Kryptonite: Superman’s true strength
Kryptonite is what makes Superman, well, super!
No, not just that green crystalline stuff that is a remnant from his
dying planet. The concept of Kryptonite – the weakness it creates.
The struggle it engenders. The mounds and tonnage of ill effects it
unleashes faster than a speeding bullet. Kryptonite. In Supermanʼs
world, itʼs the diamond-hard stuff — pressed into shape by granite
forces deep inside the crust of the comic book fantasy world. In our
world, itʼs human weakness.
Kryptonite is part of the super sauce that makes Superman the
greatest superhero ever created.
My Concept Modeling work involves getting to the essence of film
projects and in 2010 I did a model on Kryptonite and
Superman: Kryptonite is critical to Superman. Why? Because it is his
weakness that makes Superman strong as a character; it is the
obstacles buried in his story and ultimately Superman himself, that
make him relatable to us. Writers recognize this as a character
In Concept Modeling terms, Kryptonite is a “negacept” which I defined
as a concept that defines its nature by the negation of another
concept. It sounds heady, I know, but it just means that if superman is
super, Kryptonite makes him “unsuper.”
If there is nothing to fear, there is no drama. Without a weakness,
Superman also becomes boring – invulnerability is dull said
Supermanʼs early editor, Dorothy Woolfolk; some credit her for
Weakness defines true strength
How do you write about strength? You set it against weakness.
One of the movieʼs posters shows Superman in police cuffs. It works
on a psychological level because it hints at his unexpected
weakness. We know he could snap those cuffs off like paper-mache
bracelets. So what is holding the Man of Steel back? Hard to believe
but itʼs the soft, mushy stuff: aspirations. Ideals. Goodness. What a
twist: This strength-linked-to-his-goodness is his Kryptonic-weakness.
If he is to stand for the good he must accept the weakness it creates
— holding true to those ideals despite the cost – doing, not what he
can do, but what is right. Not whatʼs best for him but best for others.
In cultural terms, his weakness is, unexpectedly, Truth, Justice and
the American Way. How is that a weakness? Because the bad guys
donʼt follow those rules; rather they scoff at them and throw them
back in his face. Yet the good stick it out. True strength is found in
overcoming the bad in spite of “moral handcuffs.”
The Homeland: Great Krypton
Supermanʼs story is Americaʼs story. We left a Krypton-great nation,
across the sea, and a vast distance, to a new world – alone. In time,
after finding ourselves, we would become the greatest, most powerful
nation on earth. We did it through might but also through a moral
fiber, imperfect as we are — hard work, integrity, principled
Itʼs a side note, but it is the reason his cape must be red. His costume
is basically the U.S.A.ʼs own red, white and blue. When he is depicted
flying through the blue skies and white clouds, red is the only color
that works. Whatʼs the purpose of the cape? Itʼs how Superman
creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster conveyed the feeling of flying
for a flat page. How do you show flight dynamics in a comic book? A
red cape works.
The Kryptonite is his personal journey
Supermanʼs journey is fueled by the aspirations he holds within a
modern world that might not be ready for him. The mystery source of
such super strengths fuels his search for his own identity and the
super-sized mission that he must grow into and accept. A Superman,
super alone, super burdened. Itʼs a type of Kryptonite, separating him
from the easy joy he should have given his superpower gifts.
A quick recap: You canʼt stand for truth, if you donʼt know the truth of
who you are. You canʼt be about justice, if youʼre not willing to abide
by hard-set principles. You canʼt take a stand for the “American Way”
if you are . . . an alien? Oops.
Thatʼs right, in our film world of green-monsters-from-outer-space and
the like, we forget that Superman was one of the first aliens and
perhaps the only one, until Star Trekʼs Spock, that we aspire to be
like. (All you Trekkies are nodding, right?)
Our number one sci-fi enemy may be an alien but, surprisingly, our
number one comic book hero is also alien. Yet if you dive into it more
deeply, it is another link to us – we are truly a nation founded on
immigrants. Being an alien, becoming one of us, and believing in the
“American Way,” Superman super-stamped our traditional principles
as universal ones in the 40ʼs and 50ʼs. No small influence there.
The Kryptonite in our lives?
All of us have some drama in our lives. Victory is about winning. But
glory is about winning in the face of eminent failure. Kryptonite makes
the super glorious possible. That is the lesson in Superman for all of
us. Our weaknesses, as we struggle to overcome them, can make us
stronger. Super struggles can force us to become super strong.
Who would have “a-thunk it?” Kryponite also turns a comic book story
into a contemporary fable. Could it be that our daily struggles can
make us a little greater? Or that our weaknesses can make victory
“Really,” you may be thinking, “life lessons from a comic book
character?” Well, I was a bit cynical too: Truth be told, I talked to
Warner Bros. about the project when it was first announced. I was
concerned because it is easy, today, to make the film cynical; for
example, we donʼt go around promoting “Truth, Justice and the
American Way” anymore. Any cynicism would be Kryptonite for the
project. Their response: “Chris Nolan is definitely not cynical.” I say
good for him. Superman is indeed super; so are Producer
Christopher Nolan, Director Zach Snyder and Writer David Goyer. Itʼs
crystal clear: they are super concept guys.
Sharon Hallett · Top CommenterReally great article! Very
interesting! Reply · Like · Follow Post · June 22, 2013 at 11:37am