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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #314

"Early Frost"
July 1994

In a Nutshell
Emma Frost learns the truth about the Hellions.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Guest Penciler: Lee Weeks
Guest Inker: Bill Sienkiewicz
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Archanel & Storm pursue Emma Frost, whose mind is trapped in Iceman's body. Using Iceman's powers in new & inventive ways, she manages to evade capture, but Professor X calls off the X-Men; he suspects he knows where she's headed, and he & Banshee are already en route. Meanwhile, Bishop trains in the Danger Room under the watchful eye of a holographic representation of his deceased sister, Shard. In New York City, Emma Frost arrives at Frost Enterprises and uses Iceman's powers to fight past the security guards. Inside, she accesses the computer systems, and confirms her worst fears: all the Hellions are dead, slain by Fitzroy and his Sentinels. As the Frost guards surround her, guns drawn, she begs them to shoot her, but Xavier telepathically stops them, and Banshee offers her a hand, saying that mutants can't afford to keep fighting amongst themselves, and that while what happened to her students was tragic, there's no changing it, but she can start working to make things better for the next generation of mutants. She takes his hand and they depart, leaving Xavier to look over the list of slain Hellions and vow to never again allow innocent blood to be spilled in this insane conflict between races.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue formally puts Emma Frost, the former White Queen of the Hellfire Club, on the path towards, if not outright redemption, then full-fledged anti-hero status, as her reaction to learning about the deaths of the Hellions serves to set up for her role as one of the co-headmasters at the new Xaver School featured in Generation X, making this the beginning of a long run in which Emma will serve in a heroic capacity, first as a teacher, then as a member of the X-Men, and eventually, as, essentially, the second-in-command of pretty much all the X-affiliated mutants in the world (before eventually experiencing another heel turn that unfortunately wipes out much of that development).


It's noted that Emma is intuitively using Iceman's powers in ways far more advanced than he ever has, which will kick off the latest installement of the "Iceman is sad because he's not using his powers to their fullest potential" plotline (the last round, started by Mikhail Rasputin in issue #292, led to the bulkier, spiky Iceman).


This issue is also the first appearance of Shard, Bishop's sister, who appears as hologram in the Danger Room programmed by Bishop to mimic his deceased sister. This marks the beginning of an interesting run for the character - the holographic representation of Shard, mind you, not Bishop's actual sister - as she will eventually be able to exist independently from the Danger Room, and will join X-Factor.


It’s revealed here that Emma, lacking Cerebro, found the Hellions the old fashioned way, and also, that she rearranged their brain engrams to help hide them from Cerebro & other mutant detection systems (which is a nice explanation for why Xavier never detected the Hellions prior to their first encounter with the New Mutants.


A Work in Progress
It’s established that Shard was Bishop’s commanding officer in the XSE. He also dramatically reveals to Jubilee that he killed her.


Like Bishop before her, Shard refers to Jubilee as the Last X-Man, though she says no one in their time knows why she’s called that.


For Sale
There’s an early ad for Lion King inside the front cover.


The back cover, meanwhile, features an ad for the first set of Marvel Flair cards, the first set of "high end" Marvel trading cards.


Bullpen Bulletins
Stan Lee’s column in this issue talks about the upcoming Spider-Man animated series, as well as the Marvel Action Hour featuring Fantastic Four & Iron Man cartoons, all of which came about thanks to the success of the X-Men animated series.

It's in the Mail
A note on the Letters Page acknowledges the erroneous crediting of Kevin Somers as the editor of issue #312 and apologizes to Bob Harras for the oversight.

Austin's Analysis
This issue is all about reintroducing the White Queen (in a coma since issue #281, but largely absent from the narrative long before that) and setting up her involvement in Generation X. To that end, it's less about redeeming her past villainous actions (later stories will grapple with that somewhat, but for the most part, time will mostly dull the edges off the fact that she was once one of the X-Men's fiercest foes) as it is about stressing her past as a teacher and someone who, for all her villainy, expressed some genuine concern for the well-being of her students, thus highlighting the guilt she feels over the deaths of the Hellions (thereby giving her motivation - atonement - for taking on the task of teaching a new generation of young mutants).

This is smart, as it uses the most redemptive element of the previously-villainous White Queen - her genuine desire to do right by most of her students, however skewed she happens to be defining "right" - as the stepping stone for her integration into the more heroic side of the X-Men universe. She's done bad things in the past, and may still not be a morally good character, but this story emphasizes that first and foremost, she is a dedicated educator who cared about her students and, for now, that's enough to justify her upcoming role in Generation X.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Polaris fights Malice in X-Factor #104. Friday, Wolverine returns to Canada in Wolverine #83. Next week, the X-Men go exploring in X-Men #34.

10 comments:

  1. Good issue, bringing to an end the four-month-long night that started with #311 -- the transition of artists across these four installments is jarring, though. Going from Romita Jr. to Weeks would have felt pretty smooth, but sticking Madureira between them for two issues is an odd choice (which isn't to say I disliked those Mad issues; as I noted previously, I loved them).

