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A Close Look at Kryptonite

Updated on June 4, 2016
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Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.

Kryptonite | Source

What is kryptonite and why is it bad?

Kryptonite is bad stuff.

In common parlance when people speak of their own kryptonite, they might mention that chocolate is their kryptonite. And for that person it's something that they are powerless against and it will lead to their eventual downfall. It is a vulnerability. To some it can be an addiction.

In the comic book world, it's something very specific. Whenever we speak of kryptonite as it relates to DC Comics, it's a rock that has catastrophic effects to people from the planet Krypton - and that's usually Superman.

Kryptonite meteors are rocks that were part of the planet Krypton that were irradiated after the planet exploded. These rocks of debris eventually floated around the universe and many of these meteorites landed on earth. The radiation produced from these rocks are lethal to Superman and anyone else who is from Krypton.

Ahhh, but I can hear you lay people out there who are saying, "So, fire and bullets can't hurt this guy, but this stuff here, will kill him." How is that possible? How is it that when a Krptonian lands on earth, acclimates to all of that yellow solar radiation - which has given him powers far beyond that of mortal men, that a green glowing rock will affect him in any way?

The reason is because the specific electro magnetic radiation frequency will only affect people from krypton because of the rock's origins. The radiation that these rocks produce have a priority in how they are accepted into a Kryptonian's physiology. Whereas the yellow solar radiation that a Kryptonian absorbs like a living solar battery, can be overridden by red solar radiation as the beneficial yellow solar radiation is slowly being replaced. Even more than solar radiation, the toxic kryptonite radiation will be quickly taken in a Kryptonian and rapidly drive out, not only the stored solar radiation. but also the Kryptonian's life energy as well.

In essence, the meteor's radiation will push out the good stuff and replace it with the bad.

Let's take a look at some of the types of kryptonite and what it would do to Superman and others.

Green kryptonite kills
Green kryptonite kills

Green Kryptonite: Deadly to Superman. Pretty bad for us, too.

As comic book readers, there is one type of kryptonite that makes more appearances than any other. That's green kryptonite. Simply put, green kryptonite will kill Superman and anyone from Krypton.

The size of the rock does not matter.

Luthor was able to keep Superman at bay with his specially made kryptonite ring. This ring will cause Superman to weaken immediately. Even a small shard the size of a bullet can kill Superman. The good news is that once it's removed, Superman will recover immediately.

There's more good news as well. Wearing a kryptonite signet ring, Luthor thought it would be a good deterrent in keeping Superman from touching him. Unfortunately, human beings are not immune to the effects of green kryptonite. Long term exposure will cause cellular breakdown and corporal deterioration.


Luthor eventually had to have his hand amputated and later on, he needed a new body altogether (a tale I will not tell here).

In short, it will kill earth people, too.

Red Kryptonite - A 24 Hour Nightmare
Red Kryptonite - A 24 Hour Nightmare

Red Kryptonite: Unpredictable but temporary

Did you ever call in sick for work for a day and say to your boss that it was one of those "24 hour bugs".

That's red kryptonite.

Red kryptonite was created when a large quantity of green kryptonite had traveled through a "strange cosmic cloud" which altered it's properties.

It lasts about 24 to 48 hours and here's the fun part - it affects Superman differently every time. The effects could be physical or psychological. One exposure to the element could turn Superman into a giant or a monster. It could cause him to hallucinate or it could change his personality completely. The thing to remember is that it's different with each exposure and it's only temporary.

Back in the Silver Age of comics, red kryptonite was a great plot device used in order to put Superman into weird and amusing situations. It was also interesting that while strange biological changes were being made to Superman, that his immediate priority was how he'd be able to protect his secret identity from Lois Lane.

Gold Kryptonite - Removes Superpowers Permanently
Gold Kryptonite - Removes Superpowers Permanently

Gold Kryptonite: Removes Superpowers Permanently

This is the bad stuff.

Okay, dying is bad. However, having your powers taken away permanently kinda sucks, too. Gold kryptonite affects the way that a Kryptonian's cells process solar energy. It's rarely been seen in comic book stories. Usually, it gets pulled out when a Phantom Zone criminal needs to be depowered.

It was used once in Alan Moore's story "Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Superman decides to retire and uses gold kryptonite on himself.

Blue Kryptonite am for Bizarro
Blue Kryptonite am for Bizarro

Blue Kryptonite: Am for Bizarro No. 1

For those of you who don't know who Bizarro is.

