Deck Log Entry #198 Kryptonite---a Glowing Reference (Part Three)

In Adventure Comics # 350 (Nov., 1966), a cloud of green-kryptonite particles drifts down from outer space, engulfing the stratosphere of the Earth A.D. 2966.  The varied abilities of the Legion of Super-Heroes prove futile in removing or destroying the green-k cloud.  Superboy and Supergirl, no longer able to safely visit the Earth of that era, are forced to resign from the Legion.

 

The conclusion of the tale, in the next issue, resolves the super-cousins’ quandary when Color Kid, of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, uses his super-power to alter the colour of the kryptonite cloud from green to blue.  The change in hue eliminates the cloud’s deadly effects on Superboy and Supergirl.

 

In a letter published in the Legion Outpost a couple of issues later, Gordon Meyer, of North Madison, Ohio, asked how changing a simple thing like the colour of the kryptonite could affect its molecular structure.  To this, Mort Weisinger responded:

 

How the change in color affects kryptonite is a complicated process to explain, but basically, kryptonite is an unstable element which changes to a different isotope when a little thing like its color is altered.  This substance is unique; none of the 104 elements known to modern science behaves in the same manner.  That’s our explanation---but you better not check it with your chemistry teacher.

 

Inadvertently (or maybe not), Mort had provided the explanation, rickety as it was, for the assorted effects of various kinds of kryptonite introduced since 1958, in which it seemed colour made all the difference.

 

 

 

Since its comic-book introduction in 1949, kryptonite had proven to be a handy tool for inserting drama into Superman stories.  Too handy.  The writers had made so many trips to the kryptonite well, that, by the late 1950’s, Weisinger worried that kryptonite had become so common a threat that the fans were tired of it.  Something else was needed.  Perhaps a variation of kryptonite, Mort figured, would generate new story possibilities.

 

One of his writers, Alvin Schwartz, came up with an idea.

 

 

 

In “The Super-Sentry of Smallville”, from Adventure Comics # 252 (Sep., 1958), Schwartz introduced red kryptonite, as an entity.  (In its first comic-book appearance in Superman # 61, kryptonite---the regular kind---was coloured red, but that was an aberration; it was green thereafter.)  In his story, invaders from the 4th Dimension threaten Superboy with red kryptonite, which is described as being ten times more toxic to the Boy of Steel than the emerald variety.

 

An extra-deadly version of green kryptonite was fine for a one-time use, but Weisinger was looking for some other kind of kryptonite to handicap Superman on a recurring basis.  He did like the idea of distinguishing it from regular kryptonite by making it red, though.  A visual distinction like that allowed for instant reader identification.

 

Mort’s desired concept for red kryptonite got a lot closer to the mark in Adventure Comics # 255 (Dec., 1958).  In “The Splitting of Superboy”, by Otto Binder, young Clark Kent is rock-collecting on the outskirts of Smallville when he comes across a spacecraft.  Its Martian occupant, aware that his discoverer is actually Superboy, zaps him with a ray from a red-kryptonite projector, dividing the youngster into his component personae.  The Martian takes off, leaving behind a good, super-powered Superboy and an evil-but-mortal Clark Kent.  Hijinx ensue.

 

That was the hook!  The way for red kryptonite to endanger Superboy or man without threatening his life, at least not directly.  Red k would alter the Caped Kryptonian and in varying ways---to limit it to one type of change would be too restrictive.  And not always would the change be physical.  In “Superboy’s Voyage to Krypton”, from Superboy # 74 (Jul., 1959), the Boy of Steel spends almost the entire issue hallucinating that his parents, Jor-El and Lara, survived Krypton’s destruction and he joins them to start a new life on another world.  Red kryptonite is the culprit.

 

In “The Revenge of Luthor”, Action Comics # 259 (Dec., 1959), Superman fans were finally told how there came to be such a thing as red kryptonite.  Shortly after Krypton’s explosion, the story goes, a flock of green-kryptonite meteors passed through a “strange cosmic cloud” which turned them red and, as a result, altered their physical properties.

