X-Problems: When SCIENCE Mucks Up Your Mutants


One of the things Marvel pioneered during the Silver Age was heroes with problems. This made them more relatable to us mere mortals in a way that the lofty deity-esque characters of the DCU may not have been able to do. However, there may be some problems associated with having powers that Stan, Jack and the gang may not have anticipated, but that’s what I’m here for. Below, I present some of your most beloved characters, and what would happen to them if they really had the powers we see each week. I realize that since they’re fictional one could argue that their powers simply compensate for any problems but the point of this exercise is to have fun, not to be pedantic. The comments are for being pedantic.


Cyclops has a serious headache:

Ouch, right in the eye.Optic blasts are cool, and as we’ve learned time and time again, Cyclops beams are concussive, not thermal like Superman’s. This means the blast imparts a force against the target, but that’s not what concerns me. According to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Since the blasts leave Cyclops’ eyes at an incredible velocity with an incredible amount of force therefore that same force is imparted against Cyclops’ eyes, head and neck; just as firing a gun recoils the butt against your shoulder. Now imagine firing a gun as powerful as Cyclops’ blasts with the gun attached to your forehead… your neck just broke. It gets even wackier when you consider Scott’s origin as a boy falling out of a plane who used his burgeoning powers to lessen his fall toward the ground. Imagine falling from a plane, reaching terminal velocity, the maximum speed a falling object can have due to air resistance, and suddenly catching the entire weight from your fall on your EYES! Ouch, your eyes just popped. Can eyes pop? Who knows? Moving on…


Wolverine doesn’t feel so good:

Logan probably doesn’t visit the doctor’s office very often, and if he did he’d probably be in for some very bad news.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Logan, you’ve got cancer.”
“What kind of cancer, bub?”
“Um… All of them?”

Wolverine is the best at what he does, and one of those things is healing. The way he does this is by having his cells reproduce at a very fast pace. There’s another word for this type of uncontrolled cell-growth, and it’s called cancer. Sabertooth should probably also go in for a check-up.




Magma is hungry:

Looking mighty hot.
All superheroes, for the most part, are in ridiculous shape. Magma is no exception. Maintaining a physique like that takes work, or as I like to tell people while I’m at the beach, “A body like this doesn’t happen by accident.” When it comes to the human body all this energy comes in the form of Calories (not calories, and yes, there is a difference). The more Calories you burn, the more Calories you need to eat; it’s a pretty basic balancing act. If you want to lose weight, you need burn more Calories than you eat. However, assuming Magma’s powers are part of her inherent metabolism, this presents a problem. The immense amounts of energy output by her powers must be accounted for, presumably from the food she eats. If this is the case I think it’s fair to assume that all her time spent off panel is spent downing as much food as possible to get ready for the next big fight. Kind of puts a different perspective on the idea of burning off fat, doesn’t it?




Angel has to work on that landing:

Flying is tough. It requires a lot of adaptation to get something into the air, and the bigger the object the more effort is required. This may even become the subject of a longer post but putting a human-sized object off the ground under their own power would be a major hassle. To my knowledge, all flying vertebrates (birds, bats, and pterosaurs) have evolved a hollow bone structure to help reduce their weight making flight a little bit easier, if not possible in the first place. As far as I know Archangel also has hollow bones which would be great for flying but think about that in a combat scenario. He’d be like Mr. Glass from unbreakable. An unpowered Jubilee could probably snap Warren’s leg in half with a swift kick, not to mention some of the world-class super-strong brawlers the X-Men routinely face. Every other issue should find Warren in traction, it’s a good thing he’s loaded.






Multiple Man is breaking the law (of the universe):

Jamie Madrox is constantly popping out full sized duplicates of himself, there was even a time when this was an unfortunate side effect of getting hit. Assuming the laws of physics operate in roughly the safe way in the Marvel Universe as in our universe, this present something of a problem. Since matter cannot be created or destroyed, Madrox shouldn’t be able to create dupes quite so easily. Here’s my solution: Before creating a dupe Jamie has to “acquire” the mass necessary for another copy of himself. Basically he has to get fat enough that he can create a whole new him. Since energy is required one might argue that he’s using E=Mc^2 converting energy to mass for the new him, which is a cool idea but the reason that equation can be used to create a nuke is that the c^2 really weights things on the side of energy, producing for more energy per unit mass than the other way around. To simply, the snap that Madrox has used to create a dupe doesn’t really have enough energy to make enough mass to be a viable theory. I think you just have to accept the conversation of mass problem. And he decides to absorb a dupe he’s really gonna need to hit the gym for a few weeks…

Ryan Haupt could have looked up whether or not eyes popped, but sometimes you just don't wanna know. Similarily, no one has reported ruptured eardrums from listening to his podcast, Science… sort of (which was also about mutants problems this week), but if they were reported they probably wouldn't be heard.


  1. I believe Cyclops’ eyes were once explained as some portal and the so the beams pass through his eyes from someplace else.  In theory that would mean the force of the blast would pass back through the eyes to wherever it came from, minimizing the kickback of the eyebeams.

    I bet Jamie’s dupes have been explained away as coming from another dimension too.

  2. Yeah, Wolverine’s telomeres must be getting pretty frayed by now. 

  3. @gobo: This is a good point.  Whenever you have some sort of violation of conservation of mass (madrox), energy (magma), or angular momentum (Cyclops’ neck), you could almost always come up with the rationale that the equation is balanced in a parallel universe.  Its like the GUT of improbable superpower explanations…

  4. What if Madrox’s real power is that he creates a localized mathematics inversion field, causing E=Mc^2 to be E^2=Mc?  He would probably need a bigger number on the E side of the equation, but that might allow him to turn a smaller amount of energy into larger mass, like dupes.  However, it might mean that smaller bumps would lead to smaller dupes, and falling off of a building would lead to a Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man sized Madrox.  The real problem is that there’s no consistency: Every hit, no matter how large or small, creates the same size result. (This could be handled by number of dupes created, I suppose, but then small hits would create half-dupes, which would get… uncomfortable.  And messy.)

