The History of Emma Frost and How She Became An Influential X-Man
Now that Disney’s purchase of Fox is complete and the X-Men are free to show up in the MCU, it’s probably a good time to take a look at one of their most polarizing characters. Although we may disagree on exactly which character is most polarizing, it’s hard to argue that Emma Frost isn’t one of them. For every person that claims she’s one of the most influential mutants in history, there are two others claiming that she overrated. I mean, she’s a telepath, which the X-Men already have, a leader, which they have, and a strong female presence, which, again, they already have. I assure you, however, she’s anything but overrated.
This history of Emma Frost has shown that she has fought tooth and nail to earn a spot among the X-Men elite. She’s been a villain, a hero, an anti-hero, and fallen under every other classification that readers organize their favorite characters by. She has built a reputation for herself that most dream to have but did it in ways that most would never dream of. She is what happens when writers take the time to flesh out long-forgotten characters.
Emma is one of the most powerful mutants in Marvel. She has the ability to control the minds of others, manipulate their thoughts and actions, and do most other things Charles Xavier can do…albeit, not on the level he can do it. Emma is so important to the X-Men that when the Phoenix Force once again came looking for a host, she was one of the five chosen. Unfortunately, because she has spent decades cementing her importance in the history of the X-Men, Emma is both feared and revered by her peers.
They fear who she is and what’s she’s capable of, and live in awe of her status as a respected member of the X-Men.
Emma lives and does everything she does for two simple reasons…the children and herself. At her core, Emma is a teacher and one who cares deeply for the next generation. Although their ideologies don’t mesh, in her early years, it was revealed that she, like Xavier, wanted to prepare and teach the next generation of mutants how to survive in the world around them. Her students, lovingly named the Hellions, became the focal point of her obsession. She taught them to survive, treated them as if they were her own, and helped them understand their mutations. Where she failed, and I use that term loosely, is that she doesn’t know how to relate or show empathy for those around her…two qualities vital in being a good teacher.
The history of Emma Frost is a long-winding road that has no end. As much as I want to dig into that right now, we should probably take care of something else first.
The history of Emma Frost started inside the pages of X-Men #129 back in January of 1980. X-Men #129 is a landmark issue in the history of the X-Men. Aside from introducing Emma Frost, the issue also introduced characters like Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce, Kitty Pryde and marked the first appearance (as a team) of the Hellfire Club. There are very few issues in comic books that have introduced as many important characters as #129. Due to this, and if you’re looking to collect, it’s a highly collectible comic book.
But I digress…
The history of Emma Frost began with her not as a member of the X-Men but rather as a member of the villainous Hellfire Club. For reference, the Hellfire Club began as a social club for the British Elite in the mid-1700s. The group gathered as a way to gain pleasure in a means that didn’t align with the moral standards of the time period. Over the course of many years, the group set up branches all over the world. Of the many branches, Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw became notorious for only allowing high-powered mutants into their group. This group, as opposed to others, always consisted of two key members, the White Queen and the Black Queen. What’s important to know about the two Queen’s is that to become a Queen (White or Black) a psychic bond has to be formed between the two…something, as I’m sure you know because of the infamous Dark Phoenix Saga, is all too familiar to Jean Grey.
Emma Frost was created by the legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. As it goes, Claremont was inspired to create the character after watching an episode of The Avengers television series. The episode follows the spy duo John Steed and Emma Peel as they infiltrate an underground criminal society (which, by the way, inspired the Hellfire Club). The character of Emma Frost was inspired by Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Emma Peel.
As already touched on, Emma is one of the foremost telepaths in the Marvel Universe. This means that she can read minds, wipe memories, and place mental suggestions and memories inside the head of others. She’s is also one of a few mutants with a secondary mutation. Her secondary mutation allows her to transform her body into a diamond-like state. When in this state, she’s practically invulnerable. There is a catch to this, however. While in her diamond form, Emma cannot use her telepathic abilities.
Of her personality traits, she is most known for being cold and as coming across as uncaring…although both aren’t entirely accurate. Because of a history filled with torment and abuse, she believes that the only way to improve oneself is to accept your own reality and change it. As a teacher, Emma Frost doesn’t nurture or spoon-feed her students. Instead, she believes that strength comes from within and therefore it’s fruitless to rely on others. She believes and teaches her students to be confident in themselves and to use that confidence to better whatever situation they find themselves in.
However, for as strong as she is, one of the main criticisms of the character is that she dresses with little left to the imagination. One look at her and it’s obvious who the creators were catering to during her creation. I mean, from a looks standpoint she is everything that a fanboy desires. She is the double-take that most are embarrassed to do but have no choice but to do it. As her name (Frost) implies, she wears a stark white outfit that often includes a corset, knee-high boots, revealing underwear and/or pants that are extremely tight. Sadly, her outfit is often mistaken as a detriment to the character.
