Sequential Sartorial: Fetishists, Unlike Emma Frost, Understand Occasion

19

Welcome to the X-Men, where second-skin garmentry is commonplace—hope you survive the experience!

Amongst the X-Men is a villain-turned-teacher (turned heroine, though never nice); her name is Emma Frost. For most of her history, she’s worn all-white, though recently she turned to all-black. But just as often as she’s been monochromatic, she’s been clothed in outfits that are overtly sex-suggestive.

Emma Frost miniseries, Greg Horn cover, Marvel Comics

Emma Frost is remarkable because nobody—fan nor creator nor Marvel management—will ever say, “No, you are wrong for thinking that this character has been designed to imply eroticism.” She’s not a perfect construct, but she’s something of a relief. At least, at last, we can talk about it. That’s probably why Grant Morrison put her front and centre in his New X-Men. In superhero comics—which he loves to remind us are about muscular men and large-breasted ladies in spandex and latex punching each other through walls—Emma Frost is established as a mouthpiece for those who would sit at the back, whispering, “Isn’t this all a bit rude? Where are everybody’s sexy bits?” Here they are! They’re on Emma. She is our erotic scapegoat.

Emma Frost made her debut in 1980. She’s a creation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne—of course she is. From the get-go, she’s an ice blonde stricture-bitch, a sadistic psychic villainess with contempt for her own team dressed in thigh-high stiletto boots and an outfit that makes depilation a professional expense. She’s the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, which is a sort of horny, evil, minor Illuminati. In 1989, Ann Nocenti (script) and John Bolton (art) gave us this scene, where Emma defines her outfit in her own words. This scene is returned to, again and again, to explain why it’s okay, in fact reasonable, in fact good, for Emma Frost to be drawn wearing intimates as a matter of course. Get your rubber stamps, boys: It’s not sexist! Emma says so!

Emma Frost explains sexism, Classic X-Men #34, Ann Nocenti & John Bolton, Marvel ComicsThe White Queen, it seems, does not entertain the thought of sexism as a negative at all. But Emma’s not been the White Queen for a long time, and she stepped away from the Hellfire Club as the centre of her on-page operations long before that. A mutant, an intellectual who thrives on mentorship (who needs boardroom bondage imagery when you can literally mould minds? The smart teacher is the power behind myriad thrones—and as a psychological bonus, a generous mind is much healthier to live with than one devoted to secrets and betrayal), Emma Frost has been written to survive comas and battles and calamitous rejection. She’s seen students die in her care, and Marvel creative establishes that this wounds her deeply and informs her subsequent growth. She has become an uncompromising, fallible force for justice and progression. Emma Frost loves deeply and intuits how to help those around her to better mental and emotional health. If you’re a danger to her people or cause, she can hide around the corner and use her mind to make you destroy yourself. Those are facts of her written existence.

So why does her wardrobe still rely on her villainous, aggressive costume detailing? Why—if the time and care is taken to write and compose her character with what integrity is possible in a medium that spends three and a half decades on the adulthoods of characters who are yet to crack thirty—does dressing her like “Sexy Halloween” despite her life circumstances (high school teacher, adventurer, and business woman) remain the norm?

Because of sexism! Tricked you!

Emma Frost explains sexism, Classic X-Men #34, Ann Nocenti & John Bolton, Marvel Comics

Click for full-size

Sorry, darling. Emma Frost’s White Queen outfit always was expressed sexism. In-universe, the Hellfire Club demands women dress in restrictive lingerie if they’re to hope to be present. In-universe, Emma Frost recognises that for what it is: hazing. The costume is designed to trap her, but she’s noticed the trap, placed herself into it with care, and now lies in wait for he who set it.

Within the story, either the Hellfire rulemaker/couturier is a person who believes that women have a place (“beneath and in service”), or they are a person who does not shy from using established social obstacles (misogyny, shame, fear of rape—you know, woman stuff) to test prospective high-level members. Either way: they’re performing sexism. They’re integrating sexism into their organisation.

