In the X-Men: First Class movie, Charles and Erik team up to stop Sebastian Shaw aboard his submarine. Once exposed, Charles uses his powers to freeze Shaw. Erik uses his own powers to force the coin through Shaw's head, killing him.

But earlier in the movie, we saw demonstrations of Shaw's powers.

He survived grenade blasts, gunshots, RPG's and intended to detonate himself with the power of a nuclear blast - all by absorbing the energy and redirecting it as he saw fit.

How could a simple coin kill him?

  • 2
    I always assumed that Xavier was suppressing his ability, which allowed Magneto to kill him.
    – NominSim
    Jul 31, 2013 at 2:44
  • @NominSim Charles repeatedly told Erik that he disagreed with Erik's intentions of killing Shaw.
    – phantom42
    Jul 31, 2013 at 3:55
  • He did, but from what I remember of the scene, Xavier didn't want Shaw to kill Magneto neither, so he kept restraining Shaw.
    – Jared
    Jul 31, 2013 at 5:13
  • 11
    I'd always assumed he died cause he just had a coin rip through his brain.
    – PiousVenom
    Jul 31, 2013 at 13:05

5 Answers 5


My take was that this was a combination of being restrained - either simply physically (via mental control) or his powers - and that the use of a simple coin at low speed prevented any effective absorption & redirection of the energy. This may well be my fondness for Dune and the shields that Frank Herbert describes which will deflect a speedy hit but are vulnerable to low-speed penetration.

  • 7
    Is there any evidence that A) Shaw's power is not a passive power and that it requires actual active focus or B) that Xavier can affect passive powers?
    – phantom42
    Jul 31, 2013 at 12:48
  • 3
    I'm no expert on physics, but even the slow moving small coin would still need an impressive amount of pressure/energy to penetrate through the human skull.
    – Jared
    Jul 31, 2013 at 22:35
  • The same happens with space ship shields in Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (good to stop speedy objects, but permeable to slow ones), If I remember well... Aug 1, 2013 at 3:04
  • 1
    @Pureferret I think what we're referencing is trying to find a way to shoehorn "f-ing magic" into our own reference model, so really is it worth the hair-splitting? Friction is still a factor in the shear in non-newtonian liquid so perhaps we can think Shaw exploits friction somehow to redirect/channel energy, and reducing it limits his effectiveness.
    – Don
    Jan 28, 2014 at 17:03
  • 4
    If his power was always on, would not he freeze things into absolute zero, make materials supper conductive, super-fluid, etc? He would be a frozen sliding forever popsicle thanks to the inability to lose kinetic energy. So I believe he have to intentionally control the entropy In/out. Sep 27, 2018 at 3:50

Shaw's power is to absorb and then use kinetic energy. Magneto knew he had to move the coin slowly as to create as little kinetic energy as possible.


Sebastian Shaw's power is the ability to absorb energy in pretty much any form, such as removing the kinetic energy from a bullet as it comes in contact with his skin (no more kinetic energy in the bullet means his skin is enough to stop it as there is no more force behind the object to continue to add velocity), or the radiation (pure form of energy) from a reactor.

Also note that apparently there is a limit to how much energy Shaw can absorb at any given instant in time (a resistance, if you will, possibly measurable). Examples of this include Shaw's repeated acts to absorb power from the sub's reactor, and the time taken to absorb the entire grenade blast.

Magneto possesses the ability to control metal objects (such as a coin) as though he were Telekinetic (with the restriction of only being able to affect specific metals). In effect, Erik uses his power to apply just enough force to the coin to slightly overcome the surface resistance of Shaw's skin/forehead and to overcome the instantaneous capacity of Shaw's energy absorption, and then keeps applying that force, even as Shaw is draining that same energy away. If there was a way to visualize what was happening, there probably was a massive amount of total energy exerted by Magneto and absorbed by Shaw, but by carefully keeping the force behind the the coin's movement at a level he could continually produce faster than Shaw could absorb it, Erik was able to keep the coin moving into Shaw until he'd actually killed him, proving that while Shaw could absorb huge amounts of energy, he wasn't really able to do all that great at absorbing 5.67 grams of Cupro-Nickel composite.


When Sebastian Shaw survived grenade blasts, gunshots, RPG's, he was at least conscious at that time to use his mutant powers. At the time he was frozen, he wasn't conscious to use his powers.

  • Other explanations make sense too, but I just interpreted it like this, he simply wasn't able to use his powers
    – Deleteman
    Jul 31, 2013 at 7:51
  • 3
    Is there any evidence that A) Shaw's power is not a passive power and that it requires actual active focus or B) that Xavier can affect passive powers?
    – phantom42
    Jul 31, 2013 at 12:48
  • 2
    Wasn't he conscious? he was simply "paralized". Aug 1, 2013 at 3:06
  • @MatemáticosChibchas No, he wasn't conscious.
    – user931
    Aug 1, 2013 at 15:35

Xavier had control of Shaw's Mind/Energy Absorbing ability to process the Function. Eric slowed the coin, as to limit amounts of Energy being noticed and harvested for use. As the coin pasted the brain's functions, it open and the energy escaped and the life force escaped. Fear entered, which Shaw never had or experienced. Shock plus energy loss equals death of life's force, exit Sebastian Shaw.

The helmet was used because Shaw knew it was the only way to his demise. That is why he took to the helmet, he feared a little and it gave away his secret to Xavier and Eric!

  • Do you have any examples from the movies or comics showing that Shaw's power requires active control to absorb energy? Everything I've seen has shown it to be completely passive - he doesn't need to do anything, energy is simply absorbed. Xavier has shown no examples in an medium where he can control powers, only minds.
    – phantom42
    Jan 14, 2014 at 17:24
  • @phantom42 just to play devil's advocate a little, Xaviar could control a persons actions, and therefor cause them to activate or deactivate their own abilities (if they had the capability to "on/off" their powers) so in a roundabout fashion he could control someone's powers.
    – Monty129
    Jan 14, 2014 at 22:00
  • 1
    @Monty129, yes - that could work on a mutant with an actively controlled power, but no one has been able to come up with any proof/examples of Shaw's absorption powers being like that.
    – phantom42
    Jan 14, 2014 at 23:30

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