[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series, see the toolbar.]
“With Malice Toward All”
Though she first appeared in an issue of Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men (#130), Dazzler is not a creation of theirs. Indeed, apart from a repeat appearance in the series a year and half after her first, Alison Blaire – whose gimmick is that she’d rather be a singer than a superhero -- doesn’t seem to have captured Claremont’s interest enough to be integrated into the X-mythos. This changed in 1984 when, with her “Beauty and the Beast” miniseries, Ann Nocenti struck upon a clever twist to make the Dazzler’s characterization more workable. Under Nocenti’s pen, Alison was recast as a fame addict – not only a reluctant hero, but one whose sense of morality is skewed by an addiction to applause. It was a subtly brilliant turn, taking the arbitrary psuedo-science of her mutant power (transmuting sound into light) and giving it a harsh metaphorical twist: Dazzler is an attention whore, absorbing the cheers and applause of her audience in order to increase her own personal glamour.
Claremont was taken enough with the new, morally dubious Alison to incorporate her into a New Mutants storyline in 1985 and then, with issue #214 of Uncanny (published exactly seven years after her first appearance) to make her a full member of the X-Men. In a possibly deliberate bit of irony, given that John Byrne was the first artist to draw Dazzler in a comic book, Claremont uses a plot pinched from one of Byrne’s Fantastic Four issues (FF #281, also titled “With Malice Towards [sic] All”).
The Byrne version featured a psychically possessed Invisible Woman, re-christened Malice, turned against her teammates. The same happens to Dazzler here, though we’re given to understand that Claremont’s Malice (established in previous issues as a stray member of the Marauders) merely draws on the evil that already exists in people. Thus, Malice/Alison’s diva posturing here is motivated by her own addiction to the spotlight.
Dazzler was a morally unambiguous character as first conceived back in 1980, her pristine character symbolized by her pure silver superhero outfit. Claremont, as should be clear here, is fascinated by the tarnished version that Nocenti has crafted, and he’ll continue to explore the “dark Dazzler” over the next couple years.
As for the rest of this issue, it’s standard Claremont super-heroics. The gimmick here of jumping the psychic villain from host to host so that the team is constantly wondering who they can trust, is fun – Claremont had already used it, though, in a New Mutants storyline two years earlier. So it all seems a tad rote, albeit peppered with fun details. The reference to Alison’s animosity toward Rogue, for example, is a nod to early-’80s Dazzler continuity. Meanwhile, Claremont hints at a longer-term plot when Malice possesses a morally righteous SWAT captain, but – like Psylocke’s mind-read of Sabretooth in the previous issue – this goes nowhere.
Matters are elevated a bit by Barry Windsor-Smith’s visual flair. He draws a more convincing version, by far, of Dazzler’s lighting effects than any other comic book artist. But Uncanny #214 never quite shakes its workmanlike feel – it’s Claremont trudging through the necessary dramatic beats to get Dazzler to join the X-Men, but without much sense of passion. It won’t be until after he relocates the team to Australia that Claremont really begins to have fun with Dazzler-as-bitch.