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The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – What’s Up With Emma Frost’s Origins?

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In this feature we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today we take a look at the retcons involved with Emma Frost’s origins…

It is odd, for someone as famous as Emma Frost, we really didn’t learn much about her background until she was around for over FIFTEEN years. In an early issue of Generation X, we learned that she had a sister, but it was not until Generation X #24 that we actually learned how Emma Frost got to where she was, in a story written by Scott Lobdell….

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A few months later, James Robinson elaborated on what happened to Emma Frost in the years after Generation X #24…

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The issue ends with Emma Frost striking up a bargain with Dark Beast (they never really seemed to do much with that relationship).

So that was her status quo. Notably enough, there was no stripper background.

In Generation X #49, we learn that Emma Frost also had ANOTHER sister, Adrienne.

In 2003′s New X-Men #139, Grant Morrison dramatically changed Emma Frost’s origins. First, he introduced the final Frost sibling, Christian, who he then gives Emma’s OLD origin. Here is Emma’s new origin…

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Karl Bollers then wrote an eighteen issue Emma Frost series based on Grant Morrison’s new origin for Emma.

In Deadly Genesis #5, Ed Brubaker also shows us Charles Xavier’s first meeting with Emma Frost…

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Xavier wipes this meeting out of Emma Frost’s memory (which is what Emma actually did at the end of Generation X #-1 to Banshee, who she met at the time).

However, in 2010′s X-Men Origins: Emma Frost, Valerie D’Orazio shows Emma’s NEW first meeting with Xavier…

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One thing the Bollers series did, also, was to change Emma’s original hair color for whatever reason. D’Orazio stuck with that. She did a really good job with the issue, by the way. It’s a fine read.

In 2011, Christopher Yost re-retconned the mental institution part of Emma’s origin BACK into her history (thanks to commenter Michael for the head’s up)…

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I presume current Emma Frost writer Brian Michael Bendis now has the freedom to pretty much pick whichever version of her origin he wants to use if he ever wants to look back at her past.

If you have a suggestion for a future edition of Abandoned an’ Forsaked, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

54 Comments

Some nice nods to continuity in Morrison’s stuff:

1. Note how the Hellfire Club bigwigs have playing card symbols. This goes back to the Byrne’s early depictions of the Hellfire Club. I have a feeling that Byrne-Claremont were originally planning on a card motif for the Club before deciding on chess.

2. Breast Implants: Go back and look at Byrne’s drawings of Emma Frost. She was, shall we say, decidedly not voluptuous. Later artists gave her the standard “Big Boobs” treatment. Morrison seems to have decided to make the change something that actually happened.

RE: The playing card symbols for the Hellfire Club,

they first show up in X-MEN 129.

It’s a bit more complicated than that- in X-Men 13 (2011) we learn that Emma REALLY was in a mental institution. So as it stands now, Emma’s dad shipped two of his kids off to mental institutions when they became embarassments.

I’m going to say, I prefer the origin from Generation X. But then, I’ve never been a fan of Morrison or his X-Men stuff.

It’d be kind of cool if a writer used all these various tales to illustrate how Emma created different memories for each person.

It’s a bit more complicated than that- in X-Men 13 (2011) we learn that Emma REALLY was in a mental institution. So as it stands now, Emma’s dad shipped two of his kids off to mental institutions when they became embarassments.

Thanks, Michael, I forgot that Yost arc. I added it in there!

Jesse Mitchell

May 31, 2014 at 8:09 am

I always felt Emma was telling her brother’s story in part as her own, and that perhaps she had used her telepathy to free him. A retroactive rationalization, of course. With her wealth and mutant power, I could see Emma easily finding her way into the Hellfire Club, and I could also accept her posing as a dancer to find the quickest way into the Inner Circle’s dacadent presence. Her targets would be less guarded against a dancer than a business woman.

Definitely some inconsistencies. All in all, not bad for a mutant origin. With the Emma Frost series fully established and realised as a fleshed out story, I would definitely go with that version which also hints that she went back to claim the school where she had been the weakling. Wonder if Cordelia or Christian will ever pop up again.

Ethan Shuster

May 31, 2014 at 8:51 am

Why is it some people seem to only paint DC with the “too many reboots” tag when Marvel rewrites characters’ histories all the time, as well? I do think DC’s frequent reboots of the universe — especially big events trying to recapture the Crisis — happened way too often and change things for the worst sometimes. But Marvel often does it in this way. Not actually introducing a plotline that resets the universe, just changing the details once in a while.

Also, does anyone else think making her have been a stripper is kind of obvious and poor writing? Granted, the Hellfire Club was introduced with its two female characters walking around in lingerie, but still, why make the character an actual stripper? I guess we should just be happy Frank Miller didn’t write an origin for her.

