Friday, August 31, 2018

Emma Frost #1

The Fairer Sex
Emma Frost #1

A Tale of Two Emma’s, part one:
A backstory we didn’t need

"Higher Learning, 1 of 6: Growing Pains”
Writer – Karl Bollers
Penciler -Randy Green
Inker – Rick Ketcham
Letterer – Cory Petit
Colorist – Pete Pantazis
Associate Editor – Mike Raicht
Editor – Mike Marts
Editor-in-Chief – Joe Quesada
August 2003

I get that sex sells. I also get that out of all the books fumbling around in the discount bin, I, a straight male, did pick up this book in particular. And possibly did so based solely on two things: I know the character and that very revealing, sexy Greg Horn cover image. And I’m betting it was more the latter than the former.

I can state that honestly because Emma Frost was by the late 1980’s as solid an X-Man villain as you’d ever meet. We didn’t need a pointless and unconnected backstory that told her origin any more than I need a third nipple. The character appeared as foe back in issue 129 of Uncanny X-Men, tooled around as both a straight up villain and as headmistress of the Hellions (a kind-of mean version of Xavier’s New Mutants), and found redemption after the Phalanx invasion gave her cause to become part leader of Xavier’s Generation X group.

But this was the Joey Q era of Marvel, something I mark as the company’s slow side into mediocre and bad decision-making in title choices and revisionist history.

So Emma gets an origin story. The sad part is that this feels a bit like grafting a rat to a pigeon: even when it works, you aren’t sure you want it to and the end result is something that doesn’t look or feel natural. Setting Emma up as the downtrodden underdog in a prep school full of stuck up snobbish girls who harass and humiliate her at every turn is an ugly duckling story Emma doesn’t need or deserve. Can’t she just be a straight-up biotch from day one? That’s kind of what makes Emma fun. She’s an ice queen that you’re never quite sure if she has a beating heart. Just when you think she’s a total wicked witch, she does something nice and screws up that preconception…for a short while.

Certainly that cover is a clever ruse designed to get red-blooded males to pick it up without thumbing through it. Emma is in high school in this book and…well, let’s dive in to take a look-see where we are at in this one.

We begin with a full page establishing shot of Show Valley School for Girls, a huge two story campus-type affair with those old-style windows that actually open. As we pull in, the teacher is handing out report cards, telling each student how good they’ve done as he calls the name and then hands out a card. When we finally reach the window, the teacher hands a card to Emma Frost…

…and then we pull into class to find…

…that THIS is Emma Frost. Note the text confirms it to those of you still skeptical.

Not what you expected? I know, right!

Emma Frost has for years embodied the platinum-blonde, ice-cold yet fashion model hot bitch (please excuse that term). She was cold to the core and part of that was embodied in her look of conservative dress in public while underneath it all was the seething dom goddess in white bustier, thigh-highs, and panties. Her look was very much a part of her psychology, she wore an air of respectability in public but her mutant persona came off as someone depraved, stuck-up and power hungry.

And that bleach-blonde hair sold it all.

Brunettes are approachable, affable, and girl-next-door. Blondes, on the other hand, are typically shown as either party-hardy bimbos or cold, calculating snobs. Yes, I am stereotyping here, but part of this is the literary culture and social norms we are brought up in. And the creators of Emma Frost played upon those stereotypes. “Blondes have more fun” is the age old myth, and brunettes are typecast as being more down to Earth, more intelligent (even though an Ohio study done in 2016 found the opposite in regards to IQ), and less likely to be noticed. And while you can pick out a few blondes that don’t fit this mold, they are more exceptions that prove the rule than establishing that the rule doesn’t exist.

Being blonde was part of Emma’s personality. It was part of who she is as a character, embodying that she WASN’T the kind, sweet girl. The lighter locks demanded notice, commanded attention. Emma’s hair color emphasized that she wasn’t ordinary, that she was unique and unobtainable. It completed her frost queen image.

So, this hair color change is actually a big deal, character-wise. It points up that Marvel is attempting to soften her image. In this school-age version, we are going to see that the writers dumped everything we knew about Emma out the window and started from scratch.

And not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily. As tales go, this is a decent story. However, it feels like it has ZERO to do with the Emma Frost seen in any of her prior appearances and more to do with a teen romance movie the writer couldn’t find a buyer for.

But enough of all that…Emma is a hard-working, average intelligence student at an all girl’s prep school…

…who, unlike her stuck-up, popular-beyond-popular BLONDE classmate and nemesis Matilda, struggles to make the A-B Honor Roll. Emma walks hunched over, friendless and beset upon by Matilda …

…and her clique of most likely to succeed peeps who mercilessly tear into the brunette, mousy Emma for everything from her intelligence and rich parents…

…to her underdeveloped physique and lack of sex appeal. 

