When Secret Wars ended last year and the Marvel universe “rebooted,” the characters were eight months into storylines whose earlier beats weren’t entirely clear. One of the prominent open-ended questions of the post-Secret–Wars world was, “What happened to Scott Summers?”(1) We knew that he was dead. We knew that he had supposedly done something awful. We knew that his supposedly something awful involved the Inhumans and the Terrigen Mist, which had been revealed to be lethal to mutants. And that was all we knew. The answers to most of those questions(2) were revealed in the recently concluded Death of X miniseries, which explored the circumstances of Scott Summers’ final actions and highly-publicized demise. With a twist, of course…
Spoilers from here on out.
Reading Death of X was an interesting experience because I knew what the twist ending would be from the first issue. I wasn’t annoyed by that fact, however, because it was an ending that made sense in the context of the characters. Everyone knew—going in—that Scott Summers was going to die at the end of the story, but it was clear to me that he was dead from the moment he collapsed in the lab facilities of Muir Island in issue one. It was equally clear that Emma Frost was manipulating everyone’s minds to make it seem like Scott was still alive and still calling the shots. And that is the most Emma thing ever, for so many reasons. And because it is the most Emma thing ever, it really worked for me.
Writing a story where the outcome is already known is a challenge. In order for it to work, you have to find a way to wow the readers in spite of the foregone conclusion that your narrative is heading for. In the case of Death of X, I think the writers really rose to the challenge. And they did it, in part, by fundamentally understanding, and thoughtfully exploring, the relationship between Emma Frost and Scott Summers. In creating a scenario where Scott turned out to have died almost immediately, and where his subsequent actions turned out to actually have been undertaken by Emma on behalf of his legacy, the writers managed to give the readers a poignant character study that would resonate regardless of whether or not they saw the twist ending coming.
It’s all the more satisfying, though, that Death of X‘s twist ending is one that can be seen coming from a mile away if you understand these characters and catch the hints. Scott Summers dies ignominiously of M-Pox within an hour of his exposure to the Terrigen Mist. Emma Frost loves him so much, however, and believes in his dream so steadfastly, that she refuses to let that be the end of him. Instead, she embarks on a quest to give him the death she believes he deserves and the death she knows he would prefer: the death where he is still on his own two feet, defending the dream he has given everything to. But in doing so, Emma is only doing what she has always done.
Throughout much of their of partnership, Emma Frost has been the force behind Scott Summers’ actions. She’s been his adviser, his lieutenant; the brains to his brawn. Not that he isn’t brainy or that she isn’t brawny, but many of his decisions have had her fingerprints all over them. Many of his decisions have been made because she suggested them, or believed in them, or gave him the confidence he needed to suggest them or believe in them himself. Thus, in a way, Emma and Scott’s final “partnership” in Death of X is merely a literal iteration of what has always been a figurative dynamic between the two of them. And that is a stroke of storytelling genius. Of course Emma fakes Scott’s final crusade. She’s been the architect of so many of his past plans; it only makes sense that she would engineer this one as well—particularly when you consider how she herself is viewed by her peers.
Even now, after years of being a prominent member of the X-Men, Emma Frost is almost universally mistrusted. Even the people who like her do not necessarily trust or respect her. She is, and always has been, almost criminally underestimated. Consequently, I think it’s fairly safe to say that had she not faked Scott’s final crusade, she would not have been able to do what she did. If she had let it be known that Scott Summers had dropped dead of M-Pox like a fly, almost no one would have followed her lead to attempt the eradication of one of the Terrigen Mist clouds (there were two). Illyana certainly wouldn’t have stayed by her side. Nor, probably, would many of the others who ultimately took her orders through the lips of Scott Summers. Alchemy, for example, undoubtedly wouldn’t have been swayed by a morale-boosting speech from her. This is not to say that she had no allies, but they would not have been enough. By keeping Scott alive, Emma was able to achieve a remarkable goal—demonstrating once again (in case anyone had forgotten) just how far she will go to do what she believes is right for mutantkind.
And this was probably my favorite thing about Death of X: that underneath everything else, it’s primarily a story about Emma Frost. A story about Emma and Scott, to be sure, but mainly about Emma. A story about her relationship with Scott, about her relationship with her people, about her relationship with herself—written by people who understand and appreciate her character, who see her as the complex and brilliant force to be reckoned with that she is. I’m hopeful that this will be the start of a new era for Emma Frost. At the end of the series she was alive. Emotionally damaged and mentally exhausted, but alive. Unsinkable. And—and this bit’s important—free of Scott Summers in a way that she never would have been had he lived. Because as bad as things got, as cruelly as he sometimes rejected her, she could never break from him. And now she can.
And if she does, she is going to be nothing less than fabulous.
I can’t wait to see where this goes. #bigmoneynowhammies