@Ethan- it’s also inconsistent with the Generation X story and common sense. If Emma could already read and control minds by the time she became a stripper, why did she need to become a stripper to make money? Emma has never had that many ethical inhibitions on using her powers- there had to be a thousand ways she could make money without stripping.

Captain Haddock

May 31, 2014 at 9:22 am

As much as I liked GMoz’s run on X-men, I thought one thing he couldn’t do was get me to understand why Emma would fall for Cyclops. I mean, I “got” what he was going for, but I didn’t buy it.

Also, Bacahalo’s weird “all women look like children” phase really skeeved me out. Great art, but still…weird.

Are there any tpbs that include the new-old Hellfire stories Claremont wrote for Classic X-Men in the 80s? I think those were my favorite stories with those characters.

If anyone happened to wonder what John Byrne thinks of Emma Frost now, a quote.

“Chris and I created a cool and aloof ice queen, who, over the years, turned into a “bad girl” (read: tramp). Again, it goes to the level of sophistication in the audience.

H.L. Mencken famously said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Many’s the time I have “gone broke” OVER estimating the intelligence (and sophistication) of my audience.”

As an aside, what’s up with the formatting on these articles? I can’t actually see anything past the first image?

I agree with the above comments that Emma would never have needed to become a dancer. This is just Morrison trying to create a sympathetic character. In fact, it seems as if his goal was to make Jean a bitch instead of Emma, to make the audience like Emma more.

I think it’s possible Xavier did seek her out, as presented. Then, as her mental powers progressed, they sent her to the mental institution. She did break out, and returned to her parents. This act of rebellion (breaking out of the asylum) is basically what defines her in her dad’s mind. It could be one of the reasons her mom uses tranquilizers–to combat her fear of what Emma is capable of. Emma decides to make it on her own at the age of 16, empties her bank account, attends three events to try to increase her status, and joins the Hellfire Club as a dancer because she determines that’s the only way she can get in safely and without raising questions. Xavier then approaches her again while she’s there–which doesn’t really explain why she wouldn’t recognize him as the guy from her youth, but maybe he clouded her mind so that their prior encounter didn’t affect the current one.

Okay, let’s see if we can make this all work coherently:

Xavier attempts to recruit brunette Emma as depicted in X-Men Origins: Emma Frost. When she says no, we retcon that Xavier’s standard operating procedure is to erase the memory of his proposition from anyone who rejects it, so as to keep knowledge of the school limited. I’m not even sure that requires a retcon.

Then Emma’s father offers her the keys to the kingdom, as seen in New X-Men #139. When she rejects him to make her own way, he has her institutionalized, ostensibly because of her mutant power, as established in Generation X #24 and X-Men Origins: Emma Frost.

Emma escapes the institution via her powers, as depicted in Generation X #24. She dies her hair blonde, and becomes a stripper, as seen in New X-Men #139. She acquires wealth and boobs by fleecing patrons (Deadly Genesis #5) and stealing stock tips (Robinson’s Generation X).

At this point Xavier makes a second attempt to recruit Emma, as seen in Deadly Genesis #5, is again rejected, and again erases the memory (see: standard operating procedure).

Emma’s climb brings her to Sebastian Shaw’s attention, who she seduces, they take over the Hellfire Club, and you know the rest.

@Todd R- the entire effect of Morrison’s work on Emma was to make her less of a self-made woman and more as a pathetic woman dependent on men. Emma was introduced running a school and a business. Here, she’s basically portrayed as Shaw’s consort, who had plastic surgery to make her attractive to men.
In fact, the entire trajectory of Scott’s romantic life has Unfortunate Implications- he went from Maddie, who wanted Scott to love her for herself and not Jean, to Jean, to Emma, who’s willing to dress up as Jean when they have sex.

@Joe C — good work. The only problem is the insertion of GenX #24 in the middle of NXM #139; it’s just strange that Jean’s rummaging around in Emma’s mind would have glossed over the asylum incident. But it still works.

Could the asylum incident have come before Emma declined her father’s largesse?

@ Joe C,

That was great.

So, is the “EMMA FROST” run by Karl Bollers null and void? I ask this for its exclusion.

@Nu-D. Thanks. I suppose it could work before, and it might be cleaner in terms of continuity, but I prefer it narratively after. It adds another layer to her institutionalization beyond the usual parents-hate-their-mutant-children. For her father it’s coming from a place of rejection, which is more interesting to me.

And I think it better explains the stripper-problem. We understand her desperation more if it’s on the heels of escaping a mental institution, rather than just something to do after she’s returned home.

It’s never going to work perfectly because you’re dealing with all these contradictory retcons, but that’s just my take on how to make it work as well as possible under the circumstances, both in terms of continuity and hopefully revealing character.

