By Robert “Rob Base” Greenwood
Kryptonite is a material from DC comics very own Superman mythology. The ore form of a radioactive element from Superman’s home world of Krypton. It is famously known for being the ultimate natural weakness of Superman and most other Kryptonians.
The word Kryptonite has since become known as an Achilles’ heel, the one true weakness of an otherwise invincible man.
The concept of Kryptonite was conceived in an unpublished 1940 story “The K-Metal from Krypton”, by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. The K-metal in the story was a piece of Krypton which robbed Superman of his strength while giving humans superhuman powers, a plot point which decades later made its way into the Smallville.
Jerry Siegel also stated that the name of the planet Krypton was taken from the element Krypton due to the common denominators of high density and viscosity between the two.
(Yeah I don’t quite get it either. Science > Rob Base)
The first “published” use originated in the Superman radio series in June 1943 in the story arc “The Meteor from Krypton”.
Kryptonite covers a variety of colored substances, but usually refers to the most common “green” form. The material is usually shown as having been created from the radioactive remains of Superman’s home planet Krypton, and generally has adverse effects on Superman.
As well as it’s use as a plot device and some “rumors” state it was also a means to allow Superman’s voice actor, Bud Collyer, to take occasional time off. (which was for the most part been debunked – check Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #76 )
It would take many years for the big evil K -word to make it into the comics. It wasn’t till 1949 that comic book writers incorporated Kryptonite into their stories, as a new danger and weakness for Superman and to add an “interesting” element to his stories.
Editor Dorothy Woolfolk claims she brought Kryptonite to the comics. She told the Florida newspaper “Today” in August 1993 that she had found Superman’s invulnerability dull, and that DC’s flagship hero might be more interesting with an Achilles’ heel (So to speak) such as adverse reactions to a fragment of his home planet.
By the end of the 1940′s comic book heroes became passé and needed to stay relevant in a changing landscape. Kryptonite helped Superman not only stay relevant but made him seem more fallible.
Kryptonite, in its first comic appearance (Superman #61, in 1949), was a rare and unique. It came to earth inside a single meteorite from the exploded planet Krypton. Superman captured the two small pieces of Kryptonite, one from a fake swami (pretending to “hex” Superman with it) and another he purchased from a jewelry store, (wonder what the value of Kryptonite was in 1949?) and threw them into Metropolis’ river.
Overtime, Kryptonite was depicted as being so abundant that many two-bit criminals kept a stock pile as a precautionary measure.
Later it was explained that the explosion of the planet Krypton had opened a “dimensional warp” (similar to a wormhole) which allowed the ship that was carrying the young Kal-El to reach Earth in a relatively brief time, and a large amount of planetary debris had also passed through this “warp” and emerged near Earth at virtually the same time, accounting for the seemingly improbable abundance of Kryptonite material and its availability to Superman’s enemies.
Kryptonite is most commonly depicted as green in coloring, with a few exceptions; it was red in its first appearance in Superman #61 (November 1949). When Superman followed the time trail of a piece of red rock that weakened him, he was able to trace his origin back to Krypton for the first time. Other colors of Kryptonite, having different effects, began to show up frequently beginning in late 1950s comics, reaching a peak in appearances in 1960s Superman series.
To reduce the amount of Kryptonite used in Superman storylines, all known Kryptonite on Earth was transmuted into “k-iron” in a 1971 storyline titled “The Sandman Saga”, though Kryptonite could still be synthetically manufactured by a variety of known and unknown means, and additional material left over from the destruction of Krypton would continue to fall from space.
In the years to come, Kryptonite would continue as a thorn in the side of our big blue hero. Though after John Byrne rebooted the Superman mythos (after Crisis on Infinite Earths), Kryptonite became much rarer in the DC Universe and many of the multicolored varieties were eliminated.
Yet it wouldn’t stop future writers and editors from messing up the K-Metal from Krypton.