Something interesting happened on the latest episode of Supergirl. “Falling,” the sixteenth entry into the Greg Berlanti-produced show, featured a narrative device fans of DC Comics and past television iterations of super-prefixed characters have used before — red Kryptonite. That is, an alternative form of the typically green leftovers from Kara Danvers’ (Melissa Benoist) home planet that can weaken — if not kill — her and her Metropolis-based cousin. Yet that isn’t the interesting part. What’s so intriguing about Supergirl‘s use is the particular kind of red Kryptonite writers Jessica Queller and Robert Rovner employed.
It’s almost as if they were channeling Superboy, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville — three previous live-action television productions starring Kryptonians that aired during the late ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. Red Kryptonite popped up in the pages of DC Comics as early as the pre-Crisis era, but its effects were nowhere near unanimous as Supergirl and its small-screen predecessors would have us believe. Hence why, even if Queller, Rovner, Berlanti or anyone else responsible for the “Falling” storyline wasn’t influenced directly by these shows, this version of the mind-altering stuff is what ultimately turned Kara bad on Monday.
Whenever red Kryptonite popped up in the comics, the results of Superman’s exposure to it were variable to a ridiculous degree. Kal-El became evil sometimes, but he was also transformed into a dwarf, a dragon and a man with the head of an ant. Sometimes it caused his body to grow excessive amounts of hair, age rapidly and grow extra limbs. Essentially, red Kryptonite was a tool with which writers and illustrators could shape and reshape Superman to their heart’s desire. Much of this fell to the wayside, however, when 1983’s Superman III introduced audiences to a synthetic version of Kryptonite. It was still green, but its effects on Superman (Christopher Reeve) were much more focused. He became apathetic, ignoring humanity’s many plights and responding to friends and enemies alike with derision and disdain. Towards the end of the process, he purposely engineered harmful situations.