In this spread, as throughout her published history, Emma Frost is single-minded. She’s headed for power, and she believes herself singular: see how she suggests institutional dehumanisation (a sexist dresscode) can be a tool for personal victory (“it’s all about PERSONAL DOMINATION”). She regards every battle as a personal one, which she alone may either win or lose. She considers the world her oyster because she must: for Emma Frost to be able to succeed in reining the Hellfire’s influence, it must be theoretically possible for Emma Frost to be able to achieve this. She won’t allow the possibility of impossibility; therefore, no obstacle is real, because she can overcome it.

you whelpIt can’t diminish Emma Frost to be required to dress to a sexist menu, because if Emma Frost can be diminished, the house of cards that is her gameplan crumbles. Men seek to reduce women, and to reduce Emma Frost personally (it’s revealed in this same issue that visitors to the Club often mistake her for a waitress, not recognising a leader—comics published years later imagine, or reveal, her younger years to have been a horror show of abusive patriarchs). Either men can beat her down or they can’t. If hardship and humiliation are able to leave their mark, then she is covered with marks. Emma Frost regards herself as the White Queen. No marks. A spotless diamond field. Why would she allow her confidence to waver? Because you feel bad about the disrespect you (whisper it: also) receive?

Emma Frost, the White Queen, does not entertain the thought of sexism as a negative. But there’s a “because”: fighting against the social disease of sexism does not provide a battle she can win. Social justice is irrelevant to her life, so don’t ask her to respond to the philosophy of it.

The most generous, that’s-just-her-taste reading of this 1989 scene, is that even apart from the machinations and mental chess, the character just does not care about who sees her in this outfit. Some people are chill about communal nudity; some people welcome viewers as they perform sexuality. Happy pornographers are real; nudists also. So maybe Emma Frost doesn’t mind wearing knickers and a lace-up bodice with thigh-high boots in a closed club. Maybe, under Nocenti’s direction, she chose to digress on the philosophy of personal versus institutional exploitation just to teach the new waitress a thing or two about thought experiments. None of these options would make the Hellfire set-up non-sexist.

Contextually sexist things happen to contextually humanised characters. These things are different and concurrent.

prev_img

But even if Frost were, beyond argument, a character at peace with public nudity or professional objectification, she doesn’t have the privilege to refuse this outfit. It’s a uniform that’s required by whim, not necessity, for the performance of her job. Comics published later (above, X-Men Origins: Emma Frost, May 26, 2010) tell us that she began work at the Club as a stripper, wearing this same outfit—at that point, her job was to titillate, and so the outfit was designed for the work at hand. But now she is the White Queen, and the King wears britches, cravat, shirt, and coat. It’s hard to find neutrality or the love-yourself message of the feminist porn artiste, in sexuality weaponised for a hostile, gendered environment. For all of her dimension and innate dignity, Emma Frost, the character, is treated poorly by her peers (imagine, a brilliant woman, undervalued).

Now, redux all of that, but with the awareness of Emma Frost as a constructed character, created and regularly sustained by men, in a masculine environment. Rachel Dodson has inked her—has any woman artist ever defined Emma Frost’s body or clothing? Move past her Hellfire HQ days: Emma Frost conducts Headmistress duties in shiny white smalls. Wait. Why?

Recall her potted explanation of the bodice, knickers and sex boots: “My LOOKS and BODY are WEAPONS on par with a man’s FISTS.” When White Queen Emma Frost conducts supervillainy in and amongst the Hellfire Club, when she angles for power and manipulates those close around her, she calls her sexual beauty something dangerous. For this character to align her image with sexual display is to be aggressive and controlling. A look at her breast curve is a punch in the face. That’s her metaphor, elaborated. She’s explicit that her outfit is an offensive gambit (swallow that joke, NERD).

Why is she sexually punching her orphaned refugee teenaged pupils? A school is not a war ground! What motivation are we supposed to infer?

Emma is one of the few Marvel characters with any kind of consistent aesthetic, and it’s not surprising to see it go unchallenged, or spring back to this form, for this long. It’s eye-catching, continuity has its own agreeable charm, and Marvel comics approves of sexual drawings of women. What it’s not is good storytelling. What once was explained, and coherent, now is not.

Environmentally, even, the Hellfire location was a huge loss for team lingerie.

