VIDEO: What makes a great villain? Part 4: Emma Frost, the White Queen

Tom follows up his previous Retrotorials about what makes a great (or bad!) villain with a look at a kick-ass villain who was completely botched: the X-Men’s White Queen, Emma Frost.

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Tag: Tom's Retrotorials: What makes a great/bad villain?

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  • drumstick00m

    Once again, men’s sexism, and or perception that their sexism is eternally profitable, wastes great potential. [Most likely men] did all this to Emma Frost because she is sexy and no other reason.

    The story of the evil sexy woman who is really just a sad former stripper, who also has a mental disorder; is a massive male power fantasy.

    • Your punctuation is weird, putting emphasis on various words in your sentences so I can’t tell what you are trying to say. Are you just calling her industry cheesecake? Are you complaining that Thomas is complaining about her being a victim?

      • drumstick00m

        The character of Emma Frost is another example of wasted potential. [Most likely men] wasted this character’s potential because sexism.

        Thomas’s analysis and synthesis of all appearances of Emma Frost is excellent. I always had a problem with the stories people (mostly men?) told about her, but I could not put my finger on why till this video.

        Sorry for the confusion.

        • Thomas Stockel

          Thanks, Matthew!

          • drumstick00m

            You and anyone else (whether they meant to or not) who fights the good fight against sexism is always very welcome.


    Hellions to New Mutant comparison:
    Catseye (turns into a cat) = Wolfsbane (turns into wolf)
    Jetstream (propulsion) = Cannonball (propulsion)
    Tarot (mentally creates constructs via cards) = Mirage (mentally creates images based on emotions)
    Thunderbird [later replaced by Beef] (super strength) = Sunspot (super strength)
    Firestar [it was briefly in Firestar 1-4] (microwave projection) = Magma (flame-based powers)
    Empath (mentally controls emotions) = Karma (mentally controls other’s bodies)
    Roulette (creates discs that influence luck) = Magik (creates discs that move people through space and time)
    Cypher and Warlock have no Hellion analogs, but they weren’t around when the Hellions first debuted.

    • Chris Hedrick

      Plus, who the hell cares about Cypher anyway?

      • Thomas Stockel

        I sure as hell never did. His coming back from the dead with a major power upgrade didn’t help matters much, either. :/


    I have to disagree on Emma. When she first debuted, she was a one-dimensional villain who was basically there to be EEEVILLL and slink around in her underwear as fanservice (which is essentially what January Jones did in XFC). It was the death of the Hellions that caused her to rethink her life, and begin the “Road To Damascus” phase of her life. The two retcons of meeting Xavier actually fit, because he didn’t force her to join up, even though he could have easily done so. He wanted her to join of her own volition, and she wasn’t ready for it yet. If you read her short lived (but excellent) 18 issue series, it showed Emma becoming jaded and bitter because of her fucked up family, the influence of a human-hating mutant in college, and getting rejected by those she loved because of her mutant status (it also explained why she wanted to be a teacher).

    Getting the breast implants, nose job, and blonde hair not only signified a fresh start from her previous life, but it as part of her success in climbing the ranks of the Hellfire Club, since it helped her manipulate her victims through seduction.

    Honestly, Emma has grown into a fully fleshed out character, both fabulously bitchy but still fiercely protective and loving of her students, who is both a powerhouse mentally and physically. Plus she turned Cyclops from a bland dick constantly whining about Jean to an awesome asshole who runs Utopia like a boss.

    • Thomas Stockel

      I understand what you are saying, and I have no problem with Emma becoming a more fleshed out character. To a point. But her becoming a stripper certainly didn’t help develop her character. Honestly, how would a woman who is supposed to be head of a major corporation and the head of a private academy ever consider merely using her mental powers to rob horny men? It’s so utterly beneath her and like Eliot pointed out above, it was just cheap fanservice, an excuse to have her parade around in an even skimpier costume.

      And in recent pages of X-Men Emma claims Shaw manipulated her, this was during that point where Hope took an amnesiac Shaw onto her team. So that strong willed character further looks weakened.

      And a woman who can manipulate minds to make her awkward dancing look like the dance of the seven veils can easily use those powers to make men view her as someone more lovely. The implants and other alterations simply smack of someone who is willing to be manipulated by a man who insists she simply isn’t good enough, playing on her insecurities.

