In Action Comics #900, there's a story in which Superman meets the national security advisor outdoors at Camp David. Superman takes note of the fact that there are snipers trained on him, and one of them has a rifle loaded with a kryptonite bullet.
Now, I hardly expect that, if someone gave the kill order, that Superman would stand there and get shot, what with that "faster than a speeding bullet" tagline. But it did make me wonder: Is a chunk of kryptonite the size of a bullet -- that is, something that weighs between a quarter ounce to three-quarters of an ounce -- large enough to have lethal effects on him?
Does anybody know?
I definitely recall plot points like Green K-lined bars and cages weakening Superman. A bullet size piece of Green K, if kept near him, would kill him eventually. Green K was diferent from Red K or Gold K because the amount had a direct correlation to the effect, i.e. a pebble of Green K would cause him pain but a boulder of Green K would immediately paralize him and poison him far faster!
Didn't Batman have a kryptonite bullet?
How about this scenario? If the tip of the bullet was made from Kryptonian metal and the rest from Green K, that could pierce Superman's skin and cause a potentially fatal wound. Of course, having such a bullet and successfully using it are two different things!
As we recalls it, exposure to Kryptonite could kill Superman, but a weapon made of Kryptonite couldn't penetrate his skin.
You recall it correctly, good Baron. Mort Weisinger made it clear in both his oft-reprinted "Superboy Legend" and "Superman Legend" textpieces:
Though exposure to KRYPTONITE rays can harm SUPERBOY, a bullet made of it cannot penetrate his skin, because, unlike other materials from KRYPTON, KRYPTONITE is not indestructable. KRYPTONITE bullets or shells would merely shatter against his invulnerable body. However, he would be weakened by the fragments if he remained within their range.
Kryptonite is the only thing from Krypton that does not become indestructable under a yellow sun. Thus, it can be broken, carved, and melted. And a Kryptonite bullet could never penetrate Superman's super-skin---though the radiation from it could harm him.
This fact was validated in a number of stories, such as "The Fury of the Kryptonian Killer", from Superman # 195 (Apr., 1967).
It was this fact---or rather, the ignorance of it---which started me away from comics in the early '70's. The New Turk writers who came on board DC around 1970 or so committed several small errors in continuity that had been established for years, and this was one of the first transgressions. A Superboy or Superman story from '71 or '72 showed the Caped Kryptonian being shot by a Kryptonite bullet, in total disregard of what had long been established.
One might argue, so what? It was only one story. But here's the rub. Somehow, that one story changed the paradigm. From then on, more and more writers assumed that kryptonite bullets could, indeed, penetrate Superman's body. Granted, the rules were all changed after the Crisis, and what Mort wrought doesn't apply to the post-Crisis version of the Man of Steel. But I would bet a good chunk of money that the fellow who wrote the story in Action Comics # 900 about a Secret Service sniper with a kryptonite bullet in his rifle believed that kryptonite bullets had always been able to pierce Superman's body.
What is remarkable to me is that, for some reason---despite the facts having been established for years---as soon as one of them was unknowingly (or not-caringly) contradicted by one of the New Turk writers, the readers accepted the contradiction as "fact". Case in point: Snapper Carr. For almost a decade, he was clearly established as an honorary member of the Justice League. Then Denny O'Neil writes "Snapper Carr---Super-Traitor", JLA # 77 (Dec., 1969), in which he constantly refers to Snap as the JLA's "mascot". And from that point on, many, many readers consider him as just that, and not an honorary member.
My refrain "Misinformation begets misinformation" applied, even before the Internet age.
I was intrigued, Philip, by your suggestion of a bullet with a tip constructed of a Kryptonian metal and the rest of green kryptonite. I can't see any reason why such a round wouldn't penetrate Superman's skin. For that matter, a bullet composed entirely of a Kryptonian metal would do the job just as lethally (given that the shooter was a good marksman). But you have the problem of how someone would construct such a bullet, given that Kryptonian metal would be immune to forming, shaping, or moulding. The aerodynamics of a bullet, to ensure its accuracy, require more than just sticking a small piece of Kryptonian metal on the end of a piece of green kryptonite.
It's not a problem impossible to solve, but it would be beyond the capabilities of your average bad guy.
ITEM: Although it's pre-Crisis, in "The Last Days of Superman", he was nearly killed by a mote of Green K. smaller than a marble... small enough to be lodged in Jimmy Olsen's camera with his noticing it.
ITEM: In "The Army of Living Kryptonite Men", we see that it wasn't established quite as a relationship between mass and time to kill Kal-El regarding Green K. Superboy and Krypto battle (surprise) an army of rocky humanoid forms made of Kryptonite boulders that eventually collapse on them... it looks as if it's a few tons, and they are nearly buried (save the necessary visible portions of their anatomy that we readers need to see them), yet Lightning Lad has enough time to travel from the 30th Century and rescue them. Similarly, in "Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires", Superboy and Supergirl are captured in gigantic presses with the faces composed of Green K, but they don't perish... or really, seem to be all that much agony (okay, it's three panels, there's only so much even Jim Shooter could do!)
