This comic has left me somewhat perplexed. In many ways, it is a well written, well paced and well drawn comic. However, I have been left with such a conundrum trying to reconcile the writer with the topic at hand that I have found myself driven to distraction.
Valerie D'Orazio was one of the key people who opened my mind to the level of sexism and misogyny in modern comics. At some level I was well aware of the fact that ever super-heroine was the same – long legged, busty and running around in little more than a swimsuit. However, hearing the stories endured by D'Orazio during her time at DC, and then following her progression into being a key player in groups like the Friends of Lulu, let me know exactly how deeply engrained in the industry sexism truly was. In many ways, this prepared me for having a daughter, as I know better what I want from the industry for her. When my daughter grows up I want her to be a strong, empowered woman who can find men, even in the comic industry, who see her as an equal, not as an object.
As such, I find that this issue does not embody those values that I have learned over the last 5-6 years of comic reading and analysis. While I openly admit that I am perhaps missing some deeper irony, or a message about empowering women, there are a number of things in this comic that left me a bit baffled. Much of the comic seems to imply that the reason that Emma Frost is a tough-as-nails women is because she was abused by women in her life.
In the opening scenes we find Emma to be stripping. Now, this in itself is not a poor characterization. It is established in the comic that she is doing it to make ends meet, and I've known a few people in my life who have been tough enough to stand on a stage and bare all. The thing that bothered me was what brought Emma to that club.
The story shows Emma coming from an upper class, dynasty family. The patron of this family is obsessed with his legacy and that of his family. Those who do not measure up, are poked and prodded until they do. Again, this does not seem out of character. Emma coming from the upper class is not outside the realm of belief. Further, the idea of a father pushing his children extremely hard is not necessarily evil. It's ill-advised, maybe, but not evil. There are several scenes that show Emma, her mother and siblings coping with the father's outbursts.
These scenes seem to be just that: people coping with a person who has perhaps a bit of an anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, this is then made that much more sinister by the father slapping Emma. All of a sudden, everything we have seen before is cast in a much darker light. When you read the pages again, you begin to understand that everyone is terrified of the father figure, and that he is likely violent quite often. All of a sudden, it was not just a tough childhood for Emma, but instead one of desperation.
Then, when Emma finally leaves the house and is forced onto the streets and into the Hellfire Club, we find her relationship with Shaw also being based on violence. He strikes her, she lashes back, and … they kiss and she falls into his arms ready to help him take over the world.
Everything about this seems to imply that the reason Emma became a powerful woman, the reason she is one of the key figures in the Marvel Universe, and the reason she has been a mainstay in that universe for going on 40 years, is because of violent relationships with men. It reminds me of the time that Kevin Smith chose to introduce a rape into a history for the Black Cat, with that being her raison d'etre to become a superhero. Why is it that women in comics must be defined by violence and sex, and cannot have risen to the top on their own, or through supportive relationships? Are those stories just not interesting?
As I said, the story itself is well executed. D'Orazio has a good feel for dialogue, and I look forward to seeing more of her writing. I do like her Emma Frost, and I think that she has a good understanding of Emma's personality. I'm just not keen on the backstory that has been woven.
In terms of art, it is competently executed with characters looking distinct and well defined. The choice of Emma being a wall-flower brunette seems to contradict previous appearances of Emma as a young woman, but there is room for interpretation there.
Aside from the odd choices made in the story telling, there isn't anything terribly wrong with this book. Unfortunately, the discordant notes in the story could drive readers to distraction while a large number of readers will happily drool over the idea of Emma Frost as a stripper called the Ice Princess.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!