That’s some good ink, bub.
August 19, 2019 7:54 PM   Subscribe

Wolverine has regenerative powers. A lot of vampires, werewolves, and similar creatures have the same. Can they get and keep tattoos, or would their powers erase them?
posted by curious nu to Science & Nature (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Keep. It's an addition of ink, not a wound.
posted by amtho at 8:06 PM on August 19, 2019

Well, it is a wound, or rather a series of tiny wounds, but on a normal person the wound part gradually heals and the ink remains. So fast healers would be able to get a tattoo without the annoying week of itching/soreness. (And maybe without the flaking? I'm not sure.) The ink is deposited pretty much at the same time as the puncture is made, so I don't think anyone heals fast enough to make tattooing impossible.

For someone with invulnerable skin, on the other hand, tattooing would basically just be like drawing on yourself with a pen. That said, I don't know if someone with invulnerable skin would shed their outer layer of skin cells the way we do or at the same rate? So maybe drawing on yourself with a pen would be similar to getting a tattoo.
posted by babelfish at 8:21 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't be so sure about that - for one, the ink is introduced via a wound, for another, even here in real life people whose skin is prone to keloids and other overactive scarring have trouble getting tattoos to stick.

I can't remember the canon well enough, but I feel like Wolverine regenerates to the point of even getting rid of scar tissue. So would that regenerative process reject the ink or not? Would his ink have to be adamantium-based?
posted by aspersioncast at 8:22 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I promise I won't keep responding (why am I invested in this question! It's just a very good question) but losing ink from a tattoo is a result of poor healing, not fast healing! Not having scar tissue is good when it comes to tattoos.
posted by babelfish at 8:27 PM on August 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

OK - Would they shed old skin, or would the skin stay alive/non-shedding forever? Or would it just get thicker and thicker? Are they safe from dandruff too?

If you never shed skin, you could potentially just use permanent ink on the top skin layer. If you got tired of it, just remove the skin.

If you heal fast, I guess that opens up a whole world of elaborate and/or temporary piercings, too.

I'm so relieved we can finally talk about this topic.
posted by amtho at 8:28 PM on August 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

I remember that the Doctor (of Doctor Who) had a longtime friend the Corsair who had regenerative powers and changed many things about themselves, but always had the same tattoo. I don't know if they had to get re-tattooed every regeneration or were able to keep it between regenerations, but in either case that's a special situation because Time Lord regeneration powers are limited to a periodic rebuilding of their body every death, phoenix-like.

I don't have any other specific knowledge, other than that some SF pseudoscience of regenerative powers—especially in comic-book science—are based on the concept of "morphic fields" where no, I don't think ordinary tattoos would "stick" because the person's physical form is dictated by reshaping matter to match their morphic field. Without changing that field, you can't change their physical form. Neither surgery nor injury will persist, thus tattoos being somewhere in between the two probably can't either.
posted by traveler_ at 8:28 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Daken (Wolvie's son) has an arm tattoo and because comics they never explain how it stays. Like? he looses his fucking arm for many issues and then it grows back and the tat is back? I assume he got it redone or something. Theoretically I would assume the ink stays but in the case of the mondo healing factor if the area is damaged it will heal back sans tattoo. Or IDK Dr.Strange did the ink and it's magic.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:37 PM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you get enough upvotes you'll probably get great answers here, too:
posted by zeek321 at 8:42 PM on August 19, 2019

If you get enough upvotes you'll probably get great answers here, too:

Here's one we prepared earlier.

[Marvel] Can wolverine get a tattoo?

posted by zamboni at 8:45 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

These powers are mutable dependent on the story. But I think it trends toward no, let's consider Interview with a Vampire the film wherein a child vampire couldn't even cut her hair without it instantly regrowing. Poor Kirsten Dunst.

No tattoos.

And a tattoo is inherently a wound, I would definitely argue. You are putting a foreign substance below the surface of the skin by piercing it. Wolverine pops bullets out. He would just slough off the ink instantly as the damage is so minor. I can't think of how it's different to inject ink into skin vs. a bullet by piercing.

Other story where I remember tattoos specifically is Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson when a character gains powers to heal and can't get the same tattoo as the rest of his group he formed and saved.

Also this is my favorite AskMe. I need more superhealing data from y'all.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:56 PM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

A tattoo deposits ink through the epidermis into the dermis (about 2mm with modern machines) which is more stable. The initial wounds from this process are very small needle-pricks that just cover the very surface of the skin. That's why it feels like a burn or road rash. Over time, tattoos do fade and "feather" or spread out as the substructure of the skin changes and loses elasticity. It can also change dramatically with exposure to sunlight and UV. I assume the later won't be much of a problem for a vampire.

A consideration is WHEN and HOW the tattoo was done. Tattoo technology has come a long way. Would this tattoo have been done as a stick and poke as some cultures still do across the world? A single needle early machine? A modern machine and ink?