    Madureira had Banshee wearing his X-Men uniform for the past couple chapters, but now he's suddenly changed into a generic jumpsuit to go out with Xavier. No idea why this is. If the X-Men are trying to be undercover, then Archangel and the rest shouldn't be flying around in full costume, either. I suspect Weeks didn't have the previous two issues available while drawing this one, and was just looking one of Banshee's recent appearances in X-MEN, where Andy Kubert tended to always draw him dressed this way.

    "(before eventually experiencing another heel turn that unfortunately wipes out much of that development)"

    Emma went bad again?! I didn't know that! Must have happened after I stopped reading ten or so years back. That's too bad. I'm pretty sure she was a good guy for more of her existence than she was evil! I never loved her as Cyclops's girlfriend, but I liked her as a member of the X-groups.

    "This marks the beginning of an interesting run for the character - the holographic representation of Shard, mind you, not Bishop's actual sister - as she will eventually be able to exist independently from the Danger Room, and will join X-Factor."

    I've never really liked this idea. I guess I can't wrap my head around the concept that a hologram of a real person could more-or-less become that person. It's different than something Voyager's holographic Doctor developing a personality and becoming a member of the crew. He was basically a blank slate to start. But somehow Bishop got Forge to program this incredibly perfect facsimile of his sister. What's to stop the X-Men from doing the same with Thunderbird or Doug or Warlock? It feels creepy and wrong, unless it's a finite story with a moral about not doing it!

    (Fortunately I never read X-FACTOR, so I missed out on most of holo-Shard's existence anyway.)

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    1. It was very recently that Emma went back to the "dark side". It was completely out-of-nowhere, and read really illogically.

      Yeah, I always hated Shard. The X-factor book started to really go downhill when Shard ended up a member.
      I finally dropped the book somewhere during Mackie's horrid run, but read enough of those Shard issues to know I wasn't enjoying the book anymore.

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    2. Shard's execution as a living hologram that's fundamentally the same as an actual person always bugged me, too. I think it's because of what Matt said about it seeming "creepy and wrong", and the logic of it (does she have a mobile projector? is she restricted to certain structures) makes it crumble more. If they wanted to use her, they should have just brought her back properly; that's easy to do with time travel, and you can still get story drama between her & Bishop out of it.

      I will say, however, that Shard's haircut is very fashion forward. They did a good job predicting short side fades with long bangs for women being a thing 20+ years in the future.

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    3. So Emma is really villainous again and not just pretend? That's a real shame.

      I know Emma can be polarizing as a character, but I've always dug her.
      Since her shift to antihero/reluctant hero, there seems to be only three/four writers that really understood how to write her without having to try hard: Lobdell, Morrison (my gold standard) and Kieron Gillen. Bendis came close, but only because he can be terrific with snarky female characters (ie, Deena Pilgrim & Jessica Jones).

      But I digress. Considering this was during a period of time in comics where character development often took a backseat to plot, I appreciated this attempt to root Emma's story to who she was as a person rather than it being plot focused.

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  2. Shard: You do miss me, no?
    Bishop: More than life itself.

    ....what? Bishop misses life?

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  3. Still hitting the themes this blog has emphasized: Blue/Gold split still strong, and more Generation X setup. I really liked this issue back then, though, for the Iceman development, which, since I didn't read old X-Factor, hadn't yet happened. It was both logically used but surprising too to see the ice ability take such a leap, like Jean Grey becoming Phoenix! No longer was Bobby just a (lame) joke!

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  4. I thought that Shard had already appeared in the previous year's annual (sorry can't remember the number)? It was the very first X-Men issue I ever brought.

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    1. That was annual #17 (also the first appearance of the X-Cutioner), and yes, Shard appeared there (as one of Mastermind's illusions). I should have been more clear that this marks the first appearance of Holographic Shard, who will become a recurring character in her own right, distinct from the previously seen illusory one and Bishop's "actual" flesh & blood sister (who eventually appears in flashback/future set stories as well, IIRC).

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  5. I’m still not used to the retcon that Iceman’s body actually transmutes to ice rather than merely being coated by frost (as it were) when he ices up. Or maybe it's supposed to be an evolution of his power and/or an aspect of it that Bobby had just never tapped into before Emma's consciousness leveled him up, I dunno, but it's a pretty big change.

    The promise of Xavier’s that no more blood will be spilt in war between races or factions is just… Come on. Don’t promise something that’s not within your power to entirely control, let alone that’s so unlikely given the breadth of the issue and length of its history — even in-universe, to say nothing of how obvious it is for readers that more blood will most definitely be spilt.

    Lobdell’s would-be Irish brogue for Banshee is, to paraphrase Mike Myers, not just Scottish but crap.

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    1. I believe it's meant to be seen as an evolution of Iceman's power (first introduced by Mikhail Rasputin), something he always could have done but never pushed himself to do (ie, in exploring his powers, he more or less stopped at "cover myself in ice" rather than seeing what else he could do). The ease with which Emma takes to the whole "made of ice" thing here is meant to illustrate how Iceman is still his own worst enemy power-wise, and will put the character into another funk as he deals with the fact that Emma used his powers more extensively in one night than he has in his entire life.

      As for Xavier's "promise", +1 to everything you said.

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