 

Weisinger’s stable of writers glommed on to red kryptonite as eagerly as they had its older brother.  Over the next year, red kryptonite gave Superboy amnesia, negated his super-strength, made him fat, turned him tiny and into a giant.  It paralysed him during his attempt to stop Lincoln’s assassination.  As Superman, he suffered from red-kryptonite-induced hallucinations and a compulsion to propose to Lois Lane.  And it caused him to sleepwalk and to lose control of his X-ray vision.

 

Nor did Supergirl get a pass.  Red k caused her to forget her promise to Superman to keep her existence a secret, in Action Comics #265 (Jun., 1960), and two issues later, ruined her first shot at joining the Legion of Super-Heroes by ageing her into adulthood.

 

Notably, for all the red-k stories published over that first two years, no limits had ever been set on its effects.  There was no restriction on how many times a specific piece of red kryptonite would affect Superman, or Supergirl, or Krypto.  And there was nothing to say that a certain effect wouldn’t occur, again.  In yet another lack of limitation, lead did not block the rays of red-k.  At least, initially.   

 

Most critically, there was no definitive time limit for the effects of red kryptonite to go away.  Instead, they lasted for as long as the writer wanted them to.  Stories had red-k transformations last as briefly as an hour or as long as a week.  On two occasions, they showed no signs of wearing off at all; in Adventure Comics # 255, the evil Clark Kent was killed in an accidental explosion, and in a later tale, Krypto knocked the amnesia out of his master’s head.

 

 

The anything-goes aspect to red kryptonite worked for over a dozen stories, but it left too many doors open.  Enough for imaginative readers to start thinking about things.  “Why doesn’t a villain with red kryptonite keep exposing Superman to it until it causes an effect that will kill him, like the aliens tried to do in Adventure # 270?”  “Why doesn’t Superboy always carry that piece of red k that gave him super-powers under a red sun in Superboy # 81 in case he’s ever stuck on a red-sun planet, again?”  It was time to insert some rules on how red kryptonite worked, so that Weisinger could forget about those sorts of questions and go back to making fun of boo-boo hunters.

 

The writers had already back-pedaled away from the idea that red-k radiation could pass through lead.  Now it was as impenetrable to lead as green kryptonite was, so Superman had a means to protect himself from it.  And he now had a way to know when he hadn’t.  The idea that the initial exposure to a piece of red kryptonite caused him to feel a tingling sensation had been advanced as early as Superman # 139 (Aug., 1960), but it didn’t become a regular effect until “The Red Kryptonite Menace”, from Action Comics # 283 (Dec., 1961).

 

“The Orphans of Space”, from Superman # 144 (Apr., 1961) established the fact that each fragment of red k had one intrinsic effect, unique unto itself, and that one effect only.  This eliminated the multiple-exposures issue and kept red kryptonite from becoming too boring, from repeating the same effect over and over.

 

The next rule put down was a biggie:  each piece of red kryptonite worked once, and only once, on a super-powered Kryptonian.  If a chunk of it turned Superman into a retarded tree toad, he became immune to any further exposures to that particular chunk.  It could still turn Supergirl or Krypto into a retarded tree toad, but not the Man of Steel, anymore.  This was prompted, in part, by the aforementioned Superboy # 81.  But the letters Mort was really trying to head off were the ones that would’ve resulted from “The Irresistible Lois Lane”, from Lois Lane # 29 (Nov., 1961).  In this tale, Superman is rescued from a green-kryptonite death trap by exposing him to red k with the effect of making him immune to the green stuff.  There needed to be an explanation as to why Superman didn’t carry that particular red k with him all the time, before a gazillion fans wrote in, asking that very thing.

 

Finally, a time limit was set on how long a red-kryptonite effect would last.  According to “The Girl Who Refused to Marry Superman”, from Lois Lane # 38 (Jan., 1963), that was no longer than forty-eight hours.  That still tended to vary, according to the writer’s plot, so the duration of a red-k effect was later modified to “24-to-48 hours”.  Except when that was ignored for the sake of a story---and that was often.

