Their name is based on the novels The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham, and The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin.
First appearing in New X-Men, vol. 1 #118, they were created by Grant Morrison. Their origin, as the artificially created "daughters" of Emma Frost, is revealed in X-Men: Phoenix—Warsong.
Esme and Sophie were among the feature characters in the 2011 two-issue limited series Chaos War: X-Men.
Fictional character biographies
As revealed in the first issue of X-Men: Phoenix—Warsong, the sisters are grown from ova cells harvested from telepath and then villain Emma Frost while she lay comatose after a Sentinel attack that killed her students, the original Hellions, and are only five of many cloned daughters. The remaining hundreds (if not thousands) of clones reside within incubation chambers inside a hidden underground laboratory at The World, a complex housing the Weapon Plus (living beings designed to serve as weapons) program. They were created by Dr. John Sublime to be powerful weapons able to kill every mutant by combining their telepathic abilities. The Cuckoos were designated Weapon XIV.
They were first introduced as the protégés and favorites of Emma Frost and were unaware of their true purpose and a telepathic block was used to mask their placement in the school, causing anyone who questioned their origins to lose their train of thought. They, along with student Quentin Quire, were noted as the strongest telepaths among the new students at the Xavier Institute of Higher Learning. Although Quire and the Stepford Cuckoos were rivals, Quire had a crush on Sophie. Sophie and the other Cuckoos considered him to be disgusting and rejected him completely.
Partly as an expression of adolescent rebellion, partly under the influence of a mutant drug called Kick, and partly out of a desire to impress Sophie, Quire incited a student riot at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Sophie died stopping Quire, having used the same drug to boost her powers and overexerting herself. The Stepford Cuckoos held Frost to be partially responsible for Sophie's death - with Frost having "inspired her to heroism" - and disassociated themselves from her at that time. With the death of Sophie, the Five-in-One became the Four-in-One. Wary of having a part of themselves missing, they tested to see if their powers still functioned well by contacting Jean Grey telepathically and informing her that Emma Frost was attempting to conduct an affair with her husband, Scott Summers.
Secretly, Esme Cuckoo had been collaborating with X-Man Xorn, then disguised as Magneto. Taking control of the Cuckoos' group mind, she telepathically steers Angel Salvadore to attack Emma Frost, completely shattering her diamond body into fragments. Jean Grey manages to telekinetically reassemble Frost and return her to life, whereupon Emma revealed Esme's involvement. Esme then abandons her sisters to join Magneto's new Brotherhood of Mutants. Later losing faith in Xorn, the Brotherhood turns on him, including Esme, who attacks him, angry that he did not return her affections. Xorn then kills her and she dies in Emma's arms, stating with her dying breath that she never wanted to end up like Emma.
Soon afterwards, the Institute is rebuilt, with Emma Frost and Cyclops as headmasters and leaders of the X-Men.[volume & issue needed] Frost and Summers divided the older students into several six-person training squads, each taught by a staff member.[volume & issue needed] The remaining three Cuckoos, now calling themselves the "Three-in-One," were assigned to the Corsairs squad, advised by Cyclops.[volume & issue needed] The three girls were the co-leaders of the squad.[volume & issue needed]
In X-Men: Phoenix Endsong (March–June 2005), the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force came back to Earth seeking to inhabit the body of Jean Grey.[volume & issue needed] Quentin Quire, still in love with Sophie, sensed the Phoenix and exhumed Sophie's body.[volume & issue needed] He sought the Phoenix, which resurrected Sophie, but she promptly chooses to die again rather than be with him.[volume & issue needed] The X-Men defeat the Phoenix,[volume & issue needed] though a shard of it in firefly form locates Celeste.
Weapon Plus and Phoenix—Warsong
In New X-Men, vol. 1 #154 (May 2004), the Stepford Cuckoos are identified as Weapon XIV (each girl being units 1 to 5, ordered alphabetically by their first names), the living weapon code between Weapon XIII (Fantomex) and Weapon XV (Ultimaton).
