When mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent puts on his red cape and blue costume, he becomes the world-renowned superhero Superman, a man known for his daring feats of strength and selfless compassion. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first unveiled DC’s Man of Steel in the debut issue of Action Comics in 1938, and it did not take long for him to become a beloved character. For years, his enemies have poked and prodded him to test his invulnerability until one glowing green rock became the bane of his existence. Since then, Kryptonite has become Superman’s most famous weakness, but it’s not his actual Achilles heel.
Introduced on a 1943 episode of the radio drama The Adventures of Superman and inducted into DC’s comic book mythos a few years later, Kryptonite has been the go-to substance for villains in their pursuit of defeating the powerful hero. Originally a crystalline rock that rendered Superman powerless, it soon became his fatal flaw as more dangerous and colorful versions of Kryptonite emerged. Stories nowadays have placed emphasis on exploring Superman as a character through grounded storytelling and have refashioned Kryptonite into a mere plot device in favor of an even greater weakness tied to his human connections on Earth.
Superman’s Susceptibility To Mind Control
Superman is famously faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. However, for all his strength, he has trouble holding onto his civilian identity. It is a prevalent trope in superhero stories wherein the villain discovers the hero’s secret identity and torments their every waking moment. Superman knows the affable Clark Kent does not pose a threat to his enemies, but the people in Kent’s life do. This fear of losing the people near and dear to him constantly haunts him and highlights that his greatest weakness is psychological. This, in turn, has opened his mind up to psychic attacks from supervillains.
During Infinite Crisis, it was revealed that Maxwell Lord studied the heroes of the DC Universe while running Justice League International. Aside from sabotaging the JLI and killing Ted Kord, Lord also unearthed sensitive information about the world’s greatest superhero and used it against him. Employing his powers of mind control, Lord exploited Superman’s fears and showed him visions of his friends and family in danger. These perverted visions often had his wife Lois Lane colluding with his archenemies or being outright killed by an enemy. With the mind control in effect, Superman could not discern reality from lies, mistaking friends for enemies. The situation came to a head when Superman attacked Wonder Woman, who then has to kill Lord to save her friend and teammate.
In another case, a diabolical villain proved again how vulnerable Superman is to mind control. This time, the consequences were far-reaching and reshaped the course of a world’s history. On Earth-49 (also known as the Injustice universe), the Joker exploited Superman’s fear through mind control, tricking him into killing his own wife, Lois.
Some villains have even used Superman’s fears of losing Lois to trap him in alternate realities that challenged the strength of his mind. Dominus, a late ’90s villain, once broke the Man of Steel’s mind and showed him visions of four alternate realities happening simultaneously. It was an excruciating exercise meant to coerce information out of Superman. Clark fell for the trick because each time he had a Lois Lane to save, thus proving that his weakness of fearing for his loved ones is more potent that the side effects of Kryptonite poisoning.
Kryptonite’s Popularity Has Waned Over The Years
The popularity of Kryptonite, especially the green variety, is mostly due to its overuse in comics. Almost every Superman villain has got their hands on the glowing rock despite its supposed rarity, creating a paradoxical trope. From Metallo’s Kryptonite-powered heart to Lex Luthor’s penchant for hoarding as much as possible, stories from DC’s past and present depict the rock as the Man of Steel’s ultimate weakness. Even Batman has synthesized the substance as a failsafe method to incapacitate Superman should the need arise. Still, Kryptonite has never broken Superman as effectively as assaults upon his mind.
If Modern Age stories are any indication, Kryptonite has lost much of its potency both as a weapon and a storytelling device. Kingdom Come (by Mark Waid, Alex Ross, Todd Klein, and Bob Kahan) introduced readers to a Superman able to withstand Kryptonite radiation, partly because it was from an alternate Earth, but also because he had absorbed such an enormous amount of solar radiation that it rendered the once lethal rock useless. Even in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, the Big Blue is temporarily invulnerable to Kryptonite after being exposed to critical levels of stellar radiation from Earth’s yellow sun that activated his bio-electric aura. Something similar also happened to the Golden Superman from DC One Million. After living in the sun for decades, things like Kryptonite were the least of his concerns.
Kryptonite has always been a way to test Superman’s physical strength. However, mind control is a different ball game. Unlike the green rock, whose effects are temporary and reversible, Superman’s action as a hero has irredeemable consequences on public trust. His fear of something happening to the people close to him is his greatest Kryptonite now that he has a wife, a son, and the Phaelosians Otho-Ra and Osul-Ra to protect. Unfortunately, this will likely be the case as long as it is his mission to protect life and freedom across every world and universe.
Kryptonite may be famous for being Superman’s most well-known weakness, but it isn’t the Man of Steel’s greatest deficiency. Read More