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Radiation-Immune Mutants

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"We are the children of the atom. Radiation gave birth to mutants. What will kill the humans, will only make us stronger."
Sebastian Shaw, X-Men: First Class

Say you have a character hosed with enough radiation to turn a person into a carbon shadow on a wall. This being a Comic Book or Science Fiction story, odds are it turned them into a Mutant, Zombie, mutant-zombie or just plain gave them superpowers. The other upside? Radiation is now nearly harmless to them.

Much like a (highly accelerated) version of how some food tasters slowly build up tolerance to poisons, characters who survive exposure to deadly amounts of radiation usually also adapt a resistance to it... heck, they may even start absorbing it and using it as their Phlebotinum Battery. It may also result in Feed It with Fire and trigger a Healing Factor, Hyperactive Metabolism, or the like.

Sometimes they develop a dependence on the radiation and need to live in (or make trips to) radioactive places or die. Alternately, they may start to generate the radiation themselves note  as a kind of organic atomic reactor, and they might not be able to contain it. It may be possible for this immunity to be overcome with sufficiently overwhelming radiation sources.

Compare Curse That Cures, when a supernatural condition that is Blessed with Suck has a silver lining. Also compare Sheep in Wolf's Clothing.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Coppelion: The eponymous Coppelions are genetically engineered to be immune to radiation, allowing them to enter post-nuclear-meltdown Tokyo without a Hazmat Suit or gasmask.
  • It's not certain whether Tomie is a mutant or demon or something else entirely, but she is known to be extremely radiotrophic. In an early manga story some doctors try to kill her with a radiotherapy machine, but this only accelerates her Healing Factor. This also gives a neat justification for the whole Shapeshifter Baggage problem, since presumably under normal circumstances her (usually painfully slow) regenerations are fueled by background radiation.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man: In The Amazing Spider-Man (J. Michael Straczynski), Spider-Man defeats Morlun by exposing himself to radiation that he's immune to after being bitten by a radioactive spider, meaning that Morlun just absorbs deadly radiation instead of Spidey's powers.
  • Captain Atom's origin story has him worse than mutated — his body is vaporized by an atomic blast while inside an alien space ship. His soul/mind somehow manages to bond itself to an alien metal alloy, turning him into an Energy Being inside a Chrome Champion metallic shell. This transformation renders him effectively immune to radiation and able to manipulate energy. In a bit of a reversal, while the metal skin is tough and does protect him from radiation, it also protects everyone else from him suffering a Superpower Meltdown or generally irradiating everything.
  • Exiles: In the "Iron Dominion" universe, Tony Stark successfully killed the Hulk by dropping a very big nuke on him. However, Wonder Man was standing next to Hulk at the time, and came out a new Hulk. Stark has decided to just leave Simon alone, because there is no nuke on Earth that can actually kill him.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk and his gamma-radiation-empowered Rogues Gallery have a higher resistance to radiation because of their mutations. In fact, the Hulk even emits gamma radiation as part of his transformation. In particular, the Red Hulk gains power not from rage, but from absorbing radiation.
    • Bruce Banner's family and most other gamma powered characters were confirmed to have a genetic mutation that meant they got superpowers when exposed to radiation instead of cancer.
    • Sometimes, the immunity comes and goes. It's often suggested that a sufficiently powerful nuke might kill the Hulk... but sometimes all it'll do is make him stronger and madder.
    • The DCU has a similar concept called the metagene, where people with rare genetics can get superpowers when exposed to radiation or similar stresses. It was mainly a Retcon to explain why people got superpowers from dangerous radioactive accidents and why the events can't be replicated to give everybody powers.
  • Superboy (1994): One of the less intelligent and more dangerous DNAliens (creatures and individuals formed by experimenting with human DNA and sometimes mixing in alien DNA) Cadmus creates are the Four-Armed Terrors, which feed on nuclear radiation. Superboy has to fight one to try and prevent it from destroying all the safety and containment features around Cadmus's own nuclear power facility.
  • Played with and taken to further extremes than Captain Atom in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan was blasted into his component particles in a Freak Lab Accident, after which his disembodied consciousness gained a sort of Enlightenment Superpowers and formed a new body through reality warping. This is played for drama when his ex-wife reveals that she got cancer from him. She was actually secretly exposed to radiation sources by the Big Bad just to make Dr. Manhattan start avoiding humanity. This is actually just a peripheral ability for his general immunity to all damage, including disintegration.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Bridge (MLP), Godzilla Junior and Xenilla are this as per their mutations into kaiju. However, it's found that normal Equestrians are this as well naturally, due to living in a realm with so much free flowing magic that races have magical abilities biologically. Thankfully, this means that being around Junior or Xenilla won't give them radiation sickness.
  • In Fallout: Equestria, ghouls, phoenixes, and other creatures that survived the original nuclear fallout are resistant and even heal in the presence of radiation. By the end, Littlepip gets the same benefit, even though she can still get radiation sickness.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Godzilla:
    • Subverted with Big G himself. While absorbing radiation does make him larger/stronger, he can also go into a nuclear meltdown if he absorbs too much radiation, as seen in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.
    • In Godzilla (2014), the Mutos are immune to radiation (and feed on it!) but are actually natural creatures, originally from a time when radiation levels on earth were much higher.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • In X-Men, Magneto's machine triggers mutation in normal humans but has no effect on mutants. Somewhat justified in that it's implied to activate the dormant X-factor gene — in mutants, said gene is already active.
    • X-Men: First Class is a subversion, however. Despite delivering the page quote, Sebastian Shaw has no evidence that any mutant other than himself would be unharmed by nuclear radiation. It's possible that this is part of why Magneto took several additional decades to work on his own plan, despite agreeing with Shaw's goals.

