Friday, February 13, 2015

Kryptonite: A Puppet in a Story It Never Made

In the final pages of this middle story from Superman #176 from 1965, we have learned how a chance encounter with our (storytelling) piece of Green Kryptonite also inspired Superman to build his now-canon Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic's frozen wastes.

When Professor Clyde of Metropolis developed a ray that could change the radiation (and therefore remove the deadliness) of radioactive ores/minerals, Superman went back and snatched that piece of Green K for an experiment on the most dangerous thing (to Kryptonians) on Earth.

After the experiment, Clyde holds a lead box towards the Man of Steel and lifts the lid.  When the Green K has no apparent effect on Superman, Superman snaps the lid shut and heads off the share his exciting news with his friends at the Daily Planet.  Meanwhile, Professor Clyde has built (apparently between panels) a tall radio-broadcast tower, from which he will shoot out his Kryptonite-changing rays worldwide.

We rejoin the story as Superman arrives at the Planet with his phase-shifted Green K ...

Just think, Supes imagines ... think of all the bad guys in the world realizing that the Green Kryptonite they paid big bucks for, is now useless as a weapon against Superman, Supergirl, or any Kryptonians!

Next, we have the punchline of this story.  When I reflect that in the Silver Age, stories were often spun from a single odd or dramatic image, I think the third panel on this page might have been the impetus for this entire marvelous tale.  Also the splash page for this story!

What irony!  The one element deadly to Superman is now ineffective on him, but makes normal Earthlings sick.

Our noble hero now comes to a decision.  The status quo must be preserved!  This is a prerequisite for nearly all episodic storytelling, but this time it's a moral choice.  Superman must weigh his possible immunity to Kryptonite, against the danger to the peoples of Earth.  Being the hero that he is, he decides that he doesn't want the Earth burdened with an unknown amount of environmental poisons.

(An aside ... since Green K is deadly to all Kryptonian animals, then wouldn't an Earth littered with this new, changed Green K immediately start to kill all animate life on Earth?  Talk about a creepy idea!)

So, in a dramatic move shown from a dramatic visual angle, Superman barely makes it to the top of Clyde's tower in time, smashing the broadcasting device just as it's being switched on.

As a final note on this page, we read that in 1965 Superman talked of "three billion humans around the world!"  In comparison, a 2013 estimate put our little planet as supporting 7.125 billion people -- more than doubling from 1965, in less than 50 years.  Ah, the days before overcrowding...

The story's final panels show the denouement following Superman's decision.  What to do with this weird piece of Kryptonite?  Well, why not display it in the Fortress that its presence inspired?  After all, it is "The only specimen of Green Kryptonite on Earth harmless to Superman!"  (It says so on the pedestal.)

Wait, Superman!  The sentient Kryptonite (that's narrating this tale) has felt its wave-lengths changing back to its previous lethal state!  Don't open that box!

And, in a satisfying call-back to its introduction on Page Five of this tale, Supes thinks quickly and is able to use the Super-Fumigation system to blow the deadly rock out the door, "which opens automatically to let the fumes out!"

With the benefit of more experience with pollution than was common in 1965, dear reader, aren't we prone to find fault with Superman's fumigation system?  If a deadly germ or gas got loose in Superman's Fortress, what's the plan?  Why, SWEEP IT OUT THE DOOR!  It's a kind of Super-NIMBY!

That aside, we close this tale with Superman tossing this treacherous piece of Kryptonite out into space ... another example of foisting our problems on the greater environment.  Out of space, out of mind!

Except for the clincher ... a Strange Twist of Fate turns this piece of Kryptonite into Red K ... and sends it back towards Earth!  Can I get a DUN-DUN-DUN?

All of this, in eight pages!  Let's recap its classic Silver Age elements:
  • fourth-wall silliness (it's narrated by a piece of Kryptonite)
  • perhaps inspired by a single image or concept (Earthlings made sick by Kryptonite while Superman is unaffected)
  • an origin story (the Fortress of Solitude's location in the Arctic)
  • maintenance of the status quo
  • noble self-sacrifice on the part of the hero
  • Curt Swan's art
Yup, all the elements of a great Silver Age Superman tale are here!

See you Monday for the next pages of this great comic book.

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