    Angel: The Superman solution: A localized telekinetic field.  The wings are purely aesthetic, he flies because he wills himself to fly.

    Wolverine: Totally has cancer.  Luckily, he keeps healing his own cancer.  I’m more concerned about his hearing.  If his hammer, anvil and stirrup (the small bones in the ear that vibrate to transmit sound to the brain) are made of adamantium, they would be too heavy to vibrate, and he’d be deaf.  Maybe Wolverine’s skeleton ought to be a post of its own, as well?

  5. @ gobo – OHOTMU pretty much explained almost every power as having some kind of extra-dimensional source. That’s where Bruce Banner gets the mass when he turns into the Hulk too.  Although, in Cyclops’ case this directly contradicts the actual comics where Scott’s powers (and his brother’s as well) are described as solar powered. Scott’s powers don’t blow his head back for the same reason he can block the beams with his eyelids.

    I tend to just think all superpowers have the same twin sources: fairy dust and happy thoughts.

  6. @Everyone – Man, I could put together a whole new post from the stuff you guys are bringing up. Thanks for the great discussion and feel free to keep it going so I have more material!

  7. This proves my theory that Wolverine must have every single STD known to man in history.

    He’s had sex with HOW MANY women? 

  8. @Quinn You made my head hurt with that math. I agree with you that that would be an interesting power however.

  9. I have a book somewhere called the Science of the X-Men. I’ll have to dig it up and compare.

  10. Woah, super powers are unrealistic? Stop the presses!

  11. I think that in the McFarlane Hulk v. Wolvie battle they talked about how the Hulk has cancer and that is how he has a healing factor, but they were mysteriously silent about how Wolverine’s works.  Hmmm…

    As to Warren, he now has that healing power in his blood, so he does not need to go for medical aid.  See, G-Mo’s run on X-men did do some good.

    @Quinn-Wolverine’s skeleton as a post would be fantastic idea.  Seconded.

    @TNC-Wolverine actually has no STD’s.  He has had them all, but his healing factor got rid of them.

  12. Cyclops is immune to his own power. If he is hit with his own optic blast, it has no effect on him at all. I would imagine this explains his potential problem with physics. And oddly enough, not only does his brother Havok’s powers not hurt him, they actually make him stronger if he’s on the receiving end of one of Alex’s plasma blasts. 


    Angel does have hollow bones, and I have no idea how he deals with that. Unless his bones are mutated so they are some kind of lightweight, super strong material?


    Wolverine: cancer.  

  13. Your description of Wolverine reminds me of an X-Files episode, involving the character of Leonard Betts, the man made of cancer (season 4, episode 12, see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0751153/).  

    To quote the episode summary from tv.com (http://www.tv.com/the-x-files/leonard-betts/episode/575/summary.html):

    After the body of a decapitated EMT disappears from the morgue and an identical man starts work at the same hospital, Mulder believes that the man has the ability to regrow parts of his body, including his head. The agents soon discover that Betts’ body is riddled with cancer…

    I recall Mulder making a comment in the episode that Leonard just simply IS cancer.

    As mentioned above, the dude regrows his fricking head, but you get the impression that his head (specifically brain) aren’t as important to him as they are for us, because for part of the episode he’s walking around headless seemingly aware of his actions as he prepares to regrow that place to put his hat.  

    Up until this very moment I had always assumed Lenoard had the ability to constantly "save" is mind to his DNA, so when he reconstructed his brain the memories and personality were restored — but now thinking about it, it occurs to me that might not have been necessary for him, since again his body seemed "fine" (was able to go places, and do things) even without a head.  Which makes me now think that Lenoard’s "self" must be part of all the cancer cells in the body.

    Weird and wild, huh!

    Back to Wolverine, am I mistaken, or was there some comic in which Wolverine regenerates his body from just his tongue (and maybe his brain, or something like that). I seem to recall Ron saying something like this in a possible video show. (Anyone remember this?)

  14. Okay, I think Magma is somehow joined via some sort of "wormhole conduit" to Bobby Drake a.k.a. Iceman!

    You see as Iceman is using his powers to reduce the ambient energy around him to form ice from moisture in the air (I think he does a lot of crime fighting near swimming pools, because that’s a lot of moisture!), I can only guess that heat energy is somehow getting transferred over to Magma for her to also fight crime! 

    OR perhaps Iceman is transferring that heat energy to Madrox, so he can turn it into matter to form duplicates. (Wow, Iceman must be fighting most of his criminals around boiling swimming pools or hot springs.)  And when Madrox is done with his duplicates, they can be changed back into energy, this time transferring to Magma to, once again, fight crime (or reheat those hot springs previously frozen by Iceman)!

    See, that wasn’t so tough to figure out, and it didn’t require additional universes (just strange energy transferring wormholes).

  15. I have to admit, when I encounter the word "Magma" nowadays, I can’t help but think of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies.

    (See YouTube clip: Liquid Hot Magma.)

  16. I think you could explain Angel in many different ways.  Are his bones hollow? I believe the answer is yes but I can’t remember what comic that was said in. His hollow bones could be super strong or maybe he can just heal them quickly if damaged with his powers. What about when he changes to Archangel? How does that morph his insides? Are his metal wings any heavier?

  17. I am pretty sure there is a Sabertooth one shot where it talks about Angel having bird bones.  The issue has a shiny cover and ends with some rando policeman shooting Sabertooth in the head.  On a side note… I have never seen the Beast portrayed like more of a bad ass than in this issue.