Manipulated by both the shard of the Phoenix and Dr. John Sublime, the Cuckoos reanimate Esme and Sophie as corpses and return to the World. At the World, they are greeted by a computer image of Sublime and learn of their thousands of cloned siblings. Their true purpose was to collect data on the X-Men and transmit it to the other clones through shared nano-technology in their bodies. It is revealed that the Phoenix fragment has manifested in order to destroy the Cuckoos and all of their clones to prevent them from being activated as a weapon and killing all mutants. The Phoenix manifests most strongly through Celeste, using her as its avatar, but is then diffused according to Sublime's plans among each of the cloned telepaths, boosting their powers. The Cuckoos then learn that they also shared Emma's ability to turn into a diamond form. Now referring to themselves as the Thousand-in-One and under Sublime's control, the cosmically-empowered psychics proceed to enact their programmed destiny of mutant destruction. Celeste, at Emma's behest, accepts her role as a Phoenix host and wrestles control of the Phoenix, freeing the clones from Sublime's control for the first time. However, the Phoenix goes on to destroy the thousand clones, despite their newfound freedom and desire to experience life, by shattering their newly manifested diamond forms as well as Esme and Sophie. Disgusted by the destruction, Celeste casts the entity out of her body. However, it refuses to depart causing Celeste to reabsorb it into her own and Mindee and Phoebe's diamond hearts to end the Phoenix's destruction. Unlike Emma's diamond composition, which contains a flaw, the Cuckoo's hearts are flawless diamond. As such, the Phoenix fragment is literally sealed within their hearts. The price the sisters must pay for this is that they can never again feel emotion, leaving them more detached from others than they were before.
Post Civil War
The Stepford Cuckoos are being considered as "potential recruits" for the Initiative program. The girls are next seen helping Elixir master medical and anatomical knowledge via Beast's brain. They are soon after teleported to Limbo with the other students and captured by Belasco who has helmets placed on them to keep them asleep to prevent them from using their powers. They were freed by a newly revived X-23 and turn the tide of the battle against Belasco. When the Hulk attacks Xavier, the Astonishing X-Men, and the New X-Men, the Stepford Cuckoos contact several other X-teams such as Excalibur, the Uncanny X-team, and X-Factor to get their help. They then help Prodigy access all his forgotten knowledge and abilities to compensate for his power loss as thanks for saving them when anti-mutant terrorists known as the Purifiers' attacked the school.
The Cuckoos use Cerebro to track down Cable, who has the missing mutant baby for whom the X-Men are looking.
When the X-Men arrive at the location indicated by the Cuckoos, the baby had already been stolen by the Marauders. The Cuckoos are unable to relocate the baby telepathically, so Emma Frost orders them to focus on finding the Marauders who kidnapped it.
Following the events of the Messiah Complex, the Cuckoos rejoin the X-Men in their new home of San Francisco, along with many of their former classmates. The girls later agree to help erase Josh Foley's memory of his work with the newly reformed X-Force team, so as to help the team maintain a sense of a secrecy from the main X-Men team. They agree to keep the team a secret, primarily out of loyalty to Cyclops. The girls have recently begun to dress more individually than before, no longer wearing matching outfits. Each of them also have different hairstyles, with only one of the Cuckoos keeping their prior hairstyle.
The Cuckoos help oppose Skrull invaders in San Francisco. When the Skrulls place a blockade on all telepathic communication, they channel their telepathy through Cerebra into Emma as she attempts to find the psychic blockade and destroy it. Emma's psyche is briefly disconnected from her body and as she fights the Skrull psychics, the Cuckoos, on orders from Cyclops, use their telepathy to keep Emma's autonomic functions going. Afterward, the Cuckoos appear as supporting characters in Uncanny X-Men.
During a pitched battle between the X-Men and a pack of genetically altered versions of Predator X, the Phoenix fragments that were contained in the Cuckoos' diamond hearts leave them and depart into space for reasons unknown. During their time on Utopia, the Cuckoos begin to experience boredom and start sneaking off the island to buy DVDs of horror films. Influenced by the movies, the girls start mentally torturing their classmates using scenarios from The Twilight Zone and Ring among others. After Emma discovers this, she reveals that as a child she was a fan of the film Clash of the Titans, and that she occasionally daydreams of being in the movie herself. Realizing that she always loved teaching, Emma decides to make the Cuckoos into teachers for the island's school, thus giving them something to do with their time.
