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Williams & Bachalo Explore the Brutal Heart of Emma Frost in X-Men Black

Mutants struggling to find their place in the Marvel Universe generally have to choose between the compassion of X-Men founder Charles Xavier or the righteous anger of his friend-turned-foe Magneto, but Emma Frost doesn’t see those two things as irreconcilable. For years, the telepathic mutant and school teacher has operated by a moral code that blends Xavier’s idealism with the ruthless pragmatism of Magneto. That belief system has made her a fan-favorite character and led to her fighting against and alongside the X-Men on a number of occasions.

This week, readers will get a chance to see Frost in action on her own in the one-shot X-Men Black: Emma Frost by writer Leah Williams and artist Chris Bachalo, which focuses on what makes the title character tick and how far she’ll go to achieve her goals. CBR spoke with Williams and Bachalo about their sense of Emma, what they love about her and the role her former X-Men teammate, Rogue, plays in the story.

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CBR: So, Leah, you got a chance to briefly write Emma Frost in a short story, but from what I've read you're a huge fan of the character. What are some of your favorite aspects of Emma? And Chris, Emma seems like a character you especially enjoyed drawing. What's it like coming back to her? What makes her such an appealing character to draw?

Chris Bachalo: Going to be honest on this and say that she hasn’t been an easy character to draw over the years -- and I’ve spent a lot of time with her going back to Generation X, then with Uncanny with Brian Bendis and now on the short I worked on with Leah.

I’ve always enjoyed her look, her costume. That’s something that’s fun to be creative with. In the opening of this X-Men Black episode, Leah called for Emma to be wearing an expensive dress -- to contrast the location that the episode is taking place in. But I kind of took a nostalgic turn and put her in a combination of her original costume and the punkish, Punisher-inspired costume that Brian and I put her in, I think, in Uncanny #16. Knowing what the story was about, I thought it might work to put her in slightly more dangerous, aggressive gear that would, maybe, intimate what her character is up to and echo where she came from.

EXCLUSIVE: Art from X-Men Black - Emma Frost

It’s that aspect of her character that I enjoy. The costumes. I think the part that I sometimes have a tough time with is who she really is. What is she about? What does she want? I’ve always seen her as a very smart and powerful character, but she always seems to be compromised by the men around her, from her days in the Hellfire Club and then with the X-men.

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I debated on taking this issue on, as I was concerned about the deadline, but when I read Leah’s script I tossed responsibility aside and took it on. Leah wrote one of the best Frost stories I’ve ever read. It has only two scenes, but she confidently portrays an Emma Frost I’ve always wanted to see more of, an Emma that knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. She’s manipulative, conniving, conspiring and dangerous -- everything I think that Emma is all about. Not a woman you’d want to date, but one that you want to spend time with -- at a safe distance. She knows exactly where she is going and, over the course of the issue, she arrives at her destination. Her and Leah's closing sentiment on grief is especially powerful.

Leah Williams: I am a huge Emma Frost fan, and unremitting Emma apologist. She’s someone I view as an avenging angel because her experiences have helped her become radically compassionate -- she has what I describe as a “brutal heart,” which is my favorite aspect of her. She’s guarded and emotionally armored, but it’s because she cares about the world and leaving it in a better state than it was handed to her in, to the point of self-harm. She’s also exceptionally cunning in how she goes about accomplishing her goals -- I don’t see her as manipulative or conniving, but as someone who views how to get from point A to point B with the shortest possible distance. It’s tactical, not cruel. She doesn’t appreciate bureaucracy or other obstructions when people are dying. So, she’s just like, “F**k it, I’ll do it myself” and hopes that people will understand her intentions once she’s accomplished what she meant to.

Working on this, and being such an Emma fan, was terrifying. It’s the first time I could ever feel very keenly how being a fan of a character is just not enough to write them well, and it's because loving her so much puts the stakes dizzyingly high for me on a personal level. I have no emotional distance from her. I realized while working on this how being a fan can actually be a kind of a liability -- I just love her, full stop, and that can be a kind of blindness. I kept having a million and one ideas of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go because I was so excited about working with her, and god bless the patience of Jordan D. White for humoring it all.

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