The Mind's Eye Comic: Karl Bollers discusses 'Emma Frost'

Wed, June 18th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

"Emma Frost" #3
It's not easy being beautiful.

It's even harder growing up in a broken home, being a mutant…and being Emma Frost.

This July, one of the most popular X-characters in "New X-Men" gets her own ongoing series from Marvel Comics, but as everything with the former White Queen tends to be, nothing is as it seems- this series will focus on Emma's past and how she became the villain who brutalized the X-Men on many occasions. Featuring covers by Greg Horn, writer Karl Bollers and artist Randy Green are teaming up to defy readers expectations and Bollers spoke with CBR News about the new series.

"Emma Frost, a.k.a. the White Queen, was a mutant telepath who started out her career as one of the X-Men's most vicious enemies before eventually reforming and becoming an X-Man herself," explains Bollers. "The new 'Emma Frost' ongoing series, which will arrive in comic book stores in July, will explore Emma's teenage years, a period when her powers were just starting to develop and we'll also see the defining moments that shaped who she is today. It's a coming of age story that deals with themes such as independence, family secrets, loss of innocence, and sexuality among others..."

Those last two elements may cause some readers to jump to the conclusion that this series will exploit Emma's status as a "sexy" female. Bollers maintains that this is a character-centric series and explains how he views her. "Emma is the main character in the series-- when we start out, she's a mousy brunette attending a prep school while living with her rich parents and siblings in Boston. She's nothing like the Emma we know today--she hasn't yet found her voice. Or, at least, it's still very, very low. As her telepathic abilities begin to blossom that voice becomes increasingly louder. I'm approaching the series like 'The Brave Little Tailor' fairy tale--the simple character who rises from humble beginnings and through wondrous deeds eventually becomes king. Or, in this case, White Queen."

He also adds that her role as a young mutant in a world that, yes, "fears and hates them" will be examined- this is an X-comic after all- but that some continuity fans will have to understand that their desire for absolute adherence to all past stories won't necessarily be quenched by this series. "I'm going to explore Emma's awakening mutant abilities--learning that she can read minds and such. We'll see her learning to hone her powers, but first we'll see her be completely freaked out by them. She's a scared, confused teenager who doesn't quite understand what's happening to her, and she's never heard the term 'mutant.' We'll also see what she had to do to gain success. I know that Emma had a prior origin in the 'Generation X' comic (and this is sure to piss off some fans of that title), but the only historical 'template' I'm really concerned about following is the one established by Grant Morrison in 'New X-Men #139.' We're really looking to tell the most dramatic, entertaining story."

"Emma Frost" #2
It's not a matter of being a lazy writer or disrespecting past stories, but Bollers believes that the best stories in "Emma Frost" can be told if the series focuses on the most important elements of Emma's past. "Emma's past is...rich," Bollers says, adding, "Literally and figuratively. She's been through a lot in a short time. Usually when you get origin stories about heroes, it's usually about good people who choose to do the right thing in the tradition of Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, etc. 'Emma Frost' is about a good person who gets hurt, becomes hardened, embittered, corrupted and then chooses to go the bad route. She gives in to her dark side and becomes one of the "bad guys" for many years before becoming reconnected with the good inside of her. This differentiates her from villains like Magneto and Doctor Doom."

It's probably not a secret after reading the previous paragraphs that Bollers is a fan of Emma Frost and like most X-Men fans, it's because of legendary scribe Chris Claremont's work. "As a kid, I had started reading 'Uncanny X-Men' during the Chris Claremont/John Byrne run, shortly before Emma Frost's character was introduced as the notorious Helfire Club's White Queen. I've stayed current with the character's history over the past twenty or so years, so yes, you could say I was definitely attracted to working on 'Emma.'"

But even with the childhood affection for the villainess, Bollers wasn't, to his knowledge, the first pick to write the series, but that first choice has helped guide him along throughout the planning process. "To my knowledge, Marvel had wanted to do an 'Emma Frost' series written by Grant Morrison, but he was too busy to write it," reveals Bollers. "So he planted the seeds of Emma's origin story in 'New X-Men #139' and I'm basically expanding on those signature events as well as introducing some wacky elements of my own in the ongoing title. Grant provided great insight for me on how he views Emma's character, telling me the specific fictional movie character he bases Emma on. It was great getting a glimpse into the mind of this industry uber-scribe.

