There are few X-Men who have stirred as much controversy as Emma Frost. Last year, she topped our Best of the X poll, but if you mention her name in a chat it’s quite possible to hear some, shall we say, derogatory terms. So who is Emma Frost?
There are a number of different threads in Emma’s life, and it’s useful to look at them one at a time.
From the outset, as a mousy girl from a rich New England family, Emma’s experience of ‘power’ was of its abuse.
No matter what she did – no matter how she used her developing mental powers – her father’s approval was never there. When she expressed a desire to go into teaching, he manipulated events to force her away from that career. His continuing abuse of power led to Emma’s brother attempting suicide and being committed to a lunatic asylum. That was when Emma stormed out.
It was when she was held hostage – a ransom her father was unwilling to pay – that Emma began to exploit her powers in more powerful ways. She turned the gang against one another, and then made off with the ransom money. Later, Emma gained a speed course in telepathic powers courtesy of another (less potent) telepath, Astrid Bloom. Again, though, Bloom manipulated Emma – unaware of just how powerful Emma was.
When desperation settled in, Emma found that the Hellfire Club was looking for dancers. Her powers gave her the ability to control men’s perceptions of her.
You have to understand that Shaw was a teacher, too – an expert at spotting what was worst about a person, and nourishing it, until the darkness overwhelms all light. For Emma, power was the thing Shaw saw – a lust for power that matched his own, although in Shaw’s eyes Emma would only ever be his inferior.
In accordance with the desires of Sebastian Shaw, Emma had cosmetic surgery to give her the best body money could buy, becoming what she called “the Ice Queen, the dominatrix from hell.” All for the sake of power. The ultimate choice came when Shaw asked her: do you want to be Queen? In her quest for power, Emma was willing to sit and watch as Shaw beat her closest friends at the Club to death. That was how far Emma was willing to go for power in those deadly days.
And Emma was drawn to exercise her, ah, influence over men of power – wealthy aristocrats, Shaw himself, and Namor the monarch of Atlantis. These events led to a confrontation of sorts between Emma and Shaw, but her memories were wiped. An encounter with the Phoenix brought those memories back, and Emma held on to the bitter grudge against Shaw.
Perhaps the most potent threat Emma ever faced was Cassandra Nova, who took control of Emma’s mind and turned her against the X-Men. Emma’s response was the ultimate one, and a powerful demonstration – she would rather die than lose control, than lose power over herself.
Curiously, this desire for power was both her strength and her weakness when influenced by the Phoenix Force. The temptation to exercise power – including in judgment over those who had mistreated mutants – became overwhelming. Rather than attack Wakanda herself, she manipulated Namor into doing it for her. And yet, Emma remained the only one of the Phoenix Five to doubt herself, to struggle against the corrupting influence of her own darker desires. She would not surrender her power easily, not even to the Phoenix Force.
The second thread in Emma’s life is a desire to teach – a desire that led to the first real conflict between Emma and her father, and that ironically his ransom money would allow her to pursue; she took Education with a minor in Business at E.S.U.
Finding her way to the Hellfire Club, though, Emma turned Sebastian Shaw’s schemes to her own purposes; teaching a new generation of mutants.
There were no lengths Emma would not go to in order to get her students – up to and including psychic manipulation of Kitty Pryde’s family.
But Emma’s teaching days were dogged with tragedy. Fitzroy and the Sentinels came calling, and Emma watcher her students die before her eyes – herself locked in a coma for some time as a consequence of the attack.
Emma tried again, running a new Massachusetts Academy – and, along with Banshee, acting as tutor to Generation X. That went better, although the project fell apart in the end; Emma later found her way to Genosha, once again acting as a teacher. That, of course, was when the mutant population of Genosha was eradicated, and Emma headed to the X-Men once again.
When Selene unleashed the semi-resurrected Hellions against Emma, it was probably the most potent blow she could ever have dealt.
This guilt will always be with her, the longing to see her students thrive; there is a reason that she continually dips back into the life of her surviving student Firestar, and there is a very personal reason that she wished Firestar would join the X-Men on Utopia.
For all the bad blood that lies between Scott and Emma, this is why she is happy to stay by his side right now; he has, once again, given her the opportunity to teach.
Whether Emma liked to admit it or not, her father’s rejection had left her craving affection. In the past, she had sought fulfilment of this need through sex more than anything else – tempestuous relationships with powerful men such as Namor and Tony Stark.
And yet, her sense of fury and hatred towards Sebastian Shaw leaves me wondering; underneath everything, did Emma truly love Shaw? How much was she deluding herself when she believed she was the one pulling Shaw’s strings?
Certainly, from the outset, Emma’s emotions towards Scott were more than she liked admitting.
In the end, in fact, Emma would be faced with a harsh choice; when Wolverine left Utopia to found a school, would she choose Scott or the School? Cyclops never truly understood the depth of meaning behind Emma’s choice, but she chose him.
Scott, however, grew increasingly distant. When Emma was injured in battle with Sinister, he showed little concern; and Namor’s attentions began to tempt Emma away. Ultimately, fuelled by the Phoenix Force, she shared a brief psychic affair with Namor – a revelation that caused Cyclops to lash out. Emma still regrets those choices.
Still, for all Emma and Scott insist they are not ‘together’, in Bishop’s timeline (still viable) they have a daughter, Ruby Summers, who has inherited a form of both her parents’ abilities. Anything can happen…