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So, this is a question one of my biology teachers asked me back in High School, but I can't find the reasoning I'd need.

I think it would be something like this:

  • X-Men : they were born with a modified DNA.
  • Fantastic Four : they were bombarded by cosmic rays, that changed their DNA.

So, X-Men could be plausible (depending of the mutation of course), since we are all born with some mutated DNA. But, exposure to cosmic rays can't change your DNA like that, and even if it doesn't kill you instantly, the mutated DNA couldn't last (I mean it would be erased from our body, wouldn't it?).

I think we've talked (really briefly) about that when we was learning about the inheritance of mutation.

So, could anyone bring some more details? Is that reasoning correct?

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closed as not constructive by Joe Wreschnig, Sachin Shekhar, John O, Kyle Jones, BBlake Dec 14 '12 at 17:59

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In the interests of being good-natured, I will attempt a partial answer here. Know that I've flagged the question and requested editing it quite a bit however. Few if any of the X-Men characters are realistic/plausible. Wolverine comes the closest, but even his healing ability is too exaggerated to ever really be possible. Xavier's talents are wholly unsubstantiated phenomena. Cyclops' ability is just plain silly... how would it not burn right through his eyeballs (singular? never saw underneath the visor)? And the mutations... these are single base pair or codon mutations, and do all that? –  John O Sep 21 '12 at 20:49

5 Answers 5

Long time Comic Aficionado, so I am going to take this one:

  • So we can all be on solid ground, neither superhero group is by our current knowledge of genetics, physics, biochemistry, mathematics even remotely possibly able to perform any of the feats they have displayed over their 40+ years of comic history. Not even remotely.

With that scientific disclaimer out of the way:

  • The X-men are at least potentially more scientifically feasible only because the explanation given for their existence is based in a misunderstanding of science and the theory of evolutionary mutation.

  • Mutation in nature is a accidental response to environmental pressures on a species to adapt new physical features to survive the environmental changes over time.

  • Mutation is an incremental, long-term evolutionary process, normally taking generations to occur. While nature does support the a theory of cellular mutation called somatic hypermutation, it happens at the cellular level only.

  • Given that mutation is a response to an evolutionary pressure, what threat, pray tell, would drive Humanity to develop such dangerous weaponized physical and mental abilities in response? And if this were classic mutation, every one of the mutants in the X-men would have had forebears with similar, but less effective mutations in earlier generations.

The Fantastic Four's origin, like so many classic Marvel heroes in the 60s is based on an false concept that radiation can induce spontaneous beneficial mutation in a single life form that results in a transformation other than DEATH from exposure to dangerous levels of radiation (in this case, solar and high energy cosmic radiation).

  • Yes, radiation can and does induce mutation (see above) but this occurs over time and due to slow environmental radiation effects.

  • Radiation exposure such as the Fantastic Four, Daredevil or the Hulk had received should have caused them to suffer terrible radiation burns, lose their hair, have their cellular activity significantly disrupted, potentially leading to radiation-induced cancers and eventual death due to acute radiation syndrome or radiation poisoning.

So, does this mean neither hero group COULD exist? Under the premises their current powers were defined by, not without outside influences. So how does Marvel rationalize this? They use an outside, extraterrestrial species whose mastery of genetic engineering and manipulation allow they to weaponize the genome of humanity to produce both mutants (the X-men) and mutates (the Fantastic Four).

  • Using the premise of the Celestials, the weaponized forms of all of the X-men's and Fantastic Fours abilities are not only possible but the frightening conclusion to an experiment that has lasted 40,000 years in the Marvel Universe.

  • Only with outside manipulation could the X-men tap into energies or matter from parallel realities (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Colossus) manipulate electromagnetic phenomena (Storm, Iceman), tap into the electromagnetic signatures of human minds (Professor X, Jean Grey, Psylocke) or unleash heretofore unreachable physical potentials (Beast, Wolverine) to name just a few. This is the same for the Fantastic Four whose powers also violate physics (the Human Torch), manipulate reality (The Invisible Woman) or test the boundary of human physiology (Mr. Fantastic and the Thing).

  • In this way, the Fantastic Four and the X-men are very similar in how their abilities are manifested and how they are used. But no explanation using modern science as we know it could otherwise produce such fantastic personalized weapon technology in a human package.

Also See Stack Article answer to: Is there a set limit on mutant abilities, where they're deemed too unrealistic?