I think any regenerative fictional creature could get a tattoo as long as their skin is vulnerable. However, I assume it may fade faster as the cells turn over. But that also depends on how we imagine the regeneration works. Is it cell turn over? Or rapid cell creation? Do the cells even age? If the cells stay more stable, then perhaps there wouldn't be much feathering or fading as the substructure of the skin stays more intact. On the other hand, new cells could possibly replace the tattooed cells. I think it depends on how the regeneration occurs. Normal humans with tattoos will often have more feathering and fading over just a few decades.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:15 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Does the regeneration imply a return to the initial conditions? The ink would be forced out as a foreign object much the same way that a bullet would. Wolverine isn't riddled with bullets and various things because he healed around them. The super regenerative usually smirk as bullets just pop out like popping a zit. Otherwise you could easily neutralize Wolverine by pumping him so full of heavy metals that even he couldn't move due to his weight. Foreign material is rejected and purged, otherwise it accumulates. Your reality may vary.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:30 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don’t immediately see why Wolverine’s flesh would retain small drops of ink, but reject lead shot. We can just define a tattoo as ‘not damage’, but how does his body know?

I suppose it could be that his body restores itself, not according to his DNA but according to some self-image retained somewhere in his brain, one which is susceptible to modification. So if he thinks of himself, in the right way, as tattooed, that's what gets restored. That sort of implies that if he got conscious control of this internal self-image he would become a shape-shifter.
posted by Segundus at 1:37 AM on August 20, 2019

The Corsair had to get retattooed after every regeneration.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:35 AM on August 20, 2019

In Carla Speed McNeil's comic Finder, the protagonist has a tattoo on his hands which designates him as a Finder. He also heals super swiftly from wounds (though not from illness). Periodically his tattoo fades, and he has to get it redone. (Page 2 of this excerpt)

(Character is human, in a futuristic society; tattoo is done with presumably the future version of standard equipment)
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:17 AM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

In X-Men 2, they show Wolverine getting shot in the head (YT link) and then subsequently pushing the bullet out via his healing power. Not sure whether or not he would react to ink in the same way (or if this bullet-expulsion-during-healing power is considered canon or not).
posted by mhum at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

In a tattoo, the ink is encapsulated by the phagocytes that are part of the body's immune system, and remains trapped there thanks to them. So, first you would need to ask whether a fast healer's abnormal abilities cover both mechanical injuries and illnesses. Assuming they cover both, you'd need to ask in what way the fast healer's immune system is different from a normal one--they might "take" tattoos better than regular folks, since the encapsulation would be faster and more complete, or they might not take tattoos at all, since their immune system would operate on a different principe where foreign bodies (ink particles) are destroyed rather than encapsulated.
posted by adamrice at 9:06 AM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I recall a DC comic where a young Flash (Kid Flash? Impulse?) gets a tattoo, and it fade before his eyes when he's trying to show it off. I think it was explained as a function of his super metabolism, rather than as a function of super healing, but that seems relevant.
posted by Zudz at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2019

Extremely dubious mechanisms aside, a werewolf show I watched explained the lead actor's new and prominent tattoo by saying that werewolves could get tattoos but they had to have them blow-torched (?!) in to stick. (Yes it was Teen Wolf, yes I am moderately ashamed.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think some thing I read had a vampire get a silver-ink tattoo to like hurt him and remind him to not be evil.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:16 PM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

In Deborah Harkness's All Souls trilogy (which I do not particularly recommend, but which are the only vampire books I've ever actually read), the vampires can get tattoos but the tattoos only last for a matter of months due to handwavey regenerative-power magic-blood stuff. One of the vampires takes frequent advantage of this as an opportunity to always have new and exciting tattoo looks.
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 6:54 PM on August 20, 2019

In the Age of Apocalypse storyline* Wolverine had facial tattoos. I am going to guess that they weren't done with regular ink but if you use whatever ink they used then yes Wolverine would keep a tattoo.

* This was an alternate reality but I don't think Wolverine's healing factor was affected so him having tattoos there means he could have them in the regular universe.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:53 PM on August 21, 2019

In Vampire the Masquerade, Tattoos are possible via blood magic or via specialized body warping or damaging powers.
posted by gryftir at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Great, then it's headcanon time! I declare Wolverine's tattoos use adamantium dioxide pigment, which is incredibly black (as titanium dioxide is white) and incredibly biostable (again like titanium dioxide but moreso), as resistant to being "healed out" as his adamantium plating on his skeleton. However the one stays, so does the other. If adamantium bullets aren't his Achilles heel, neither is the oxide form.
posted by traveler_ at 9:34 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

In that storyline Wolverine's tattoos were red but who's to say that those weren't made with some pigment other than adamantium dioxide.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:10 PM on August 22, 2019

even in actual people, tattoos change shape and appearance over time. A line diffuses, colors fade. This is the result of natural skin cell replacement. I presume in fictional fast healers, these processes are accellerated. So maybe not no tattoos but maybe only temporary tattoos.
posted by mwhybark at 7:34 PM on August 28, 2019

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