Given Xavier’s retconned history with Emma and Tessa, it’s hard to read the Dark Phoenix Saga without the sense that he really ought to have been more aware of the threat from that quarter, or if he was aware, really ought to have shared that information with the X-Men…

The other issue with the Morrison reboot and its descendants is that they make it rather difficult to explain how she became the respected headmistress of a super-prestigious boarding school. I suppose we’re meant to assume that Shaw’s connections and her own telepathy somehow bought that for her, but she’d still be coming from nowhere at all as far as most people were concerned. It certainly doesn’t explain how she became a talented teacher so quickly, which Morrison et al. have kept as part of the character.

Really, the Emma Frost we have now is essentially a brand new character. This may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your perspective, but it is jarring given that she was an effective, working antagonistic character for so long and is now a very different sort of character in order that the books can have a particular type of quasi-antiheroic protagonist. (Personally, I’m not that interested in the condescending, snarky posh character type in general, male or female; something about it always smacks of the writer’s status anxiety bleeding onto the page.)

geez from all those differant origins marvel has almost made emma their own version of donna troy plus now know why she is so cold in the x-men books its due to her father thinking she was not good enough as his heir to the point of locking her and her own brother up in a padded cell. wonder how long before wipes emmas back ground again and starts fresh

As far as the Bollers series is concerned, I always wondered if we were going to get some sort of a reveal that Winston Frost himself was a mutant.

Yes, if she were interested in moving into the Hellfire Club, “look I’m a hot stripper” is hardly the best way to go.
Amazing how much retconning can go into a single character.

@Omar- and it’s ironic considering that Maddie underwent the opposite transformation, from a compassionate normal human to a femme fatale Evil Clone, until she was also no longer the same character.

Well that is freaking weird that Marvel just allowed all these wildly different origins for Emma Frost in a relatively short period of time. Where was the editorial on this?

Did that early issue of Generation X say that the name of the first issue was Cordelia? That scene just looks like an excuse to drop the King Lear reference.

Yeah, Emma’s sister was always Cordelia.

Wow … Just wow.

I guess every character is a bit of a Rorschach test, but usually things stay semi-consistent. Each of these writers appear more interested in advancing their own personal interests than creating an internally logical character. There are really only a few fixed points for Emma Frost:
1. She is the resident telepath with Hellfire Club.
2. Her job somehow involved walking around in fairly elaborate underwear.
3. She was qualified to be the opposite number of Prof. X at the Hellfire Club’s Academy.
4. She is tough on the outside, but cares deeply for people under her care.
5. She has the classic “Hitchcock Blonde” look.

Of those five fixed points, the only one that doesn’t get messed around with #2. Amazing.

@ Omar Karindu:

The Emma Frost that we have now is not exactly a new character. She is basically Jean Grey had she survived Uncanny X-Men (vol. 1) #137.

I didn’t know Karl Bollers had a career at Marvel. The only thing I know him from is “Sonic the Hedgehog”.

I always assumed that Emma Frost’s sister Cordelia was Grant Morrison’s joke about King Lear, with three girls splitting the kingdom. But I guess not. My favorite version of the character is still the stern yet irreverent headmistress of Generation X, but it’s kind of charming that Morrison writes her as something like a drag queen’s dream of what aristocracy is like, living on style instead of status.

No wonder I don’t read Marvel comics anymore…

Joe-C has ordered her origin points much the way I do, with the exception being she had tried to break away from her father and started teacher training at college before her powers fully kicked in he had her commited.

After escaping and living rough in the Morlock cellars she got a low-level job at the Hellfire Club to get access (be it stripper or servant) and leveraged her powrrs and family name into the position of White Queen.

A second visit from Xavier was called after his own infiltrator Sage alerted him to another telepath being there. Sage’s own problems with the HC and Bogan being part of why the HC recruiting Jean blindsided them so spectacularly).

See? It all fits, maybe you have to force a few joints, do some sanding and paint liberally over thhe seans…

And the difference between Marvel and DC is in the latter every point would utterly invalidate every other one and she’d end up a stripper nowadays anyway.

Joe-C has ordered her origin points much the way I do, with the exception being she had tried to break away from her father and started teacher training at college before her powers fully kicked in he had her commited.

After escaping and living rough in the Morlock cellars she got a low-level job at the Hellfire Club to get access (be it stripper or servant) and leveraged her powrrs and family name into the position of White Queen.

A second visit from Xavier was called after his own infiltrator Sage alerted him to another telepath being there. Sage’s own problems with the HC and Bogan being part of why the HC recruiting Jean blindsided them so spectacularly).

See? It all fits, maybe you have to force a few joints, do some sanding and paint liberally over the seams…

And the difference between Marvel and DC is in the latter every point would utterly invalidate every other one and she’d end up a stripper nowadays anyway.

