Storm Arcana

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White Queen Wednesday: Fabulous First

An Emma Frost Salon
by Ken Kneisel

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Welcome to another installment of White Queen Wednesday, gentle reader. This past Monday night, my friend Juhani and I were walking around his new neighborhood here in San Francisco. We passed Green Apple Books and he pointed out to me that they had comics available for sale. I perused their selection and was startled to find a copy of the first edition Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga trade paperback with the Bill Sienkiewicz cover and forward by Stan Lee marked down to just three dollars! At such a deeply discounted price, of course I snatched up this classic tome by Chris Claremont and John Byrne without a moment’s hesitation. Flipping through it I recalled, as I mentioned last week, that this storyline marked the first appearance of our Emma Frost. Although back then she was quite a different character, the wicked White Queen of the Hellfire Club, the very picture of unrepentant evil. So this week I would like to reflect for a moment on Emma’s first run-in with the X-Men.

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After attempting to trick Kitty Pryde’s parents into enrolling the girl in her prestigious Massachusetts Academy, Emma decides to take a more direct approach in subduing the X-Men with a brutal telepathic assault. Unlike Professor X and Jean Grey’s more ethical approach to telepathy, Emma has absolutely no compunctions about using her mutant gift to mentally torment her opponents.

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Emma has her Hellfire Club guards strip the incapacitated X-Men of anything they might use as a weapon or to escape. She orders them to take particular care with Storm. Ororo might not be familiar with Emma just yet, but the White Queen is fully aware of Storm’s tricks and hidden lockpicks.

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Later Emma keeps the X-Men caged and bound deep within a Hellfire Club complex.

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Emma’s first direct encounter with Storm is anything but cordial as the White Queen viciously tortures our proud weather goddess in an exceedingly cruel fashion, taking delight in Ororo’s anguish.  What a delicious bitch!

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The cavalry arrives when the X-Men infiltrate the White Queen’s hidden lair. Emma turns her attention back to Storm in order to take her frustrations out on Ororo.

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But now Emma faces the wrath of Storm’s infuriated best friend Jean Grey in her all-powerful Phoenix aspect. Jean taunts Emma and challenges her to a telepathic showdown.

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Jean’s fiery fury is pitted against Emma’s cold cruelty in a spectacular psychic duel.

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The battle goes poorly for Emma as she finds herself far out of her depth when facing the virtually omnipotent Phoenix.

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Jean might have written off the White Queen after their telepathic tussle, but like any great villain, Emma is down but not out. This isn’t the last we’ve seen of the White Queen.  She would tangle with the X-Men and later the teenage New Mutants alongside the Hellfire Club and her Hellions many more times over the years before eventually joining ranks with Xavier and his students, but it is interesting to look back at her villainous beginnings even if only to see just how far she has come.

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6 Comments

  1. NB

    Huh? I always thought it was Jean who said (or thought) the part of “…more than a collapsed building…” but here the “talk bubble” really do look different from the one Jean uses. I’d still guess it’s just Jean “talking” privately to Cyclops though.

  2. Ken Kneisel

    Thanks for the quick correction, NB! The appropriate alterations have been made.

    When I first read this story years ago, I also assumed it was Jean speaking privately to Scott. But for some reason when I just reread it, the line seemed a little more ambiguous. However, if it was Emma who said it then you would expect at least one of the X-Men to have reacted to it, so it makes more sense that it would be Jean and not Emma.

  3. NB

    Yes, I also seem to recall that the Hellfire Club (or at least the White Queen) were intended as one-off villains for this story, and in that case she would not have survived at all.

    At least Byrne has stated that some time as I recall. What Claremont thought at the time is another issue of course. But he DID wait until Byrne left to make use of them again.

  4. hahaha “What a delicious bitch!” is about the best summation of Emma’s appeal, and your draw to her, Ken. Verbosity is unnecessary sometimes.

    I had the Sienkewicz cover thing trade (although was unaware it was Bill S until reading this I guess,) which I lent to a friend, former, in the height of the cartoon’s success in the 1990s never to see returned. This pains me rather more than it perhaps ought.

    Still. Emma Frost, eh? What a delicious bitch!

  5. Ingonyama

    This is one of Jean’s greatest moments, IMHO. The coolness and confidence with which she taunts, fights, and defeats Emma is both scary and rousing. And the fight itself is beautifully drawn, particularly the Phoenix raptor and Emma’s green energy effect. Those panels are some of the most wonderfully vivid pictures I’ve ever seen in comics.

    I always chose to imagine that that “collapsing building” line was Emma’s parting psychic shot as she was fleeing the scene…the words are as perfectly hers as they could be Jean’s (which says something about Phoenix’s state at the time). I know it’s really Jean reassuring Scott, but a guy can dream.

    Even from Day One, it’s nice to know certain things about Emma haven’t changed: Her ruthlessness is one thing, her thoroughness another. She truly does her best to plan for every contingency…the X-Men just managed to be smart enough to outwit her traps, and strong enough to power through her defenses. Having Dazzler and Kitty on their side, at the time untested, unknown quantities, helped immensely. Emma’s main advantage was that she’d done the research, but there was no way she could’ve known the two “neo-mutants” Hellfire was after would turn on them like that. Still, she made a good showing of herself, and had a lasting impact.

  6. Jane

    I see, once Emma got treated for her Cri du Chat syndrome she then had the confidance to dress more stripperifically as she does today.

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