Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

267 – The Saddest Joyride

Art by David Wynne. Wanna buy the original? Drop him a line!

In which Emma Frost is a better Iceman than Bobby Drake; Generation X is aggressively foreshadowed; Malcolm and Randall are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Bishop’s Hamlet; and we launch a campaign for our own Multiversal designation.


  • The first time the X-Men met Emma Frost
  • Uncanny X-Men 314-315
  • X-Men Annual #18
  • A game show nobody should ever under any circumstances actually make
  • Emma Frost’s recruitment tactics
  • Previously unexplored ice powers
  • The direct prelude to Generation X
  • Caliban (more) (again)
  • SoftPaws(TM)
  • The giant squids of New York
  • The neophyte
  • A trial, kind of
  • X-Men power fantasies
  • Earth-X-Plain

NEXT EPISODE: We’re so close to nearly reaching what’s almost the Phalanx Covenant!

Game show music by MusicManiac301; used with permission.

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  1. Scattered thoughts. Long ones, this time, I’m afraid. These are three interesting comics, with a lot to think about even if not necessarily to like.

    – My God, are our hosts right about the brilliance of the Weeks/Sienkewicz depiction of Frost-in-Bobby’s-body. Honestly, just on that alone, can we keep this character and not have this era’s Bobby back for a while? He’s entirely disposable: name one reason why stories in this era need to have him around.

    In pretty much all of the character’s existence prior to the decision to have him come out as gay (which finally gave Bobby something to contribute to the X-books) Iceman is a very bland character. With the exception (and obviously, in comics this is a big exception) of the fact that visually his powers are tremendous. But if we kept him possessed by Emma, we would get the visual impact of the powers combined with an actual personality. The name is even Frost!

    – But speaking of characters being retconned, this is obviously the moment at which the Emma Frost that we know nowadays comes into being. Now that I’m at this moment, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.

    When this came up in tlast year, Icon_UK and I discussed it here, and at that point I expressed comfort with accepting that Emma is just one of those characters who has existed in different versions, and one treats earlier stuff that doesn’t fit as sort of not having happened.

    In my case, the biggest thing is Emma’s role in the Dark Phoenix saga. To recap, the only reason why Mastermind’s powers were able to affect Jean in that way was because Emma (displaying a long-since forgotten technical-genius side) designed a special device to enable him to do it — and what Mastermind does is the Hellfire Club’s *plan*. Emma is a knowing and fully aware accessory to something that’s as close to mind-control-facilitated sexual assault as Claremont could get away with putting on the page in 1980.

    This is not really the sort of thing to which “She did it for the children and now she sees that Charles Xavier was right all along [more on that later]” is going to cut it as a way to confront the issue.

    But, OK, 1980 was a long time before this comic came out, and all this can be allowed to fade into the past as sort of having not happened? The thing is, though, since we discussed this last year, I’ve encountered more of Scott Lobdell’s X-work and it’s not as easy for me to just file this under “long-running superhero comics” as it was.

    In particular, I’ve read Lobdell’s handling of Jean forgiving Mastermind on Mastermind’s deathbed, and I’ve learned about how he chose to introduce Britanic. This is an area where Lobdell’s writing (and I’d like to emphasize that I am talking about his writing, not his personal behavior) has a troubling blind spot. I am not sure that I can really give him a third strike by viewing this story’s obliviousness to just how negative some of Claremont’s depiction of Emma Frost was in the area of consent as no more than business as usual for the genre.

    I find this quite sad, because the new version of Emma Frost (whom, having skipped reading superhero comics in the ‘90s, I first encountered in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men) has been one of my favorite characters since coming back to the X-books, and I think my enjoyment is probably always going to be a little diminished from now on by my sense of how this feature of Lobdell’s writing is implicated in her creation.

    -But what about the next UXM? I was really curious to know what Jay Edidin would make of this, because he’s talked on the show about his negative reaction as a child to spotting the Christian allegory in the Narnia books.

    Because this story offers Christian allegory that is approaching Narnia levels. Hell — Should I say Hell? Will that make this comic sad? — heck, this is approaching Perelandra levels of unsubtlety.

    I find it annoying how much the comics of this era take as their premise that the key to a good X-story is that Charles Xavier is the central figure in the X-mythos. But I did not expect that I would be encountering a comic in which Charles Xavier is a blatant stand-in for Jesus and the story is about how we should reject false prophets and turn to Him as our personal savior.

    I mean, for Go-goodness sake, look at how the Neophyte describes his Road to Damascus moment of meeting Xavier. This is a classic hagiographical narrative, with the Neophyte as the saint (and almost martyr) and Colossus as the Christian who has fallen away but can still be saved if he repents his sins and returns to the fold.

    It’s so bizarre that I even quite like the story for its sheer quality of surprise — it’s just not something I was anticipating, even though in hindsight there were signs that this was the direction in which Lobdell wanted to go (“You taught me to believe, Professor.”) As a piece of Christian apology, there are some nice touches. I like the way that the standard image of the false idol is reinvented as the unspeaking Magneto.

    This all sheds quite a different light on the contentlessness of “Xavier’s dream” in this era (for all that the characters will not stop going on about it, they never really define it much beyond mutants and humans getting along). Xavier’s dream turns out to be, “There is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ” — it doesn’t need to be fleshed out to work as an allegory, because the fleshing-out happens after you move past the allegory to the thing that the allegory represents.