However, it’s not.
Let me explain.
During the early history of Emma Frost (Classic X-Men #34), she calmly explains her, ahem, choice of attire by saying that “…her clothes are her battle armor. My looks and body are on par with a man’s fists.” This simple sentence shows that she understands that to win a battle that can’t be won, she has to think and act in ways that haven’t been done.
But she doesn’t stop there.
In that same book, she goes on to explain that “There is no such thing as sexism, unless you give them power. No one dares look at the White Queen that way. I fight my battles without getting a speck of dirt on my gloves, not a hair out of place.”
She, of course, is referring to the battle in the boardroom and not on the battlefield. She knows that she can defeat any opponent if physicality is taken out of the equation. While she doesn’t exactly come out and say it, she’s saying that she uses her sexuality and not her mind control, as a way of controlling all those around her…and her clothes only help increase her sexuality. By this logic, the clothes actually enhance and not degrade her character.
I’ll try to explain this differently.
Emma completely understands that to receive attention in a male-dominated organization like the Hellfire Club, women must dress in a way to attract attention. So she does. Once noticed, she’s like a Venus Fly Trap. Like the Venus Fly Trap, she lures her prey in with her beauty and once they’re close enough, she attacks.
As she gained popularity, readers began questioning when she’d get her own series…and in 2003, it happened.
The series, however, wasn’t one that followed her current adventures. Instead, it followed her formative years and acted as an origin story. More than that, it explained exactly how she became the White Queen.
“Emma Frost” followed her as she coped with her abusive father, struggled for acceptance at school, saw her fall in love with her teacher, transformed her into the White Queen, all-the-while explaining how she learned to handle her mutation. While not a true superhero book and if you’re interested, Emma Frost is a great read for any who are a fan of the character and an even better read for those who aren’t.
For the better part of the last twenty years, she is as synonymous with the X-Teams as any. Go ahead, try to name ten X-Men. I can say with confidence that you’ll probably name at least four of the original (Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Jean Grey, and Angel) and Wolverine. Once those are out of the way, almost assuredly one of the remaining five spots will go to Emma Frost.
But how did it get this way? How did Emma become an easily named member of the team?
Easy. It took a colossal effort from both Joss Whedon, Grant Morrison, and their respective ‘X’ titles to make this so.
Let’s look at Morrison first.
Interestingly, when asked about the character, Morrison freely admitted that he had never heard of her. In fact, it was only after a fan asked him whether or not she was going to be a part of his relaunch that he researched her. After researching, he fell in love with her and she was made a central character in his work.
His treatment of her, however, said anything but love. Within a very short period, he shipped her off to the fictional nation of Genosha and made her responsible for teaching (a naturally good fit for her) young mutants. As much as it would appear that things were on the up and up for the character, they weren’t.
Shortly after her arrival, a fleet of Sentinels arrived at Genosha and wiped out the mutant population. By all accounts, Emma should’ve died with them but she didn’t. Instead, her secondary mutation surfaced (for the first time), she turned as hard as diamond and lived to tell about it. Strangely, if there was ever a moment that caused a visible division among those who loved and hated her, it was her return to the mansion. While her return helped her character ascend to X-Men royalty, it came at a great cost.
After being corrupt by Apocalyse, Scott Summers and Jean Grey found themselves in their usual rut. Unsure of what to do, Scott sought advice from Emma and she gave it to him. Although this may seem like a reasonable idea, remember, everything that Emma does, she does for a reason. Shortly after he sought her out for advice, the two began having a sort of psychic affair. As one of the world’s most powerful psychics, Jean quickly realized this and upon her realization, things quickly got out of hand. Unfortunately, when it was all said and done, the aftermath saw Jean dead and Emma and Scott kissing in front of her grave.
I know that the very thought of Scott kissing someone else in front of Jean’s grave sounds cruel but understand Grant Morrison saw something that very few saw. He knew that Jean Grey was the Scott (and X-Men) of old and Emma represented Scott (and X-Men) of new. She was everything he needed and more. Being in a relationship with Emma did something for his character that hadn’t been done in a long time. It made him interesting.
For everything Morrison did, he was only but a part of her ascension.
Joss Whedon is widely known for his love and development of strong female characters. For example, in the same run (Astonishing X-Men), he took perennial B-lister, Kitty Pryde, and turned her into one of the most memorable characters in recent years. When asked about his desire to write strong female characters, he’s given one of many answers:
- “Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.”
- “Well, because these stories give people strength and I’ve heard it from a number of people and I’ve felt it myself, it’s not just women, it’s men. And I think there is something particular about a female protagonist that allows a man to identify with her that opens up something that he might, an aspect of himself he might be unable to express. Hopes and desires he might be uncomfortable expressing through a male identification figure. So it really crosses across both and I think it helps in that way.”
