odd disconnect in how these stories seem to want to portray their heroines, and what they actually have them say and do). But she's not an obvious choice for a woman to make geeks feel good about themselves except for one thing - she's gorgeous.

This hits on a very pernicious aspect of sexism, one that's almost impossible to avoid encountering amongst teenagers and which survives far too often into a man's adult life, the idea that men who are nice should be rewarded with relationships with women who are pretty.

The cognitive dissonance on display in such an assumption is remarkable. It can perhaps be forgiven in teenagers because impenetrable self-absorption is so fundamental to the immediately post-pubescent character - in a sense, there's nothing any deeper at work here than "I want a pretty woman, I cannot have one, this is therefore unfair", which is a statement teenagers will make endlessly no matter what the object of the sentence is. Somehow, though, when men get old enough to recognise this idea as foolish in general, there's still one strand they frequently refuse to relinquish: nice men should get pretty girls.

Often this is expressed through its obvious complement: "Why do women always go for bastards?". This was something I frequently asked myself as a teenager until two related realisations hit me. Firstly, I was only wondering about why pretty women would always go for bastards; the women I found unattractive could have been going for sea otters for all I cared. Secondly, a lot of these girls I was pining for actually weren't tremendously nice, indeed no nicer than the men I was cursing for their top-secret use of bastardly bastardness to get themselves some action. The true formation of my complaint was actually "Why are women who are too hot for me to mind that they're unpleasant so interesting in men who are sufficiently hot that they can get away with being unpleasant."

Having Alison kiss Freddy so the guy can feel better about himself is playing right into this fundamental sexist hypocrisy that men should be recognised for their fantastic internal characteristics so that they can end up with women with fantastic external characteristics. If only they were truly understood, they might get to make out with a woman who's character is a supreme irrelevance so long as she's pretty.

So there's a real problem in how totally this story is on the side of the geeks who just want to be loved by hotties. This is hardly helped by at least three panels in which Dazzler is topless - one of which only has her nipples covered by a few errant strands of hair. This is titillation, pure and simple, and whilst I'm not objecting to that in all circumstances, it interacts very poorly with the idea that pretty women are prizes to be won for being a sufficiently pleasant geek.

Of course, "Who will win the prize that is Dazzler?" may as well be this story's title. Eric's early attempts result in him getting a brush-off, and following their kiss, Freddy disappears from the plot (which on the one hand simply highlights his role as a reader stand-in, but equally, it's probably best the graphic novel goes no further with what that implies), leaving the way clear for Roman Nekoboh to try another run at Alison.

This is the next major bone of contention I have with this story. Let's not be coy here; Nekoboh is an utter dickblister. He's been a pain in Dazzler's arse for several issues now, but just in this story he has the media hound her over a non-existent affair he's implied their having, chases her in a car (breaking the law in the process), chases her on foot, and fakes a heart attack, all whilst Alison repeatedly and loudly turns him down. Worst of all, though, he breaks into her apartment to demand they go out together, and despite her unequivocal refusal he grabs her and tries to lay her down as he kisses her. Breaking and entering followed by sexual assault. All of this is played for laughs.

Still, at least Dazzer is appropriately enraged by proceedings, even if the comic doesn't seem really to be following her example. Except that unbelievably, Nekoboh doesn't give up, and upon learning Alison is looking for a decent-paying gig, immediately switches from obvious stalker into generous benefactor, which Dazzler falls for almost immediately. A few pages later, and the two are officially an item.

So let's review. Nekoboh has physically endangered people in order to chase her, has ignored repeated requests to leave her alone, has broken into her home, has sexually assaulted her, and is now promising her payment in exchange for dates. What, you can be forgiven for asking, the hell?

A couple of days later, she fucks him.  After quoting his dialogue from when he assaulted her.

