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The Colors Out of Space

Mark Alfred


Thomas Wolfe called one of his novels You Can't Go Home Again.  Well, Superman has gone Wolfe one better.  Not only can Superman not go home again, pieces of home keep following him around, trying to kill him!

As Superman tells us in 1959's "The Curse of Kryptonite" (Superman #130), "Kryptonite is my Achilles Heel -- the only substance in the universe that can harm me!  It was originally formed years ago when the planet Krypton, the world on which I was born, blew up!  A nuclear chain reaction converted every chunk of the exploding world into Green Kryptonite!"

As we will later see, different swarms of Green K meteors passed through different-colored space clouds, creating other forms of Kryptonite, although the lettercol of Superman #243 assures us that "they are all isotopes of the same element."

But before getting down to those specific types of Kryptonite, here's a general rundown of the element, as gathered by yours truly from a few hundred issues of Superman, Action, Superboy, and a few other titles.

Kryptonite was drawn to Earth in the wake of the space-warp drive created by Jor-El for baby Kal-El's rocket (Action #500).  It has strong radioactive characteristics, and this fact has from time to time inspired scientists to attempt Green K-powered engines, as in Action #224, Superboy #65, and World's Finest #76 -- not to mention the Green K-powered atomic heart of John Corben, Metallo (Action #252).  However, oddly enough, Kryptonite radiation only bodes harm for Kryptonian creatures (except for White K and Blue K, as described below).  Luckily for Superman and other Kryptonians, just about any intervening amount of lead -- even as thin as tinfoil -- can completely block all Kryptonite radiation; in Action #278 Superman builds a lead suit that he continued to use on occasion through the years.

When passing into our atmosphere, Kryptonite "didn't burn up in Earth's air like ordinary meteors because Kryptonite can't combine chemically with oxygen, which cause combustion" (Superman #130).  However, as told in Action #283, Action #412, and other texts, Kryptonite can be chipped, melted, and otherwise manipulated.  Thus, it is clear that Kryptonite is the one remnant of Krypton that does not become invulnerable in Earth's environment.  "As we have shown in various stories throughout the years, Kryptonite can be broken, melted, pulverized into dust, and dissolved by acid" (Action #296 lettercol).  Lois Lane #28's lettercol -- from the year 1961 -- informs us that "Kryptonite fragments lost their invulnerability when they passed through the green cosmic cloud which made them harmful to people born on the planet Krypton."  Notice how that statement, danger-caused-by-cloud,  contradicts the text from Superman #130, two years earlier.  As time went by, the settled DC doctrine became that the basic, damaging effects of Kryptonite on Kryptonians was caused by the nuclear explosion making the stuff radioactive.  As time went on, and other varieties of Kryptonite were introduced, the idea was promulgated that the difference in colors and effects were caused by different colored space clouds, which changed an already dangerously radioactive element into various forms with different effects on their hapless Kryptonian victims.

Now -- down to specifics, where we may find as many exceptions as there are rules!

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