 

In fact, all of the red-k rules were broken on occasion.  Certain tales Weisinger felt were just too good to discard because of the stated limitations on red kryptonite.  So there were times when the effective period of the red-k effect lasted much longer than the standard 24-to-48 hours or past changes were repeated.  (“The Mortal Superman”, Superman # 160 [Apr., 1963]; “The Sweetheart Superman Forgot”, Superman # 165 [Nov., 1963], among others.)  Whenever one of these deviations occurred, a caption would conveniently inform the readers that this was a “freak” piece of red kryptonite that didn’t work the usual way.

 

Red kryptonite was the gimmick that launched a thousand new story ideas.  And if, somehow, red k wasn’t up to meeting the writers’ plotting needs, well, there were still a few colours left in the spectrum.

 

 

 

This was the only form of kryptonite not native to the planet Krypton.

 

Superman # 140 (Oct., 1960) contains a book-length novel involving the Bizarro World.  The events of “The Son of Bizarro” concern the child born to the first Bizarro-Superman and Bizarro-Lois Lane, culminating with Bizarro № 1 declaring war on the Earth.  Superman repels the invading army of Bizarro-Supermen by turning the duplicator ray on a pile of green-kryptonite fragments, creating an imperfect new version of the element---blue kryptonite!

 

Blue k affects super-powered Bizarros in the same way its emerald cousin affects super-powered Kryptonians:  first, intense agony, and eventually, death.  Superman discovers the lethal finality of blue k when a Bizarro-Supergirl, accidentally created during the adventure, dies from an inadvertent exposure to it.

 

As befitting a creation by the flawed duplicator machine, the rays of blue kryptonite---unlike those of any other kryptonite---will penetrate lead.  (Occasionally, that fact was ignored, but inadvertently; Mort did not intend to renege on this, the way he did with red kryptonite.)

 

Blue kryptonite rarely appeared in the regular Superman stories, but, not surprisingly, it got plenty of play in the “Tales of the Bizarro World” series that ran in the back of Adventure Comics in 1961-2.

 

 

 

In “Superboy Visits the 50th Century”, from Adventure Comics # 279 (Dec., 1960), the Boy of Steel does just as the title of the story says, only to discover that the Earth folk in that far-future era consider him to be a mythical character, like Peter Pan or William Tell.  Our Hero is unable to disabuse them of that fact until an alien spaceship crash-lands, releasing rapid-growth spores which take root, threatening to choke the Earth.  Superboy takes a white, unidentified meteorite from its museum display and races around the world, exposing the spores to the meteorite’s radiations.  The alien plant life instantly withers and dies.

 

The mystery mineral is actually white kryptonite, which is harmless to Kryptonians, but instantly kills any form of plant life.  The Boy of Steel theorises that the fragment was once green kryptonite, and just as some green-k meteoroids were transformed into red kryptonite when they passed through a cosmic cloud, this particular chunk passed through a different space-cloud and got turned into white k.

 

White kryptonite didn’t get much play in the Silver-Age Superman mythos.  Its most notable appearance came in “The Super-Powers of Perry White”, from Action Comics # 278 (Jul., 1961), when Supergirl uses a chunk of the stuff to kill a parasitic alien plant possessing the editor of the Daily Planet.  (Apparently, the super-cousins’ code against killing has a loophole exempting sentient vegetables.)

 

 

 

While blue and white kryptonite were benign to the Super-family, gold kryptonite was so dangerous that it was introduced in an Imaginary Story.

 

“The Unwanted Superbaby”, from Adventure Comics # 299 (Aug., 1962), hypothesises what would have happened to baby Kal-El if the staff at the Smallville Orphanage had discovered the toddler’s super-powers.  After escaping U.S. government custody and growing to adolescence as the pawn of an evil foreign dictator, Superboy leaves Earth.  Later, though, a longing to see the kindly couple who found him, the Kents, causes the youth to return.  In doing so, he encounters a strange golden meteor.  To his dismay, Superboy discovers that he has lost his super-powers.  A caption identifies the meteoroid as gold kryptonite and confirms that his power loss is permanent.