It's not, of course, that the storyline of a girl desperate firstly for fame but mainly for a hot meal allowing herself to be used for sex in exchange for opportunity isn't one that should be told, though a quick look at the history of cinema might lead one to ask whether it need be told so often. But it absolutely needs to be handled better than this. It's difficult to feel sorry for Alison because she's just being so horribly dense. It's even suggested on several occasions that she's doing this out of concern for Roman's career, which suggests she's literally fallen for an utterly self-absorbed sex criminal because he's started being nice to her. The whole structure of the story is dependent on the idea that Dazzler will fall for whomever you put in front of her if the plot requires it, and that's straight up bad writing even before we get onto the underlying gender issues.

So, yes, the plot. After some time being pampered by Roman, Alison starts to think better of the whole arrangement, partially because she's put on weight and accidentally developed a smoking habit, but mainly because she learns the picture is being financed by Eric Beale, who Dazzler wants nothing to do with. Alas, the matter is quickly taken out of her hands when Roman reveals to the media that she's a mutant.

Dangerous driver, sexual assaulter, and outer of mutants. What a prince. Alison is furious at first, as is entirely understandable, but she soon calms down, which absolutely isn't.  Roman has basically bought her a one-way ticket to an entire world of trouble, which he doesn't understand, and he never checked with her first, because he doesn't give a shit about anything but the bottom line.  But yes, Roman has not only revealed a secret that could quite literally get her killed, but he's set up a media event so she can demonstrate her powers to the country.  Naturally, she agrees ("She don't look like no dangerous mutie to me!  Check out those bazooms!").  The crowd take one look at her light powers and freaks out, causing a riot Roman only just manages to pull Dazzler out of alive.  Naturally, she fucks him in his limo.

This becomes something of a theme, in fact, with Dazzler cycling through filming, fucking, professing her love for Roman, and wading through protesters or finding her apartment ransacked.  The actual portrayal of anti-mutant sentiment is quite good - which is to say, profoundly unpleasant and aggravating, particularly the talking head guy who lays into Dazzler like FOX News during Black History Month - but it can't convince when our heroine is spending all her time making kissy faces at the dumb berk who's responsible for the whole mess (the story goes out of its way to tell us Roman is a phenomenal lover; apparently it's not just young geeks who need to believe they can score with hot twenty-somethings).

The story tries to square the circle by having Alison insist the film will strike a blow for mutant equality by demonstrating their capacity for good, which is a noble goal, and personally I'd argue the fact it's so clearly doomed to fail gives the whole affair a tinge of tragedy rather than making Dazzler look even more foolish.   In fact, that story - the attempted release of the film followed by inevitable disaster - might have been quite interesting, though probably some distance away from the kind of thing Marvel would be interested in doing.  We'll never know, though, because the story ends with Eric Beale confronting Dazzler to explain he forced Roman to reveal Dazzler's status in exchange for saving his career with a new contract, which among other things forbids him to ever see Alison again.  With that done, there's no need for the film to be released, and Beale is pulling the plug.  He takes this opportunity to mock Dazzler for being so foolish, which, fair cop, but obviously he decides to do it in as misogynistic a manner as possible (her "bust measurements exceed [her] IQ", we learn, because titties, boys, amirite?).

The only way Beale will allow the film to be seen is if Dazzler signs a monstrously draconian contract, basically signing on for a lifetime of exploitation at Beale's hands.  Do that, and the film might just help her people out.  Refuse, and he'll burn the film's only copy.  Now there's a dilemma that's worth thinking about, a mere 66 pages in.  Let's try and set aside how unsatisfying the rest of all this is, then, and noodle about Dazzler's choice for a moment.

It's actually not an easy call to make.  I mean, here it might be, because there's two obvious short-circuits to the problem.  On the one hand, Alison wants the life she's being offered, so the fact she won't have either as much money or as much freedom as she'd want in the process is significantly less of an issue than if she were, say, signing on to become Beale's housemaid.  On the other hand, the basic premise of the dilemma is based on Beale's insistence that the movie will be a major net positive for mutants, and he's obviously not to be trusted, so Alison might in fact gain nothing for anyone by signing.

