Thursday, September 22, 2011


I recently wrote about superheroes' varying power levels. At some point, many heroes have gotten so powerful that the writers introduced a weakness. The most famous one is kryptonite but there have been a wide variety of weaknesses.

Kryptonite itself was introduced in the Superman radio show in 1943 and didn't make its way into the comics until 1949. By the 1960s it was almost a supporting character on its own. Everyone hand his brother had a piece of it. It also multiplied. The original green variety was joined by red kryptonite which caused temporary physical changes in Superman, gold kryptonite which removed a kryptonian's powers permanently and other varieties.

In addition to kryptonite, Superman was vulnerable to magic, This should have meant that he had no resistance to magic so he could be turned into a frog as easily as the next person. Some writers took it to the extreme that anything with magic origins could hurt Superman.

And there were red suns which caused frequent mistakes. Superman got his powers from radiation emanating from a yellow star. Red stars do not radiate on this frequency so Superman gained his powers from going to a planet with a yellow sun. Many writers reversed this and had the radiation from red stars weakening Superman.

Superman's chief rival, Captain Marvel, didn't need these weaknesses. He had one built-in. Normally he was an ordinary boy. If you knew who he was then all you had to do was kidnap Billy Batson and gaghis to keep him from saying "Shazam". The same was true for the rest of the Marvel family.

Wonder Woman had her own weaknesses. Her magic lariat let her command anyone it encircled. When her bracelets were chained together by a man she lost her powers. Naturally, people constantly used her own lariat on her or chained her bracelets.

Other heroes had more common weaknesses. John Jones, the Martian Manhunter lost his powers when near fire. Green Lantern's power ring was useless against anything colored yellow.

Metamorpho's version of kryptonite was the Orb or Ra.

Many Marvel heroes had their own weaknesses. Iron Man's batteries kept running down, threatening to stop his heart. Don Blake needed his cane in order to turn into Thor and had to keep hold of his hammer or turn back into Blake. Daredevil kept fighting in places that disrupted his radar sense. The Hulk turned back into Bruce Banner, sometimes in the middle of a fight. The Sub-Mariner lost his strength if he was out of water.

The Human Torch could only use his flame for a short time. The more he used it the faster it burned out. Also, it seemed like any amount of water could dowse his flame. Once a vase of water put it out.

Cyclopes and Marvel Girl were good for about one major feat. The strain of this weakened them, possibly causing them to black out.

In the early days of the Silver Age, heroes spent most of the time fighting their weakness more than villains. As time went on, the villains got stronger and there was less need for the weaknesses. Sometimes the weakness was written out. Kryptonite was destroyed for a while around 1970. Iron Man got better batteries and a heart transplant. Other times the weakness simply stopped being used as a plot device.

By the 1970s, new heroes stopped having built-in weaknesses. The exception was Superman. Kryptonite made a comeback. You just can't get rid of a supporting character like that.

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