Let’s face it: the X-Men team is full of baes. Conflicted, yes, but also as dreamy as the day is long. Storm? Forget about it. Wolverine? Lifechanger. Even the Professor has those eyebrows working for him. As sexy superteams go, the X-Men rate pretty high up there, and the simmering chemistry between characters like Gambit and Rogue or Jean Grey and Wolverine is what drew many readers to the franchise in the first place. In fact, “come for the baes, stay for the unbelievably complicated mess of continuity” is the X-Men’s official motto.
Yet, among all the many varieties of bae to exist within the walls of the Xavier Institute, perhaps none is quite so refined as Emma Frost. A character that was almost solely defined by her disdain for others and a tendency to wear lingerie to business meetings, fights, teacher-student conferences, what have you, Emma has changed and grown by leaps and bounds over the years. Throughout it all, she has become only ever more bae.
When Emma Frost first showed up, she was very mean. That’s not being dismissive — it was pretty much her defining characteristic. Context was added later, wherein we discovered she had actually had an incredibly traumatic early life, culminating in her own family abandoning her at an institution when her mutant powers manifested. Once she realized she could use her powers and her sex appeal to control people, she dove all in and went for it. Our girl Emma saw the worst of people, and so she became the worst of people.
In the Dark Phoenix Saga, it is Jason Wyngarde and Emma Frost who manipulate the Phoenix-controlled version of Jean Grey over the edge, and that’s something that took Jean quite a long time to forgive Emma for. Two baes at odds? You know what that means: one metric ton of sexy fanfiction that you can read at Archive of Our Own.
Emma spent a while longer as an inexplicably evil villain before we really got to the root of her character. In the Firestar miniseries, she kills Firestar’s pony just to further assert control over her, which comes across as not only stunningly cruel but also not even remotely necessary. Everything that happens in the series would have happened without Emma murdering a horse. There probably aren’t that many cases in the history of humankind in which pony murder was actually required, but it seemed particularly over-the-top here.
Emma has had a few flings with powerful men more or less out of convenience, cleverly uniting with the people that could elevate her societal and fiscal position. The first of them was Sebastian Shaw, with whom she was locked in a power struggle for years. Another was a particularly conflicted Magneto who was trying to live up to Charles Xavier’s expectations of heroism — and failing for various perfectly understandable reasons. Emma assisted him with his students, the New Mutants, by incorporating them into her curriculum with their rivals, the Hellions. Initially, Emma was interested in exploiting Erik’s confusion and using him in her quest for power, but ultimately she developed a bond with him before he pretty much went off the rails into extreme villainy once more.
These relationships were interesting, but they didn’t give us much of a look at the nuance in Emma’s approach to power. Though she was always interesting, the best was definitely still yet to come.
Emma Frost Versus The World
After the New Mutants ended, Emma Frost was pretty much absent from the X-books beyond a few brief appearances in the New Mutants follow-up series of X-Force. Though she had been appearing in the X-books for around a decade by then, there had never been a particularly deep focus on the character. By way of a back-up story in Classic X-Men #34, we were introduced to a more complicated Emma Frost.
In this story, a young woman who works the Hellfire Club feels demeaned by her job. She tries to serve Jason Wyngarde, but he is a lech and she leaves the room with her skin crawling. Reader, this is a perfectly normal reaction to have when dealing with Jason Wyngarde, one of the biggest creeps in all of comics history. However, when she goes to commiserate with Emma, she is surprised to find very little sympathy. Emma acknowledges the other woman’s feelings, but immediately victim blames her, saying, “When you dress that way, it cheapens you; when I dress this way, it cheapens them!”
She goes on to issue a full tirade at the server who just stares at her, baffled and horrified. Emma puts her cape on and stamps her foot on the chair between the nameless woman’s legs, glaring down at her and telling her in no uncertain terms that she is going to battle with the men who demean her and she has no intention of losing. Likewise, she dismisses the concept of sexism despite the clear and obvious sexism of the Hellfire Club because she feels it is a woman’s job to rise above it and exert control over men rather than be victimized. Though this whole rant doesn’t exactly hold up in retrospect, it is pretty cool to fiscally dominate men, so we can’t say she’s totally wrong. Besides that, when she compares her lingerie to a suit of armor then mercilessly beats Wyngarde in a game of chess, it becomes pretty clear that she’s made her point.
Obviously, Emma would be a lot better off if she developed more female friendships in her life, but this story actually tracks for her character of that time period in a really interesting way. Her detachment from her sexuality and her need to exert control over her environment after feeling helpless for so long would play into her further development down the road.
Out Of Nowhere, Here Comes Growth
Of course, Emma’s most interesting relationship to date might be the one she has with Scott Summers, longtime leader of the X-Men. Though he was married to Jean Grey at the time, it had been apparent to both Scott and Jean that their dynamic had changed, and their love and their sex lives had drastically suffered as a result. One thing led to another with Scott and Emma, but when Jean found them together, she lost her temper and attempted more or less to destroy Emma’s mind from within before pulling back just in time to avoid serious damage. This outburst did nothing to endear Scott, and instead, he and Emma began seeing each other while Jean Grey died and was gone for quite some time.
The two of them had begun their relationship under the pretense of attempting to unlock Scott’s hidden self, and as a result, he began to access emotions that he had locked away long ago. Having inhibited himself out of fear of Jean’s reactions as well as the destructive potential of his own powers, Emma was able to push him towards self-discovery. Through what we are led to assume is a lot of healthy, adventurous, meaningful sex, the two of them began to heal from their extensive traumas.
In the early days of their relationship, Scott was actually much better off than he had been in a while, possibly ever. Though extremely dubious in its origins, their dynamic was genuinely good for him. For the first time in his life, he loosened up in some ways while unfortunately doubling down on his mutant separatist inclinations. Together, he and Emma began to form a different vision for the X-Men. Eventually, however, Scott’s many traumas caught up with him and he began making moral compromises that he would never have made before. He did some regrettable things and ultimately died in front of Emma, leaving a whole lot of problems in his wake.
Regardless, one can’t argue that Emma and Scott were a couple of baes. Actually seeing Cyclops smile was a nice change of pace while it lasted, and he was able to open up to Emma in a way that he seldom had to Jean. Though he and Jean shared an unbreakable psychic bond that made communication often meaningless, that level of closeness had in some ways stifled him and caused him to shut down emotionally once he underwent his own trauma in being brainwashed and controlled by the villainous Apocalypse. Emma Frost is what helped Scott bounce back from that and begin to express himself in ways we had never before seen. It might not have ended great, but what does?
It’s hard to say what will happen with Emma now that Jean is back and Scott is soon to return, but regardless of whether or not their relationship reignites, Emma has most of the Marvel universe waiting on her call. In the end, much of Emma’s sex appeal is based in her directness, her ability to compromise in impossible situations, and her deep understanding of establishing consent and boundaries with her partners. Her ability to put herself in the mind of her lovers and fulfill what they need shows deeply-felt altruism. Though Scott seems to be the only man she has genuinely loved, with all her partners she laid the groundwork for mutually beneficial relationships. Emma Frost is a beautiful, intelligent woman who helped lead the X-Men with the ruthless mind of a true businesswoman, but it’s her hidden compassion that informs much of her sexuality. That surprising potential for open, messy, life-changing love is one of the reasons why she continues to fascinate readers to this day.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.