|First appearance||Adventure Comics #283 (April 1961)|
The Phantom Zone is a fictional prison-like parallel dimension appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. It is mainly associated with stories featuring Superman. It first appeared in Adventure Comics #283 (April 1961), and was created by Robert Bernstein and George Papp. It was frequently used in the Superman comics before the continuity was rebooted in the 1980s, after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and has appeared occasionally since.
The Phantom Zone was a "pocket universe" discovered by Jor-El that existed outside the space-time continuum; it was used on the planet Krypton as a humane method of imprisoning criminals. Kryptonians had abolished the death penalty in the long distant past. In more recent history, criminals were punished by being sealed into capsules and rocketed into orbit in suspended animation with crystals attached to their foreheads to slowly erase their criminal tendencies; Klax-Ar was one criminal who received this punishment but escaped. Gra-Mo was the last to suffer the punishment, for it was then abolished in favor of the Zone.
The inmates of the Phantom Zone reside in a ghost-like state of existence from which they can observe, but cannot interact with, the regular universe. Inmates do not age or require sustenance in the Phantom Zone; furthermore, they are telepathic and mutually insubstantial. As such, they were able to survive the destruction of Krypton and focus their attention on Earth, as most of the surviving Kryptonians now reside there. Most have a particular grudge against Superman because his father created the method of their damnation, and was often the prosecutor at their trials. When they manage to escape, they usually engage in random destruction, particularly easy for them since, on Earth, each acquires the same powers as Superman. Nevertheless, Superman periodically released Phantom Zone prisoners whose original sentences had been completed, and most of these went to live in the bottle city of Kandor.
The sole inmate of the Phantom Zone who was not placed there as punishment for a crime is Mon-El, a Daxamite who fell victim to lead poisoning. Superboy was forced to cast him into the Phantom Zone to keep him alive, where he remained for nearly a thousand Earth years until the time of the Legion of Super-Heroes when Brainiac 5 created a medication that allowed him to leave safely.
Green Lantern Guy Gardner once experienced an extended and tortuous stay after an explosion of a Green Lantern Power Battery sent him there, until rescued by Superman and Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who had believed him to be dead all that time.
Phantom Girl can enter or leave the Phantom Zone as she pleases, and once did so to interrogate the prisoners about Jor-El.
Superman develops communications equipment for the Phantom Zone, like the Zone-o-Phone, and refinements to the projector. In addition, the city of Kandor uses the Phantom Zone regularly, with parole hearings sometimes chaired by Superman. However, since the departure of Kandor, that is, outside of Mon-El, most of the inhabitants were confined to lifers and generally not inclined to making conversation with their jailer. As for Superman himself, as much as he appreciates how the Zone is necessary to contain its Kryptonian inmates, who otherwise would be extremely dangerous and destructive in a yellow-sun environment, and to shelter Mon-El, he apparently privately harbors concerns about the justness of its penal use. This is illustrated in the acclaimed story "For the Man Who Has Everything" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, where Clark is ensnared in a fantasy illusion created by an alien parasitical plant called a Black Mercy. As his subconscious resists the illusion of a peaceful life on Krypton, among the first signs of its degeneration is the sight of his cousin, Kara Zor-El, hospitalized after being attacked by an anti-Phantom Zone militant who left literature protesting that the Phantom Zone is a method of torture.
In the Steve Gerber miniseries The Phantom Zone #1-4 (January–April 1982), it is revealed that the Zone not only has a breach through which other inmates had escaped, but that they were never heard from again. The imprisoned Superman and Quex-Ul use this method and travel through several dimensional "layers" seeking the exit into the physical universe. They finally encounter a Kryptonian wizard named Thul-Kar, who tells them that he believed Jor-El's prophecy of Krypton's doom and entered the Phantom Zone through magic. Using the same breach, he discovered the truth about the Phantom Zone: all its levels are manifestations of the consciousness of a sentient, malevolent entity called Aethyr, The Oversoul.
As explained by Thul-Kar, Aethyr itself came into being uncounted millennia ago when two spiral galaxies collided at an almost primordial stage after the physical universe's creation. Countless worlds were simultaneously destroyed and the deaths of so many beings merged somehow to form a single, evil consciousness that called itself Aethyr The Oversoul. This supremely powerful entity enclosed itself into a dimension outside the physical universe within itself, forming the Phantom Zone.
