Why Does Kryptonite Hurt Superman?


“If I go crazy, will you still call me Superman,” popular group 3 Doors Down questioned in their hit song Kryptonite. That’s just one example of the strongest superhero DC has to offer has engrained himself in pop culture. Ever since Superman took center stage in 1938, the alien mineral has long been part of the culture as a euphemism for that one thing that can destroy you. But why does kryptonite have that effect on this superhero, in particular?

Essentially, kryptonite makes Superman weak because of the radiation it emits. The belief is that he absorbs energy from the sun like a solar panel. Kryptonite basically blocks the sun from fueling Superman. Without access to solar energy, he would cease to exist. Not all kryptonite works the same, however.

Various Types of Kryptonite

Generally speaking, kryptonite comes from Superman’s home planet, Krypton. Kryptonite is typically thought of as glowing green pieces that destroy the man of steel. That’s just one type, though. There are multiple types of ejected shards from Krypton floating around with different consequences for Mr. Kent. Some are dangerous and others have no serious implications. Humans are not immune to a few and often suffer or benefit from the kryptonite themselves.

Green Kryptonite

The most plentiful, and recognizable, is green. When used to take strength, Superman will get physically ill, which will get worse until he is incapable of recovery. Even humans can’t escape the toxicity of the green stuff and can develop cancer with prolonged exposure.

Red Kryptonite

The impact from this one could be good or bad, depending on perspective and the person’s reaction. You could gain the ability to read minds or you could suffer from extreme hair growth. Those are just two examples. This is actually the type of kryptonite 3 Doors Down was referring to in their song. It’s red that makes Superman act crazy and, yes, he is still called Superman when it happens.

Gold Kryptonite

Luckily, this one is rare because no Kryptonian would want to be exposed to it. Gold permanently blocks the body’s absorption of the sun’s rays. It has no impact on any other part of life other than removing super abilities.

Blue Kryptonite

This is a weird one. When exposed to blue, Superman is unable to do anything super. At the same time, it makes him immune to green. It’s actually used to defeat Ultraman by Superman’s forever enemy, Lex Luthor. To add to the complexity, blue is also an antidote to the effects of red kryptonite.

White Kryptonite

Short and simple, it attacks every type of plant life with the intent of destroying it. End of all life? No thanks.

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Platinum Kryptonite

Humans would definitely appreciate and hope to find platinum kryptonite. When a person comes in contact with it, they become endowed with any power a person from Krypton might have. Basically, instant superpower. No spiders needed.

Black Kryptonite

Similar to blue, the impact is unpredictable. Only showcased once against Superman, it was used to split the dark Kal-El side of him from the Clark Kent side. The superhero then used black to get rid of it. The same personality-splitting side effect happened when Lex Luthor got hold of it.

Pink Kryptonite

When Superman was exposed to pink, it turned him gay for a time. Another time it turned him into a woman. Fierce.  

Jewel Kryptonite

Suddenly with psychic powers? You must be in the Phantom Zone with one of these types of kryptonite.

Anti-Kryptonite

No Kryptonian was harmed in the handling of this kryptonite but humans sure were. This has the same symptoms as the green but on humans. Steer clear!

There are also types of kryptonite that exist but are not necessarily real, even in the DC universe. These are the hoax or prop versions of kryptonite:

  • Yellow – was a hoax by Lex Luthor
  • Silver – a prop by Jimmy Olsen
  • Purple – it has the same characteristics as green but was actually a color error
  • Kryptonite Plus – falsely identified. The true name is Tikron stones

What is kryptonite made of?

Okay, you might be overflowing with info about remnants of the once overpowering planet that used up all its resources. However, it might help to understand what the substance is comprised of, since it’s now radioactive. Xenon is the largest shareholder of materials, followed by promethium, tantalum, plutonium, dialium, mercury, and others. As satisfying as it may be, the real element krypton is not found in kryptonite.

This is the recipe for green but only varies somewhat for the litany of other types. Kryptonite was created in the planet’s core from whence it came. Unsurprisingly, a series of unfortunate events involving kryptonite was what led to the planet’s untimely demise.

What makes Krypton so different from earth?

For starters, the place of Clark Kent’s birth was heavier than our planet. That does an interesting thing for the body, comparatively. Since there was more gravity on Krypton, there was more pulling down on the muscles. The lighter gravity would be a massive difference to even walking, for instance. You’d feel much lighter as each step would give you the elevation of a trampoline. Actually, it would be a lot like when John Carter landed on Mars and had to learn control, since each step sent him soaring.

Krypton’s sun is red, unlike our own yellow version. Similar to John Carter seemingly possessing superpowers on Mars, that would be the equivalent of any native of Krypton coming to earth. On their home planet, Kryptonians would be like normal people. Amongst others like them, under the red sun, they would not stand out as Superman did on earth. So, when coming to a planet with less mass and a yellow sun, that naturally highlights what sets them apart from their human counterparts. 

Are there any benefits to Kryptonite?

As dark as it sounds, the substance does have positive angles. For one, it can provide power under the right circumstances. Unfortunately for everyone in Metropolis, Lex Luthor sees it as green energy and uses it to charge his weapons. He also had some of the shards put into a ring as a rebellion against the superhero. It gave him cancer, as we discussed it could previously.

Superman decided to do some good with it, though, and handed it over to Batman. This was a way to ensure the former could be stopped in the event he was controlled by an outside entity to the detriment of humanity. 

Can Superman overcome kryptonite?

Kryptonite is humanizing a being that is superior to people in every way. He needed to have something that made him imperfect. Even so, there is a way for him to have a tolerance to this radioactive mess. In a strange turn of events, a pocket dimension was put together in an effort to trick Superman. The kryptonite made here was from a place that Superman was not native to. Therefore, it had no impact on him.

The likelihood of that situation being duplicated is low, but it still shows the potential for Superman to figure out a more permanent solution. Of course, living in a place like Metropolis with a plethora of evildoers who are out to get you is a good motivator for finding a cure to one of your very few flaws.

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