"I got involved with the series when editor Mike Marts called me up one day and asked if I'd be interested in writing a new series featuring the character. After writing a detailed pitch for a year's plus worth of stories, I landed the assignment."

Many Marvel Comics characters have their own series, set in the present day and continue to serve in teams. There's, of course, Wolverine and his appearances in "Wolverine," "New X-Men," "Uncanny X-Men" and more X-comics than should be named in a paragraph. And classic characters like Iron Man and Captain America star in their own series and protect the world in "Avengers" as well. So why isn't Karl Bollers setting this Emma Frost series in the present? "The series is set in the past because everyone involved felt that it would be interesting to see Emma's journey from innocence to evil mutant. She's a very complex character whose history was just waiting to be delved into and explored in detail. Once we catch up to the 'current' time period, there will hopefully be some interaction with 'New X-Men.'"

Now looking at the art with this interview and the covers in particular, one might be tempted to say that Emma's popularity is a result of her sex appeal and nothing more. But for Bollers, and many other Emma fans he contends, there's a multi-faceted aspect to the character that just can't be denied and that will be front & center in "Emma Frost." "I think Emma has such a strong fan base because she's one of the few female anti-heroes in comics today. Although she works with the heroes, like Wolverine, she's ready, willing, and even eager to kill her opponent if it should come down to it. She can be downright ruthless, and I have to admit that's one of the reasons I find her interesting. Fans shouldn't come into this series expecting to see the character as she's portrayed in 'New X-Men.' While we'll be going for the style of that series, this younger Emma has a bit of growing to do before she reaches that level of poise, sex appeal, and overall bitchiness. We'll see her get there. This is a different approach that we hope will shock readers, not alienate them."

"Emma Frost" #1
Speaking of those covers from "Emma Frost" and Greg Horn's acclaimed art style, some have been quick to label the series as a T&A fest with no substance. While Bollers isn't surprised that some fans would judge the book based on their feelings about the cover, he once again reminds them- Emma is a sexual character. "Of course some will describe the covers as being too sexual," states Bollers. "They're entitled to such an opinion, but it's only fair to say that the Emma's character has always been portrayed as being overtly sexual. It's always been a part of her from her beginnings as a stripper, to her time spent as a mistress within the Hellfire Club, to the present where she's had a 'psychic affair' with the X-Men's Cyclops. She's never been portrayed as Little Orphan Annie. She's Emma Frost, not Emma Lazarus. I think that people are responding that way due to the Puritanical roots inherent to the United States. I think people in South America or Europe would fail to see what all the controversy is about."

And series with attractive female leads obviously have many fans due in large part to the appearance of the female lead, so Bollers and Green are expected by many to present some "titillating" scenes in the series- but the writer says anyone jumping to that conclusion will, again, be surprised. "We're tackling themes that are relevant to a female audience--we're hoping people will be surprised by the book's content when they actually see it.

"I'm taking a very cinematic approach to the series, meaning that I see it as if it were an 'Emma Frost' movie. I'm introducing ideas and concepts, like the Hellfire Club, as if they're being seen for the first time. I definitely want it to be accessible to someone who has never read an issue of 'New X-Men' or heard of the White Queen."

For those readers who get hooked, Bollers says he plans to stay for the long haul and has a lot of ideas to share. "I'm committed to the series for as long as Marvel is willing to publish it. I have a few years' worth of stories to tell, and I can see myself writing it for at least that long. There's a lot of great material here."

Despite Bollers' infectious enthusiasm and confidence about his work, X-Men fans are known for being quite picky and outspoken fans. It'd be natural for Bollers to be worried about fan reaction and while he isn't shaking in his boots, he has some concerns. "I won't say that I don't have any trepidation because, let's face it, I want them to like it. However, I'm also prepared for the eventuality that they won't. But still, I've got my fingers crossed."

Readers can expect a lot from "Emma Frost" according to Bollers and teases fans with this, "Expect the Hellfire Club--as never seen before. Sick. Twisted. That's all I'm saying."

And if you're still on the fence about "Emma Frost," Bollers says that there are a couple more reasons to check it out. "The Hellfire Club-- as never seen before!" laughs the writer. "But seriously, readers will want 'Emma Frost' because they already know how she went from being one of the X-Men's worst villains to finding redemption as a hero. Here, they'll get to see how she became a villain in the first place."

"Emma Frost" #1, Pages 1 through 6

 
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