The sprawling, rotating cast of the X-Men universe includes a wide variety of strangeness. Mutants with hollow bones, shapeshifting tattoos, and even stars for brains are par for this very weird course. The problem with these casual miracles is they're confusing. Throw multiple writers into the mix and it's hard to know what the heroes and anti-heroes can do, much less how they do it. Here are some of the X-Men who have confused and confounded writers and fans alike, along with the physics that underpin these oddball abilities.
10 Kitty Pryde
Kitty’s phasing power seems more straightforward than her heroic alias-- is she Ariel, Pixie, or Shadowcat? Bullets pass through her; she can walk through walls, and on air or water. How does this physical impossibility work, though?
Atoms have a solid nucleus, but their electron cloud is mostly space. Kitty slips her atoms through those empty places in other objects. However, her strangeness doesn't end there. Kitty survived an extended stay in space by remaining phased for months. She returned to Earth noticeably unchanged. No hair or fingernail growth, no sleeping, eating, or bathroom breaks. When she phases she's selectively energy-neutral. The laws of thermodynamics, including entropy, don't apply to her. This explains why she destroys electronics when she phases through them. Electrical energy is canceled out by her phased atoms.
Teleportation seems simple-- instant transportation through space and time. The only mystery for Kurt Wagner seems to be why he makes stinky clouds when he poofs. Again, there’s more here than readers might assume.
Kurt doesn’t simply teleport, folding space within his home dimension. He slips rapidly between dimensions, circumventing the space in between the “gates” he creates on either end of his departure and destination. His distinctive *BAMF* is the result of air pressure on either side of his personal wormhole explosively equalizing between the “Brimstone Dimension” and Kurt’s. This has been a problem for the demon-faced mutant, as he’s accidentally teleported into other dimensions for extended stays, stranding himself. Dimension-hopping is very hard on the body, as well. Kurt has passed out from overexertion and even knocked out opponents by bringing them along with him on multiple ‘ports.
Explaining psychic powers is tricky. Most energy powers have an identifiable energy source. With psionics, the human brain is somehow the source. In this scenario, thinking creates energy in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics or is channeling energy from some unknown dimension.
Which brings us to Chamber. His psionic powers both wrecked his body and sustained his life. He destroyed his throat and lungs with a misplaced thought, but his telekinesis preserved him. Even when he was asleep it preserved him. What's more, Chamber was a powerful telepath. He could throw his mental voice and even shred minds, which might have been specialized telekinesis as well. Since he couldn't read minds, remote stimulation, or destruction of human brain cells via telekinesis, might help explain this power. His other telekinetic talents included the ability to create and throw fire, like the Human Torch but without the low-level fusion. Given that he had no evident energy source, what couldn't Jono do?
Chamber might have been limited by scale, or by his imagination. When he was killed by Harpoon, he was already missing major organs. Why didn't his powers save him? Maybe he thought he'd taken a mortal wound, and that was enough to kill him.
Part Matter-Eater Lad, part Cronenbergian body horror, Maggott was strange enough to have fit into the X-Statix better than the X-Men. Maggott’s mutation involved a symbiotic relationship with two slug-worm things, Eany and Meany, that served as his digestive system. They could eat anything, including bombs, and after feeding gave him a brief burst of super toughness and strength.
How did this work? The slugs must have been converting matter into energy directly, disintegrating what they ate in a process like cold nuclear fusion. However, that would result in an enormous blast of energy-- making Maggott less a superhero and more a bomb. Helpfully, the worms only gave Maggott as much energy as his body could usefully handle, recycling the rest to power themselves and their disintegration powers.
Dazzler? The shiny mutant pop star? Doesn’t she just… glow? She doesn't get enough credit. Her powers are some of the more complex and interesting in comics.
