It’s no coincidence that clashing personalities create significant conflict and compelling melodrama. That’s a big reason why this concept has been the basis of nearly every successful sitcom in history. The personalities involved don’t even have to be polar opposites either. Narratives like the Odd Couple and Two-and-a-Half Men are the exceptions rather than the norm. The more serious and compelling clashes often come from characters that consider each other friends, but would never want to be stuck on a desert island together.
In X-men, it used to be that Cyclops and Wolverine were the mutant version of the Odd Couple. One was a clean-cut Boy Scout who played by the rules, led by example, and exercised restraint. The other was an unshaven loner who cussed like a sailor, thumbed his nose at authority, and didn’t hesitate to lust after married women. In another universe, they could’ve made the ultimate buddy cop movie. However, their clashing personalities eventually gave way to the clash between Jean Grey and Emma Frost.
This clash was the basis for some of the most intense drama during Grant Morrison’s run on New X-men. That drama had an impact that lasted for many years, even after Jean Grey’s death. These two weren’t complete opposites like Cyclops and Wolverine, but the intensity of their rivalry became the cosmic-powered version of nitro and glycerin. Now a time-displaced Jean Grey without that cosmic baggage and an Emma Frost who has since broken up with Cyclops has changed the intensity of that rivalry. In All-New X-men #37 we see that they’re still rivals, but they have something to offer one another and this time neither of them ends up dead or shattered.
The story here establishes a new dynamic between Emma Frost and Jean Grey. They’re no longer clashing about Cyclops, Wolverine, or who abused the Phoenix Force first. They are now developing a unique student/teacher relationship, although unique isn’t the first or even the tenth world that could be used to describe this dynamic. Even so, there is something of substance here that fits nicely into the overall narrative of time-displaced X-men.
Of the numerous personality traits that cause Jean Grey and Emma Frost to clash, the one that causes the second-most conflict involves restraint. Jean Grey, as a character, has often been defined by her ability to restrain her powers, emotions, and passions. And it’s not the kind of restraint that Mormons and vegans demand either. She’s had to restrain herself because she has lost control of her powers, causing a great deal of harm to friends, loved ones, and anyone around her. But there’s a thin line between restraint and repression. To put it lightly, Jean has not always effectively walked that line, as five billion innocent aliens can attest.
Emma Frost is on the other end of that spectrum. This is a woman who looks at restraint the same way Donald Trump looks at fake Rolex watches. She does not hold back in exercising her powers, her cunning, and her sexuality. It’s what helped her become the White Queen. It’s what helped make her an effective X-man. It doesn’t earn her a lot of friends, but that doesn’t bother her. She cares more about being competent than being loved. Looking sexy while doing it is just a bonus.
While a teenage Jean Grey isn’t quite ready to match Emma Frost’s sex appeal, she is in need of a lesson in competence. To do this, Emma challenges her in a way even the most sadistic high school gym teacher would never dare. She takes her to Madripoor and suppresses her telepathy. Then she has her take on Blob, who is now hooked on Mutant Growth Hormone. It’s a classic fight, an original X-man fighting an original member of the Brotherhood of Mutants. But it’s a fight that lacks the simple innocence of those classic moments.
It’s also a fight that nicely incorporates other unresolved plots from other X-men titles, creating a certain amount of synergy that adds additional weight to the story. But what gives it the most impact is the message it sends to Jean Grey. Emma Frost once again demonstrates that in addition to looking good in skin-tight outfits, she’s also a very good teacher. She put Jean in a position where she couldn’t act with as much restraint as before. She even openly questioned Jean’s assumptions about her powers, her fears, and Charles Xavier’s willingness to go behind her back. These are all important lessons to learn, especially with respect to Charles Xavier’s credibility.
This lesson exposes the insecurities in Jean Grey that she never had the chance to confront before her multiple deaths. Emma still does it in the most insensitive way possible. But like a kid that only got participation trophies growing up, it’s an important lesson to learn. She gets Jean Grey to understand that her fears and reservations are holding her back. And the fact she ended up dead twice reveals she’s not very good at it anyways. To become the better Jean Grey that she seeks to be, she has to cast aside these fears and insecurities. And if she can look just as good as Emma in a skin-tight outfit, then that’s just another bonus.
What makes the lesson and the story in All-New X-men #37 so compelling is that it doesn’t attempt to open old wounds. It doesn’t gloss over the lingering animosity between Emma Frost and Jean Grey either. These two characters are still very different in so many ways and they still clash. However, they can still complement each other in a way that makes for solid character development. If Chuck Lorre were casting another sitcom, these are the kinds of characters he would use.
As meaningful as Emma’s lesson for Jean is, it still feels incomplete. It still feels like there are many more lessons for Emma to teach Jean. The fact neither of them brought up Cyclops seems like an oversight. However, it didn’t make the impact of the story less meaningful. Jean Grey and Emma Frost may never be bffs, but they can still learn from each other so long as those lessons don’t involve marital counseling.