Thursday, March 19, 2009

Episode #65: You Are Now Entering The Phantom Zone!

As mentioned in episode #63, the Phantom Zone first appeared not in a Superman story, but a Superboy story, in Advneture Comics #283, April 1961, published February 28, 1961, during the Mort Weisinger era. the cover, which featured this story, was drawn by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kay. The Phantom Superboy was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by George Papp. Lana's father, the archaeologist Prof. Lang discovered a box of Kryptonian weapons (not having read this story I don't know how he recognized their origin, but such were silver age DC stories), which he gives to Superboy. While examining the weapons, he accidentally activates one, sending him to the Phantom Zone. In this dimension Superboy and the rest of the inhabitants exist in a ghostly state. Before Krypton's destruction criminals were banished to this diension to serve their sentence. In the Phantom Zone everyone communicates telepathically, require no food or sleep, never age and can observe but, in most instances, cannot interact with our physical universe. At the end of the story Superboy is able to find a way to find help and escape the Phantom Zone. The only reprint I could find of this story was in Superboy #165, May/June 1970, published on March 5, 1970. So you might find it on line or in the back issue bin of your local comic book store.

Before the discovery of the Phantom Zone, by none other than Jor-El, Krypton apparently incarcerated their criminals by putting them into suspended animation, placing special crystals on their forheads to slowly wipe out their criminal tendencies from their brains, and launched them in satellites to orbit Krypton while unconscious. This was portrayed in part three of the story The Girl Of Steel in Superman #123, August 1958, published around June 17, 1958. The story was written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye. This type of imprisonment was shown in the last chapter titled Superman's Return To Krypton.
Since Krypton's destruction the Phantom Zone prisoners focused most of their attention on Earth because that was where most of the Kryptonian survivors could be found. After Superman rescued the miniaturized city of Kandor, the city annually convened a Phantom Zone Parole Board to consider requests of prisoners to be released from the zone. Kandor and Superman could communicate with the Phantom Zone inhabitants through a zone-o-phone invented by Superman. He could also see into the Zone with a Phantom Zone viewer to periodically verify that all prisoners were accounted for. This was briefly shown in Superman #168, August 1963 on sale on June 20, 1963, in the story Wonder Man, The New Hero Of Metropolis, written by Edmund Hamilton, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein. This story was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman vol. IV.

There were two innocent Phantom Zone inhabitants who were eventually released. One was Quex-Ul, who was wrongly convicted of killing a herd of Rondors, whose horns had healing properties and were revered and protected on Krypton. The real criminal hypnotized Quex-Ul to take the blame. He was sentenced to 25 Sun Cycles (years?). Superman travels through time to observe what really happened on Krypton. Upon his release Quex-Ul wants to take his revenge on Superman, the son of the discoverer of the Phantom Zone. After Supergirl convinces quex-Ul that Superman had found proof of his innocence, Quex-Ul saves Superman from a gold kryptonite trap he had set underwater. Exposed to the rays, Quex-Ul loses his powers and almost drowns. Superman saves him but discovers that Quex-Ul suffered amnesia. To help him out Superman takes Quex-Ul to Perry White, who agrees to hire him for the Daily Planet's production department. He would be known as Charlie Kweskill. In the four issue miniseries Phantom Zone, Jan.-April 1982, Charlie regains his memories. He and Superman wind up becoming trapped in the Phantom Zone while some prisoners have escaped. At the end of the series Charlie (Quex-Ul) sacrifices his life to save Superman once again, this time paying the ultimate price. This mini-series was written by Steve Gerber and pencilled by Gene Colan. Steve Gerber established that there was a back exit to the Zone, and terrible beasts lived in the Zone.
Fans of the Legion of Super-Heroes are familiar with the second innocent inhabitant of the Phantom Zone. Mon-El was the only one who was sent to the Zone to save his life. He first appeared in Superboy #89, June 1961, on sale April 6, 1961. The cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. Superboy's Big Brother was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by George Papp. this story was reprinted in Legion Of Super-Heroes vol. I and Showcase Presents: Legion Of Super-Heroes vol. I. Mon-El landedear Smallville and was found by Superboy. He suffered amnesia, and when Superboy found a Krypton map in the rocket, he assumes the stranger is another Kryptonian survivor. Superboy names him Mon-El, Mon because he landed on Earth on a Monday and -El for the -El family from Krypton. He moves in with Clark and the Kents and takes the name Bob Cobb to protect his alien identity. At first Superboy is thrilled to have a super powered "brother". He becomes suspicious of Mon-El when he discovers that Mon-El shows no weakness to kryptonite. To trip up Mon-El Superboy creates fake kryptonite using lead. Exposed to the fake-k Mon-El becomes very weak and regains his memories. He is from the planet Daxam, a planet whose people have super powers similar to Superboy. He traveled to Krypton and was given the Krypton map by Jor-El. Mon-El informs Superboy that there is no cure for lead poisioning for a Daxamite. To save Mon-El's life Superboy sends him to the Phantom Zone. The Legion of Super-Heroes retreive Mon-El from the Zone 1,000 years later. They invent a temporary antidote until Brainiac 5 invents a permanent serum.

