Day 505: Superman’s Spectrum of Weakness

originally published May 19, 2013

Not being a scholar of Superman, I would like to know what challenges he faced before kryptonite came along. Bullets do nothing to the guy, a bridge could fall on him and he’d just dust it off, and I don’t think he ever has to get his cholesterol levels checked. Really, kryptonite was an essential plot addition.

Those of us who enjoyed only a casual relationship with the comic books and tended to focus more on the movies know kryptonite as a green glassy stone. But Superman’s writers have had seventy years to play around with this material, and they’ve come up with a number of permutations, each of which affects Superman in a different way. Krypton was a funky planet, and somehow a tremendous amount of its residue has fallen to earth, right into Lex Luther’s hands.

The guy should have been a geologist.

Next month marks the 70th anniversary of kryptonite’s first appearance, as a meteor that fell to earth in an episode of the Superman radio series. The comics didn’t pick up the thread until 1949 – editor Dorothy Woolfolk claimed credit for incorporating the weakness as a semi-regular plot point. She was bored by Superman’s invulnerability, and felt the tension bar needed to be raised a little. I can’t blame her.

Initially, the substance was depicted as having fallen to earth in a single meteor. But eventually, Metropolis’s criminals all seemed to have a stash on hand, just in case Superman showed up to derail their career plans. But going back to Superman #61 in 1949, the stone was rare. And it was red.

Green kryptonite, the stuff I grew up watching Gene Hackman use to bring Christopher Reeve to his knees, has been the standard in the comic books after that first appearance. It weakens the big guy, though some storylines have shown Superman as having developed a tolerance to the green stuff. On the show Smallville, which I believe is accepted as cannon material in Superman lore, high levels of green kryptonite can give us normal schlubs super powers.

Red kryptonite apparently passed through a cosmic cloud on its way here, and each piece can have a different effect on Superman. One time he’d be paralyzed, then the next time he might trip out and hallucinate for a while. On Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, a piece of red kryptonite caused the Man of Steel to simply become apathetic. This must have been a perfect way to make him relatable to 90’s-era Gen-X audiences.

Writers have tended to avoid using gold kryptonite as a plot device, because its effects will strip a Kryptonian of his powers permanently. If Superman was actually exposed to this material, it would effectively end his story. I suppose if DC Comics was looking to launch a spin-off, non-superhero comic about Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen: Crack Reporters, they could drop some gold kryptonite into Superman’s Cheerios. But it’s not likely.

Blue kryptonite is Bizarro kryptonite. Again, I’m not an avid follower of the comics – my preference as a kid was to read the ads for Sea Monkeys and those single-page stories which featured a superhero saving the day because of a Hostess snack treat. But from what I understand, the Bizarro Superman is the hero’s mirror image, a villain who appears as Superman’s doppelganger. Blue kryptonite is what you’d need to take Bizarro down, though it has positive effects on Superman himself. On an episode of Super Friends, the blue stuff negated the effects of red kryptonite. If he was smart, Superman would sew a pocket or two into his suit, and carry some blue stuff around with him at all times.

Black Kryptonite, which first showed up on Smallville but eventually found its way into the comics, will split Superman’s personality, creating a good Superman and a bad Superman. On the flip side, white kryptonite only affects plant life. So I suppose that would come in handy if Lex Luther’s next big scheme is to thwart Superman’s herb garden.

Silver kryptonite has been shown to have two different effects. On Smallville, it made Clark hyper-paranoid, like a rabid coke fiend. In the comics it made him act like a hyperactive child. I’d like to see a tempered version of this – one that causes Superman to be happily wasted. The kind of fun kryptonite he might pack a bowl with and light up, just for fun during those down-times when the supervillains are chilling out, devising their next schemes.

Oh wait… that actually happened.

Periwinkle kryptonite, which only appeared in Superman Family Adventures, makes Superman “fabulous”. If exposed to this particular slab of rock, Superman will see pink walls and disco balls everywhere, and will spontaneously start dancing with Lois Lane. I want to see this one show up in the next movie.

Purple spotted kryptonite was mentioned briefly in the cartoon Krypto the Superdog. Apparently it made Krypto chase his tail. Again, this would be great for the next Man of Steel flick – to watch Henry Cavill chase his own ass for a few minutes.

Orange kryptonite will give super-animalian powers to any animal that touches it. It is completely ineffective on humans, which seems a little unlikely, since sixth-grade science teaches us that humans are, technically, animals. But this is the world of comic books – logic takes on its own form in these pages.

Then there’s pink kryptonite, which showed up in a 2003 storyline of the Supergirl book. Pink kryptonite gives Superman ‘gay tendencies.’ As you can see in the above panel, Superman is making Jimmy Olsen uncomfortable by complimenting both his looks and his window treatments. Supergirl is insinuating that the big guy is indeed a homosexual as a result of his exposure to the material. Again – this would be a phenomenal movie twist.

As it is, we’re not going to be seeing any major kryptonite action in the new movie. According to an interview with Man of Steel writer David S. Goyer, the 2013 film (due in theatres in only four weeks!) will not be making use of the kryptonite plot device. This is a good thing – it’s too easy to fall back on that one easy Achilles’ heel that everyone knows about.

I’m remaining positive about this one. We are due for another great movie about the man from Krypton. It’s been a long, long wait.

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