The Hellfire Club is all heavy carved furniture, log fires, dark skies outside and probably dungeons. They have stone walls and weighty curtains—their entire visual steez is Hammer Throwback. “You Know, The Past.” It’s all about faked up heritage and legacy authority and oppression. Visual oppression. Actual oppression. Hazing and mind games and arm-twisting. In an environment like that, a clever, determined woman with spare flesh and fine bones, fetish lingerie and red lipstick might begin an advance and seem overwhelming. In an environment like that, intimacy is enforced; Emma Frost is working with localised rape culture. She’s dressed up to batter you, sir, with her commonly denominated eroticism. Take away the walls and the set dressing, and what have you got? A weird chick in her bra and pants. More what’s she doing running around like that? than good heavens, forgive me, I think I have to give in to her.

es_psychic_affairWe’ve seen how her personal relationships are heavy on the psychosexual provocation angle. She’s a psychic; she can suck your face wearing your wife’s old dress in your shared imagination-space, and she’s a physical human, so she can lean, and smile, and make veiled comments, and do all of the seductive whatever that anybody can do wearing anything. Wearing anything. Look again at Emma and Scott, Emma and Namor, Emma and anybody.

Tell me that her sort of come-on would be ineffective if she were wearing a) a floral silk blouse, b) lime green dungarees, c) old flannels, or d) a weird high-fashion structured wool tunic. Don’t make me laugh. Emma can work you. It’s in her character.

WWAC contributor Lindsey tells me that Sunstone suggests Emma is a fetishist; that her choice of outfit services her own deep psychology and she’s enacting I feel sexy so I feel powerful rather than I’m aware you think I look sexy, therefore I’m powerful. This is a reasonable conjecture supported by the decades of stick-on corsetry, but not inspired or supported by her creative patriarchs. It doesn’t emerge from the scene I began with. Emma Frost, at-work fetish queen, is a viable product of years and years of careless hypersexualisation. Fetishists, however, are not generally so desperately driven by compulsion that they cannot pick their moments. Fetishists, by and large, do not indulge themselves whilst teaching vulnerable charges. Because that would be criminal.

770273-collage4

But the dominant narrative is, and I’m not sure if this originally emerged from anywhere but vague inference-by-omission and reader interpretation, that Emma Frost dresses “like that” because she knows it makes her look hot, and she’s had plastic surgery to look hot (as “a dominatrix from hell,” thanks Granto), and she loves to look hot, because looking hot makes you powerful. The dominant narrative is that she wants priapic power without shelling out any of her own intimate energy; she’s uninterested in fucking you, but you’re interested in fucking her, so you’ll carry her books or something, I don’t know. Does the Sexy Trick angle ever work?

If creative agreement is that somebody does something in order to gain a benefit, then the benefit should either be shown materialising or a change should be addressed. If we’re to agree that underwear in public makes X-Men enemies fumble the ball, that’s what we need to see regularly. (Caveat: that will be sexist.)

When actually did Emma Frost last win a victory because her fabled hands-free dick-manipulation worked?

tumblr_inline_nqoyx4QFNR1r455w0_500

Occasionally, characters stumble when confronted with the aggro undies. Women. Younger woman characters, to whom Emma is a figure of authority: these people are affected by her outfits. Presumably they are intimidated, unnerved or confused, and reminded of sex, sexism, or both. They say unkind things to Emma in front of their peers and other people under her care. Internalised misogyny! Great! There’s a problem I’ll trust the Make Mine Male Marvel establishment with, ha, ha, ha. Even if one did, though: what’s in it for Emma? Why would this character seek to sow discord amongst the women she leads? Why base their distance in sexuality? Do you really want to explain a flagship character with “she dresses like a wet dream so that the women who look up to her feel discomfort and publicly belittle her”? Whatchu doing with that, Marvel? What’s up?

de

There’s not actually a character-based reason for the chronology of corsetry, the plethora of PVC, or the barrage of cleavage. Not one I can find. Emma Frost has character, and she has motivation and reputation. Hard, calculated, ambitious taskmaster who understands children, responsibility, and bad decisions. A good teacher. A dedicated caretaker. These traits are not served by the artists who clothe her. Emma Frost deals in taunts, certainly, but I push is not spoken only, or best, by adhesives, straps, or riding crops.

classicemma

Sexual aggression in high school teachers is not a joke, and a refusal to visually reassess Emma Frost forces it to become one. Emma’s uniforms are sexist, they’re unreasonable, out of character, and inappropriate. Marvel: do you keep them because hot for teacher (and she’s hot back) is a pornographic motif you’re reluctant to lose? Is it the Claremontian lust for yes/no, the hopeful reader’s pleasure (a woman with a calling beyond super heroics!)/pain (and she’s engineered for the lech’s gaze!) that allows you to sell the idea of this woman, this teacher, as a product, emphasising inappropriate mastery and boundary pushes, shying away from honest reassessment of what dedication to education might mean? The vast majority of teachers are sexual individuals. Only the appalling, relative few bring sexual aggression into the student-teacher relationship. Is Emma Frost your porno fantasy bitch, or is she a character who matters?

