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Emma Frost: Higher Learning

In an effort to bring in more female readers and try to pull more readers away from manga, Marvel started putting out a new line of titles featuring female protagonists; Arana: Heart of the Spider, Mary Jane and Amazing Fantasy are all examples, and they’ve met with mixed reviews (some even written by me). In combination with this push of female protagonists and the re-expansion of the x-books, everyone’s favorite telepathic, diamond skinned former villain, Emma Frost, managed to get her own comic. While not the MAX series I’m sure some fanboys were rooting for, it is the story of Emma’s youth. Following her time spent at an exclusive boarding school, the reader is introduced to a shy, introverted Emma who is possessed of a family that would make the Menendez brothers think they had it good. As her ability to read minds begins to manifest, Emma begins the process of becoming the icy femme fatale we all know and love.

The origins of Emma are not exactly clouded in mystery to the average comic book reader, as there have been many references to life before the X-Men, so the set up for the character, while it seems pretty in sync with her history, is also very predictable. The reader is most likely aware of Emma’s mental powers, so the revelations of Emma hearing voices and seeing thoughts hold little excitement for the reader. I must applaud writer Karl Bollers for his light touch in using Emma’s telepathy as a storytelling device. A worse writer might have given Emma full use and control of her powers too early, but Bollers allows Emma’s powers to come to her in fits and spurts and with very little conscious control on her part. Emma reads people by accident half the time, usually in response to stressful situations. The times she actively uses it are cleverly written without thought balloons or dialogue boxes, but just Emma “reading” the thoughts she needs and using them in her own dialogue. It’s a very organic treatment of a mutant coming into her powers and for that Bollers can be congratulated.

For the rest of the book, congratulations are not in order. The entire first volume is, looks, and feels just like set-up for the next story arch in which Emma is out on her own and using her powers in the real world. Every character, every scene seems devoted to this one goal and it makes for very boring reading.

Not helping this is Bollers supreme lack of characterization. Every character is a stereotype. Emma is the awkward girl who finally gets the ability to change her station in life; no friends, bad grades, and no life outside school make her the quintessential geek and the fact that most readers know that Emma becomes a blonde sex-pot in later life makes this paltry attempt at defining the character ring false. This may be a problem that any writer attempting to go back and create the origins of a well-known character every writer might face, but Bollers puts little effort into making Emma anything more than “the mousy girl.”

Equally disappointing is Emma’s family, as it turns out to be not only stereotypical, but grossly exaggerated stereotypes. There is the older brother Christian who is Emma’s only friend, her only support, who also happens to be a closeted homosexual in fear of telling his family. Her older sister Adrienne is the oldest, prettiest and bitchiest daddy’s girl who will tattle on her siblings at any time, even record their conversations, if it means her father will approve of her. There’s the younger, attention-starved daughter who adopts a goth/punk persona and does drugs in order to be “rebellious.” The mother is a pill-popping woman in denial of her husband’s infidelities, even after being given proof.

By far the worst character is the patriarch Winston Frost; the Mussolini-strict man who prefers to hold a noose around the neck of all of his children, for fear of their behavior reflecting badly on him, while simultaneously being the most utter of bastards. He cheats on his wife, orchestrates complex schemes to catch his children doing the things he disapproves of. Her family is so ridiculously over the top that it is laughable, but the story doesn’t get to be even unintentionally interesting because the story is so unsurprising that paint drying would sell out Madison Square Garden by comparison. Even less important characters are spectacular nods to convention: there’s the dutiful butler, the overly compassionate teacher, the mean-for-no-reason school bully…it just goes on. No attempts at depth or even intelligence are made when Bollers defines his characters and it drives another nail in the coffin.

The artwork is as equally bad and predictable. Randy Green’s style is a hold-over from the Michael Turner era; I swear I was reading Witchblade at one point, though not as detailed and busty. Green suffers from facial sameness and stick-figure anatomy. And Greg Horn’s covers are just plain embarrassing, as his pin-ups of the current Ms. Frost have nothing to with the story in the book. Way to pander, Horn.

Perhaps the only redeeming thing about the book is its $7.99 price tag, but even that is a waste of money spent on better comics. Maybe Bollers picks things up in the second volume, but I won’t be around to see it.

Emma Frost: Higher Learning

Robert Sparling

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