In a story in Action Comics Annual #10, titled Who Is Clark Kent's Big Brother the silver age Mon-El origin was represented in modern Superman continuity, complete with Mon-El having to be sent to the Phantom Zone to save his life.
Post-crisis, the Phantom Zone returned when Superman returned from space with the Eradicator, a Kryptonian artifact. He eventually disposed of it in the arctic. It built what eventually became Superman's Fortress of Solitude. It retreived materials and equipment from a Phantom Zone that it had created a portal to. The traditional silver age Phantom Zone returned with the Superman: Last Son story from Action Comics #844-846, 851 and Action Comics Annual #11, along with General Zod. In Action Comics 874 and Superman #685, April 2009, the Phantom Zone mysteriously disappeared. At the last moment Superman pulled Mon-El out of the zone before it disappears. In earlier stories Gen. Zod had been released by Kandor, but were the rest of the prisoners released as well? That is a plot point for future Superman stories.

In another story in Action Comics Annual #10, The Criminals Of Krypton, the story of General Zod, Ursa and Non being banished to the Phantom Zone and why was told, and the Science Council was painted in a sinsiter light as well.

In the mini-series Phantom Zone a number of Phantom Zone criminals are referred to.

Gra-Mo and his assistants were the last to be imprisoned in the previously referred to satellites after using their thought control devices, originally invented to control androids for menial tasks, use them to gain control of the robot police and send them on a murderous spree of mayhem.

Jax-Ur (originally referred to back in Action Comics #284) was the only Phantom Zone prisoner sentenced for eternity. He was sentenced for a renegade experient gone wrong. A nuclear missle he defended for obital defense missed its target asteroid and destroyed the populated Krypton moon Wegthor.

Va-Kox, a biochemist, created an evolution altering formula that mutated marine species of the Great krypton Lake into huge monsters. His sentence was for 50 sun cycles, the amount of time it would take for the pollution the formula created to clear from the lake.

Faora Hu-Ul, a farmer, hated all men and was sentenced to 300 sun cycles for torturing and murdering 23 Kryptonian men. Hers was the second longest sentence given.

General Dru-Zod was sentenced to 40 sun cycles for his attempted overthrow of the Kryptonian government with an army of Bizarro-like soldiers. His first appearance was in flashback in the Phantom Superboy story of Adventure Comics #283.

Kru-El, Jor-El's cousin and Superman's uncle, had to serve 35 sun cycles for creating and using forbidden weapons.

When the combined psychic power of the Phantom Zone prisoners almost made Jor-El use the Phantom Zone projector to release them as he slept, only to be stopped when Lara woke him from his trance, the Science council ordered the Phantom Zone projector be launched into deep space. Just over a week later, Krypton would explode.

Post-crisis, General Zod, Zaora and Quex-Ul appeared in the Supergirl Saga which appeared in Superman #21, Adventure Of Superman #444 and Superman #22. The three were Phantom Zone prisoners in a "pocket universe" set free by a good Lex Luthor. He was duped into believing Gen. Zod was related to the late Superboy of that world and released the three of them. This story will be the subject of a future episode.

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Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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