During the "Chaos War" storyline, Esme and Sophie are among the fallen X-Men members who return from the dead after what happened to the death realms. Sophie confronted Esme about her death with little resolution. During this time, Sophie befriended Thunderbird. While searching for answers among the remains of the Xavier Institute, the former X-Men were attacked by Carrion Crow: Eater of the Dead. Esme later sacrificed herself to save her sister from Carrion Crow. In the aftermath of the defeat of the Chaos King, Sophie is returned to the afterlife after reality is restored by Hercules. Thunderbird even commented that the next time that he is resurrected, it would be with Sophie.
After "Schism" Phoebe wanted to go to Westchester while Irma wanted to stay at Utopia, leaving the deciding vote to Celeste, who chose Utopia after learning that Quentin Quire was going to be at Westchester. Following the death of Charles Xavier and the appearance in the present day of the original five X-Men, the Cuckoos decide to join Cyclops's new iteration of the Xavier School.
Wolverine and the X-Men
During AvX the Stepford Cuckoos came to stay at the Jean Grey School.[volume & issue needed] When Cyclops and his team came to confront Beast about bringing the original X-Men forward in time the Cuckoos left with them. When Teen Angel tried to leave Wolverine's school Teen Jean tried to force him to stay against his will. As punishment the Cuckoos forced Teen Jean into submission and only relented after Teen Jean had learned her "lesson." Angel then left to join Cyclops's team much to Teen Jean's grief since they were supposed to stay together.
After joining the team and getting settled in, Irma changes her hair style, much to Celeste's horror, though Emma approves and encourages Irma and her sisters to be their own people. Irma spots Triage and both seem to have an attraction to each other, but neither acts on it. They later participate as members of Cyclops's team during the Battle of the Atom.[volume & issue needed]
When the time-displaced team of the original X-Men join Cyclops's team, Celeste becomes hostile towards the time-displaced teenage Jean Grey. During an excursion to a mall, Jean reveals to Celeste that Irma and Phoebe do not have a problem with her like Celeste does. The group encounters a member of the Inhumans, and the Cuckoos as well as Jean Grey are knocked out.
Powers and abilities
The Cuckoos share a telepathic hive mind. Powerful telepaths individually, their combined power is even greater than its sum. These powers allow them the psychic standards of broadcasting/receiving thoughts, mind control, planting illusions, force blasts of pure psionic energy, astral projection, etc. Their gestalt mind allows them to communicate with one another instantaneously, though the strength of their gestalt depends on their proximity to one another; the further they are from one another, the weaker their ability to connect.
Though they most often function and act as one unit, they are indeed capable of thinking and operating individually. When all five sisters were alive, Sophie was the dominant consciousness and often commanded the Cuckoos. However, as implied by Esme's actions, it is possible for another one of the Cuckoos to wrest control of the gestalt and perhaps even use the powers of all sisters without the consent and knowledge of the others. With the loss of Sophie and Esme, The Cuckoos are not as strong as they were with five.
Like their mother, Emma Frost, each Cuckoo sister also possesses the ability to transform into an organic diamond body, and as such gains invulnerability, durability, and super strength. Unlike Frost, however, their diamond forms are flawless; such that nothing can enter or escape. They demonstrate this ability by sealing the splintered fragment of the Phoenix Force inside their hearts by permanently changing their hearts to diamond, in the process sacrificing their ability to ever feel genuine emotions again. The Phoenix Force eventually manages to escape, potentially allowing the sisters to regain their emotions. During the Warsong series, the Cuckoos gained the power of flight and pyrokinesis, presumably from Phoenix-induced telekinesis.
Additionally, the Cuckoos have demonstrated telekinesis.
The power level of the Cuckoos, in all of their incarnations, have been reported by many of the staff at Xavier's School to be extremely impressive and strong.