Bizarro is an imperfect opposite duplicate of Superman who strives to do everything the opposite of Superman. Where he thinks something is ugly is quite beautiful. He speaks with bad grammar in sentences like, "Me am Bizarro. You am Superman." There are several origin stories about Bizarro, the most popular one is that Bizarro was created by a duplication ray that creates imperfect duplicates. Luthor created an adult Bizarro after tricking Superman into stepping into the duplicator ray's path.

Blue kryptonite is what happens when you blast some green kryptonite with a duplicator ray. You essentially get kryptonite that kills Bizarro.

By all logic, it should make Superman stronger. Typically, this was used in Silver Age stories as a way to defeat Bizarro and it was also used in the Alan Moore story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" when Bizarro killed himself and everyone on "Bizarro World."

White Kryptonite is the best weed killer in the business
White Kryptonite is the best weed killer in the business

White Kryptonite: Kills All Plants

Here's a good one. White kryptonite.

White kryptonite kills all plants - Kryptonian or otherwise. You'd think this was a bad thing. However, when it comes to getting rid of bacteria and sterilizing things, you can't beat it. Superman used to use it in his Fortress of Solitude to disinfect himself from the types of bacteria born in space. He's used it against plant based enemies and found that it was good at removing bacteria made viruses.

Not all kryptonite is terrible.

Other types

There are a whole bunch of other types that have some small mention. For example, there was the type of kryptonite that made the asteroid of Argo City, the city that Supergirl came from - that was Anti-kryptonite (which is also the same stuff that powers Superman's opposite number from the anti-matter universe in Grant Morrison's Earth 2)

Kills non superpowered kryptonians and gives power to Ultraman from the Anti-matter universe.
Orange Kryptonite
Gives animals superpowers for 24 hours. It only works on animals and can be repeated after 24 hours.
Gives earth beings superpowers.
Filtered kryptonite.
Jewell Kryptonite
Amplifies psychic powers of phantom zone criminals.

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Worst of all - Synthetic Kryptonite Made by Batman

I wanted to bring this last type in as it has proven to be worse than the real stuff.

This is the stuff that Batman makes. While he did make some synthetic green kryptonite which, according to Batman in The Dark Knight Returns, cost a fortune and took forever to synthesize, it managed to do the job at the end of that story.

The other stuff, that Batman created is his non-lethal version. That begs the question of whether it's better to be killed or be in enough pain so that you'd wish for death. This synthetic kryptonite which has a shorter half life than real kryptonite, won't kill Superman, but it will turn his skin transparent, making him receive solar energy directly into his muscles.

The upside is that Superman becomes really strong and powerful. The downside is that every cell Superman has is exploding in pain and his senses are out of control. So terrible was this kryptonite that Superman was frightened of anything that might have made that eerie red glow.

The sad part of this is that as powerful as this is, it was made by Superman's most trusted ally.

Final Words

Since Greek Mythology gave us the concept of "an Achilles Heel", the concept of a fatal vulnerability is critical in all major characters. Superman is no exception.

I gave this a lot of thought when I first saw the movie, Twilight. I thought of vampires that could withstand the rays of the sun and not die. Instead, it made them sparkly. I didn't like it. It was wrong. It didn't smell right.

It's a question of fair play.

Superman, who is one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe needed an Achilles Heel. The writer's actually gave him a few weaknesses. Physically, they made him vulnerable to a rare type of rock - but not so rare that a criminal couldn't find and use it against him. Mystically, they made him as vulnerable to magic as everyone else is. As Superman was a physical being, he had the limitations of being one.

But the biggest vulnerability and his best strength was his compassion for his adopted world. It was his way of saying, "Do what you want to me, but don't hurt all the people I'm protecting."

But still... we have the rocks.

Kryptonite is the substance that levels the playing field for the normal guy. Superman can be beaten. If there were no possibility of that, no one would read his stories. In one sense, we need Superman to be vulnerable to it, just as we need a character like Superman to set the bar.

A hero is not a hero if he has nothing to risk. Bravery comes not from being fearless but from overcoming great fear and doing what needs to be done. Should there be a villain with a bag full of kryptonite, we certainly would hope that Superman would still rise to the occasion to vanquish him.

As every man needs a challenge, a super-man needs to know that even the pettiest of villains can still pull a rock of the stuff from his pocket and give him some whup-ass.


5 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of A Close Look at Kryptonite

© 2012 Christopher Peruzzi


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