Jim Shooter’s ‘Dazzler’ Movie Pitch, Starring Rodney Dangerfield and KISS, Is Completely Insane
Of all the Marvel characters you could pick to make it big in Hollywood, Dazzler, the roller-skating mutant disco diva, probably isn’t all that high on the list. And yet, according to legendary editor Jim Shooter, there isn’t just a time when that was a pretty likely possibility, it’s also the entire reason she was created.
Shooter has posted the entire history of the Dazzler Movie That Never Was on his blog, including the 11-page treatment featuring Spider-Man, the Avengers and a handful celebrity guest stars that he wrote in four days. And having read it, I have come to the conclusion that it’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever read. I say that a lot, but trust me on this one: Rodney Dangerfield plays four characters and KISS fights the Village People. That’s how crazy it is.The guest stars, as Shooter explains, were mandated by the record label that Marvel was working with to create a character that would be “portrayed” by a studio musician on albums. The Disco Dazzler, as she was originally known, would make her debut in — and I cannot stress this enough — a feature-length film guest starring the label’s other artists as a gigantic festival of cross-promotion.
And that’s why the pitch starts off by casting Robin Williams as the romantic lead, as the alternative would’ve been having Dazzler make out with Lenny and Squiggy.
Truly, we have some inspired casting choices here. I’ll get to the Dreadknights and the Stompers shortly, but Cher and Donna Summer as rival queens are a pretty natural fit for a movie that would inevitably feature a disco sing-off, and the quadruple-casting of Rodney Dangerfield shows the kind of respect he worked his entire career to achieve. It’s almost enough to make you forgive the use of the ol’ “Dewey, Cheatham & Howe” joke for a trio of lawyers, which, even 30 years ago, was a chestnut so old it was practically petrified.
Then again, Rodney Dangerfield as Lord Chaos…
That’s pretty genius.
The casting, though, is only the tip of the iceberg of insanity Shooter drops over the next 12 pages. The plot kicks off with Dazzler, Spider-Man and the Avengers (as themselves, a line I hope Marvel’s marketing department remembers when their next few movies come out) getting zapped into a dystopian future version of their familiar New York stomping grounds, as Post-Apocalypted by a slightly Kirbyesque Great Disaster!
The transition from complete nonsense back to dodgy plot points with a simple “anyway” is my second-favorite thing about this pitch. My first favorite thing is the blunt “of course” after the line about two rival kingdoms being at war. He might as well have written “you want it without cliches, give me more than four days next time.”
But just because it’s a dystopian future doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have something we haven’t seen before.
Fiery-garbed unicorn-mounted warriors and spearmen in chariots made from old VWs. The most amazing thing about this — aside from the fact that it almost reads like Shooter’s trying to set up another cross-promotion deal with Datsun and Volkswagen, the only cars tough enough to stand up to the apocalypse — is that it pretty much implies that there are as many giant unicorns and lizards in New York as there are VWs and pick-up trucks.
The Marvel Universe is a wonderful place.
The unicorn warriors are after Robin Williams, who escapes with an unconscious Dazzler after Rodney Dangerfield, to use Shooter’s exact terms, clonks her on the head with a club. Meanwhile, the Avengers are split into two groups that are each kidnapped and taken to the fortresses of Neo-New York’s two magical witch queens.
And this is where things start to get weird, because this is where we’re introduced to the queens’ unstoppable teams of mystic enforcers: KISS and the Village People.
First up, of course, is KISS, who — in a fontasy extravagonza the likes of which fans had never seen — would be making a return to the Marvel Universe, having previously been featured in a 1977 special that famously had their blood mixed in with the ink.
I imagine that this is where “their already established KISS-cosmic super powers” originate, but to be honest, I’ve never read it, and at this point I think it’s just as likely that this part was cranked out at 4 AM after enough coffee to make Shooter start interpreting Destroyer in new and interesting ways.
Anyway, here, the Knights In Stan (Lee)’s Service are filling the roles of The Dreadnights, making this the first recorded instance of KISS being commanded by Cher.
Even better, though, are The Stompers:
This is fantastic. Not only the idea that the Village People are the mirror universe versions of KISS — which makes so much sense that I’m amazed it took Shooter’s genius to point it out — but that their powers involve an energetic nightstic, a jackhammer, and unbreakable ropes and chains. That right there is some commitment to subtext, folks.
Also, I was not aware that this guy’s name was actually The Leatherman.
I always thought he was “the Biker,” but now that I’m actually looking at him, I think that may just have been something my parents told me when I asked about him when I was a kid.
Eventually there’s a big fight involving everybody, and things get resolved with almost no contribution from Dazzler when everyone suddenly realizes that their three Rodneys Dangerfield have joined up like Voltron to form Lord Chaos. Through the time-honored medium of lawyer jokes, it’s revealed that he’s been manipulating the entire situation, hooking Robin Williams up with Cher, Donna Summer and now Dazzler in order to create perpetual chaos. Apparently chaos was in surprisingly short supply in post-Apocalyptic New York, presumably because Snake Plisskin sorted things out the last time he was in the area.
Dazzler finally manages to contribute something to her own movie by using her powers to turn the noise of battle into a disco light show that calms everyone down, and they get zapped back to their own time by the combined magic of Cher and Donna Summer. Then, everyone decides it’s a good idea to make the Rodneys Dangerfield kindergarten teachers. Because that’s what you want to do with avatars of chaos that have created a deadly battle to make themselves stronger: Put them in charge of your children.
The amazing thing about this pitch isn’t that it didn’t happen, but that, according to Shooter, it almost did. Even after the deal with the record label collapsed and tanked Dazzler’s chances to to repeat Archie’s success as a completely fictional chart-topper, Marvel VP Alice Donenfeld took a copy of this pitch to the Cannes Film Festival to shop it around. And it seems that actress Bo Derek was so interested in the lead role that there’s a shot of her on the cover of People magazine — also posted by Shooter — where her husband’s holding a stack of Marvel comics for research material.
Even more amazing is the fact that this wasn’t the last time Marvel tried to pull this same stunt. They did it again in 1991 with Nightcat, a super-powered vigilante singer who was portrayed in the real world by Jacqueline Tavarez in an experiment that lasted exactly one issue.
Shooter, who also wrote a graphic novel called Dazzler: The Movie that’s completely unrelated to any of this, has the entire pitch available to download from his blog, and it’s an absolute hoot. The only way it could be crazier is if they’d gone with the record exec’s original plan of getting Harlan Ellison to do it.