How did Emma Frost become an A-list member of the X-Men? Created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne back in 1980, Emma Frost was originally envisioned as a major X-Men villain. Claremont and Byrne had hit upon the idea of the Hellfire Club, partly inspired by a British TV series called The Avengers. The Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club were ruthless industrialists, mutants who used their wealth and powers to serve their own ends. Emma Frost was one of their greatest leaders, the White Queen.
It didn't take long for Emma Frost to become one of the X-Men's most notable enemies. She founded a rival institution for Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, becoming a mentor to a group of young mutants she called the Hellions; they clashed with the New Mutants many times. Meanwhile, Emma Frost plagued the X-Men time and again, even body-swapping with Storm in one memorable story. And yet, we're now at the point where Emma Frost has actually been a superhero for far longer than she's been a villain. In fact, for all her villainous history, Emma has stood at the forefront of several incarnations of the X-Men. How did she become one of the X-Men's A-listers?
How Emma Frost Became A Hero
Emma Frost's road to heroism began in tragedy. She hadn't founded the Hellions just to annoy Charles Xavier; the truth is that she cared passionately about her students, and loved teaching them. Tragically, in Uncanny X-Men #281 a group of rogue Sentinels were teleported into the Hellfire Club, and they slaughtered the Hellions. Emma herself was critically wounded, and left comatose for years. When she eventually awoke from a coma, she was heartbroken to learn what had happened to the Hellions. She took up residence at Xavier's school while she struggled to work out how to rebuild her life.
The answer, strangely enough, came through an alien invasion. The techno-organic race known as the Phalanx successfully captured the X-Mansion and replaced most of the X-Men, and Emma Frost numbered among the few mutants to escape before they were taken. Working with Banshee and Sabretooth - who at the time was undergoing intensive therapy in an attempt to "cure" his violent nature - Emma learned that the Phalanx were using Xavier's records to find the next generation of mutants. The three rescued these teenage mutants; once the invasion was over, and the Phalanx had been defeated, Emma and Banshee were placed in charge of a new Xavier Academy.
The story of this young superhero team was chronicled in the pages of Generation X, and Emma Frost was one of the starring characters. She was a remarkably conflicted character, still dealing with her grief, used to getting her own way and attempting to impose harsh training regimens on the kids. She proved willing to go to any lengths to keep her students safe - right down to killing her own sister. Generation X was a popular book, but it was one of many cancellations when the comic book bubble burst in the mid-'90s and Marvel desperately attempted to avoid bankruptcy. Emma Frost was consigned to the background again.
The Emma Frost-Cyclops Romance
In 2001, writer Grant Morrison took over the X-Men franchise in a high-profile relaunch. He didn't originally have plans for Emma Frost - in fact he'd never even heard of her. But all that changed when a follower asked him about the character on his website; Morrison looked into Emma, and fell in lover with the character. He made her integral to his New X-Men run, sending her to the mutant nation of Genosha as a teacher, and making her suffer once again when Sentinels destroyed the mutant population. Emma Frost was the sole survivor, courtesy of an unexpected secondary mutation.
Morrison had Xavier move to the X-Mansion, where she began to fall in love with Scott Summers. Cyclops' relationship with Jean Grey was going through a rocky patch after he'd been corrupted by Apocalypse, and Cyclops unwisely chose to go to Emma for advice. The result was a psychic affair, and of course it was only a matter of time before Jean grey - also a telepath - discovered it. The love triangle was a smart piece of writing on Morrison's part; he believed the X-Men had gone stale, and to Morrison Jean represented the past and Emma stood for the future. By the end of Morrison's New X-Men, Jean was dead and Cyclops was making out with Emma in front of her grave.
Grant Morrison had perfectly positioned Emma Frost for a major role in the X-books, but it was Joss Whedon who truly developed her as a character. Emma became one of the most important members of his Astonishing X-Men run, and Whedon - a master at characterization - carefully set up a phenomenal team dynamic. There was a particularly rewarding dynamic between Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde, a younger X-Man who couldn't put Emma's past villainy behind her. Emma's sarcastic, haughty wit was perfectly suited to Whedon's writing style, and by the end of his Astonishing X-Men, Emma's place had been cemented in the team.
Emma Frost Keeps Her Manipulative Edge
The 2000s were one of the darker periods in X-Men history, with the mutant race brought to the brink of extinction by the Scarlet Witch. Cyclops became leader of the surviving mutants, attempting to prevent them being wiped out. That meant the morally ambiguous Emma Frost - Cyclops' lover - naturally became one of the key X-Men. Successive writers found creative uses for her telepathy, such as psychically downloading new languages into the minds of the X-Men ahead of a mission.
Emma had never really subscribed to Xavier's Dream, and she was willing to cross lines that the other X-Men weren't. That led her to make some pretty dubious decisions, even working with Norman Osborn as his Black Queen for a time. But the relationship between Cyclops and Emma became increasingly strained, coming to a head in 2012's Avengers Vs. X-Men. Both Scott and Emma had become hosts of a portion of the Phoenix Force, and it began to corrupt them. Ironically, Emma's own duplicitous nature meant she was extremely aware of the Phoenix's influence, and resisted it; but Cyclops fell, and he tore the Phoenix Force from her in an act that seemed disturbingly evocative of rape.
The next few years weren't kind to Emma Frost, who seemed to have been reduced to little more than Cyclops' lovesick ex. Emma Frost literally became a villain again in Inhumans Vs. X-Men out of grief for Cyclops, and her entire arc in James Rosenberg's recent Uncanny X-Men run was an attempt to save mutantkind in order to get back with her ex. Fortunately, superstar comic book writer Jonathan Hickman seems to intend to redeem Emma Frost again, making her a member of the council of the mutant nation of Krakoa. She's set to play a major role in Gerry Duggan's Marauders book, and it looks promising; he's also brought Kitty Pryde into the team, bringing back one of Emma's best dynamics. Emma Frost is back on the front lines of the X-Men, and that's just where she belongs.