Reading the Gen X bits and holy crap, I forgot how the X-Books in the early-mid 90′s went whole hog into the “why use one sentence when five will do?” in dialogue and narration.

@Omar and RicG: I’m not sure you need to force the issue of “teacher training.” It’s been well-documented that Marvel telepaths can use their abilities to both learn and teach (see Xavier “teaching” the new X-Men to understand English way back when they first appeared). She could have simply tapped into some “real” teachers’ minds to learn all they knew. She *might* need a college degree and possibly advanced degrees (though private schools have different rules), but money could take care of that pretty easily if she didn’t want to take the time to actually earn them.

“Teacher training” is a relatively modern concept anyhow. Up until the 1970′s all you needed to teach high-school was a generalist college degree. Up until the 1940′s, all you needed was a high-school diploma. The development of an academic discipline in “education” is very recent. Further, many private schools still do not require degrees in education, or even a teaching license. Emma could be a teacher at a private school with no higher education credential at all.

Where was the editorial on this?

Do keep in mind that these were the same editors who were asleep at the wheel while Chuck Austen was running Uncanny X-Men into the ground. If they weren’t paying attention to such blatantly obvious train wrecks as “Holy War” and “The Draco,” then it’s not surprising that the fact that various writers were contradicting each other regarding Emma Frost’s early years also fell under their radar.

So, is the “EMMA FROST” run by Karl Bollers null and void? I ask this for its exclusion.

I wondered the same thing. That series was, surprisingly, good.

So, is the “EMMA FROST” run by Karl Bollers null and void? I ask this for its exclusion.

I wondered that, too. That series was, surprisingly, good.

For that matter, has anyone ever dealt with Professor X’s qualifications to teach? My memory of the Silver Age is that he just opened up the school and declared himself in business as a teacher.
I think teaching in Silver Age comics was a lot like nursing–it wasn’t a skilled job like a lawyer or physicist so it wasn’t really a big deal (no offense to real-world teachers or nurses intended).

Charles Xavier and Emma Frost both probably went to their local board of education and telepathically commanded some hapless bureaucrat to issue them with a teaching license.

So, is the “EMMA FROST” run by Karl Bollers null and void? I ask this for its exclusion.

The Bollers Emma Frost series is in fact discussed in the article as following the Grant Morrison version of Emma’s origin. Typically these Abandoned An’ Forsaked writeups don’t cover every single time that the thing it’s talking about was portrayed in the comics, just the actual retcons that contradicted what had gone before. Something that basically agreed with the then-current version isn’t all that relevant.

For that matter, has anyone ever dealt with Professor X’s qualifications to teach? My memory of the Silver Age is that he just opened up the school and declared himself in business as a teacher.

Sure, but the conversation always goes like this:

“So what are your qualifications to teach, anyway? Do you have a doctorate or a credential or what?”

“You don’t have to see my qualifications.”

“I don’t have to see your qualifactions.”

Travis Pelkie

June 3, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Also, his shiny bald head hymp-mo-tizes people so they stop asking questions, too.

@emac1790–Thanks.

I’ve said it before in comments on this site, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. I hate everything Morrison did narratively with the X-Men. I love most of his other work, and I absolutely give him credit for making people give a shit about the X-Men again, but from secondary mutations to Xorn I pretty much think every change he made was a mistake. The Cyclops/Emma relationship has arguably worked out pretty well, but I think that has a lot more to do with later writers making something out of it.

My theory is that he’s a great creator, but he tends to muck up existing characters and storylines. That would explain why, while I hate almost every change he made to the existing X-Men, I’ve come to like a lot of the characters he created during his run (Fantomex, Quentin Quire, the Stepford Cuckoos, etc.).

imo Morrison created so many great characters and wrote them so well(ie. The Cuckoos, Quire, etc) that I can’t stomach how anyone else write them. I especially hate how Bendis writes Emma and the Cuckoos,but I assume that he doens’t know how to do actual wit. Morrison seemed to write them as Brits, but apparently Marvel’s writers have no idea how to characterize anyone who isn’t American. It makes me really miss Claremont……

imo Morrison created so many great characters and wrote them so well(ie. The Cuckoos, Quire, etc) that I can’t stomach how anyone else write them.

Oh, is that where Quire came from? I guess I didn’t get that far into the run, or just don’t remember him. I had wondered why readers are expected to put up with that kid.

Oh, is that where Quire came from? I guess I didn’t get that far into the run, or just don’t remember him. I had wondered why readers are expected to put up with that kid.

He was the key figure in Morrison’s “Riot at Xaviers” storyline. It started at issue #135, so later in the run (the run began with #114).

Thanks, Brian. I know I read the early stuff with Cassandra Nova and didn’t get up to the Xorn reveal, but for the life of me I don’t remember where I left off–whether I only read the first trade, or more than that.

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