Today, we’re going to mix it up a little and try something fresh. We’re not going to be talking about superhero powers today – at least, not in so many words.
We’re going to be talking about their elements.
They’ve generally been used to explain superhero powers (or, in case of one, weaknesses!), and they pop up a little more frequently than you would think. Some of the elements do exist (with some slight modifications to their properties, of course) and some of them are completely fiction. But still really cool. We’re going to be talking about three today. One of them has real-life counterparts, and two of them are complete fiction.
Let’s start with kryptonite.
Yes, technically, the real element’s name is krypton, but let’s be real, here.
Kryptonite is generally a green crystal found on the planet Krypton that fell to Earth during the planet’s explosion. Lex Luthor also made it in a lab a couple of times. Its effect on Superman is a little sporadic. Regardless of what it does, it seems to work by radiation effects. Sometimes, it just reduces his powers to the point where he’s essentially a human being. Other times, it puts him in severe pain. And it’s been implied that, in the long-term, Kryptonite could kill Superman. Yikes.
That’s the main form, the Green Kryptonite. Other common types seem to bed Red Kryptonite (wild card effect, no two chunks are the same!), Gold Kryptonite (permanently removes powers), White Kryptonite (kills plants), Black Kryptonite (splits Kryptonian personality), Anti-Kryptonite (only affects non-Kryptonians), X-Kryptonite (temporary superpowers for non-Kryptonians), and a lot more. Superman’s been around for a long time, and it should really be a scientific law that the longer a superhero’s been around, the more complicated his story gets.
Now, let’s talk about the real thing. Krypton.
Most off you probably know that krypton’s considered a noble gas, which means it doesn’t really like to react with anything. It’s found in the atmosphere in very tiny, tiny quantities. Sometimes it’s used in photography … or lasers … or lights …
It does have some interesting parts, I swear.
Krypton also happens to be a byproduct of nuclear reactors. During the Cold War, we used the radioactive isotope of Krypton to see if the Soviet was manufacturing nuclear weapons. The method seems a little simple (subtracting traces from Western reactors from the amount found naturally in the air), but it’s still pretty cool.
Let’s move onto the fictional ones.
Technically it’s an alloy but, Adamantium, most popularly used in Wolverine’s skeleton and claws. It’s one of the strongest alloys in the known universe, able to cut through almost anything. One the flipside, it’s incredibly expensive to manufacture. That being said, it’s popped up frequently in the Marvel universe. As we’ve stated, Wolverine has it. Sabretooth, certain shields of Captain America (although, most noticeably, not in the original shield), Doc Ock’s arms, Gambit’s staff, Ultron’s armor, and Bucky Barnes’ suit.
So how was it made? During WWII, a scientist named MacLain tried to create something indestructible. He fell asleep at his workbench and made an incredibly strong material made out of Vibranium and some other element. In an attempt to duplicate it, he made another formula without Vibranium and constructed Adamantium. There are only two examples of anyone ever damaging Adamantium : Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and Hulk’s fist only slightly dented two samples.
So, obviously, the most accurate element would be the strongest one, wouldn’t it?
That question isn’t the easiest to answer, as there’s a lot of different ways to measure strength. But we’ll just choose one way.
Simple, ordinary carbon. The element of life. Can easily form chains, rings, incredibly reactive, arguably the most useful element in the universe. It also happens to be the strongest element in some forms.
Under incredibly high temperature and pressure, the carbon atom rearranges to form a diamond lattice. This all happens over billions of years and are only brought close to the surface by volcanic eruption. As with Adamantium, diamonds can also be produced in a lab. They have the highest hardness on the Moh’s scale of mineral hardness.
We’ve already mentioned the last element I’m going to talk about, but let’s bring it up again. Vibranium.
Vibranium isn’t as tough as Adamantium is, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. It has an extraterrestrial origin but is found mostly in the fictional African country of Wakanda. One of the main benefits to it (in opposition to Adamantium) is that its absorption qualities. In reference to its name, it absorbs vibratory and kinetic energy.
Although it’s incredibly expensive, a lot of Marvel heroes have used it over the years. Captain America’s shield is the most common example, although it’s also found uses in the Black Panther’s outfit, the Avengers Tower, Stark’s Arc Reactor, and various uses in SHIELD.
To explain the real-life counterpart, I’m going to explain the differences between hardness (which we’ve already discussed is the diamond) and toughness. Hardness characterizes scratch resistance (ie, a harder mineral can scratch a softer mineral). Toughness characterizes an inability to fracture.
A mineral can fracture when pressure is applied to its cleavage plane. A diamond has 4 cleave directions through which it can fracture, so it’s not the toughest element. What is?
Jade. Specifically, nephrite and jadeite jade. Jadeite’s crystals interlock with one another and Nephrite’s crystals are dense and close together. This contributes to them not cleaving when force is applied.
That’s all well and good, but probably not applicable at all to daily life. There is one cool thing about it, though.
It’s hard to carve diamond because, as we’ve said, it’s cleaves pretty easily. But because Jade doesn’t chip or fracture, you can carve it into all sorts of shapes. So, if you’ve seen a green statue, there’s a good chance that it’s a jade statue.
Comic book writers are always looking for a way to explain their powers. Taking elements, whether fictional or not, gives the powers an origin story. Or, in the case of Kryptonite, gives an invincible superhero a weakness. We discussed the origin of Kryptonite and the different kinds, as well as the uses of krypton and its connection to the Cold War. Then we moved onto the Adamantium in Wolverine’s claws and how hard it is, comparing it to diamond. Our last topic was Vibranium and Captain America’s shield and how jade was probably the most similar.
Kryptonite, Superman Wiki
Krypton, It’s Elemental!
Moh’s Scale of Hardness, MSA
Vibranium, Comic Vine
Diamond Hardness v Toughness, Find My Rock