When asked to name their favorite superpowered flying alien whose only weakness is a radioactive shard of his long-destroyed home planet, most people would probably pick Superman. When done well, Superman is a great combination: just the right amount of wish fulfillment (strength, invincibility, flight) balanced with enough weakness to make him interesting. Of course, without his Kryptonite, Superman would be boring, but everybody knows a hero has to have that one fatal flaw ...
No, that's Iron Man's.
Superman didn't have all of his iconic powers at the start. He couldn't even fly -- he just hopped around everywhere like a kangaroo on a sugar high. Also, he had no weaknesses, and thus he was generally as boring as mayonnaise on white bread. Superman didn't really become the Superman we know until 1940, when the radio serial The Adventures of Superman made its grand debut. Since the creators had only audio to work with, a few changes had to be made to the Superman mythos. For starters, they decided he could now fly, because it was far easier to convey flight through sound than "repeatedly jumping really hard." Seriously, you try it. Flight is a simple "WHOOSH," while jumping is a series of pained grunts. Is that Superman leaping a tall building or taking a coffee dump on the sidewalk midchase?
You can also thank the radio show for Kryptonite. The inspiration for the radioactive ore wasn't to give Superman a humanizing weakness and add some much-needed dramatic stakes to his stories; it was just to give Superman a damn day off every now and again. See, back in the '40s, they were dead serious about their entertainment: The radio show presented Superman as a real person who voiced himself, not a fictional character who shared a voice with some dude named Bud. Because, well, he's a good dude and all -- but Bud just takes a little of the mystique out of the affair, you know?
"Look! Down in the chair! It's a dude ... He's plain ... It's Bud!"
Unlike Superman, Bud was a weak-willed human being who needed to take a vacation every so often. So, the writers had to figure out a logical way to write off Superman for a few days at a time until Bud returned. Every time Bud needed a few days in Aruba, Supes would run into Kryptonite and go catatonic. When Bud returned, Superman continued, and the paychecks started rolling in again. It took the comics several years to realize that Superman was better with a weakness, but they eventually added Kryptonite to their repertoire in 1949, and it's been deus ex machina-ing Superman's omnipotent ass ever since.
Ian Ury is Pip Ury's twin brother, a general writer of stuff, and an occasional amateur animator. If you wanna comment, drop him an email. Ryan Menezes is a writer and layout editor here at Cracked. He broke down and made a Twitter page just for his Cracked fans.
For more interesting backstories, check out 14 Origin Stories of Real-World Villains and 23 Secret Backstories of Supporting Movie Characters.
Related Reading: Speaking of improvised pop culture moments, the Vulcan nerve pinch was originally a punch to the face. Oh hey and did you know the word Ewok was never said in the original trilogy? While we're at it; Mickey Mouse is the result of a last-minute name switch.