  • In the Noon Universe, the Golovans (sentient canine species) evolved from common dogs on the irradiated post-nuclear war wastelands of Saraksh and are largely immune to radiation. But then again, so are humans from Earth (though not the Human Aliens of Saraksh itself).
  • Pebble in the Sky: Earth has become radioactive, and the humans still there are slightly more resistant to radiation than the rest of the Galactic Empire, but it's not statistically significant. However, they are resistant to radiation-mutated diseases that are lethal to off-worlders.
  • Chris Roberson's Tie-In Novel X-Men: The Return implies that Marvel Comics's mutate characters like the Hulk and the Fantastic Four are a different type of mutant who have their powers activate when exposed to radiation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The 100, the Grounders (descendants of people who survived the nuclear war) and people from the Ark (who have survived exposure to high radiation levels in their orbital habitat) can endure the current levels of radioactivity on Earth's surface. The Mountain Men (descendants of people who took shelter in the Mount Weather facility) aren't so fortunate.
  • In The 4400, those who've gained superpowers from exposure to promicin become immune to it. Normally though, exposure has a 50% chance of death.
  • Doctor Who: In the Daleks' debut, they were the mutated descendants of a people exposed to too much radiation (hiding inside pepper-shaker shaped travel machines). Turns out, they didn't need to worry about the radiation and would actually die if the rads were turned off. This dependence on radiation was retconned or ignored entirely in every subsequent appearance by them.
  • Ted Sprague from Heroes accidentally killed his wife with cancer from his radiation emitting power. Fans noted that he seems to be immune to the effects of his power and came up with the term "Rule Of Ted" for characters who are immune to the effects of their own abilities.
  • Like in the comics, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has the Hulk explaining that he and his cousin Jennifer have rare genetics that makes gamma radiation give them superpowers instead of poisoning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Adventurer's Club magazine #2 Champions adventure "What Rough Beast!", a GENOCIDE laboratory mutates a bear into a monster that needs a continuous supply of radiation to maintain its special abilities. It is, of course, immune to damage from radiation. The Player Characters can most easily defeat it by shutting down the laboratory's malfunctioning nuclear reactor, which is releasing a high level of radioactivity.
  • Mostly averted in Gamma World. A mutant could have a power that protected against radiation (e.g., Physical Reflection-Radiation), but most mutants had no more resistance against radiation than non-mutants.

