[Jason Powell continues to look at stacks and stacks of Claremont X-Men comics, one at a time. We are almost at the first appearance of Gambit! I quiver with anticipation.]
For his penultimate issue, Marc Silvestri illustrates a story whose premise he himself suggested to Claremont (sparing Dazzler from “death” at the hands of Mastermold). In a surprising move, the story takes as its departure point Jim Shooter’s 1984 “Dazzler: The Movie” graphic novel. A dreadful excuse for a comic, “The Movie” introduced a trio of Alison-Blaire admirers – shy, young Freddie Stanachek, evil millionaire Eric Beale and good-hearted movie producer Roman Nekobah (the last one being a Mary Sue for Shooter himself). Six years later, Claremont, Silvestri and Green present its sequel, “Star 90,” a marvelously successful attempt to bring the character of Alison Blaire full circle.
Freddie and Beale both return, the former recast as an up-and-coming Hollywood player and the latter as a cocaine-addicted psychopath. Roman Nekoboh appears only briefly, drawn by Silvestri to evoke Jim Shooter so that Claremont can thank the former Marvel Editor-in-Chief for supplying this issue with all of its core narrative elements. (“Gotta give credit where credit’s due, big guy!” enthuses Shooter/Nekobah’s companion. “This moment couldn’t have happened without you!”)
In the original graphic novel, Dazzler destroys the only print of her titular feature film, in an act of defiance against bad-guy Beale. Uncanny X-Men #259 showed Freddie discovering another surviving print and subsequently happening upon the post-Seige Alison in a nightclub. The present issue follows the Hollywood adventures of the amnesiac Dazzler as she is groomed for stardom by Freddie and stalked by the obsessive Beale. In a subversion of expectation, Claremont plays the Beale thread for laughs (despite the issue’s Jim Lee cover, which suggests a level of earnest – if overblown – menace); a sequence midway through the story goes particularly cartoonish, subjecting the villain to Yosemite Sam-levels of slapstick torture (complete with cowboy costume). Clearly enjoying himself, Silvestri makes the most of the Beale material.
Uncanny 260 also features more than a fair share of sexy Alison Blaire glam shots. Given the high level of both cheesecake and broad comedy, it’s easy to see why this premise appealed to Silvestri. It plays to two of his major strengths.
Claremont has a lot of fun as well, going unrestrainedly goofy with the stalker plot while still exercising a shrewd authorial hand in portraying the dramatic contrast between Beale’s psycho-level obsession and Freddie’s more subtle attempts to possess and control Alison. The interplay of the subtle and the outré is deftly handled here, as is Dazzler herself, whose “rebirth” persona is perfectly realized. As “Star 90” plays out, it becomes clear that despite Alison’s post-Seige naiveté, there is some instinctual level in which her past experiences are guiding her. (She’s “been through the wars,” as Claremont put it in the previous issue.) The attempts by Hollywood execs to manipulate her are always met with a wary dubiousness. She plays along, but only to a point. Considering that for the first part of her existence, Claremont was far from Dazzler’s biggest fan, he handles her arc with surprising craft and care here. Ali’s new personality is an effortlessly natural synthesis of all her previous characterizations in the past decade. And when she comes to her grand epiphany on the story’s final page (dressed, appropriately enough, in her original costume and roller skates), it feels refreshingly genuine, and movingly heartfelt.
(And, a bit of math-based trivia: This is Dazzler’s last appearance in Claremont’s first Uncanny run, and it occurs in issue 260. This is exactly twice 130, the issue that marked the character’s debut. Both numerically and textually, Alison has been brought full circle.)