The Phantom Zone is a prison dimension used by Kryptonians. It was originally discovered by Jor-El and used by the Kryptonian Council as a humane prison. Although the zone is a barren wasteland, people trapped in the zone can never get old or die, and can see outside of the zone and watch the events of the outside world.
The zone first appeared in the silver-age comics of the 1960s. It was used frequently in the Superman comics before the continuity was rebooted in the 1980s, and has appeared occasionally since. It has also appeared in other adaptations of Superman.
The Phantom Zone was first discovered on Krypton by Jor-El, a prominent scientist on the Science Council of Krypton and father to Kal-El. Jor-El created devices which could create passage into the Phantom Zone, and since then it has been used as a prison by the Council. Many of Krypton's most notorious criminals were placed in the Zone, including General Zod, his companions Faora/Ursa and Non, as well as Jax-Ur and many more.
Additionally, many non-Kryptonian criminals, as well as dangerous beasts, were placed in the Zone by the Kryptonians.
As the destruction of Krypton neared, Raya, a woman who worked under Jor-El, agreed to have herself placed in the Phantom Zone to escape the planet's destruction.
After the planet was destroyed, everyone who had been left in the Phantom Zone had to wait, seemingly for eternity.
A young Clark Kent first encountered the zone when two Disciples of Zod attempted to trap him in it shortly after arriving on Earth. He escaped the device meant to suck him in, and threw both disciples into the vortex instead.
Soon after, however, he did become trapped in the zone for the first time. As he explored its barren landscape, he was attacked by several phantoms who prowl the open wastes of the zone. Surviving the encounter, he met Raya, who told him of his father and of General Zod, another inmate of the zone.
She helped him to escape back to Earth, but this also released a collection of prisoners of the zone back onto Earth. After Clark defeated General Zod, he began a quest to round up and stop all the escapees of the zone.
As his quest continues, he's met all sorts of strange enemies who were imprisoned in the zone. The strangest of which, thus far, was the phantom who would soon become Bizarro.
Superman's Adult Life
In one episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Superman discovers a Phantom Zone projector and peers in. Inside, he sees a Kryptonian criminal whose sentence has long since expired. He releases her and learns that her name is Mala. After some deliberation, he decides the right thing to do is free her. Superman attempts to teach her about their Kryptonian powers and about the way to fit in to Earth society, but she proves too violent and ends up fighting Superman. After releasing her compatriot Jax-Ur, Superman is forced to return both of them to the Zone.
At the beginning of the movie Superman, Jor-El imprisons General Zod and his two cronies, Ursa and Non, in the Phantom Zone for their treachery. Much later, in the movie Superman II, Superman accidentally shatters the 'Phantom Zone glass' by throwing a hydrogen bomb into space, and in the process releases General Zod, Ursa and Non. This leads to a huge battle between the three criminals and Superman.
During the Superman: Last Son storyline, an army of Kryptonian criminals from the phantom zone escaped and took over Metropolis, briefly trapping Superman in the zone. However Superman escaped and teamed up with Lex Luthor to defeat the criminals and return them to the zone. Unfortunately, he also lost his newly-adopted son, Chris Kent, who was returned to the Zone.
Among the Phantom Zone criminals were:
- Kru-El, the weapon's designer cousin of Jor-El, and thus a relative of Superman.
- Faora Hu-Ul, a Martial Arts expert and hater of males, was another criminal who was reproduced in a tamer form for the movie Superman II where her name was changed to Ursa.
- Professor Va-Kox, a geneticist who created monsters, was another Phantom Zone criminal.
- Nadira (last name unknown who was a telekinetic) and Az-Rel (a Kryptonian pyrokinetic) were two petty criminals from the Krypton Isle of Bokos (the Island of Thieves, much like Australia used to be here on Earth).
- Jax-Ur, a rocket & missile engineer who accidentally destroyed one of Krypton's two moons and a populated moon of millions and the only criminal sentenced to spend all existence within the Phantom Zone, without the possibility of any kind of parole and is considered Krypton’s worst criminal.
- Quex-Ul was the only innocent person sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Quex-Ul was put in the Phantom Zone for killing a herd of the sacred Rondors. Rondor horns had healing properties and were therefore sacred to Kryptonians. Quex-Ul was caught at the scene of the crime and was convicted and sentenced to 25 Sun Cycles in the Phantom Zone. Superman proved his innocence and released him and Quex-Ul in turn saved Superman from exposure to Gold Kryptonite.
- Ak-Var was a petty criminal who upon his release became the assistant and partner of Superman's cousin, Van-Zee. Van-Zee was a Kandorian scientist who was secretly Nightwing with Ak-Var as his partner Flamebird.
- Doctor Xadu (first name unknown) was a physician who killed dozens of patients while performing forbidden cryogenics experiments upon them.
- And finally there was General Dru-Zod, who created an army of clones in an attempt to take over as ruler of Krypton.
New Phantom Zone Criminals
Later others who survived Krypton's destruction became criminals. These criminals were also sentenced to serve time within the Phantom Zone.
- A jealous Kryptonian female from the bottle city of Kandor named Zora Vi-Lar (who took on the name of Black Flame) escaped from Kandor to fight Supergirl.
- And then there was Nam-Ek, who was the Kryptonian who killed the Rondor herd and used their horns to become immortal. Superman found Nam-Ek floating in space and rescued him, but the transformation into an immortal being had turned Nam-Ek into a bipedal version of a Rondor and also drove him to insanity.
Innocent Phantom Zone Residents
Some were forced to put themselves into the Phantom Zone to save themselves from death or destruction. Among these are:
- Mon-El, a Daxamite who befriended Superboy but was accidentally exposed to lead, and had to be put in the phantom zone before he died.