Tuesday, 25 February 2014

DAZ #38: "Challenge"

(Desperately seeking Alison.)


Crossovers are like buses, it would seem. Beyond both this issue and UXM #195 both involving the X-Men, though, there's not a great deal of similarity beyond a few structural niggles.  Whatever reasons Claremont had for borrowing the Power children from Louise Simonson, he clearly didn't do it as a stunt to drive up sales.

That might not be why the X-Men are here, of course, but an explanation avoiding that conclusion would have some work to do.  A new writer, a new costume, grandiose claims of a new era, the total abandonment of the domestic/career-problem angle this comic has always been at least partially based in; this title has the smell of death about it (though this might be an opinion fuelled by presentism). Parachuting in Marvel's most popular superheroes is the publishing equivalent of Vincent Vega injecting adrenaline into Mia Wallace's heart. In doing so, Dazzler's story becomes theirs. Look at that cover; Alison is all but squeezed from the front of her own book.  Only her hand remains, pointing towards Colossus and Wolverine.  "Look what I have for you", she seems to say. "I promise not to be too much in the way."

In the process of slicing up the narrative so the X-Men can be poured in, though, Goodwin seems to run into problems.  The first four pages of the comic feature neither Dazzler nor the X-Men, instead concentrating on a brand-new character, O.Z. Chase, a bounty hunter with a flippant attitude and a cigar-addicted hunting dog the size of a malnourished cow. We watch him collar a bail-jumper using lasso, shotgun and growling canine, and, whilst the end of the issue makes it clear he'll be coming for Dazzler next (though less clear is why), the overall effect is off-putting, like Dazzler's narrative has been co-opted by the cool new guy who will spice everything up by just being an intolerable douche to the established leads (see also Wolverine and Gambit).

Once we leave Chase to his questionable business ethics and finally join the main plot, there's still no sign of Dazzler for another two pages; it's apparently far more important the X-Men (specifically the two featured on the cover) make their appearance.  They're here to hunt Dazzler for reasons soon to be revealed, meaning here at least they perform the role of antagonists.  And there's something obviously off about framing a book in terms of the title heroine's enemies rather than her own self. The feeling is steadily growing that this latest shake-up behind the scenes has resulted in trying to see just how far Dazzler can be squeezed out of her own book whilst leaving her name on the cover.

When Dazzler finally does appear on page seven, matters improve dramatically. She's been hired on the cheap by some sleaze in San Diego who is now pressuring her to "escort" some of his business friends.  When she objects he immediately turns to blackmail, arguing not many people would pay out for a mutant singer - at a disgraceful discount or no - and she should show some gratitude for him allowing business sense to overcome bigotry by fucking his acquaintances.

It's an unimaginably ugly moment - and one that doesn't last long thanks to Dazzler's unique ability to resign via blinding strobe light (sorry, that should read strobe light!) - but it pushes the original Dazzler concern of attempting to work whilst being hated back into the foreground.  This has always been one of the books two main strengths (the other being its supporting cast of struggling musicians and their strained relationship with management, now alas long forgotten), so it's wonderful to see it hasn't entirely fallen by the wayside under Goodwin, but it makes the fact that Dazzler hasn't so much as a moment to catch her breath after so horrible an encounter before the X-Men arrive to make trouble all too telling.  What was best about the comic is now simply squeezed into the cracks between men with attitude who've shown up to trick boys into reading a comic (nominally) about a woman.

The basic set-up here is that Dazzler has become increasingly sick of being dragged into altercations with super-people (and just people in general) and has decided that not wanting to be a superheroine does not mean she can get away without being trained in the use of her powers.  A little while ago (it's not specified how long), then, she chose to reach out to Charles Xavier, asking for some pointers.  This leads to her spending some time training with the X-Men, during which Logan is an unspeakable nob to her.  I mean, obviously, he's a pain in the arse to all and sundry, but this is a step beyond.  His first objection - that training Dazzler may lead to her getting cocky and slipping up in a way that makes things worse for mutants - is pretty unconvincing; such third-order strategic concerns simply don't fit him well. Cyclops, who cameos here - asked by Charles to help since his power shares similarities with Dazzler's; a nice touch - I could buy thinking along those lines.  Wolverine is just too tactile and immediate for it to work.  His second objection stems from his disgust from her outing herself (which of course didn't happen) which as a result means anti-mutant sentiment has been very much on the up lately.