The Zone itself is an interface between the Earth-One dimension (the physical universe) and Aethyr's mind, the outer layer (where zone criminals are housed) representing its ability for abstract thought; the Zone is basically Aethyr's capacity to imagine other possibilities of existence, and is the outermost template of its consciousness. Only by entering Aethyr's core realm can a zone prisoner escape back to the physical universe, but this process is dangerous since any being who tries risks being destroyed in numerous ways as well as by forever having their souls merged with Aethyr's essence while within Aethyr's core realm. This is because as someone enters deeper into Aethyr's consciousness, then no longer exist as an abstract entity and its existence becomes subject to Aethyr's whims. When attacking Superman and Quex-Ul, Aethyr personified itself as an aggressive, purple-skinned dog's head that breathed flames capable of destroying and absorbing the souls of those that it wishes to conquer. While Quex-Ul is killed by Aethyr in this fashion, Superman manages to make his way out of the Phantom Zone by avoiding those flames and flying directly through Aethyr's skull and its mind, returning to Earth through a tear in the fabric of Aethyr's mind and the physical universe, but not without encountering the horrific remains of all of the souls entrapped within Aethyr over the millennia.
Mister Mxyzptlk is later possessed by Aethyr. During the process while Mxyzptlk is imprisoned on his own home dimension, Thul-Kar communicates with Mxyzptlk and offers him an escape in exchange for the merger. This merger, however, empties the Phantom Zone of its criminal inhabitants. As the Phantom Zone villains head to Earth to conquer it, Thul-Kar and Nam-Ek are re-absorbed into Aethyr. Superman awakes and sees that the Phantom Zone villains are wreaking havoc on Earth, causing destruction to the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and demanding Superman come out and fight them. Superman battles the Phantom Zone villains in Washington D.C. While fighting Faora Hu-Ul, he witnesses her disappearing as she is absorbed into Aethyr. Mister Mxyzpltk reveals that his strong personality has taken over Aethyr and he absorbs all the rest of the Phantom Zone inhabitants back into himself, determined to torture them endlessly and wreak havoc as he sees fit. Mxyzpltk-Aethyr leaves, intending to next take over the Fifth Dimension, and Superman is left to put out the fires in Washington and then rid Metropolis of the Kryptonite remains of Argo City.
In the Post-Crisis DC Universe, the Phantom Zone first appears after Superman returns from space with a Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator. This device, created by his Kryptonian ancestor Kem-L, attempts to recreate Krypton on Earth, building the Fortress of Solitude; the extradimensional space in which the Eradicator finds the Kryptonian materials necessary is called the Phantom Zone. A Phantom Zone Projector is part of Superman's current Fortress. It has been used to access the Bottle City of Kandor and to trap villains such as the White Martians.
The Phantom Zone has been independently discovered by various characters where it is called the "Buffer Zone" by the Bgztlians, the "Still Zone" by the White Martians, the "Stasis Zone" by Loophole, the "Ghost Zone" by Prometheus, and the "Honeycomb" by the Queen Bee I. In Post-Crisis/Post-Zero Hour continuity, it was Loophole's "Stasis Zone" technology that exiled Mon-El, known in the new continuity as Valor/M'Onel, into the Phantom Zone for 1,000 years.
Superman fashions the Phantom Zone technology into an arrow projectile which upon striking a victim will project them into the Phantom Zone. Roy Harper, the original Speedy, steals this arrow from Superman when the original Teen Titans are invited for a visit many years ago. Roy, however, never uses the arrow and passes it on to his replacement, Mia Dearden, who uses the arrow during the events of Infinite Crisis on Superboy-Prime. He is too strong for even the Phantom Zone arrow, and manages to break out.
At one point, the White Martians imprison Batman in the Phantom Zone and take his identity as Bruce Wayne.
Batman devises a measure made after Superman recovers from his first battle with Doomsday, that, when the Justice League or any other superhero groups encounter a Doomsday Level Threat, a group of heroes, authority, and military forces will contain it within a proximity after clearing all civilians within it. If Superman and the rest fall, the Doomsday Protocol will commence by sending it to the Phantom Zone.