I don’t believe in her, as you present her to me. She doesn’t add up. Change something.

This post was guest-edited by:

F. Stewart-Taylor is a comics fan, researcher and theorist. Her standup has been compared to The Smiths; her popculture writing has not.

Series Navigation<< Sequential Sartorial: Narrative Chaos! How to Redesign a CharacterFanart is a Giant Group Hug: An Interview with Fanartist Vylla >>
Share.

About Author

The rock that drops on your head. WWAC Chief Comics Ed. Find me at claire.napier@wwacomics.com

19 Comments

  1. As you may know, I consider Emma Frost to be one of my childhood idols. I met her through Classic X-Men when I was a pre-teen and I loved her. Those scenes in Classic X-Men #34 were my first introduction to concepts of feminism and sexism at a time when I had no idea what those things were. I loved her. I loved her confidence and her arrogance. She was a big counter to my other idols, Storm and Jean, who were righteous and good and innocent. She spoke to my Scorpio leanings and set me on my path to secret naughty things that are not readily acceptible to society and my overly religious mother. But I also understood that Emma was the bad guy. That automatically meant her views were flawed and that she was meant to be defeated. The girl Emma admonishes in those scenes sums her up at the end clearly: “She thinks she’s risen above something, she feels so superior to me. Yet she is a slave to games. I may be more vulnerable, but the true victim here is that White Queen.”

    Emma has defined herself by the power games she plays. Sex, or rather, the teasing promise of sex, is one of her many weapons but it is not necessarily her primary one. In fact, I imagine the act of sex itself is distasteful to her if not with someone she wants too, but she loves the power and control it gives her. That thrill of wearing clothing that makes people want her or envy her. From personal experience, I know it to be intoxicating. I love her relationship with Scott (initially, not now), because I think that was first about defeating Jean. It just turned out that Emma actually fell for Scott, but she is constantly aware of the fact that she’s second fiddle to a (dead/younger) redhead. The chess game she plays against Sebastian Shaw in Classic #34 is not about sex. It is about her bringing Shaw into a realm where she is more powerful than his physical strength. Where she can be his equal. But it is very telling that she is defeated even as she defeats him. This is one of the many reasons why I hated her appearance in X-Men First Class. She was not Shaw’s equal. He sent her to get ice. Her disgust at having to seduce that one guy is about the only thing they got right. Oh and the jump suit. The rest of her attire was attrocious.
    I don’t know the actual rationale behind her secondary mutation. As a telepath, she is vulnerable on the battlefield, so the diamond form gives her protection in a similar manner to the purple armour Psylocke wore in Australia. it seems to me that the diamond form just gives the artists an excuse to keep her in skimpy outfits. First Class thought some cheap bras and tacky thigh highs were good enough for the White Queen. I love sexy. I believe Emma loves sexy because there is a thrill in it. I believe she dresses this way for herself because she drinks that power; certainly not because she wants to impress others. But what comic book artists tend not to understand is that skimpy does not automatically mean sexy. I’m also tired of her being used as an excuse to slut shame. I would prefer to see her dressed better; I’m so tired of her being the butt of that joke constantly.

    She’s carefully manicured herself — fake body, fake accent — to be this image of sex and power that she amassed as the White Queen. In my head, she still clings to that power. She wears the white to remind you of who she was. But as an X-Man, she’s been forced to face the truth of what she truly is. I imagine a future where she stays in diamond form just to avoid being defeated by her true enemy: wrinkles.

    The moment when I finally gave up on Marvel’s writing of Emma was when they had her leave Scott in Schism, but then go back to him just a few panels later. For that brief moment, I had hopes of a woman who no longer defined herself by Scott and who would return to her love of teaching. She could have been a great headmistress — just like she had been in GenX — and run the Jean Grey Academy (oh she would have hated that name) and handle Cerebro. I don’t see her as someone who wants or needs to be in the field. She’s also a business woman. I want to see her running her business and handling the business of the X-Men. She could have worn sexy and classy pant suits or pencil skirts with spiky heels like Gina Torres in Suits. She could have found a new way to hold power and exude the confidence that I loved so much when I first saw her. She could cling to her White Queen image, but come to terms with her weaknesses and arrogance and come to define herself as something more that her compatriots respect, instead of constantly listening to their slut shaming.

