The Science Behind the Shapeshifters of the Marvel Universe
A person is walking down 5th Street in New York when a car alarm goes off behind them. They spin around, and see a terrifying monster, moments away from wreaking havoc on the entire tristate area. So close to the danger, they would be one of the first victims, if it weren’t for their one incredible super power: shapeshifting! They get into position and change into the form of-
Well it depends. See, there are actually lots of different kinds of shapeshifters, especially in the Marvel universe. It really comes down to the limits of a person’s power and the specific “sciences” behind their abilities to change their size, appearance, cellular structure, and more. Let’s shift gears and learn about all the different types of shapeshifters in Marvel comics.
You might be most familiar with metamorphs — shapeshifters who can only take the shape of other human forms. They cannot change their size, and they can’t adapt their body to non-humanoid shapes. Mystique is the prime example of a metamorph. She’s an incredibly talented metamorph who is even able to mimic the exact voices of every person that she imitates when she successfully manipulates the structure of her vocal cords.
This indicates that she also has the ability to imitate the internal anatomical aspects of other humans, as well as rearrange her own biological structure. However, she is not able to copy the memories of others. Mystique gets all of her information through extraordinary reconnaissance missions.
The next common type of shapeshifter is the micro/megamorph — shifters who have the ability to change size, sometimes adding or subtracting mass to their person. Two of the most well-known micro/megamorphs in the Marvel universe are Ant-Man and The Wasp. Through the use of Pym Particles, they are able to shift their size and maintain or change their mass while bypassing the square-cube law of surface area and volume.
When they shrink down, their mass is extended into an extradimensional space, retaining their strength because technically they are not losing any mass. If they grow in size like Giant-Man, they borrow additional mass from the Kosmos Dimension, making them proportionally stronger and larger. Although, there are upper limits to this megamorphing. The larger they grow, the more strength is required to hold them upright.
Shapeshifting takes an interesting twist when you talk about a polymorph — shapeshifters who can change the mass of their own body, expanding, stretching, reforming, and even contracting it like fluids. Does that sound familiar?
Think about Mister Fantastic. His power, often referred to as plasticity, makes him effectively impervious to punctures, and can even make parts of himself denser in order to protect himself from impact. He’s able to contain explosions, and he’s absorbed the impact from a 150 billion ton mountain. Polymorphs function, really, in any form that they’d like.
Kamala Khan, AKA Ms. Marvel, has even become famous for “embiggening” herself to fight crime. Though she is most known for limb elongation and size alterations, her control extends to the molecular level — she also has limited healing capabilities due to this molecular control. Once, she even transformed into Carol Danvers during a super heroic identity crisis.
On a more terrifying note, symbiotes can also be considered polymorphs. That’s right, symbiotes like Venom and Carnage, with their ability to change arms into scythes and bodies into ooze, are polymorphs. Even Thor’s fearsome foe Gorr the God Butcher has some polymorphic ability since his sword, All-Black the Necrosword, is formed from the shadow of Knull (the creator of the first symbiotes).
Now these next two categories have a large amount of overlap. Bodimorph is the ability to change the body’s entire elemental state — turning into metal like Colossus, or turning into diamond like Emma Frost. Likewise, the villain Absorbing Man can duplicate the material structure of anything he touches, and has often been defeated by being tricked into mimicking a vulnerable, less powerful compound like paper or gas. The mutant Husk can shed her skin and reveal new compositional states of matter beneath, such as reptile skin or hardened stone.
Characters whose bodimorphic abilities are limited, like Colossus and Emma, also fall into a secondary category: transmorphs. These are shapeshifters who are only able to change between two set states. Colossus can only switch between flesh and metal. Emma Frost can only switch between flesh and diamond.
Marvel’s most well known transmorphs are the big green cousins Hulk and She-Hulk. They each shapeshift back and forth between two specific, gamma-irradiated states. In these states, their size, mass, and strength also increases exponentially. Notably, Bruce Banner has always struggled maintaining his non-radiated psyche in his Hulk form, while Jennifer Walters has had much more success in this area.
Shapeshifting in the Marvel universe reaches the pinnacle of its power with omnimorphs — shapeshifters who are able to change their mass, internal structure, and assume human and non-human forms, even appearing as inanimate, inorganic objects.
The most recognizable omnimorph is the God of Mischief, Loki. He can change his body into any imaginable shape, object, or form. There is no limit to the ways that Loki can change his body, even functioning as a snake, a pigeon, or a bee. However, Loki isn’t the only omnimorph around. The entire alien race of Skrulls are natural omnimorphs. No wonder those secret invasions were such a big deal.
Super heroes come in all shapes and sizes — and colors and dimensions and minerals and … well, you get it. The shapeshifters of the Marvel universe certainly know how to maintain form over function!
Which type of shapeshifter would you most like to be? Keep the conversation going over at side.show/geekgroup, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!