The Stepford Cuckoos are a group of fictional mutant psychically-linked quintuplets of the Marvel Comics universe, students at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Known properly as Celeste, Esme, Mindee, Phoebe, and Sophie Cuckoo; their names, when placed in alphabetical order, also denote their respective ages-- with Celeste being the first "born" and Sophie being the youngest.
Originally calling themselves the Five-in-One, with the deaths of Esme and Sophie the remaining sisters are now known as the Three-in-One in New X-Men #149-150.
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.
Their name is an allusion to The Stepford Wives and the The Midwich Cuckoos. The Cuckoos and their abilities are roughly based on those of the "Paper-dolls", telepathic quadruplets from a 1964 novel by L. P. Davies.
Fictional character biographies
As revealed in the first issue of 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, preventing 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, 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 Magneto, then disguised as the X-Man Xorn. 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 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 Magneto, the Brotherhood turns on him, including Esme, who attacks him, angry that he did not return her affections. Magneto then kills her and she dies in Emma's arms.
Soon afterwards, the Institute is rebuilt, with Emma Frost and Cyclops as headmasters and leaders of the X-Men
. Frost and Summers divided the older students into several six-person training squads, each taught by a staff member. The remaining three Cuckoos, now calling themselves the "Three-in-One
," were assigned to the Corsairs
squad, advised by Cyclops. The three girls were the co-leaders of the squad.
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. Quentin Quire, still in love with Sophie, sensed the Phoenix and exhumed Sophie's body. He sought the Phoenix, which resurrected Sophie, but she promptly chooses to die again rather than be with him. The X-Men defeat the Phoenix, though a shard of it in firefly form locates one of the Cuckoos, who replies, "What took you so long?"
In the wake of House of M, in which the vast majority of the world's mutant population was depowered, the Cuckoos retained their powers. With few students left, the squad system was dissolved and Emma Frost placed the remaining students into an all-out brawl to determine who would be part of an in-training X-Men team. The Cuckoos, still resentful of Emma, refused to participate.
Weapon Plus & Phoenix - Warsong
In New X-Men #154 (May 2004), Grant Morrison's last issue of New X-Men, 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 new found 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 Pheonix'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 Cerebra to track down Cable
, who has the missing mutant baby that the X-Men are looking for.
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 stole 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 began to dress more individually than before, no longer wearing matching outfits.
The Cuckoos help oppose Skrull invaders in San Francisco.
Powers and abilities
The Cuckoos share a telepathic hive mind
. Powerful telepaths individually, their combined power is even greater than the sum of its parts. 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 becomes completely impervious to harm. Unlike Frost, however, their diamond forms are flawless; such that nothing can enter or escape. They can never feel emotion, even when in their "normal" tissue forms, due to having permanently changed their hearts to diamond in order to seal in a destructive shard of the Phoenix Force. During the Warsong series, the Cuckoos were also observed to have gained the power of flight and pyrokinesis, presumably from Phoenix-induced telekinesis. With the Phoenix fragment splintered and held captive inside of their diamond hearts, it has yet to be revealed if the sisters have retained their ability to fly.
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: She was the first to split from her sisters, falling in love with Shi'ar-soldier Stuff who disguised itself as a student. This led to a recurring writer's joke about the other Cuckoos always disliking their sisters' boyfriends. 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's 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 turns 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: Sophie 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.
- Mindee: She 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' Brotherhood's attack on the school. She is unable to feel emotions after the events of Warsong.
- Celeste: During the events of Warsong, Celeste expressed fear of losing touch with her sisters, their changing personalities, and in wielding the Phoenix Force. She eventually accepted her powers, killing the clones and her resurrected sisters per the cosmic judgment of Phoenix. She was then disgusted by the destruction of the Phoenix and tried to expel it from her body, eventually sealing it inside of her and her remaining sisters, leaving her emotionless.
- Phoebe: Phoebe demonstrated a power-hungry personality during the events in Phoenix 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. She is also unable to feel emotion after the Phoenix is sealed away inside of 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, S
eleste and E
sme. 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. They were first called the Stepford Cuckoos in New X-Men
#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
#134 (January 2003), New X-Men
#149 (January 2004), New X-Men
#153 (April 2004), and New X-Men
#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".
In a reality where after the Hulk was jettisoned into space and discovered by Annihilus, killing him and taking the Annihilation Wave to Earth, Sophie, Esme and Mindee appear as one of the few remaining superhumans. Sophie has detached herself from the two remaining Cuckoos and is dating Quentin Quire
, while Esme and Mindee remain like their original depictions in the main Marvel universe.
Here Comes Tomorrow
In the "Here Comes Tomorrow
" timeline, 150 years from now, Celeste, Mindee and Phoebe are members of the X-Men and operators of Cerebra, having merged with the machine, and calling themselves the "Three-in-One
." Their psychic powers have also been amplified, allowing them to see the future. They remain young in appearance, despite the long time that has passed. With the release of the Warsong series this can be attributed to the nanites in their bodies and their origins as Weapon XIV created by the World.
House of M
In House of M
, the quintuplets were part of the New Mutant Leadership Program at the United Nations. From the five, Sophie appeared to be the one with the stronger personality. Sophie joined Prodigy
and the rest of the New Mutants on their trip to Japan to find Seiji Ashida, while Celeste, Esme, Mindee, and Phoebe remained on New York, though they agreed to maintain the secret. Sophie was later killed in Japan by anti-mutant terrorists.
X-Men: The End
In the alternate future depicted in X-Men: The End
, Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe have each developed their own look and now call themselves "the Spikes
." Phoebe has long, brown hair, Mindee has long, blond hair, and Celeste has short, black hair.
In other media
The Stepford Cuckoos appear as antagonists in the video game X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
voiced by Jennifer Hale
Three identical blond girls were shown in the background in an Institute Scene in X-Men: The Last Stand
. Writer Zak Penn confirmed in a chat that these were indeed the Stepford Cuckoos.
The Stepford Cuckoos will make their television debut on Wolverine and the X-Men
, as members of the Hellfire Club.