    I want an Emma that gives no fucks and is not afraid to grow older because she has learned that power is so much more than her corset (even though she can totally still wear corsets because corsets are awesome.)

  2. Catie Coleman on

    It would require more knowledge of fashion than I have, but I think a semi-regular series of “Looks Emma Frost Should Be Wearing” that pull stylish, fashion-forward looks from runway shows would be so fun. Because while I can definitely see Emma Frost being dedicated to an edgy, monochromatic look that she cultivates, her outfits are just SO UGLY and make NO SENSE that it hurts the idea that she’s a smart, dangerous lady. To me, Emma Frost is someone who keeps an eye on what’s going on in the fashion world and would be more likely to have a huge variety of all-white, super expensive clothes and picks what she’s wearing very carefully based on how she wants to present. There are so many looks that scream sexy and powerful that aren’t PVC lingerie….Emma Frost would know about them even if comic artists don’t.

  3. Generation X depicted her in a plethora of sweaters, business suits, forma wear, t-shirts, jeans, blouses, and whatnot on the regular as she took care of the students and dealt with her company’s financial problems quite regularly. It was the first time Emma Frost was a teacher to students as one of the X-Men “good guys” and ridiculously frequent throughout the book. She was downright sensible, and well within “motivation and reputation. Hard, calculated, ambitious taskmaster who understands children, responsibility, and bad decisions. A good teacher. A dedicated caretaker. ”

    As far as costumes go, during the entire second half of the Gen X run, her costume was the same bodysuit that all the students wore, with the same arm guards and boots, except her suit was in white. It was relatively boring, but entirely “appropriate”.

    Pages 4 and 5 of the Uncannyxmen.net Character Spotlight for Emma Frost show some examples of the things she was constantly depicted wearing that were far from objectionable: http://uncannyxmen.net/characters/white-queen-i/page/0/4

    Likewise, plenty of her depictions during the Claremont era had her wearing relatively high end clothing when she would go out to recruit new students for the Massachusetts Academy. She dressed quite professionally and sophisticatedly, such as when she recruited Kitty Pryde, convinced Magma to transfer, and went to recruit Firestar. Since she was in the Hellfire Club during that time, every time she was back in the club, she was in the corset/underwear costume, though.

    I’m surprised these sartorial standards in her character history were missed in this entry.

    • Claire Napier on

      Why would I make a point of mentioning things that are fine? This is explicitly about the problems with her illustrated life.

      • Perhaps I misunderstood you when you wrote, “Why…does dressing her like ‘Sexy Halloween’ despite her life circumstances (high school teacher, adventurer, and business woman) remain the norm?”

        I understood your piece to convey that Emma Frost, despite claims of her being a complex and diverse character with many things she cares about beyond sex, is only dressed as a “Sexy Halloween” character. The CA article you linked to also concludes similarly:

        “The Emma Frost I am informed of — classy, stylish, powerful — would enjoy a well-cut silk blouse. She would own many pairs of perfectly-tailored slacks. She would have put away the frosty lipstick years ago because, seriously? She’d have Oscar de la Renta on speed dial as ‘darling O.’ And yes, sometimes she would be scantily clad.

        But that Emma Frost has never existed on the page. Emma Frost has only ever been a sweaty paean to the straight male id.”

        And, as I stated in my initial comment, that conclusion is just not the case. It makes sense to me to examine whether a character is “constantly on” in a way that betrays the character. Emma being a vamped out, scantily clad product of male gaze is a problem particularly when the character is in a situation that doesn’t require it: teaching, going out on the town, sleeping, relaxing somewhere. And when I reviewed a lot of the title she’s featured in or her major guest appearances, I didn’t find that to be the case most of the time.

        As stated earlier, her Claremont and Generation X days were fine. But even her modern era depictions don’t demonstrate this (though admittedly, the opportunities for her and all the other X-Men in general to be in civilian clothes are few and far between):

        https://www.facebook.com/notes/10153559399694198/

        Her civilian and formal clothes in New X-Men, Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, the latest Uncanny X-Men (especially Kris Anka’s “Girls Night” issue), Heralds, the vignettes in Dark Reign, Manifest Destiny, and her cameos in Claremont’s modern Uncanny X-Men, Civil War with Tony Stark, Young Allies, Wolverine & Jubilee, etc. are a plethora of depictions where, when not wearing her costume, she’s dressed in clothes that aren’t problematic.