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I dub thee "The Grand Poobah* of comic book Aficionados. –  Major Stackings Sep 21 '12 at 23:20
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Nitpicks: radiation poisoning kills you within days, weeks at most. Cancer caused by radiation happens much later (possibly decades later). Mutation is absolutely NOT a "response" to anything. Its occurrence and effects are completely random. It only indirectly results in adaption to environmental changes by creating (along with many cripples that die quickly) sometimes an individual with traits that allow it to survive better and pass on this traits to many descendants. –  Michael Borgwardt Dec 13 '12 at 15:04

There is one very central point where the X-men are more realistic, close to what you wrote:

So, X-Men could be plausible (depending of the mutation of course), since we are all born with some mutated DNA.

Correct.

But, exposure to cosmic rays can't change your DNA like that, and even if it doesn't kill you instantly, the mutated DNA couldn't last (I mean it would be erased from our body, wouldn't it?).

Not exactly, but any given mutation occurs in a single cell. One single cell cannot plausibly give you superpowers, and eventually it dies (which might be considered "erasing" the mutation). To affect your whole body, one of these things would have to happen:

  • An identical mutation occurs simultaneously in all your cells. Ridiculously unlikely (actually less likely than many things that people consider impossible).
  • The affected cell multiplies and replaces your other cells. This happens all the time. It's called cancer.
  • The affected cell passes the DNA change to other cells. Bacteria can do this, but not the highly specialized human cells. Viruses do something similar, and there are real-world attempts to use viruses to cure genetic disorders (gene therapy). But then, there's nothing to restrict it to an individual. A superpower that can be passed on to everyone else would be great in real life, but bad for the concept of a superhero.
  • The affected cell is the egg or the sperm from which all other cells of your body inherit the mutation - i.e. how the X-Men appear.
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I think this is a good question. Mainly because it's not asking if they ARE realistic but why does one SEEM more so than the other. I think it's because of two main factors origin and symbolism.

The origin of the FF is pretty much impossible to even attempt to justify with science. Even revamps don't really bring in a good scientific explanation for the powers they are given. Mr. Fantastic and the FF would be more believable if magic was what they dealt with instead of science. There is not one example in nature or myth of humans getting these abilities. So the origin doesn't resonate with the general public.

The symbolism of the FF is science can amaze. The problem is that nothing they do seems scientific. Their powers, enemies and solutions to problems are all in the realm of fantasy instead of science. Yet they use science or super science as the explanation behind all of their adventures.

The X-men have one origin story. Charles Xavier wanted to teach mutants to gain control of their powers and to help mankind. However each member has their own origin as well some of them are seemingly close to possible (psychic powers, super strength) some are pretty ridiculous (being a gas cloud, shooting energy from your eyes) but each one is justified by one seemingly actual scientific principle. Evolution. A quasi or even laughable scientific explanation for a power can be rationalized because all of them are based off of mutation which is supported by evolution.

X-men also symbolize individuality and oppression. Each character has unique powers which means you can pick your favorite character. Which may be the base of the popular "if you could have one power what would it be?" question. Also the mutants despite being powerful are an oppressed race. That resonates with everyone.

The X-men seem more realistic because you can relate to them more and the science behind them seems more plausible.

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I'm going to have to disagree with the Thaddeus over the concept of mutation (which he is combining with evolution). Mutations are changes to our DNA. These changes occur due to two primary reasons: damage (e.g., radiation, viruses, mutagenic chemicals) and evolution. Thus, I would say mutations do not have to be responses to anything. They could be simple errors in DNA replication.

Furthermore, mutations are not a long-term process. It only takes one small change in our DNA to effect us tremendously. Fortunately (or unfortunately for us), most of these changes do not manifest physically. But some do. Here is a list of genetic disorders caused by mutations. And here are a few mutations worthy of a superpower. There's a girl who grows nails from her hair follicles, people with extra body parts (tails, arms, toes, fingers), people with webbed feet, people with no hair on their bodies, people with hair all over their bodies...I could go on and on.

Of course, it is unlikely for any mutations to cause us to control the weather or gain telepathic powers.

But anyways, back to the question. I have to say X-men are definitely more realistic than the Fantastic Four. Although both are the result of mutations, the Fantastic Four was from a single event where they were hit by so much radiation (i.e., damage!) it should have killed them yet their bodies changed drastically overnight. The X-men, on the other hand, are just a collection of random people that simply share some kind of mutation.

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I am agree with you for the case of Fantastic Four that exposure to cosmic rays can't change your DNA to a superhuman DNA but it have opposite effect. There is only Health threat from cosmic rays.

But i am not agree with you for X-Men are more realistic. In my opinion they are also non realistic. There are so many X-Men powers that can never be happened like this in any condition . Specially with Cyclops as mentioned by John O in a comment .

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