Back in the 1970s, Disco was King. This is widely regarded in retrospect as having been a mistake, but it's a part of history that we must acknowledge. (Actually, I like some disco from that era. But let's not get too distracted here)
Commercializing the current hot fad has always been an interest of comic companies. Casablanca Records asked Marvel to work with them in developing a disco-themed character – Casablanca would provide an actual singing artist, Marvel would provide the comic book,and they'd collaborate on publicity up to and including a tie-in movie.
By the time the character actually debuted in The Uncanny X-Men, disco was fading and so was the shininess in the partnership. Casablanca ultimately backed out.
But they had caused the creation of one of my favorite comicbook characters – the Dazzler.
Dazzler, whose real name was Alison Blaire, was a mutant (in the Marvel sense of the word) with the special talent to convert sound vibrations into electromagnetic energy – light, in general, although it became clear she could handle other parts of the spectrum. Like any good Marvel character she had a striking outfit (originally a silver pantsuit with a mirror-ball necklace and a paint/mask makeup, with roller-skate boots) as well as a basically striking appearance (even in the Marvel array of beautiful women, Alison could stand out), but what made her a standout as a character was that she – and often her comics – was focused on having a human career.
Dazzler didn't seek out adventure. She wanted to be a singer, a performer, an actor, but not a hero. Much of the run of her comics was concerned with her attempting to reject the "Hero's Call", and even when forced into the role, trying to basically say "well, this once, but not again!"
Despite her attempt to maintain a mundane lifestyle, Dazzler could not help but intersect with other superpowered beings. Her initial appearance had her contacted by the X-Men who had tracked her down using Cerebro; they wanted to contact any emerging mutants early in their careers, after all. Tangentially this initial appearance also led into the beginning of the Dark Phoenix saga.
But the mutants were far from Dazzler's only superheroic contacts. She interacted with Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and other heroes, and faced down no lesser lights than the Incredible Hulk, Doctor Doom, and Terrax the Tamer, one of the Heralds of Galactus.
In the superheroic context, one of the things that kept her in the spotlight was that her ability to convert vibration and sound into energy was unlimited; even Galactus could not find an upper limit to this ability. As she gained more skill in manipulating her power, the variety and extent of effects she could produce – light shows, holograms, lasers, hard-light constructs, etc – broadened as well.
Still, what made Dazzler special was her focus on a life outside of superheroics. She worked hard on trying to maintain a singing career, and later an acting career, before the problems of being a super-powered mutant made that no longer tenable. I really enjoyed the early-to-middle issues of her solo series specifically because of her spending a lot of time NOT running around looking for bad guys to beat up – and then ending up having to solve a problem involving super-powered baddies anyway.
Eventually, though, Marvel found that they'd failed to provide her with a distinctive enough rogues' gallery of her own, and Dazzler's star began to fade. They tried to reboot her a couple of times – the first time with the well-received graphic novel Dazzler-The Movie, which was very well thought out, and later by putting her into more superheroic situations. But the latter, in my view, didn't fit Alison well, and forced her into a mold that too many other characters were already in. The Beauty and the Beast miniseries was really the last strong entry in the original Dazzler's career.
Still, this remained one of my favorite comic series, and Dazzler was one of the only characters that I collected every appearance of throughout my comic-reading career. I particularly liked the early editions for the way they tied her as a friend or acquaintance to multiple groups; for a short time it looked like they might make her a new love interest for Spidey, which would've been interesting, but they did more interesting things with her personal and romantic life later, so I think that was probably a good choice.
Unfortunately, like my collection of ROM, Spaceknight and other comics, my collection of Dazzler met its end in a basement flood. On the positive side, it appears that the "Essential" comic series has collected Alison's old adventures, in a Volume One and Volume 2, so unlike ROM, there's a chance for me to re-acquire what was lost.
She may not be nearly as well known, but I still think the old Dazzler is well worth remembering. Pick up one of those collections if you get a chance!