Esme Cuckoo was the first to split from her sisters, falling in love with Shi'ar-soldier Stuff who disguised itself as a student. She soon attempts to murder Frost, and was later revealed to be the one responsible for the events that killed Sophie. Wanting to seize control of the Cuckoos but encountering resistance from Sophie, Esme used the drug Kick on herself to augment her own psychic powers and take control of the Stepford Cuckoos' group mind. Esme manipulated her sister Sophie into also using the drug Kick in order to overexert her telepathic powers to the point of death. Esme returned in the Planet X storyline, in which it was revealed that Esme had been working for Xorn the entire time, and that she had developed a crush on him. However, Esme turned on him and tried to destroy his mind after he rejected her affections. Xorn reluctantly was forced to kill her. She dies in Emma's arms, who tells Esme that out of all the Cuckoos, she was most proud of her.
Sophie Cuckoo's personality is explored just before her death. She was stated as always being the dominant mind amongst her sisters. When Quentin Quire began a riot on the Xavier Campus, Sophie was "inspired to heroism" and used Kick to strengthen her powers and fight him. The strain killed Sophie, though it was secretly Esme's psychic influence that ultimately pushed her toward death. She has since been portrayed in other realities as the most free-thinking of the Cuckoos.
Irma "Mindee" Cuckoo
Mindee Cuckoo was the next Cuckoo to be written with a distinct personality. She had a relationship with another student, Germaine, who was killed by an anti-mutant mob when the students were trapped in a building in the aftermath of Xorn's destruction of Manhattan. She then had a combative relationship with Jay Guthrie who was always interrupting her while she played the piano. She later helped Gambit during Exodus's Brotherhood's attack on the school. Her real first name is "Irma".
Irma has now dyed her hair and cut it short; she is now a brunette. Triage is attracted to her and the feeling might be mutual.
During the events of Warsong, Celeste Cuckoo expressed fears of losing touch with her sisters, changing personalities, and wielding the Phoenix Force. According to Emma, she is the tattletale of the group. She eventually accepted her powers, killing the Thousand-in-One clones and her resurrected sisters per the cosmic judgment of Phoenix. Disgusted by the destruction the Phoenix caused, she tried to expel the Phoenix fragment from her body, but was instead forced to seal it inside Mindee's, Phoebe's, and her own diamond hearts. She is portrayed as the most compassionate of all the Cuckoos.
Upon meeting a teenage Jean Grey who was brought to the present by Beast, Celeste takes an instant dislike towards her and they are constantly bickering.[volume & issue needed] When Irma decides to change her hair style and act more like an individual, Celeste is horrified at the thought of losing her connection to her sister.[volume & issue needed] Much to her despair, Emma welcomes the sisters' growing individuality.[volume & issue needed] Celeste also finds that her sisters both have little problem with Jean, furthering their divide.[volume & issue needed]
Phoebe Cuckoo demonstrated a power-hungry personality during the events of Warsong. In contrast to Celeste, who feared the consuming power of the Phoenix, Phoebe desired power out of the sheer affinity for wielding it. She readily embraced the Phoenix and enjoyed the destructive power it gave her.
Originally, the first letter of each of the Cuckoo's names was supposed to spell out the word "spice" when put in proper sequence, Sophie, Phoebe, Irma, Celeste and Esme, a reference to the British pop group, the Spice Girls. However, Grant Morrison never mentioned the name of the fifth Cuckoo (the one whose name was supposed to start with "I") during his run on New X-Men, and it was only later on that this fifth Cuckoo was named "Mindee" by Chuck Austen, who was unaware of Morrison's Easter egg. However, writer Matt Fraction later rectified this, stating that Mindee's real first name was Irma, thus restoring the original acronym.
They were first called the Stepford Cuckoos in New X-Men, vol. 1 #123 (April 2002), which was also the first issue in which Esme was named. Sophie, Phoebe, Celeste, and Mindee were named in New X-Men, vol. 1 #134 (January 2003), New X-Men, vol. 1 #149 (January 2004), New X-Men, vol. 1 #153 (April 2004), and New X-Men, vol. 1 #156 (June 2004), respectively. In the New X-Men: Academy X Yearbook, their last name was confirmed as "Cuckoo" and their codename as the "Three-in-One".