As a cis white dude, of course, I need to be careful how much I harangue those who I disagree with about how to come out within a specific minority community - even a metaphorical one - but I'm just not seeing how Wolvie's attitude here is anything other than victim blaming (if I want to treat mutantism as a metaphor, then objecting to a man saying a woman secretly wanted the crime committed against her by another man has to be fair game as well).  The best I can come up with is the suggestion that Logan thinks Alison deliberately leaked her mutant identity to the press in an attempt to gin up controversy around her film. Even then I'm not sure about an attitude that says people don't have the right to come out under whatever circumstances they choose, but Logan is suggesting the Dazzler reveal comes attached with a body count of less high-profile mutants, so this is probably a thornbush into which I should not be sticking my hands.

Attitudes aside, this is a fairly standard slice of superhero-on-superhero.  After graduating from Xavier's compressed training regimen, Dazzler asks that the X-Men attack her at random sometime in the future, ostensibly to prove she can handle herself, but really as a way of telling Logan to go screw himself - a pure and reasonable motive if ever there was one.  The circumstances of the assault cause more problems, however.  Dazzler has agreed ahead of time to take responsibility for keeping the fight away from innocent civilians, but apparently the near-total destruction of a man's business as the heroes brawl doesn't matter in the least.  And yes, the owner is a scuzzvulture in favour of blackmailing his female employees into prostitution.  Did Logan and Peter know that? Do the people who work in the Harborside Motel deserve to be kicked to the curve because the boss is a horrible human being?  Where the fuck does Wolverine get off complaining Dazzler might give mutants a bad name whilst he and his teammate tear apart real estate in order to test how well Dazzler can avoid collateral damage?

This is the kind of idea that always bugs me in fiction; that only the characters we're told matter actually matter, and that their only duty is to avoid bodycounts because accidentally killing innocent people would make them look/feel bad.  The wider consequences of their destructive rampages are entirely ignored, or at best waved away as being part of the cost of victory, which of course doesn't apply here.  This is a man destroying people's jobs and (temporary) homes in order to justify being a dick to some woman who's only crime is to get better at defending herself and maybe others.  You'll forgive me if my cardial cockles remain unwarmed.

Ultimately Dazzler wins the fracas, of course. Logan refuses to accept defeat until she's actually incapacitated him - Goodwin's Wolverine is apparently a sore loser on top of all his other problems - but Cyclops, acting as referee, ends the fight.  Dazzler has proven herself to everyone but Logan, who announces how concerned he is Dazzler is now a target (which was true before she arrived at the mansion, so why in God's name did he object to helping her out?).

And a target is, in fact, what she has become.  O.Z. Chase has found himelf a new boss, and acquired a new mission: hunt down Alison Blaire.  The whys and wherefores don't concern him.  A mark is a mark, and a client is a client.  But would he still think the same if he knew who had actually hired him.  It's... well, I don't know, actually.  But whoever it is, he has a scary line in Doctor Claw-style hands, and I can't imagine that's a fact that will end up of benefit to our loveable lead.

Well, loveable sort-of lead.  I wonder how much time she'll get to spend in her own book next time?


This story begins at sundown and continues into the following morning, though numerous flashbacks are also involved.

We'll assume around a week passed between Dazzler asking the X-Men for help and her "graduation", and another week passes before the team show up for her test.


Thursday 11th to Thursday 26th October, 1984.


X+6Y+223 to X+6Y+237.

Contemporary Events

The EEC unlocks £1.8 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Standout Line

"When you've come to hunt, don't get sentimental about the prey."

Maybe someone should collect together Logan's most ludicrous macho phrases, and his most gushy, and publish something for him along the lines of The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister.  Though of course the closest character to Wolverine in A Song of Ice and Fire is probably Sandor Clegane, whose own collection of quotations would presumably be entitled The Hound Tells You to Fuck Off.  Either way it would sell a thousand billion copies.

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