In Action Comics, General Zod, along with Ursa and Non, appear in search of the son of Zod and Ursa.
Supergirl #16 shows a form of life native to the Phantom Zone. These Phantoms are enraged over the use of their universe to house criminals and seek revenge on the one responsible.
During the "New Krypton" storyline, the Kryptonians in Kandor have started to take matters into their own hands and started rounding up some of Superman's enemies to throw them into the Phantom Zone. First, they attack the Science Police where they make off with the Parasite. The second target is Silver Banshee who the Kandorians chase across the skies. At Arkham Asylum, the Kryptonians knock out Nightwing and Robin where they make off with Toyman while another group knocks out Black Lightning in order to claim Toyman. Bizarro is even attacked by Thara's group while flying. While Superman, Supergirl, and Zora are disgusted at what some of the Kandorians did and demands the ones responsible to turn themselves over to the authorities, Alura would not cooperate and gives the orders to throw the villains that they rounded up into the Phantom Zone. Those who were thrown into the Phantom Zone were later freed by Superman.
In the miniseries 52 the Phantom Zone is ingested by Mister Mind while he is mutating into a giant insect form. Once full-grown, Mind regurgitates it in an attempt to destroy Booster Gold and Rip Hunter, but the attack is deflected by Supernova, who returns the Phantom Zone to its proper dimensional plane. Supernova is able to control the Zone as his supersuit's powers are based upon Phantom Zone projector technology stolen by Rip Hunter.
In Action Comics #874, the Phantom Zone vanished. Action Comics #886 offers a possible explanation as to the Phantom Zone's disappearance, the theory being that the Phantom Zone was actually the mythical Nightwing, counterpart to the Flamebird, imprisoned in an altered state of being. Having chosen a new Avatar, Chris Kent, who was freed from the Zone, he too would have been freed from his shackles, thus causing the Phantom Zone to cease to exist.
In Adventure Comics (vol. 2) #11, the Phantom Zone is recreated by Chameleon Boy and Superman.
In The New 52, Jor-El suggests going into the Phantom Zone when Krypton was about to explode. Zod, however, appears with other Phantom Zone prisoners and attempts to escape the Phantom Zone. Krypto sacrifices himself by attacking Xa-Du, thus going into the Phantom Zone as well.
It is revealed that Doctor Xa-Du was the first Kryptonian prisoner to be sent to the Phantom Zone due to his forbidden experiments in suspended animation, with Jor-El executing the sentence. The Phantom Zone is reverted to the Pre-Crisis version.
During the Dark Days: Metal event of the DC Rebirth reboot, Superman has theorized that the Phantom Zone might be actually a permeable membrane between Earth-0 (DC Universe) and the Dark Multiverse.
Throughout the Silver Age of Comic Books, the following inhabitants of the Phantom Zone have been depicted. Based on this list, at least 34 Kryptonians were projected into the Phantom Zone on Krypton over a period of less than 256 Kryptonian days. Refer to the entry on the Kryptonian Calendar for details on the relationship between Kryptonian sun-cycles and Earth years.
The following were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone:
In the Elseworlds tale Superman & Batman: Generations, Superman is sentenced to the Phantom Zone in 1989 when he is stripped of his powers in a confrontation with the Ultra-Humanite that ends with his foe's death, after the Ultra-Humanite's actions led to the death of Superman's wife Lois Lane and his son Joel being tricked into killing Superman's daughter Kara before Joel dies himself, as well as arranging various 'accidents' for Clark Kent's other remaining loved ones. The judges reason that even if Superman feels that he may have killed his foe deliberately after the deaths of his family and friends, putting him in a conventional prison without his powers would be dangerous and solitary confinement was too extreme given his past deeds, selecting the Zone based on the suggestion of the new Batman, Bruce Wayne Junior. Superman is released in 1999 by the now-rejuvenated Bruce Wayne as Bruce returns to the role of Batman - Bruce noting that he is ending the sentence a few months early but is certain that nobody would object to early release "for good behavior" - although Superman was briefly able to appear as a phantom in the real world in 1997 to distract a foe who was about to kill Knightwing (Superman's grandson, adopted by Batman's son after the deaths of Superman's children).
There had been similar Zones that were in comparison to the Phantom Zone: