Comics

The Essential Emma Frost

Ryan "Agent M" Penagos has his primer on the White Queen!

This week saw the release of X-MEN: BLACK – EMMA FROST by Leah Williams and Chris Bachalo. It is dope, and you can hear me and Tucker Marcus talk about it on Marvel’s Pull List. But with that in mind, and Emma having recently shown up in the pages of ICEMAN—which is written by our This Week in Marvel interview guest Sina Grace—I figured we’d do a little primer on Emma, one of the most powerful mutant psychics in the Marvel Universe. She’s a major telepath, and for more than 15 years—also has a really neat diamond form second mutation.

There’s a whole 18-issue EMMA FROST series from 2003 that digs into Emma’s past a ton. And plenty of issues of her being evil, being good, being awesome. But let’s start at the beginning: the very first appearance of Emma Frost!

Emma first appeared in 1980’s UNCANNY X-MEN #129 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. And this is right in the midst of one of the greatest runs in comics history. The Dark Phoenix Saga was about to heat up, the X-Men had just battled Proteus, new characters and ideas were springing up every issue. And this isn’t just the first appearance of Emma. It’s also the first appearance of Kitty Pryde, the full Hellfire Club of Sebastian Shaw, Harry Leland, and Donald Pierce (some of ‘em in cameo), the Hellfire Knights with those weird masks, and the first time we hear of Emma’s Massachusetts Academy. She debuts in that iconic white outfit and telepathically takes down Colossus, Storm, and Wolverine at once. Unfortunately for Emma, she gets beaten so badly by Phoenix that she ends up comatose, and doesn’t appear again for almost two years—when she switches bodies with Storm in a Hellfire Club revenge plot in UNCANNY X-MEN #151 and #152. We get to see a little of her school in those issues, which is a big part of who Emma is; she’s a teacher and a caretaker, even if she’s done some terrible stuff.

Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde

We really get to see Emma dealing with Kitty and the Massachusetts Academy in NEW MUTANTS. In Issue #15, she brings in a group of young mutants she’s training called the Hellions. I always thought the Hellions were cool. They were cool rivals for the New Mutants squad and had neat powers—a girl who turned into a purple cat, a girl who could make things from her Tarot Cards come to life (in a sense), and Thunderbird was a member of the original Hellions. He later became a member of X-Force and X-Men.

I have very distinct memories of UNCANNY X-MEN #281. This is a few years after those early New Mutants days, 1991. A huge time for Marvel Comics that saw INFINITY GAUNTLET #4, plus X-FORCE and SPIDER-MAN were crossing over. And the X-books were in the midst of big, new, awesome team in X-FACTOR. X-MEN #1 launched and sold a bajillion copies. And there was a new team, new direction and incredible art by Whilce Portacio in UNCANNY X-MEN. There was a new time-travel villain named Trevor Fitzroy who showed up, and he was controlling sentinels and going after folks. He took down Donald Pierce and the Reavers, then went after Emma Frost at the Hellfire Club with the Hellions, destroying them. I can close my eyes and still see the panel in which Sentinels blast through Tarot. It is burned into me.

Emma goes into her own mind in order to deal with the trauma of losing her students, then Jean Grey switches minds with her—it’s a whole lot. But that’s key because for a few years, Emma’s off the board in a coma. Another coma.

This brings us to UNCANNY X-MEN #311 (which also inspired one of my favorite WHAT IF? issues): Sabretooth is loose in the mansion after a power surge/blowout. Chaos and calamity. But it has Iceman doing some work in the room where Emma is convalescing. They both get jolted by the energy wave and over the course of the next few issues, we find out that Emma’s mind is in Iceman’s body, and she’s doing things with his powers that he never even knew he could do.

Emma Frost in Iceman's body

In UNCANNY X-MEN #314, Emma breaks out of the school in Bobby’s ice form so she can find her students, the Hellions, and figure out what happened while she was in a coma. There’s a heartbreaking sequence when she gets to Frost Enterprises and logs into the computers to locate her students and she finds out they’re all dead. She gets the details, and realizes that she wasn’t there to hear their thoughts in the moments of their deaths. She’s then approached by security with their guns drawn and tells them to do it. She’s almost fully taken by grief and sadness, and is helped by Professor X and Banshee.

At that same time, a techno-organic alien race called the Phalanx was infiltrating the X-Men and attacking mutants. Emma returns to her body just as the Phalanx attack. During the Phalanx Covenant crossover, she’s closely allied with Banshee, and a new group of teenage mutants which included Blink. Emma and Banshee teach these new students at the Massachusetts Academy and the team becomes Generation X, which featured art by Chris Bachalo, whose art style influenced so many comic creators. Chris came back to draw X-MEN: BLACK – EMMA FROST, so it’s all full circle!

In June 2001, GENERATION X ends with Issue #75 and the Massachusetts Academy closes. Emma goes to Genosha, the island home of millions of mutants, and begins teaching there. July 2001: NEW X-MEN #114 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is released, really changing the landscape of X-Men comics. In that issue, Cassandra Nova is introduced, the X-Men have a new look, a new type of sentinel is created, and the idea of a secondary mutation comes forth. And then the next issue, we see the extinction of over 16 million mutants on Genosha.

Emma Frost in Genosha

As one of the only survivors on Genosha, Emma is found in her diamond form, cradling the body of a dead mutant. That’s her second mutation, and the first time we see her as diamond. In her diamond form, she says, “…I saw children cut into wafer-thin slices. I watched a gifted ten-year-old pianist search for his hands among the broken glass. That monster must die.” She then ends up twisting Cassandra’s neck around and joining the X-Men.

NEW X-MEN is one of my favorite runs of comics. There’s so much to talk about and it’s weird and wild and sad and fun and sexy. We’re introduced to the Stepford Cuckoos and the psychic/love affair between Emma and Cyclops begins. She becomes a core member of the X-Men and a major teacher at the school. NEW X-MEN #139 is a key Emma issue. Jean—and the Phoenix—confront Emma about the affair. Jean goes digging around in Emma’s head, letting us see tons of Emma’s history—childhood, family, the Hellfire Club, the guilt around all her dead students, and more. We find out the real truth of the affair, hear Emma’s admitted love of Scott Summers, and find her shattered into diamond pieces by the end. Also, it is gorgeous! Phil Jimenez was just on some next level business.

Jean puts Emma together again, and throughout NEW X-MEN, Jean dies, and Scott and Emma become a thing. We then roll into ASTONISHING X-MEN and more where Emma and Scott run the school together, Emma and Kitty once again are connected and also somewhat perpetually at odds. Around that time, Emma puts together another team of Hellions—she just wants to teach and help.

It’s revealed that the Cuckoos were clones of Emma, and that Emma was intended to be a weapon against the X-Men by Cassandra Nova, but she ended up being a force for good with the team. Later, during the Dark Reign storyline, which was after Civil War and Secret Invasion, Emma joined Norman’s evil Cabal. Also, we learn about her and Sexy Namor’s sexy times. Emma shows her true colors under Osborn, though, and reveals she and Namor are on the side of mutant freedom. Flipping against Osborn and the Dark teams, Emma, Scott Summers, and Namor help establish the mutant safe haven of Utopia.

Emma Frost's memories

Emma has gone through tons of stuff, but I’m blazing past much of it so we can jump to AVENGERS VS X-MEN, when Emma was one of the Phoenix Five—Emma, Scott, Namor, Magik, Colossus—each with a piece of the power of the Phoenix Force. She loses her power to Scott, who goes Dark Phoenix and kills Professor X.

Despite the betrayal, and powers gone awry, Emma works again with Cyclops in order to train and help new generations of mutants. She remained a teacher and a fighter, even as the universe was destroyed and returned through Secret Wars. With a reformed universe, a new threat emerged for Emma and mutantkind: Terrigen.

Which is, more or less, why we see the X-Men so reluctant to work with her in X-MEN: BLACK – EMMA FROST #1. To find out what happens with her—and it’s freakin’ awesome—you’ll have to read the book!

To listen to the full discussion about Emma Frost on This Week in Marvel, download the episode below:

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