    Video Games 
  • In Civilization: Beyond Earth, the there are plenty of poisonous gases on the planet that will kill an unprotected human. A faction following the Harmony path can eventually learn to heal in the gas.
  • In the Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series games, any mutated lifeforms resulting from the titular Green Rocks' spread across Earth are not only unharmed by Tiberium, but can heal in it.
  • Fallout:
    • Ghouls are "necrotic post-humans" who look like zombies and find radiation comfortably warm — not only are Ghouls healed by radiation, it's possible that they're actually sustained by it, as seen with specimens active behind sealed doors two hundred years after the bombs fell. A rare variant called Glowing Ones emit radiation, and can release a pulse of energy that can harm enemies and heal, or even revive, their fellow Ghouls. On the downside, prolonged radiation exposure will eventually rot a Ghoul's brain, leaving them mindless Feral Ghouls.
    • Super Mutants are products of the Forced Evolutionary Virus, and aren't healed by radiation, but are immune or at least highly resistant to it. That said, the more exposure a person has to radiation before being dunked in FEV, the dumber the resulting Super Mutant.
    • Some post-apocalyptic humans have developed a resistance or immunity to radiation, presumably a beneficial mutation from living in a nuclear wasteland, and with the right perks the Player Character can gain similar benefits as well. The Children of Atom, a Cargo Cult worshiping the personification of radiation, is mostly made up of people with "Atom's blessing" able to live in old nuclear silos or bomb craters without issue.
  • The mutants in Nuclear Throne, including those that comprise most of the roster of player characters, are of the "grow stronger with radiation" variety, as indicated by radiation pellets being used as a leveling-up system for all characters.
  • Downplayed in Pokémon Uranium; Nuclear type Pokémon aren't immune to Nuclear type attacks, but they do resist them, which is still notable considering they're weak to everything else (not accounting for second types and their match-ups).
  • Stellaris has two downplayed examples with the Survivor trait, as well as the Tomb World climate preference. Survivor grants a bonus to their capabilities to survive on Tomb Worlds, and is exclusive to the populations of post-apocalyptic empires. Tomb World climate preference allows a species to adapt to nearly any environment, though they do prefer Tomb Worlds. Beyond their ability to thrive in radioactive wastelands/everywhere (respectively), species with these traits do not have superpowers.
  • In Warcraft III, the Undead faction have the Disease Cloud ability, which allows Meat Wagons and Abominations to deal additional damage over time via persistent clouds of noxious plague to their targets, which the undead are immune to (even the enemy).

  • Peabody, an albino Deathclaw from the Fallout parody comic Deathclaw Desu Ga, absorbs radiation with no ill effects. Her Pip-Boy states that "You should be dead from radiation poisoning." However, being an albino whose spent her whole life in a Vault, she sunburns within an instant.

    Western Animation 
  • In Captain Planet and the Planeteers, the eco-villain Duke Nukem (not that one) loves radiation so much that he turned himself into a mutant. He even bathed in nuclear radiation as a mutant in one episode without ill side effects.
  • Mutants in Futurama are immune to the effects of the mutagenic lake that spawned them. Leela is revealed to be a mutant when she is dropped in the lake and comes out unaltered.
  • In one episode of Mighty Max, a scientist tries to irradiate the entire Earth because after an accident, he can't live without high radiation levels.
  • Subverted in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012); in the second episode when the Turtles obtain a canister of the Kraang's mutagen, Mikey tries to drink some of it assuming that a second dose will make a mutant mutate further. He's proven right in season 2 when Dogpound falls into Baxter Stockman's mutagen vat and turns into Rahzar. Played straight with April O'Neal, as she's completely immune to the mutagen's effects.

    Real Life 
  • There is a bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans, that can survive radiation, among a large number of other environmental stresses. It was discovered when food preservation scientists thought that irradiating canned goods would destroy every organism inside it, but found this creature alive and breeding. It can withstand up to 5000 Grays of radiation (for reference, about 5 Grays can kill a human). It is so tough that it has been nicknamed "Conan The Bacterium". A subversion of this trope in some regards, since Conan the Bacterium didn't have to "mutate" to survive so much radiation; its radiation immunity comes from its ability to repair damage to its DNA very quickly, and it didn't develop this skill from radiation stress, but from dehydration; it was just lucky that both radiation and dehydration could be survived with the same strategy. If it ever does mutate into something that's not harmless to other life forms, consider the Oh, Crap! potential.
  • Chernobyl's songbirds, to some extent. Basically, they're responding to higher amounts of radiation by producing more antioxidants, which help repair damaged DNA. This also has the side effect of prolonging their lives.
  • Also in Chernobyl... there is a species of radiotrophic fungus growing in the remains of reactor 4. Not only does the huge amount of radiation there not harm it, it actually needs it to survive. This particular variety of fungus has a HUGE amount of melanin which converts gamma radiation into chemical energy for growth. The downside... if it's taken out of the radiation field, it dies. This has made research on these creatures very difficult.
    • There are not now natural nuclear reactors on Earth; but high-melanin strains of fungus have also been found in natural environments with lots of ultraviolet light, such as high-altitude mountains. Similar to bacteria that had evolved traits that turned out to confer radiation resistance, UV survival turned out to make these fungi able to survive the far higher-energy gamma emission at Chernobyl.
  • Tardigrades are naturally resistant to radiation thanks to a protein they produce that protects their DNA from being damaged by radiation. What's more, the gene for this protein can be introduced into human cells (which could be considered a kind of controlled mutation) and this makes the human cells more resistant to radiation.