Friday, August 25, 2006

Part 2 of "The Colors Out of Space"

Red Kryptonite. The wild card of the bunch. Red K is nothing but Green K that has passed through a strange red cosmic cloud (Superman #174). It has strange, wild, unpredictable effects that are sometimes bad and sometimes fortunately timed.

The ground rules: Every piece of Red K has a different effect, but each piece will have the same effect on any Kryptonian, as in Superman #144, when a cloud of Red K dust gives Superman, Supergirl, and Krypto all the same nightmare -- that Earth has been destroyed due to Superman's carelessness. Another example is in Action #286, when the members of Wexr II's Superman Revenge Squad try out pieces of Red K on Krypto to see how Superman will be affected. Boy, talk about unethical experimentation on animals!

A distinctive tingling sensation -- perhaps the inspiration for Marvel's creation of Spider-Man's "spidey-sense"? -- gives an after-the-fact notice that a Kryptonian has been exposed to Red K. But its duration is only temporary, from 24 to 72 hours. And, happily, each piece of Red K can affect an individual only once -- unless a good script demands otherwise!

Superman has stockpiled some Red K samples with known properties in his Fortress of Solitude (Action #284). At the end of 1963, a reader calculated that more than 56 varieties had been featured (Action 307). Look out, Mr. Heinz, we're gaining on you!

Red K effects can range from the dramatic -- turning Superman into a Kryptonian Drang (Action #303) or giving humans super-powers via Supergirl's kiss (Action #290) -- to the subtle, such as giving Superboy an extra finger on each hand (Superboy #105).

Here is a brief chronicle of Red K madness:
Action #293 splits Superman into a human Clark Kent and an amoral Superman. In Action #311-312, pouring acid on the same Red K reinstates its effect, but making the change permanent! Thus, a heroic but all-to-human Kent soon finds himself leading a guerilla war against a tyrant Superman who has conquered the planet. A very well-written two-parter with a twist at the end.

Action #317 describes "The Rainbow Faces of Superman," wherein he turns green with envy, purple with rage, and so on.

Superboy #101 chronicles Krypton's transformation into a collie bitch who even gives birth to super-powered puppies! When you combine Red K with time travel, anything can happen. Red K has turned Superboy into the inspiration for Egypt's Sphinx; a human magnet who helps Arthur draw Excalibur from the stone; and Jesse James's double (Superboy #103). Soon after, in Superboy #111, Krypto's Red K time travels change the Dog of Steel into the Roc of Sinbad's tale; a South American llama; and Mrs. O'Leary's cow, in which guise he starts the great Chicago fire!

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