The most iconic and widespread Marvel character without much doubt would have to be Wolverine. This is partly because of his attitude, partly because of his appearance but mostly his powers, specifically the claws. They are his calling card, the only thing you need to see in order to identify Wolverine. Even if it was just his skeleton you could make an accurate ID. The true issue, even with the general view of his claws being considered awesome, is the large deviation from anatomical correctness or anatomical possibility.
Basic human anatomy has evolved for function and more importantly survival within our environment. Looking closely at the arm, there is no wasted space and all the components are condensed for maximum efficiency. Looking at cross sections of a human antebrachium is one of the fastest ways to understand how compact everything is.
Already we can see there is a problem with trying to find a location for the Adamantium claws. But unfortunately this is not where the fantasy stops. The length of the human arm is layers on layers of flexors, extensors and other connective tissue that allow for all the complex movements we use every day. These muscles again show how little room there is in the forearm, another view will show to what degree.
Now with all the realistic anatomy shown we look at Wolverine’s arms. As a point in Wolverine’s favour, if claws were present he could heal any tissue that would be destroyed with the deploying of the weapons. That is the only point in favour. Wolverine’s anatomy has been drawn and shown in a number of ways but one thing that has always been the same is the sheer size of the claws. They are huge. Where in the arm could they be stored? Looking past the fact that they would disrupt so many muscles by being internal their length makes you wonder where they begin and end. First looking at a comic and movie x-ray image we can see where it all begins to fall apart.
The first diagram shows some gross errors in anatomical structure aside from the antebrachium. For example the humerus attaching to ribs. Back to the forearm, there seems to be an extra bone but on closer inspection it’s the radius and ulna crossing to form and X (look at you own arm, just try to imagine how that would work). There is still more wrong but I need to turn my attention to a modern look at Wolverine’s arm which still slaps biological anatomy in the face. First keep in mind that Hugh Jackman’s arm was not visually altered in proportion throughout any of the X-Men movies. Yet with that we see how far apart they made his radius and ulna look in the x-ray. Remember all those muscles from the cross section and layered diagrams? Well safe to say, they are more than disrupted by the claws’ presence. Not only that but the claws themselves, while sheathed no less, go along the length of the antebrachium, past the wrist and past some metacarpals. How does Wolverine move anything below the elbow? Better yet when we see him move how much damage is he inflicting upon himself?
It’s easy to dismiss all these targeted errors as saying Wolverine is a work of fiction, but I think there is some value in analysing them. Far too often abilities and powers shown in comic books, and fiction for that matter, deviate so far from reality that it becomes preposterous. Yes everyone enjoys the fantasies developed in the superhero genre, but where do we draw the line? When the basis of biological theories comes to question it’s easy to develop a grey area of believability, but that just leaves the door open for bigger scientific lapses. Physics is usually the most altered area of reality, and to bring it back to Wolverine and for that matter any superhero/ super-villain with claws (i.e. Daken, Lady Deathstrike and Romulus). Looking at the length of the claws they would act as levers when used and would most likely pry the flesh at it fulcrum point. Yes again adding to much realism to fiction but its grounding.
All in all I have no dislike for playing with reality, nor anything against Wolverine, I just think a little knowledge can go a long way. It would be nice to see superheroes that had abilities that we can see as adaptations nature has already played with. Some examples of species with such adaptations would be Bombardier beetles (scorching liquid), Cone shells (toxic nematocyst), torpedo rays (electric shock) and rattlesnakes (infrared sensing). So what would a natural selection biased superhero comic be like?