 

The problem with using gold kryptonite in the canonical Superman stories was that its only value was as a threat.  Obviously, DC wasn’t about to de-power the World’s Greatest (-Selling) Super-Hero.  Nevertheless, gold k was introduced into the actual Super-universe in “The Super-Revenge of the Phantom Zone Prisoner”, from Superman # 157 (Nov., 1962). Here, the moral Superman releases a Kryptonian criminal, Quex-Ul, on Earth after he serves his time in the Zone.  On Krypton, the Justice Council convicted the man of his crime, and Jor-El was the head of the Council.  With the father dead, Quex-Ul swears revenge on the son.

 

After a brief confrontation with the Man of Steel, Quex-Ul flies to the Arabian Desert, where he constructs a giant tower topped by a device which attracts a gold-kryptonite meteor from space.  With the gold k, he rigs an underwater trap for Superman.  Meanwhile, Superman time-travels to Krypton, to investigate Quex-Ul’s case.  He discovers Quex was framed for his crime, but brainwashed by the real crook to believe he was guilty.

 

The Man of Steel returns to present-day Earth and relates what he found out on Krypton to Supergirl before responding to the emergency Quex-Ul arranged to lure him into his trap. Supergirl locates Quex-Ul and informs him of the effort Superman undertook to clear his name.  Filled with remorse, the ex-con intercepts the Man of Steel and succumbs to his own trap.  The gold kryptonite permanently eradicates Quex-Ul’s super-powers.

 

Just to reëstablish its bona fides from time to time, gold k was shown to cost other Kryptonians their super-powers:  Supergirl villainess Black Flame, in Action Comics # 304 (Sep., 1963), and a Kandorian couple, in Superman # 179 (Aug., 1965).

 

Other facts about gold kryptonite were brought to light, and in the oddest places.  Superman fans learnt that gold k weighed three times as much as gold itself (Jimmy Olsen # 85 [Jun., 1965]), that its radiations had an effective radius of two feet (World’s Finest Comics # 159 [Aug., 1966]), and that it emitted a crackling and popping sound (the letter column of Jimmy Olsen # 96 [Sep., 1966]).  But the readers were never told how gold kryptonite was created, in the first place.  

 

At least, Mort didn’t try to palm the “cosmic cloud” explanation off on them a third time.

 

 

 

This was the last Silver-Age addition to the major varieties of kryptonite---and the least.

 

When the Atlanteans are stricken with a deadly plague in “Secret of Kryptonite Six”, from Action Comics # 310 (Mar., 1964), Superman is forced to temporarily release Jax-Ur, who knows of a cure, from the Phantom Zone.  The cure, according to Jax-Ur, was in his laboratory on Krypton. By Legion time bubble, Superman and Jax-Ur travel back to the world of their birth.  There, Jax-Ur gets free of Superman’s vigilance long enough to carve a large gemstone from the Jewel Mountains and transmute its elements with a scientific device.  The explosion of Krypton will further alter the gem’s atomic structure, as the villainous scientist anticipates.

 

Superman and Jax-Ur return to present-day Earth with the cure for the Atlanteans.  At the same time, the piece of jewel kryptonite enters Earth’s orbit, just as Jax-Ur calculated.  Before being returned to the Phantom Zone, the villain flies up to the rim of space, breaks off a portion of jewel k, and arranges for Superman to be exposed to it.

 

From the Zone, Jax and the other prisoners witness delightedly watch as all sorts of combustible objects explode in Superman’s presence.  The Man of Steel assumes the effect was caused by the jewel k.  He is about to exile himself from Earth, until he recalls small details which betray the truth.  It is not Superman causing the explosions; rather, the portion of jewel kryptonite still in orbit magnifies the thoughts of the telepathic Phantom-Zone prisoners into a concentrated beam that can explosively ignite any inflammable substance or device at their whim.