      • KLLRFRST

        Shaw manipulated Emma just as much as she manipulated him. Using her powers to rob horny men as a stripper wasn’t her endgame, just a way for her to make ends meet (and then work her way up the HFC ladder) since she walked out on daddy’s money and didn’t even finish high school. Lots of women become strippers to make a living, and a few successful businesswomen started out as one. As for your point of her surgery, that’s exactly it. Emma projects this “I’m so beautiful” attitude, but she still bears the feelings of inadequacy brought on by her father. Even strong female characters can have self-doubts about their appearance (Like Power Girl and her boob window). Plus, as I said before, it let her start over as completely new person (and some people were immune to her power, so she couldn’t always rely on her powers to make her look super-model hot)

        • Thomas Stockel

          And yet some of these things are elements I disagree with, that make the character weaker in my eyes. I don’t need Emma to feel inadequate, I like her better as a strong character. And yes, you point out that she and Shaw used one another but it flies in the face of what she said in the comics, that in one instance she was high and/or drunk during her reign as the White Queen and that Shaw controlled her. Was she lying (Which I doubt; why lie?) or was this yet another retcon.

          I don’t deny women in the sex industry can become successful businesswomen, but like you pointed out, she never finished high school and yet somehow she became head of Frost Industries and the headmistress of a private school. With, no education, no background in business. Oh sure, she says she learned how from Sebastian and sure, she could mind control boards of directors into giving her the power, but how do you mind control stockholders? How do you mind control hundreds of parents? Grant Morrison’s re-writing of her past and the Emma Frost series simply create more and more problems when they made her an exotic dancing high school dropout.

          Heck, even the whole plastic surgery element of the story falls apart as Emma was drawn as being busty and hot in the pages of Deadly Genesis, long before Shaw elevates her to the role of White Queen, back when she and Xavier met for the first time…the first time. Again, a retcon to a retcon.

          Emma’s past is a patchwork mess and I don’t deny those things we just hear rather than see might be false. But then again half of what see have to be false as well because they are contradictory.

  • Animikean

    My favorite White Queen will always be Amanda Waller – new 52 why do you do the things you do?

    • Thomas Stockel

      You know, it took me a minute to figure out the reference, and then I remembered DC’s Checkmate. That was a helluva title when Rucka was writing it. And yeah, Waller was so utterly kick ass back then. God damn it, why did they have to make Amanda skinny? I wasn’t a fan of Smallville, but casting Pam Grier as Waller was sheer genius.

  • Eliot Littlejohn

    Hi tom one of the things i never liked about emma was her costume. I remember in grade school seeing her in x men books and thinking wow that ladys wearing her underwear. In retrospect its a lil inappropriate for a comic kids buy. I dont think she was as skantily clad when she was in the cartoon. Another botched great comic villain was bullseye. They took a character who has always been american and made him irish so colin farell could play him as colin farell.

    • Who cares about Irish vs American? That in no way affects how he acts or functions in a story.

      • Eliot Littlejohn

        They could have at least got a cool irish guy like colm meaney. With colin farell they made bullseye a douchey party boy. One of the many times a actor plays themselves in movies lately. My personal choice even though hes not irish was ray park

        • Thomas Stockel

          I think Colm Meany would have been a little too old for the part. I don’t think Colin was a bad choice, only that he was written so terribly. Seriously, a cross hairs on his forehead?

    • Thomas Stockel

      No lie, Emma’s costumes have been among the least functional disasters in comic history. I included a couple examples in the article, such as Art Adams’ New Mutant cover, or Frank Quitely’s New X-Men. I think it’s nice that today you are seeing artists with a bit more restraint in how super heroines dress (Although no one touches Power Girl’s boob window, damn it!), so Emma is looking a bit more respectable.

  • I am not sure I agree at all. Magneto is as much a victim as Emma is, all of his actions tend to be justified by playing some variation of the race card. Emma being super insecure and reconstructing herself into her hyper elitist persona is akin to Magneto calling himself “Magneto” instead of Eric. Big part of the X-Men thesis is that the world hate you for who you are, but you can be whatever you want regardless, hero or villain.

    Also on the topic of dead children: “Children in Refrigerators” as opposed to “Women in Refrigerators”?

    • Thomas Stockel

      I know the children in refrigerators should bother me more, but honestly I never gave a damn about any of the kids that died. It felt like the writers largely did not care about the kids; they were disposable. Honestly, when you look at the Cuckoos today I don’t think any of them even note the fact there used to be five of them. So it’s hard to be invested when, say, Negatomic Teenage Warhead appeared in two pages and got three lines.

      As for Magneto being a victim, it’s a valid point; as a Holocaust survivor he endured terrible hardship and tragedy that shaped his life and it went a large way towards explaining his attitudes. I just feel, though, that his being a survivor didn’t weaken his character. In Emma’s case her claiming Frost had manipulated her, or her claiming she was high during those times she was trying to kill the X-Men robs her of her past accomplishments. And her being a stripper, using her telepathy to roll clients for their cash? It makes her look short sighted and petty. A retcon should go towards better defining a character as it did with Magneto. In Emma’s case it just muddied the waters as writers tried to make her into a sympathetic character.