ITEM: Post-crisis, Green Kryptonite was so rare that the ONLY existing sample of it came to Earth on Kal-El's "birthing matrix" (sigh...) and was enough to make the gem in a ring. Of course, since then, every writer has found the "Hey, it's easy to write a Superman story using Green K!" concept, and once again, there's a lot of it on Earth. Not so much that, as once speculated, Krypton might have had to be a dwarf star to supply that much of the element throughout the galaxies... but there's a lot.
ITEM: And this kinda bothered me a little back in the Silver Age days... what is Kryptonite? Is it a metal? Is it a mineral? Is it just a hunk of dirt or stone (as always seemed to be the case)? Did no processed material from ANY of Krypton's cities come to Earth? (We KNOW that some of it survived the explosion, even notwithstanding Argo City and Kandor... witness the statues from the El Family Vault and the box of Forbidden Weapons that contained the Phantom Zone projector.) I never remember seeing "raw" Kryptonite as anything but hunks of rock. So... any ideas what it was?
As far back as I can remember, Kryptonite has always been described as a "remnant of Superman's homeworld", which always led me to believe it was actually a meteor fragment of the former planet; as portrayed in the Smallville TV series.
As to the possibility of kryptonite bullets, while rarely used because of the problems the Commander cites, the theory behind such ammunition is that as the bullet approaches its target, the kryptonite within (the whole bullet was never actually composed of kryptonite) would weaken Superman's invulnerability to the point where he became vulnerable. Then it would be just a question of how good the marksman is in regards to where the bullet strikes, for (theoretically) because of the kryptonite radiation, you have now just shot a "normal" person.
Same basic principle behind why any Kryptonian can be hurt by normal means when exposed to the green rock; although there are a lot of big ifs in the theory.
Yet being able to hear the shot and the whole "faster than a speeding bullet" part of his abilities, you'd have better luck trying to poison Clark Kent over time with trace amounts of kryptonite, provided you knew who he really was. But then again, suppose someone who hated Kent's guts were just trying to poison him outright without knowing about his kryptonian heritage. Now there would be a story!
Imagine Superman gradually getting weaker and losing his powers without knowing why.
I remember on the old board someone (I think it was the Commander) posting a panel of Superman, weakened by kryptonite and almost completely submerged in the lava of a volcano, with only his face showing. He was weakened by the kryptonite yet undamaged by the lava because he was still invulnerable. I don't know if that was from Superman #195 as cited above or not, but I'd sure like to know in what comic that scene appeared. Today the "kryptonite bullet" offense is a standard ploy in the both comics (Superman/Batman #1, IIRC) as well as the Smallville television show.
As to the possibility of kryptonite bullets, while rarely used because of the problems the Commander cites, the theory behind such ammunition is that as the bullet approaches its target, the kryptonite within (the whole bullet was never actually composed of kryptonite) would weaken Superman's invulnerability to the point where he became vulnerable.
That theory is undone because it is based on a misconception. And of course, I am speaking to the pre-Crisis Superman---setting aside the post-Crisis version, in which the rules were changed and any contradictions instituted by unknowing or uncaring Young Turk writers of the '70's.
The misconception is that Superman loses his invulnerability when exposed to green kryptonite. He does not; he remains invulnerable to everything, except the effects of the kryptonite poisoning, of course. Now, I will grant you, in the early '50's, there were one or two times when that standard was contradicted, but the vast majority of instances maintained that condition. And it was never contradicted once Mort Weisinger took over as the editor.
One clear instance of this being shown in a story came in "The Story of Superman's Experimental Robots", from Action Comics # 299 (Apr., 1963)---and it is also the one which Jeff of Earth-J is recalling in his post above. Briefly, the plot details the circumstance in which, on an alien world, Superman is training some experimental robots, when a force from that world corrupts the robots' circuitry and turns them hostile. At one point, they expose the Man of Steel to green kryptonite and while under its influence, he gets tossed into a sea of molten metal.
Superman's own thoughts state that, while he is weakened by the green k, he retains his invulnerability to the molten metal, as seen here:
Given the conditions that, even when exposed to kryptonite, Superman remains indestructable; and kryptonite itself is destructable, there is no way a green-kryptonite bullet will penetrate his skin.
For a definitive example of this, I refer to the climax of the story I noted before---"The Fury of the Kryptonian Killer", from Superman # 195 (Apr., 1967). Here, the space-pirate Amalak, after his master plan has failed, attacks the Man of Steel with an automatic rifle firing explosive green-k bullets. While Superman is affected by the green-kryptonite gas discharged by the exploding shells, he has nothing to fear from the rounds themselves. Per his own thoughts (italics mine): “Great Scott! He’s firing explosive green k bullets at me, machine-gun style! But even they can’t pierce my invulnerable skin!”
Hope this helps.