So let's put those two points aside, and work on the principle that a) Dazzler is giving away her future here, and b) it's in exchange for a known boost in the struggle for mutant equality.  Is she obligated to go for it?  I think the answer has to be no, in the same way I'm not obligated to fly to Australia to give blood, even if I'm the only person in the world whose blood would save the life in question.  Depending on the person I'd be saving, the amount of free time available, and who's paying for my trip, I might be a colossal arsehole to refuse, but that isn't the same thing.  And whilst it's true that an argument can be made to say Dazzler's fellow superheroes might have an obligation  here (if you dedicate your life to helping people, it's at least arguable that you are obligated to do so because you've created expectations), Dazzler's never made claim to be anything other than a singer with ambition who occasionally does nice things.

In any case, Dazzler's choice is to destroy the film reel, along with the contracts.  Despite everything that's happened, she still forgives Roman, but decides she should make it on her own rather than being an anchor dragging her lover down. Which, I... Jesus.  What do you call it when something goes beyond trolling?  It would make more sense for Eva Braun to dump Hitler because she's worried she hates Jews too much.  Yes, I've Godwinned "Dazzler: The Movie".  That's what this piece of crap has reduced me to, with it's casual sexism and geek wish-fulfilment and cack-handed message and tits, tits everywhere.

There.  I've commented.  This has been commented on with comments. We shall never fucking speak of this again.


This story starts during another of Alison's keep-fit sessions, and takes place over an astonishing two months at a bare minimum.  Frankly, given the amount of time necessary to make a film, six months seems more likely (if we assume post-production never got started, which seems to be what is being implied), so that's what I've gone for here. This could end up causing all sorts of problems down the road.

Early in the novel, Dazzler has a phone conversation with Storm, who is clearly shown to still possess her mutant powers.  We're going to have to fiddle with the UXM timeline to deal with this.


Thursday 29th March to Friday 29th September, 1984.


X+6Y+28 to X+6Y+212.

Contemporary Events

Well, a lot, obviously.  GCSEs and Virgin Atlantic Airways make their first appearances, the Earth passes directly between the Sun and Mars, the Upper Volta changes its name to Burkino Faso, the agreement between UK and China to return Hong Kong to the latter is signed, and the USSR has a good time of it when its submarines break the record for depths reached, and their cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the first woman to perform a spacewalk.

Standout Line

Roman has a lot of fun dialogue in this story, some of which isn't even gob-smackingly sexist.  I think though the WKMC editorial on the horror of mutants carries the day, though, just because it's so close to something you'd expect to see coming from Rush Limbaugh or the Daily Mail:

"Good evening.  Two weeks ago, filming began on Roman Nekoboh's latest movie, which co-stars one Alison Blaire, an admitted mutant!  The film is said to focus on the problems of mutant-kind! I suppose there must be some -- any wolf in sheep's clothing has to put up with that annoying, itchy, fleece!

Protesters, barely restrained by police and Nekoboh's own hired thugs, have constantly picketed the shooting!  These people are afraid -- and we don't blame them!

Mutants are an entirely new race, each member of which possesses abilities which seem like science fiction to us normal humans!  We have heard that they refer to themselves as 'homo superior' - the next step on the evolutionary ladder above homo sapiens!  Some mutants have mounted blatant attacks upon human-kind -- demonstrating to my satisfaction that they plan to supplant us 'lower' creatures as the dominant species on this planet!

The worst thing is that these... beings, may look like you or me!  They walk among us unsuspected!  One of your friends... a neighbour, perhaps... or, God forbid, even someone in your own family may be quite capable of reading your thoughts - or levitating into the air... or, like Alison Blaire, killing you with just a wave of her hand!

We here are WKMC believe that the mutant menace is real!  We support the protesters!  If something isn't done about mutants... if we humans do not take positive action to protect ourselves -- then it shall not be the meek who inherit the Earth..."

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