Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Uncanny X-Men #21, by Matthew Rosenberg, Salvador Larroca, Guru-eFX and Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
The Marvel Universe is never a great place to be a mutant. Despite the best efforts of the X-Men, the majority of the Marvel Universe hates, fears or actively tries to hunt down mutants. Since most of the X-Men were sucked into the "Age of X-Man" alternate timeline, things have gotten especially bad for the rest of Marvel's mutants, who've been captured or killed in record numbers.
Despite all that, Cyclops, Wolverine and a ragtag group of veteran heroes have launched an aggressive campaign to deal with some major threats and forgotten X-Men villains once and for all.
While the occasional hero Emma Frost used her telepathic powers to conveniently make the X-Men forget about her and her return to villainy, she used her telepathic powers to summon the X-Men when the forces of the mutant-hating General Callahan started closing in.
In Uncanny X-Men #21, Emma forces the X-Men and some of their worst foes to work together to enact her bold final plan. After boosting her considerable psychic powers to new heights, Emma makes the entire Marvel Universe forget that the X-Men and mutants exist.
Even though Frost is already an immensely powerful telepath, she wasn't powerful enough to make the world forget about mutants without some help. As the X-Men hold off the Sentinel forces attacking her compound, Emma apparently increases her powers with an unspecified brain implant, the mad mutant geneticist Mister Sinister, the power-boosting Fabian Cortez, the telepathy-enhancing Cerebro and an unexpected assist from the mutant genius Doctor Nemesis.
As soon as Emma makes everyone forget, the anti mutant forces of the Office of National Emergency immediately stop their assault on the X-Men and help the heroes they were fighting moments earlier. For the past several months, Emma has been unwillingly working for General Callahan and his government-backed O.N.E. mutant-hunting program, which developed powerful new Sentinels based on alien Phalanx technology and a vaccine that could neutralize mutant powers.
Sensing the existential threat Callahan posed, Emma re-formed the Hellfire Club and began telepathically manipulating the X-Men for months as part of her master plan. Through "sub-conscious nudges," she told this group of X-Men where to find each other and which of their enemies to capture before bringing them all together in this issue.
Even though Emma's been operating in the background, her plan cements her as one of Marvel's most prominent mutant leaders, and this moment should theoretically be one of the biggest moments in mutant history.
However, it's not clear how important or impactful Emma's plan will end up being, given Marvel's plans for the X-Men's immediate future.
Later this month, writer Jonathan Hickman is set to relaunch the X-Men franchise through two miniseries, House of X and Powers of X, with artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva. Marvel has widely promoted the relaunch, promising that it contains "the most important scene in the history of X-Men."
Considering that, Emma's plan to make the world forget about mutants in a largely unheralded issue takes on a different light. Unless Earth's mutant-centric amnesia is exceedingly temporary or undone through some other fantastic means, it could be an essential prelude to the universe-shaking events of Hickman's story.
Without widespread knowledge of mutantkind, Marvel's Earth also resembles the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the moment. While rights issues have kept the X-Men from joining the Avengers in the MCU, Disney's recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox paves the way for the X-Men's MCU debut. Mutants aren't currently a part of the MCU as it stands, and Marvel Studios will have to find a way to insert mutants into the established cinematic universe. This story could set a precedent and a template for introducing, or reintroducing, the idea of mutants to a Marvel Universe.
With only one issue left before Hickman's relaunch, Emma's successful plan either marks a dramatic end to one era of X-Men or the quiet beginning of the next one. While Emma's gambit will certainly go down as one of her most impressive feats, it's not clear if it will be a footnote or a chapter in X-Men history.