Thursday, 7 April 2016

NMU #39: "Pawns Of The White Queen"

(In loco parentis)


It's stage two of the New Mutant's post-death therapy programme. Magneto hasn't been able to jolt them from their existential hard-drive crash; is Emma going to have any better luck?

Well, no, obviously, but the route by which we arrive at this foregone conclusion is an interesting one, rooted in Emma's growth as a character. Long gone is the one-note cackling villain the White Queen first arrived as. It's very clear here that Emma genuinely wants the New Mutants to feel better about themselves. The pride she takes in helping massage Rahne's mind to help her get past her trauma demonstrates that this is about more than simply getting the New Mutants back into fighting shape so she has more troops for her elite mutant army.

That's clearly part of it, obviously. But even there things aren't entirely simple. As the front cover of the issue shows, Emma wants to turn the New Mutants into Hellions, but there's more to that impulse than a simple craving for additional minions. Emma seems to genuinely believe our heroes would be better off in pink and black. And honestly, she's not utterly without a point here. After all, the Beyonder massacred Xavier's charges for the sake of making a point, not hers. Shan didn't find herself mentally compelled to become a villain and develop an eating disorder whilst studying at the Massachusetts Academy. There will come a time when Frost's cupidity (along with general '90s bullshit tendencies) will cause the total collapse of the Hellions, but right now she can make a strong case that she's protecting her students rather better than Xavier or Magneto ever has.

But the fact Frost's motivations mark her out as more than a simple villain, it doesn't mean they're not shot through with selfishness. She might genuinely want to help Rahne recover, but she can't resist poking around with the girl's sense of propriety so she won't be scandalised by Emma's clothing anymore. It's obviously none of my business what Frost wants to wear in her own home, but manipulating Rahne's reactions to it clearly isn't cool. But then this is precisely Emma's problem; the Hellion project has worked out fine for her so far, so she's convinced it's the only way to go, and everyone should get on board. Everyone should, in short, think the same way. No wonder she has Empath supercharge Magneto's self-doubt to the point where he willingly gives up his students to her. As far as Emma is concerned, every moment the New Mutants spend with Magneto whilst he blunders around looking for a way to help them is a moment wasted. He can't succeed; he can't look after students as well as she can. The sooner he admits he has failed, the sooner she can get the job done right.

This isn't exactly a slam-dunk reading, I accept. It's rather more interesting than assuming Emma is literally interested in nothing but adding the New Mutants to her recruitment pool. But even this comparatively generous reading of her actions needs to recognise that altruism is not her driving force here. The title of this story alone makes that clear. There's also a wonderful visual metaphor at the start of the issue in which see first the New Mutants' POV of Emma in her office, and then flip round to see her view of them.

What the teenagers are seeing is all opulence: fashionable chairs, sculptures, what appears to be a solid gold lamp, etc. What Emma sees, in contrast, is all function; uniform shelves of books and arrays of computers. Visitors to the office see luxury, the trappings of power (note Emma is talking to her new students whilst sipping at what is surely a tremendously expensive cocktail). What Emma sees is tools to use and resources to be employed. And you can value what you make use of. You can even come to care for it. But it remains, fundamentally, something that you take an interest in because it can get you what you want.

And really, realising that Emma's view of her charges is fundamentally as assets she happens to care for is the only way to understand why she keeps Empath around at all.  Because Magneto is absolutely right; if we were to ever accept that there are certain people who deserve to be executed for their crimes, it's a man who is not a serial sexual assaulter of women, but who just last issue forced two colleagues and close friends to rape each other constantly for days. I mean, that's so horrific an idea I have a real problem with Claremont for putting it in NMU in the first place, but since it's here it serves as clear evidence that no-one who willingly employs Empath can possibly claim to have any real interest in people as people. Yes, Emma keeps tabs on Empath and - so far - has been able to intercede and shut him down every time he has attempted to rape one of his own teammates, but that's a dance she can keep up only so long, and even she must realise that. But Empath is a useful tool for her, and so he gets to be kept on the shelf alongside all her other tools.

As an amoral policy of expedience, allowing Empath the run of the Academy is so horrendous I can imagine Richard Nixon balking at the idea. For as long as he stays, there can be no chance for Emma to even claim the moral high ground, she is simply too grotesquely compromised. She can tell herself this is for the New Mutants' own good all she likes, but the truth is she wants them to share the halls with a dangerous monster, because that dangerous monster makes her life a little easier.

What this ultimately means is that, whilst Emma Frost has become a more complicated and rounded character, and whilst she now seems to have embraced her duty of care, however twisted her conception of that is, things are worse than ever at the Massachusetts Academy. Something is going to have to break.


This story takes place over a single week.


Monday 7th to Monday 14th May, 1985.


X+7Y+55 to X+7Y+62.

Standout Line

Nothing much worth noting this issue. Well, there's Catseye dismissing Cannonball and Jetstream as "Noisyboys", I suppose. That's kinda fun.

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