 

Superman hurls the orbiting piece of jewel k into the sun, and that’s the end of it.  Jewel kryptonite was never again used as a plot element in the Silver Age, nor until the very end of the Bronze Age.

 

 

 

In addition to the six major types of kryptonite, various one-off versions, created to last for a single story, appeared through the Silver-Age years . . . .

 

Red kryptonite of Earth-Two—-“Superman Versus the Futuremen”, Superman # 128 (Apr., 1959)

This appearance of red kryptonite has to be ascribed to the parallel universe of Earth-Two, as a brief history of Superman contained in the story relates that he did not begin his super-hero career until he reached adulthood, a detail attributed to the Superman of Earth-Two.

Effects:  After a brief phase in which it caused Superman to lose mental control of his super-powers, it then robbed him of his super-powers completely for two hours.  It’s not stated whether this is the effect of all red k in the Earth-Two universe or just of this particular piece.

 

Bizarro-blue kryptonite----“The Bizarro Jimmy Olsen”, Jimmy Olsen # 80 (Oct., 1964)

A fragment of normal blue kryptonite scientifically altered by the Bizarro-Lex Luthor.

Effects:  Induced freakish physical or mental changes on non-super Bizarros.

 

Red-gold kryptonite----“When Superman Lost His Memory”, Superman # 178 (Jul., 1965)

Created when a meteor of red kryptonite and a meteor of gold kryptonite collided and fused before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.

Effects:  Resulted in Superman suffering from amnesia for an indefinite period, while his super-powers remained intact.

 

Magno-kryptonite----“The Man from S.C.A.R.”, Jimmy Olsen # 92 (Apr., 1966)

An artificial form of kryptonite created by Truff, a.k.a. “Mr. Nero”, a villainous scientist from the planet Pyron.

Effects: In addition to the lethally painful effects of normal green kryptonite, it possessed an adhesive property that made it attach to anyone or anything from Krypton with an unbreakable force.

 

Kryptonite-plus----“The Anti-Supergirl Plot”, Action Comics # 350 (May, 1967)

A super-powerful isotope of green kryptonite of unknown origin.

Effects:  An intensified form of green k; it instantly incapacitated Supergirl and would have killed her in brief minutes.

 

 

 

In addition to the various forms of kryptonite, villains have tried a combination of green and red kryptonite radiations on three occasions, intent on causing Our Heroes some grief.

 

In “The Menace of Red and Green Kryptonite”, from Action Comics # 275 (Apr., 1961), the space-pirate Brainiac blasts the Man of Steel with a ray combining the radiations of red and green kryptonite.  The intermingled kryptonite radiation super-stimulates the pineal gland on the back of Superman’s head, causing him to grow a third eye.  Shades of Kolak!

 

It’s Supergirl’s turn in “The Ordeals of Dimension Z”, from Action Comics # 328 (Sep., 1965), when aliens expose her to small pieces of green and red k simultaneously, as part of a scheme to dupe her into taking part in an interplanetary last-man-standing match.  She, too, grows an extra baby-blue in the back of her head.

 

“Clark Kent’s Single Identity”, from Superboy # 121 (Jun., 1965) tells how the Phantom-Zone criminals lure the Boy of Steel into unknowingly passing near twin space-clouds, one of green-kryptonite dust and the other, of red-k dust.  As a consequence, Superboy loses his super-powers permanently.  Fortunately, he is able to trick Zone-inmate Professor Vakox into restoring them.

 

 

 

Kryptonite Evermore!

 

Mort Weisinger retired at the end of 1970 and his fiefdom was divided amongst other DC editors.  Julius Schwartz inherited the Superman title.  Schwartz determined to rein in, if not outright jettison, what he considered the more fanciful elements of the Weisinger-built Super-universe.  One of his first moves was to eliminate kryptonite, which he felt had become too much of a crutch for the writers.  In “Superman Breaks Loose!”, from Superman # 233 (Jan., 1971), an experimental station, testing green kryptonite as an alternative power source, explodes, triggering a world-wide atomic reaction which transmutes all kryptonite everywhere into iron.