        So, as far as I can tell, her civilian wardrobe is fine, and we’re left with problematic depictions of her contemporary field costumes: the AvX costume, the Bachalo Uncanny X-Men costume, and the atrocious ever changing costumes that she would wear on the short-lived Xtinction team. And yes, those ranged from mildly problematic to outright terrible. But again, that’s Emma in the field, not Emma as a teacher, business woman, civilian, or anything else. Apparently, Emma as a teacher/business woman/civilian, etc. is still being depicted within reason.

        I agree that if I had to summarize how Emma Frost is predominently portrayed (as stated below by Wendy B), it is indeed with a sexuality. But I’ll argue that it’s not because she’s wearing ridiculously, illogically sexual clothes in times that don’t call for it (teacher/business woman/etc.); it’s because her costume is sexual and she is most often depicted in situations where she and the other X-Men are in costume. So either we should call for her costume to be changed (I personally disagree, but I can understand arguments for that), or we should call for her to be in more situations where she isn’t in costume, which would balance out her sexual costume and make it clear that, like fetishists, Emma Frost does understand occasion.

        • Claire Napier on

          I understood your piece to convey that Emma Frost, despite claims of her being a complex and diverse character with many things she cares about beyond sex, is only dressed as a “Sexy Halloween” character.

          No, I mean that she is ever dressed this way. Her character and her wardrobe have been established dissonantly. Emma Frost is used as the ~one character where the expected hypersexual super heroine look makes sense~, often, regularly, and I think that that’s due to repeatedly limited research by her creators.

    • They weren’t missed. This piece is about her current and reigning problematic depiction which seems to have forgotten all of this or made any effort to make her more than a sexy woman in a skimpy outfit.

      • I stated this above, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think it’s that her costume is sexual and she, and the other X-Men, are rarely depicted out of costume that makes her sexuality seems so predominant. If you examine the instances where she’s in a setting that isn’t superhero-related (and thus makes sense for her to wear her costume), she’s actually depicted in a lot of civvies that range from normal to high fashion: https://www.facebook.com/notes/10153559399694198/

        But we don’t seem to get a sense that Emma’s ever NOT depicted sexually because she’s so rarely out of costume. And the changing of her costume is a separate, worthwhile topic. But she seems to be dressed in a range of acceptable styles when she IS out of costume. So I would demand more of that: more of her confronting Firestar in a cafe, more of her taking her students shopping and on undercover training missions, more of her conducting business in Frost Enterprises (though, I think Schism showed her liquifying her assets…:/). That really allows a balanced depiction of her character.

        • There is nothing wrong with her field costume being sexy but there is a huge difference between skimpy and sexy. Moreover, Emma is a woman of high end fashion and class. Her field outfits reflect neither sexy nor classy. They are just excuses for her to consistently show skin and have her slut shamed. The Tumblr that has been linked above has provided excellent examples of field attire that isn’t trash.

          Xenogenisis she wore an outfit better reflective of who she is. The art was exaggerated, and they were all made into caricatures somewhat, but that was a much better example of attire Emma would wear on the field, plus she wasn’t necessarily in the middle of the battle. That is my other issue. Costume aside, who is this Emma that is basically trailing along behind Scott? She is a force on her own in power and business acumen. Why, even before AvX has she been relegated to girlfriend? Ah right so we can keep her on the field in crappy clothes doing nothing useful. How has this character grown? We have seen her be a strong teacher, business woman, headmistress. Why hasn’t she grown in those roles?

          As I mentioned in my first comment, First Class is very telling. You have listed the few and the older examples of Emma dressing more appropriately, though only off the field. Someone, such as people putting together a movie, are going to flip through X-Men titles and the majority of images they are going to see is of her in ugly underwear. The end result is now a movie that, other than the jumpsuit, further solidifies the general image of Emma. Not only is she in a cheap bra and ill-fitting skirt, none of her power as a business woman and Shaw’s equal is present. She’s sex candy. Poorly dressed sex candy.

          That is the reigning image Marvel and now Fox present of Emma Frost. That is not my White Queen.

  4. I just wanted to note that early on in Emma’s inception a female artist drew her as the main antagonist of the Firestar mini-series, Mary Wilshire. She even created a poster of her which is one of my favorite Emma Frost images.