Uh…I should stop the book right here and state that I don’t buy this for one damn minute as being Emma Frost’s origin. It is TOO counter everything she has been in various X-books up until now. Not that I think the story is bad, I just don’t believe this is the same character (only younger) as the one on the cover. This is a sympathy ploy. Anyone going all-in on this being the future White Queen of the Hellfire Club I have a bridge I wanna sell ya.

And bringing in the hunky, pedophile young teacher who will act as Emma’s protector (and sicko love interest) doesn’t win the argument, either. Nor the “sudden onset of mutant brain headaches.”

This is simply a different character. And I go with the book along those lines.

I go with it to the fabulous Frost estate, where servants attend to the Frost family’s dinner needs, going so far as cutting the food for them. We meet Emma’s crappy, overbearing, manipulative father, her stuck-up, uncaring mother, her sassy, sexy fashion model sister, her punkish, gothy other sister and her vaguely gay, good-guy older brother.

While all this dysfunction is fun and all, can we get back to Emma for a moment? Emma wants to go to the school dance (which happens in about 99% of these type stories, I’m finding), but can’t without Daddy’s approval. Her Father, asshole that he is, says she can’t because…

…her grades haven’t improved enough. Which causes Emma to storm off, quickly followed by big, gay brother Christian. We get a bit of snark from goth sis and I find myself wishing the author didn’t have to shoehorn all this into an Emma Frost backstory. Seems these characters would make interesting stories on their own. In truth, I would much prefer to read that tale.

Why? Because we have a neat little scene with her brother and instead of it going somewhere interesting, we have to put in that Emma’s having headaches and fainting spells and migraines and mutant, Mutant, MUTANT things going on. Boring. We know where that tale goes.

It goes to the fencing class next day where Emma is forced to spar against Matilda, a duel that ends with a little bloodshed…

… which is somehow Emma having A NOSEBLEED that has leaked onto the sword as it stabs her. No really. That’s what it is. The school nurse has just the prescription for that, though and before long, Emma is back in class…

… where she can get hit on by hunky pervert teacher Ian Kendall, who shamelessly stands too close to her. (thanks Police for that one). Stands too close and makes certain that Emma will be at the dance by leading her into asking to study him…A-hem!...for his help in studying for class with him.

And like all those underdog movies with the cute girl who is actually smoking hot but you aren’t supposed to notice because she wears her hair in a pony, has on sweats and long-sleeve shirts, and always wears glasses, Emma shows up in a dress looking amazing while turning every head on the page.

Emma getting all this attention doesn’t sit to well with Matilda, who turns the dance into a claws-out cat fight after ripping the dress off of Emma. Emma, in turn, lays into Matilda with info she’s accidentally lifted from the girl’s mind. Appears Matilda’s family is having a little money trouble. This escalates matters quite a bit.

And Emma is left the laughing stock by Matilda somehow…what happened to the hot guy? Surely, he wouldn’t just abandon her like that, right? No? Well he did.

Not to mention that the author of this tale has decided to just keep heaping this on to the poor dear. 

By the time the pair reach the mansion, our over bearing Father has heard about Emma’s night at the dance. He’s none to pleased about it either. And how he heard breaks Emma’s heart…

So, during the following day’s first tutoring lesion Emma spills the beans about her abusive, control-freak father to sexy but too old for you Mr. Kendall.

Something tells me that Mr. Kendall isn’t telling the whole truth here, but whatever. This emotional outpouring brings our two wrong lovebirds together. They share a fading sunbeam as Emma asks if she can get TOO FAMILIAR by using his first name. It’s something that Matilda asked in the first part of the book and was denied. The vibe of this is so creepy and improper that you want the book to stop making this the central love interest, but no dice audience. You’re getting an improper love story…

…which becomes even more apparent when the next day Emma’s powers go wildly out of control again, this time driving her to her knees with a bloody nose again.

And we end with “Ian” holding a swooning Emma while screaming her name. 

So, I didn’t HATE this. There was enough going on to make me want more of the story. That isn’t to say that I like to link it with my most favorite underdressed X-Woman. It works as a solo story. It really shouldn’t be about Emma Frost though. Marvel should have trusted this storyline as its own thing.

Instead this feels crammed into a character’s history in a way that is neither helpful in developing them in the present nor appropriate for how that character turns out.

And as long as I’m complaining, the teenage wank-tastic cover art is so misleading given the story and art INSIDE the box, I have to take some points off there for tackiness.

In all, though, I read the first two issues and the story is decent. I’d buy more to see where Higher Learning ends up going.

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