    But: the story has got the problem with a lot of Christian allegory of this sort, which is that it doesn’t do a good job of accommodating the possibility of ambiguity, doubt, and legitimate alternative views. Note how Colossus, our viewpoint character, has already changed his mind, decided he was wrong and Xavier was right, and confesses that the sin lies within himself for not having the strength to walk Xavier’s path. That seems to be something that the story needs for Peter still to have the possibility of being forgiven.

    It’s perhaps not the worst thing that this Magneto is not supposed to be Jewish, because otherwise this is all walking straight into a very bad place.

    -Then there’s Glenn Herdling’s annual. This interested me for how it was subtly different in its attitude to the Claremont past than the normal run of X-books in this era.

    First, it is, I think, fairly likely that here we have a fan who read the Claremont UXM at the time when they were coming out and is writing from that perspective. Specifically, this is a Kitty Pryde devotee who knows a lot about Claremont’s Kitty Pryde and intends to use what he knows. As such, it reminded me a bit of Whedon’s run, certainly more than anything that Lobdell or even Nicieza were doing contemporary with it. (Although judging from Nicieza’s remarks on the podcast when interviewed, this might be a less competently-written version of the sort of thing that he might have done if left to his own devices.)

    In fact, as far as comics of the time go, this is more like something along the lines of Mark Waid’s Flash run (not as good, obviously, but similar in spirit): it forms part of the nostalgic turn in superhero comics that hasn’t really impacted the X-books in this period, but which certainly had been appearing elsewhere.

    I’m not sure that’s entirely a good thing, necessarily – Waid’s Flash imagined a useful idealized past that it was really creating, and this is using a relatively recent past that was an accomplished and important thing in its own right — it’s condemned to be secondary in a way that Waid’s Flash wasn’t.

    -“Now let’s cut all this posturing.” In this era? Never.

    Case in point:

    “Nothing is ever clean and simple when – – Bishop – – is involved.”

    Umm, Mr. Loeb? That’s not impressive and Kewl. That means that Bishop is *bad* at being in charge.

  2. I’d say that yes, this is an important moment for Emma, and agree completely that it’s an exceptionally well told tale, but in no way does this Emma reflect any version of Emma we’ve seen before.

    As well as the aforementioned “Emma designed the mind-tapping device that led to Dark Phoenix”, Emma is the person who tortured the captive X-Men in her debut, for no real reason other than that she enjoyed torturing people. (Kitty has, at least, called her out on that and says it’s the reason she will NEVER trust Emma)

    But it’s the retcon to her relationship with the Hellions that just doesn’t work for me here. She says she didn’t have access to the resources that Xavier did, but we know she DID. She had Cyberiad, her own bootleg version of Cerebro to track down mutants, which she used to find the Hellions. (The “I removed their ability to be detected by Cerebro” is also a completely new addition which I don’t think ever crops up again as something she can do, no matter how useful it might be to have mutants who don’t scan as mutants.)

    Certainly nothing she had done before had ever appeared to have been “for the children”, she did it for the longevity of the mutant cause within the Hellfire Club, and to have a team of powerful young mutants who owed their first duty to her. Not the Inner Circle, nor even Sebastian Shaw, but HER specifically, because that gave her leverage and clout in the Inner Circle.

    Emma had actively considered killing Empath if he got any more out of line (and as that was a private though bubble to herself, not something she’d bother lying about).

    Based on all evidence, she’d have thrown the lot of them under a bus to save herself, and would have been more likely to be irritated at the waste of time and resources, than mourn them as individuals.

    Even with her treating of the New Mutants after their death’s at the hands of the Beyonder, it’s left vague as to whether she was being entirely humanitarian, or wanting to make the New Mutants feel that they owed her a debt. (The latter seems infinitely more likely)

    And Emma recruited and trained Angelica Jones as an entirely disposable assassin. Deliberately isolated and emotionally manipulated to be loyal to Emma and Emma alone. She wanted a means to kill Selene, and someone with long-range energy powers had the most chance of success, and if it didn’t work, well, Angelica would die, but that was a risk that Emma was prepared to take.

    This whole development reminds me more than anything of the Empath retcon than he was really a lost and misunderstood soul fighting back against the world that had been mean to him, rather than a malevolent manipulator who had deliberately and consciously chosen to be that way.

    She’s being made more sympathetic, not because of her as a character, but because they want to use her as a teacher for Generation X, even if her past track record without this retcon makes her completely unsuited to the role.

    I can’t say that I don’t like Emma being a teacher because I do, but I’d have liked it a lot more if she’d been honest about the fact she HAD been a monster all along and the writers hadn’t felt the need to soften her to make her genuinely concerned about her charges, when she had never been any such thing.

    Shifting focus a little, Jean overloading Sabretooth always reminds me uncomfortably of her actions with Mastermind just as she was going full Dark Phoenix, coldly and deliberately overloading their mind to teach them a lesson. And that should worry people.

    1. She’s being made more sympathetic, not because of her as a character, but because they want to use her as a teacher for Generation X…

      Come on now. That’s not fair. It’s not just because they want to use her for Generation X. It’s *also* because her character design makes her irresistible to certain tendencies in ‘90s comics. 🙂

      But on the “resources” bit — one of the things that’s odd about that statement, besides the fact that Emma had been shown as having equivalent resources is that she was created to be one of the central figures in the Hellfire Club, and the whole point of the Hellfire Club is that they are people with no shortage of resources.

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