 

Like many other of Mort Weisinger’s innovations to which he gave the heave-ho, Schwartz eventually brought kryptonite back.  And a lot sooner than expected.  (A concordant effort to halve the Man of Steel’s power-level had petered out from lack of reader enthusiasm.)  The official explanation was that the reactor explosion in “Superman Breaks Loose!” affected only the kryptonite on Earth.  “The Sun of Superman”, from Superman # 255 (Aug., 1972), established that there was still plenty of kryptonite in space. 

 

And, pretty soon, it started arriving on Earth, again.

 

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Richard Willis said:

Commander Benson said:

The duplicator ray didn't create "opposite" replicas. For example, when the duplicator ray struck the Man of Steel, the Bizarro-Superman possessed super-powers, which it wouldn't have, if he were an "opposite" replica.

This comment made me realize that when the imperfect Bizarro was created his superpowers were perfect. I don't remember any story that had his powers differ from Superman's.

There was such an occurance, well after the Silver Age; however, some of the Bizarro's super-powers were altered from those of Superman not because of the duplicator machine, but from an outside agency.

In "Backwards Battle of the Bizarro World", from Superman # 309 (Dec., 1976), we learn that Bizarro № 1 was struck in the back of his head by a meteor in space, in the star system of Htrae.  For an unexplained reason, the impact affected some of his super-powers.

His X-ray vision could now see only through lead.  His heat vision was changed to a freeze vision.  And his super-breath was converted to a flame breath.

Having just reread the red-green kryptonite story, I'm honestly not sure the green k contributed anything. Growing a third eye seems like a fairly normal red k effect, hardly the nightmarish transformation announced on the cover.

Fraser Sherman said:

Having just reread the red-green kryptonite story, I'm honestly not sure the green k contributed anything. Growing a third eye seems like a fairly normal red k effect, hardly the nightmarish transformation announced on the cover.

With regard to "The Menace of Red and Green Kryptonite", I agree with your assessment.  There appeared to be nothing special about the addition of green k to the mix.

However, the Supergirl story, "The Ordeals of Dimension Z" provides a serendipitous out.  As I described, in this tale, the Girl of Steel also acquires a third eye in the back of her head after being surreptitiously exposed to small pieces of green and red kryptonite at the same time.  

Now, it's reasonable to assume that they weren't the same pieces of kryptonite which powered Brainiac's green-red radiation in the earlier story.  Therefore, one might extrapolate that exposing a super-powered Kryptonian to a combination of red and green kryptonite radiation, regardless of its source, always results in the third-eye effect.  That would be a distinction from the usual effects of red k.

The trick Superman used to defeat Brainiac in Action Comics #275 (resolution spoiler) only makes sense if Superman's x-ray vision doesn't work continuously, and he was timing his spins to match the gaps between his x-ray pulses. Otherwise, he replaced a constant 2-eye ray stream with a sequence two rays/ no ray/ one ray/ no ray/ two rays.

I suppose it could be his rear eye was much stronger than his other two eyes put together, and he wanted to disguise the fact he was using it.

I hadn't known about the Dimension Z story. Good point.

Commander Benson said:

Fraser Sherman said:

Having just reread the red-green kryptonite story, I'm honestly not sure the green k contributed anything. Growing a third eye seems like a fairly normal red k effect, hardly the nightmarish transformation announced on the cover.

With regard to "The Menace of Red and Green Kryptonite", I agree with your assessment.  There appeared to be nothing special about the addition of green k to the mix.

However, the Supergirl story, "The Ordeals of Dimension Z" provides a serendipitous out.  As I described, in this tale, the Girl of Steel also acquires a third eye in the back of her head after being surreptitiously exposed to small pieces of green and red kryptonite at the same time.  

Now, it's reasonable to assume that they weren't the same pieces of kryptonite which powered Brainiac's green-red radiation in the earlier story.  Therefore, one might extrapolate that exposing a super-powered Kryptonian to a combination of red and green kryptonite radiation, regardless of its source, always results in the third-eye effect.  That would be a distinction from the usual effects of red k.

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