  5. A fantastic read and a pleasurable critique. Thank you.

    I play the MMORPG Marvel Heroes, where you, the player, take control of a famed Marvel hero/villain in a sea of other player-controlled established Marvel characters. My preferred character is Emma Frost.

    Occasionally, the game triggers a voice interaction when two characters with a special history (or not) come into close proximity. Most of the scripted dialogue thrown in Emma’s direction concerns her perceived revealing attire. Jean Grey says something to the effect of “You know, Emma, I can read minds with my clothes ON.” Squirrel Girl chirps “do you ever get cold wearing that?” Wolverine follows in kind: “Are you really going to wear -that- into battle?” Etc. etc.

    I would say a vast majority of these voiced taunts directed at Emma concern her wardrobe (or lack thereof, har har). However, this programmed taunting sometimes produces a dissonance, because the player can choose which costume out of a handful of options her selected character may wear. When the ostensible insult gets hurled, my Emma could be wearing her Whedon/Cassaday Astonishing X-Men uniform, replete with pants and cape (bare shoulders excepted and occasionally midriff exposed, it remains a rather covered look). Or, she could be in her Old Man Logan dress, covered head-to-toe in an elegantly draped white fabric.

    The pre-programmed insult assumes its addressee to be excessively exposed (Squirrel Girl) or sexualized (Jean Grey) or inappropriate (Wolverine) or at times all three. But if the target of the verbal jab doesn’t match up visually to the content of the insult, when the insult depends upon its target to be “undressed” or “oddly dressed” or “sexually dressed” or “inappropriately dressed” in order to be “addressed,” and yet the addressee remains fully clothed despite all injunctions to the contrary, what work is this comic dissonance doing, performatively if you will, to alter the speaker and the addressee? How do we “hear” the joke?

    The game forces the speaker to repeat the insult ad infinitum regardless of context. The insulting speech act presupposes its addressee to be scantly clad. Comically, the performative insult fails to describe the body or the body’s clothing from time to time. However, it, the speaking voice, is caught in an endless cycle of repetition. The body -must- be undressed in order to be addressed; the speech act will have nothing less. And even if you, the player, elect to wear the Old Man Logan costume, the joke still “works” in a deferred way. It says, “this insult produces a dissonance now, but Emma Frost has worn revealing attire before, and perhaps she will have worn revealing attire in the deferred future.”

    This odd little video game phenomenon corresponds to the inter- and metatextual drama of Emma Frost. The character of Emma Frost will always receive these barbs from her colleagues (Kitty), her servants, her readers (us), her writers, her artists, her critics (everyone!). When it comes to the problem of her appearance, Emma is caught in the future perfect tense: she will have been guilty of wearing something she shouldn’t, often times before the insult even lands.

    There’s something about the way language works to prefigure the body, or to figure the body through the speech act itself that begs an inquiry into our participation in this figuration, in anticipating which way this body should or should not appear before us. And there’s something a little sinister, and something a little pleasurable, about the ease in which we, Marvel comics writers, artists, or other fictional characters presume in advance the “improper-ness” of Emma’s body (perhaps this is the pleasure Emma herself derives from the failing speech act). She’s always a step out of bounds, but she also eludes the discursive constraints placed by those bounds. Sometimes the insult doesn’t quite match up. Sometimes she’s a little more intangible, a little stickier, a little more transgressive than for what can normally be accounted/accountable. “She doesn’t add up.” Indeed: she makes you see what she wants you to see. She’s the ultimate Rorschach blot.

    The Emma that dances in my imagination skirts along discursive tracts that some may call obscene, especially her oedipedagogical relation to the students that fall under her care. Emma enjoys the Foucauldian spiral of power-and-pleasure, the pleasure that invites the power seeking to prohibit the discharge of excessive affect by eroticizing power’s very prohibitive aims. In my reading of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Emma is a key interlocutor in the retooling of the school’s curriculum, undergoing a Bohemian experiment in rethinking the aesthetic and intellectual contingencies of mutant life. Addressing the school from her podium wearing a Raf Simons-esque jacket and practical bun, she decrees that “the traditional human education system, upon which we have based many of our methods here at Xavier’s, is to be scrapped in favor of some more…fluid approaches to learning.” Emma invites her students, and her audience, to think differently about modes of bodily presentation, sexuality, and gender. Not to pastoralize the different into the same, but to be -fluid-. In effect, to invite queerness in.