Phantom Zone Supervillains

Phantom Zone Supervillains

(pop culture)
Most Superman fans discovered the eerie “twilight dimension” called the Phantom Zone in the pages of DC Comics or in the first two Superman live-action movies starring Christopher Reeve (1978, 1980). The Zone in fact entered the Man of Steel's mythos in the 1950 movie serial Atom Man vs. Superman, where a diabolical hooded scientist (revealed to be Lex Luthor) located this ghostly realm. The Phantom Zone materialized into print in a Superboy tale by writer Robert Bernstein in Adventure Comics #283 (1961) that also introduced its most famous immaterial inmate, General Zod. Kryptonians did not condone capital punishment— instead, they exiled their hardened lawbreakers into a state of suspended animation inside orbiting space capsules. (The malevolent Mala—a Superman look-alike—and his brothers UBan and Kizo broke out of their capsules in Superman #65, 1950, and rumbled with the Man of Steel as the “Three Supermen from Krypton!”) This form of punishment was abandoned when scientist Jor-El, father of Kal-El (Superman), detected the ethereal Phantom Zone and constructed a Phantom Zone Projector to transmit felons into imprisonment for (mostly) finite sentences. Existing as ageless wraiths able to telepathically communicate with one another and observe, but not participate in, actions in the corporeal realm, the Phantom Zone villains lusted for freedom, and once the son of Jor-El began his superheroics on Earth as Superboy, and later as Superman, they conspired to escape—and occasionally succeeded, perpetrating chaos with a full range of superpowers, just like Superman's. Superman often kept tabs on them with his Phantom Zone Viewer (which included a Zone-ophone). On rare occasions, non-violent offenders would be liberated by the Kandorian Phantom Zone Parole Board and allowed to live in the bottle city of Kandor, the Kryptonian burg miniaturized by Brainiac. Aside from Zod, perhaps the best-known Phantom Zone criminal was Jax-Ur, first seen in Adventure #289 (1961). A renegade scientist turned mass murderer after his atomic-missile decimation of the inhabited Kryptonian moon Wegthor, the remorseless Jax-Ur got “life” in the Zone (although his sentence was noted as thirty years in the Krypton- themed Superman Annual #5, 1962). Were it not for his mustache and futuristic fashions he would have been dead ringer for the 1960s Luthor, and he similarly regarded the Boy and Man of Steel with acrimony. Other noteworthy Phantom Zone rogues were biochemist Professor Vakox (Va-Kox), whose bizarre evolutionary experiments imperiled the populace; Faora Hu-Ul, a seductive man-hater who sadistically tortured males; Dr. Xadu (Xa-Du), whose stasis experiments cursed human guinea pigs into perpetual slumber; Jor-El's black-sheep cousin Kru-El, developer of weapons of mass destruction; Az-Rel and Nadira, exiled from the planet Bokos, who used pyro- and psycho-kinesis to torment Kryptonians; and Quex-El, an innocent wrongly sentenced to the Zone and later reprieved by Superman, who stripped him of his powers and memory and established for him the Earth identity of Charlie Kweskill. Other criminals were shown either inhabiting or being sentenced to the Phantom Zone—including Gaz-Or, Ras-Krom, and Ral-En—but the realm's only superhero was teenager Mon-El, Superboy's super-powered friend from Daxam who spent 1,000 years as a specter until a cure for his vulnerability to lead was found. Superman entered the Zone upon occasion, and was tricked into it (along with Kweskill) in the fourissue miniseries The Phantom Zone (1982) as all of its supervillains fled the Zone and pillaged Earth. Written by Steve Gerber and illustrated by Gene Colan, this horrific tale depicted the super-rogues tossing the Justice League satellite out of orbit, ransacking the Fortress of Solitude, overpowering Green Lantern and Supergirl, and nearly triggering World War III. Predating the miniseries and coinciding with the theatrical release of Superman II (featuring three Phantom Zone supervillains) was Superman in “The Phantom Zone Connection” (1980), a kid-friendly Big Little Book by E. Nelson Bridwell. In current Superman continuity, the Phantom Zone is a netherdimension identified long ago by Superman's ancestor Kem-L. The Man of Steel maintains a Phantom Zone Projector that has enabled him to venture into Krypton's past; he used the Projector to trap the inimical White Martians in this ghostly realm. The Superman storyline “For Tomorrow” (2004–2005) introduced a new Zod who emerged from “Metropia,” a plane that Superman created within the Zone. Phantom Zone supervillains appearing outside of comic books include General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his underlings Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) in Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980); a conclave of Zoners who endangered the Man of Steel in “The Hunter,” an episode of Ruby-Spears' Superman cartoon (1988–1989); and Jax-Ur (Ron Perlman) and a revised, female Mala (Leslie Easterbrook, and later Sarah Douglas), seen in episodes of the WB's Superman animated series (1996–2000). Two Kryptonian criminals, referred to as “the disciples of Zod,” were introduced on the 2005 season opener of the WB's Smallville (2001–present) and banished into the Phantom Zone by young Clark Kent.