      • Claiming “I was in a bad place” is usually the refrain of someone who did bad things and is now going to be doing something more noble. She was short sighted and petty, she was a product of her environment, she has remade herself.

        I compare this to Closeted-Russian-Mobster Colossus in the Ultimate Universe. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch joining the Avengers. Major Disaster being an associate member of the Justice League. There are lots of instances of characters having been bad guys becoming good and looking back on their stupid past you wonder how they are not in some sort of prison… The writer explains extenuating circumstances because otherwise it wouldn’t work.

        • Thomas Stockel

          Those are good examples of bad people choosing to make good on second chances. But Emma already had hers in the death of the Hellions and being given a chance in Generation X. I just don’t see how making her a manipulated drug using victim added any quality to her character, that’s all.

  • Eliot Littlejohn

    Could you imagine what parents would think if she was wearing her stripper costume for her generation x action figure. The colm meaney comment was a joke. Even though he would have done better. Anyone could have looked constipated all the time and threw paper clips and peanuts at people.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Ah, sorry, didn’t get the joke. As for the Emma Frost action figure, while parents would have bitched, legions of fanboys would have bought them in droves. :D

  • Moppet

    The things that frustrate me, from a writing perspective, are many of the same things that frustrate me whenever I look at some of the things they’ve done with Starfire on the DC side of things. They annoy me because fanservice of male or female characters isn’t out of the realm of something I can find acceptable, it’s that, typically, it’s accomplished by making the character act in every way contrary to normal, or by just outright changing/rewriting the character to make them fanservice central (hello again Starfire).

    Still, I’m not actually offended by skimpy outfits or nudity, as long as everyone is included, and not just one side. More importantly, not just one side, but also while still making sense for a character and story. The comics as mythology idea where the body isn’t something to be hidden or ashamed of, but something crafted. Super heroes at the height of Human potential and beyond, testing the limits of that craft, and applying it to help others. Something shown off, not for a cheap sexual thrill, but because the Human body is a beautiful, handsome and powerful thing to behold, and the visual application of its potential able to result in wonders abound. The Olympics being a real example of this, and comics the mythological sense of the concept, taken in all manner of direction.

    Still, the issue isn’t the skimpy outfits or nudity that might pop up in any form of entertainment. It’s what’s done to the characters and stories to accomplish the fanservice. It’s also that it more than not targets the female characters. Other issues abound, surround and too often get the nudity or skimpy outfits thrown in with it. It shouldn’t happen. I don’t think the Human body, for either gender, should be hidden. I think we should be able to show it off, and be proud of our bodies. It’s just too bad that concept just ends up being mindless fanservice in almost every case I can think of.

    I suppose I’d look at the Conan novels. Conan running through the early portions of the Black Stranger in nothing but a filthy and ragged loincloth. Often pointed to as a male power fantasy, in my mind, we’d be in a better place if you could have a Woman in media do the same things, wear the same things, as Conan, and it never be mentioned. Just like Conan we’d note they were in very little, but we’d concentrating on the fact that he was being hunted by Picts, instead of obsessing over whether he was showing to much or not, and thus not thought of as, or turned into, fanservice.

    All I know is I’d never complain about Namor going around in his little skin tight green shorts, nor would I ever want that taken away from me.

  • Eliot Littlejohn

    Yeah i know crappy joke. Now im gonna sound more over the hill than i already am. My mom bought me a generation x skin action figure because she said it reminded her of me. I can only imagine what she would think if she saw white queen in her stripper costume.

  • Gallen Dugall

    And the moral of the story is that flip-flopping a character does not add depth it just changes them arbitrarily. I think good villains need a coherent goal. It doesn’t need to be rational but it does need to have an internal logic that can be followed and doesn’t change without reason. As I always say context and motivation are the keys to any character. They exist in the world and have a motivation based on where they fit within that context.

  • Lamashtar

    Great summary. I wish you’d do a sequel. Include the Firestar stuff and how they keep using Emma’s possible evil as a tease to keep her titillating. Emma’s canon tendencies to use sex as a weapon make her attraction to Scott seem mostly part of a mental manipulation. So much of what Emma was and has become seems to be about what the writer found sexy at the time. Dominatrix businesswoman? Seducing the Bad Girl? Cheating on spouse? Becoming the Bad Girl (again)! Oh no, she’s a Bad Girl who has been tamed by her True Love! Wait, she’s a cheat again. Is it okay to look down on the Slut now?

    Except as a commenter noted, all of these changes to make her ‘good’ are all about removing her power.

    Your language about Emma “sniffing around like a bitch in heat” is kind of icky for me. I wish you’d use more G-rated wording.

    The link in the video isn’t clickable..

    (Someone once said that they thought Rogue should be redeemed because she was drawn really pretty in the Dazzler comic.)