- “I think it’s because of my mother. She really was an extraordinary, inspirational, tough, cool, sexy, funny woman and that’s the kind of woman I’ve always surrounded myself with, my friends, particularly my wife, who is not only smarter and stronger than I am but occasionally taller, but only sometimes taller. I think it all goes back to my mother.”
- “Because of my father. My father and my step-father had a lot to do with it because they prized wit and resolve in the women they were with above all things. And they were among the rare men who understood that recognizing someone else’s power does not diminish your own.”
Emma Frost was no different.
Under Whedon, Emma became everything that she was groomed to be. Under her, she became a central figure and leader in his Astonishing X-Men.
And how did he do this? How did he grow a character that had been mistreated for the better part of 30 years?
Kitty felt the one thing for Emma that no other character felt…mistrust. The history of Emma Frost and the history of Kitty Pryde are very much intertwined. Remember, Kitty first appeared in the exact same book as Emma. While their journeys have been drastically different, their history is very much intertwined. During Astonishing X-Men, Kitty made it very clear that she remembered Emma’s first years as a member of the Hellfire Club. She remembered who Emma was, what she did, and the lengths she would go to reach her desired outcome. Because of this, the relationship between the two was engaging, fascinating and exactly what the X-Men needed.
Let me explain.
Kitty was the voice of reason, the Yin to Emma’s Yang, and the one to question Emma on every decision she made. It was obvious that the two wanted the same things but the way in which they achieved them was very different. Whedon knew this, exploited it and as a consequence, both characters were written in ways they had never been written before.
Astonishing X-Men used very few characters to tell its tale but the ones used, specifically, Emma Frost, grew in ways they had never grown before. For the first time in her existence, Emma Frost was as mainstream as any X-Man could get. Joss Whedon is a master architect when it comes to female character development and the way in which he used Emma Frost in Astonishing X-Men shows exactly why.
So where does that leave her?
Sadly, not as far along as you might think.
The aftermath of Emma’s ascension has ironically left her descending. As the 2000s roared on, Scott (remember the main influence in Emma’s life) became Hellbent on mutant protection. He even went as far as to wage a war against the Avengers for it.
2012s Avengers vs X-Men saw Hope Summers (the firstborn mutant after House of M) appear. Because she was a new mutant, Scott felt that she was the savior of mutant-kind. As such, he fought to protect her at all costs. This meant that he and his X-Men took a hard stance against humanity. The fallout of the event saw many things at Marvel change…none of which were more important than watching Cyclops kill his mentor (Charles Xavier), Cyclops being taken into custody and the mutant population reeling.
With Cyclops gone, the writers had a chance to propel Emma into the stratosphere of mutant supremacy. Instead, they the opposite and relegated her to nothing more than a desperate widow. Rather than doing what she’s always done and focusing on her own needs, Emma focussed her efforts on saving mutants.
Not because she is a teacher at heart. Not because she wants to helps mutants. And not because she was an X-Man. She focussed on saving mutants because she was the ex-girlfriend of Scott Summers and she saw an opportunity to get back with her man.
I’m sure you’re thinking that for a character who has explicitly stated “There is no such thing as sexism, unless you give them power. No one dares look at the White Queen that way. I fight my battles without getting a speck of dirt on my gloves, not a hair out of place,” and “ “…her clothes are her battle armor. My looks and body are on par with a man’s fists,” this new thinking doesn’t align with the Emma we all know.
And you’re right.
What makes her character work is that she’s incredibly independent, understands that her looks can work for her and not against her, and she knows the limitation of her power and isn’t afraid to go to it.
Thankfully, the writers at Marvel have started to take corrective action. The recent history of Emma Frost shows that she has taken steps towards becoming the person that she’s meant to be.
Like many comic book characters, Emma Frost has been on both sides of good and evil. Unlike many comic book characters, after transitioning from evil to good, she has, for the most part, remained there. For this, Emma Frost is an anomaly in the world of comics. She is strong, independent and has helped usher in an age (thankfully) where women characters are not dominated by their male counterparts.
Over the years, Emma Frost has cemented herself as one of the most important X-Men characters in existence. In fact, it’s hard to create an argument against the notion that she may very well be the most important female X-Man of the last 30 years. She is strong, powerful, and remedy to the blandness of Scott Summers. It’s my hope that she continues to grow in unexpected ways.
Agree? Disagree? Would you like the history of Emma Frost to be continually expanded on? Or would you like the history of Emma Frost to stay right where it is?
As I do with all of these in-depth articles, I’m going to leave you with this.
Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world just a little bit better.
So, may they be around forever.