X-Men ’97 Hero Almost Started The MCU In The ’80s

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

One of the things fans love most about X-Men ‘97 is all of the fan service cameos, and my personal favorite came in the episode “Remember It.” Though she doesn’t have any lines, you can very prominently see the character Dazzler, a mutant who can transform sound into light and memorably appeared in the fan-favorite X-Men arcade game. She might be nothing more than a fun cameo in this hit new show, but what most fans don’t realize is that Dazzler nearly started the Marvel Cinematic Universe way back in the 80s.

The Disco Hero Dazzler

Originally, Dazzler was a character created way back in the 1970s, and both her appearance and her mutant abilities were meant to evoke the glory days of disco fever. In a bit of cosmic irony even the Watcher could appreciate, the character made her premiere in The Uncanny X-Men #130 in 1980, right after Disco had died. However, her character was literally years in the making, and before Disco died, Marvel had plans to use Dazzler to create what would have been one of the most ambitious films in superhero cinematic history.

Marvel Parterned With A Record Company

At first, Marvel began developing Dazzler along with Casablanca Records, and the idea was that the comic giant would create Dazzler comics while Casablanca would create a real-life version of the hero who could sell records with her original music. Beyond that, Marvel initially wanted to create an animated special, but Hollywood execs originally thought this hit new mutant could headline her own film. 

Marvel proceeded with plans to make Dazzler the star of their very first film. Those plans continued even after Casablanca backed out of the project in 1979, and some speculate they did so because declining sales gave them an early warning that Disco was on its way out.

Bo Derek As Dazzler

Originally, legendary Marvel artist John Romita Jr. designed the comic Dazzler to look like Grace Jones, but back when Casablanca was still onboard, their cinematic division Filmworks insisted on a character modeled more after Bo Derek. This was part of an attempt to get the real Bo Derek to headline the Dazzler film, and the gambit worked. The actor wanted to star in this movie and even insisted that her husband, John Derek, be the man in the director’s chair, a simple request that ultimately doomed the film (more on that later). 

Aside from Bo Derek, Marvel hoped to fill their Dazzler film with many more celebrities, including Cher as the Witch Queen and Donna Summer as the Queen of Fire. Robin Williams was going to star in the movie, but not as a funnyman…instead, he was going to be Bo Derek’s love interest. 

The laughs were supposed to come from Rodney Dangerfield, who was intended to play no less than four different parts (pretty much the opposite of getting “no respect” from Marvel). Since this was intended to be a very musical film, other prominent musicians were going to appear, including KISS and The Village People 

Crazy Crossovers

In retrospect, the only thing crazier than the casting of the film was its plot: after beginning sensibly enough with a Dazzler concert, the movie transports our title character, as well as Spider-Man and the Avengers, to a dystopian alternate reality New York filled with fantastic dangers and bizarre creatures. Our heroes get captured, with Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Scarlet Witch getting imprisoned in the World Trade Center (!) while Beast, Wasp, and Falcon are imprisoned in the Museum of Modern Art.

Meanwhile, Dazzler herself is captured by Lord Chaos, a seriously manipulative villain: the captured heroes are later rescued by a character named Cheetham, but in a weird plot twist, he turns out to be Lord Chaos in disguise. Dazzler saves the day with her powers while revealing that the Big Bad also deceived the seemingly villainous Queens. The literal forces of Chaos are defeated when everyone teams up, and our heroes return home safe in the knowledge that this alternate universe New York is in the regal hands of Cher and Donna Summer.

Death Of Disco

As you can tell, this wildly ambitious movie would have kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe (complete with Civil War-style character crossovers and Multiverse of Madness-style alternate dimensions) nearly three decades before Iron Man came out. Sadly, the movie wasn’t meant to be: Filmworks didn’t want John Derek as director, causing Bo Derek to drop from the project. Daryl Hannah was briefly attached to the film, but Filmworks ended up dropping out altogether (likely because they, too, saw that the time for a blockbuster film about a Disco-based character had passed). 

Live-Action Dazzler

Just like that, the Dazzler film was dead, but Marvel went ahead and introduced Dazzler as a supporting X-Men character before she got a solo series that lasted for only 41 issues. Later, Marvel writer and editor Jim Shooter released a graphic novel called Dazzler: The Movie that adapted (you guessed it) the unmade film into a comic. Since then, the character has built a niche fan following, which allowed her to make an appearance in the honestly forgettable film X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

The Next Dazzler?

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That movie nearly killed the X-Men film franchise, so I was particularly happy to see Dazzler make a small cameo in X-Men ‘97. That cameo served as a reminder that while Disco may have died, this musical mutant keeps on jamming from one decade to the next. Of course, there have been rumors of late that the mutant musician will be appearing in Deadpool & Wolverine, played by none other than Taylor Swift.

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