Wolverine’s Claws Versus Anatomy

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.

Cross section

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.

 Posterior Exterior antebrachiumPosterior Deep antebrachium

              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.

Wolverine AnatomyWolverine Antebrachium X-Ray

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?

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5 Responses to Wolverine’s Claws Versus Anatomy

  1. jcmah says:

    The human body is such an amazing work of art, it’s really difficult to believe how it all came about. Everything seems to have some kind of purpose behind it (yes, even the appendix, in recent studies…). As one of my professors once said, “Mother Nature is very smart! She knows exactly what she’s doing.” That being said, I’m sure few people have actually stopped to think about how Wolverine’s claws actually work. Not surprising, given the nature of the superhero and fantasy genre in general.

    We all know, while we’re reading, that everything is fictional, so we can allow for some nonsensical things. However, sometimes, things might just be so absurd (given the universe that it occurs in) that we can’t help but think “This is ridiculous, it would never happen.” I think this “suspension of disbelief” holds a very important role in the world of fiction. One can bend the rules of nature to create a story, but bend them too far and it just seems silly.

    Thanks for sharing this “analysis” of Wolverine’s claws! I’d rather like to see a superhero with the powers you’ve suggested at the end!

    I’ve also run across an article recently that, like you’ve done here, uses science to “de-bunk” common superpowers. I found it quite amusing, haha, maybe have a look!

    Justin Mah

  2. caitg says:

    I’m so glad that someone else thinks of these things, too. While I agree that the whole point of a superhero is that it is fiction, I frequently find myself sitting in movies or reading a comic book and wondering why the characters are managing to go about their day-to-day lives with whatever ability it is they have, or wondering if the creators really thought their ideas through before tossing them out on paper and calling it a day. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. benwong2369 says:

    the line between fantasy and reality is of course not a very thin line, but it`s a nice to seek a fatastical theory to explain things sometimes. But I always find myself questioning how some heroes can get away with their powers, aside from Marvel or DC just saying “the laws of physics just don’t apply to them” I mean c’mon are you serious?
    Wolverine’s claws especially, how could foot long metal claws retract into your forearm without doing some sort of muscular or nervous damage? the science behind it, is well there isn’t any science to it at all, it’s all fantastical. Sure almost everything we read in comics is fictional and everyone reading should read with an open mind that anything is possible but one can’t help but always wonder how things work.
    Anatomically, you’ve already proved that his foot long claws don’t even fit into the forearms, heck even with a full retraction of the claws he shouldn’t even be able to bend his elbows!
    all in all however, I like reading comics with an open mind and sometimes I just throw all sense out the window, otherwise it’s really hard to enjoy a comic on heroes with powers that can bend the fabric of reality.
    Thanks for the post!

    Ben

  4. Summer says:

    Just laying in bed and I start thinking to myself, “how do those claws even work? What’s his anatomy like?”

    Thank you for helping me with my late night research

  5. Corndog says:

    I have also wondered how exactly his claws were supposed to work with things such as bending his wrist, or having them rip right out of his arm when he hits something with them. It always bugged me as a kid.

    RE this particular article though, just playing devils advocate, given that he is a ‘mutant’, has it occurred to anyone that the anatomy in his arm might be extremely different from a normal human specifically to accommodate his claws?

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