Fans of the former White Queen haven’t had much to love in recent years, as the character’s motivations have become murky and convoluted, her presence diminished to that of just "Cyclops’ Girlfriend." For year, writers seemed unable or unwilling to pull the trigger on making her either a force for good or bad, landing her somewhere ambiguously in-between. That all changes with X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1.
Writer Leah Williams captures a depth of history between the cast in such subtle ways that nevertheless bring even casual readers up to speed. The issue opens with a surprisingly fun and funny scene, where the X-Men have afforded Emma the meeting she has requested, except they’ve insisted on meeting in a Walmart -- sorry, Malmart -- because, well, Rogue thought it would be funny to force Emma so far out of her comfort zone.
There’s a dual purpose for this lighthearted start, though, and as the issue progresses, it becomes clear that, as readers, we’ve grown as accustomed to underestimating Emma Frost as the X-Men had at the start of the issue. She approaches the mutant superheroes with a task: Help her eliminate the Hellfire Club once and for all. She has a well thought out and seemingly fool-proof plan that will finally rid the X-Men of their longtime adversaries, and while the team still doesn’t fully trust her, they agree to go along with Emma’s plan.
As is appropriate for a book with her name in the title, the rest of the issue is focused on Emma as she walks through the plan, and as we see her execute her tasks with a ruthless and terrifying efficiency, we’re introduced to a version of the character not seen in years. Emma is driven, she has the courage of her convictions and she is unstoppable in her resolve. Despite how muddled her character has seemed for a long time now, one thing that’s always certain is that there is always more going on with an Emma Frost plan than it seems on the surface. While there won’t be spoilers here, let’s just say that Emma is in a powerful new position by the end of the issue, one that will pose interesting new dynamics moving forward into November’s Uncanny X-Men relaunch.
Artist Chris Bachalo is no stranger to the X-Men Universe, but it’s not his depictions of the characters that are important here as much as it is his skill at pacing Emma Frost’s movements as she progresses through her plan. We're shown snapshots of her at various stages, the cuts in action providing a brutality to her powers that we rarely get to see. This is a character unleashed, and as she effortlessly strolls through a maximum security building with ease, Bachalo ensures she remains a calm, steadying focus in panels filled with chaos. She’s barely looking at the carnage around her (carnage of her own creation), and her body language is not one of a dynamic superhero fighting against her enemies; it’s of a quiet, confident queen taking a walk through her kingdom.
It’s when you see the marriage of Williams’ writing with Bachalo’s art coming together to create a newly confident and single-minded Emma Frost that you realize that this is the character that fans love, and she’s been missing for years. Williams has also subtly recontextualized Emma’s recent history in this issue. While past writers haven’t known what to do with Emma Frost for years, Williams has -- by contrasting it so starkly against this new, laser-focused woman -- implicitly explained that the muddled characterization has been due to grief and a feeling of not only loss but of being lost herself. While there’s a sense that Williams is due a No-Prize for this revelation, it nevertheless makes perfect sense.
From Genosha to Scott Summers, Emma Frost has lost a lot, but the biggest thing she has lost is perhaps herself. Here, in this issue, she finds herself again, and in doing so, fans have rediscovered a newly refreshed and re-energized version of a beloved X-Men mainstay. It’s hard not to spoil anything about the end of this issue, but Emma’s decision regarding her new title is so perfectly relevant for 2018 in a way that doesn’t scream at you but is still so provocative, so exciting and so very Emma Frost.