Alison Blaire doesn’t create light, she absorbs sound energy like an electromagnetic battery. She turns the sound energy into light. This means that she turns heartbeats into laser blasts, traffic noise into holograms, and songs into sonar. It also means she can silence an area, cutting short political rallies or putting the clumsiest heroes into stealth mode. Her sound absorption powers seem to have no upper limits - she’s even managed to absorb Black Bolt’s city-destroying voice. Even the explosive death of an entire galaxy only helped power her up.
Cyclops’ brother/rival is best known for his bad temper and uncontrolled plasma blasts. That said, Alexander Summers’ powers are strangely similar to Dazzler’s. He constantly absorbs electromagnetic radiation, in this case the background “cosmic radiation” mostly filtered out by Earth’s atmosphere, and releases it in blasts hot enough to vaporize titanium. He’s not limited to just powering himself up with cosmic rays, either. He's absorbed visible light to fuel his powers and has survived a trip inside of a star by absorbing its heat and radiation. How he survived the crushing gravity is anyone's guess.
Havok can also fly by focusing his powers on the ground like a rocket, a bit like traveling by nuclear explosion. The take-off and landing must be rough on innocent bystanders.
Sean Cassidy's powers all stem from his "sonic scream," which... wait. Aren't all screams sonic?
Regardless, Banshee used his operatic singing voice to blast foes, echolocate, and even fly by riding the sound waves he projected. All of this indicates that Banshee's scream has physical substance and is an invisible but solid object that exists for a fraction of a second at a time. Sound waves are sometimes used in contemporary technology to pulverize kidney stones or map ocean floors, so this gives most applications of his power some credibility.
However, to use his powers Cassidy had to scream non-stop. If he stopped to breathe while he was flying he would die. The key to Banshee's survival was an incredible combination: vocal stamina, breath control, an unconscious mastery of circular breathing, and a nearly indestructible larynx. Even then it has to be assumed that Cassidy’s body was also impervious to sonic damage, or else his powers would have torn him apart. Perhaps he absorbed and dispersed sound energy once it crossed a certain threshold? If so, he could have practically lived inside of a jet engine and never worried about hearing loss.
Colossus’ kid sister Illyana's powers came from a combination of intense mystical training and a mutant talent for teleportation. In both cases, her powers are connected to the demonic dimension Limbo. Similar to Nightcrawler and his “Brimstone Dimension,” Illyana’s trips through time and space always start with a short trip through Limbo. She is this other dimension’s ruler and Sorceress Supreme. Inside of Limbo itself, she’s able to reshape matter and energy in a godlike manner, arresting age and even death. Again, the laws of thermodynamics have stopped working in this case, but it's also a different dimension with presumably different laws of physics. Also: magic.
Good luck is a relatively common power in the Marvel Universe. Neena Thurman isn't even the only X-Man with this talent. However, she is one of the more interesting expressions of the concept. Her quirk subconsciously alters probability in her favor, as long as she takes an active role in things. In order to change the odds she has to take incredible risks, requiring courage and amazing self confidence. Her powers can rescue her from danger as long as there's the slightest chance that things can work out for her. However, the moment those odds drop to zero, her powers will fail-- and probably kill her in the process. When you constantly live on the edge of the impossible, how can you even recognize it any more? Domino's philosophy seems to be 'Don't overthink it.' If she did, she'd probably never be able to take another ridiculous chance.
Jubilation Lee’s power to create fireworks is sometimes called “lumikinesis,” which implies the mental manipulation of light. However, since it works by the “detonation of matter on a molecular level,” it's more accurate to call her a pyrokinetic. She starts tiny-- or large-- explosive fires in the air. Random ignition of discrete gas molecules makes it look like fireworks, but it’s really Jubilee burning tiny pieces of the universe with her mind.
Pyrokinesis itself is best thought of as a form of telekinesis. TK is moving things with one's mind. PK is mentally moving molecules, speeding them up until they react with oxygen and combust. Jubilee's fireworks are an example of an incredibly dangerous power working on a very small scale.