The Phantom Zone, also known as Ghost Zone, Still Zone, Buffer Zone, Stasis Zone, Honeycomb, Limbo and Hyperspace, is a twisted, twilight dimension used by the people of planet Krypton as a prison for the most dangerous of criminals. Individuals banished to the Phantom Zone existed in a formless state, unable to affect or contact the normal universe — for all intents and purposes, neither dead nor alive. It was featured in the Superman comic books and related media published by DC Comics.
The Phantom Zone is an interdimensional realm outside the normal space/time continuum. It is a barren and insubstantial null area absent of any physical material. There is only one native denizen to the Phantom Zone, the enigmatic and powerful entity known as the Aethyr. All cause and effect that occurs within the zone does so at Aethyr's capricious whim. People who travel into the negative zone are no longer corporeal and exist only as psychic phantasms of their true selves.
Though their minds and personalities remain intact, they can no longer physically interact with any other being. This includes direct physical contact as well as the power of speech. Communication within the Phantom Zone is done so by telepathy. As the Phantom Zone exists outside of space/time, those within it are no longer subject to the rigors of age or illness, rendering them effectively immortal – and they also require no sleep, food or air.
Many years ago, the penal system of the planet Krypton sentenced their criminals by placing them in suspended animation. The Kryptonian scientist Jor-El discovered the existence of the Phantom Zone and introduced it as an alternative means of imprisonment. He had little knowledge of the true inner workings of the zone, but believed that it was a more humane form of punishment over that which they had previously employed. He developed a projection device that could send people into and retrieve them from the zone with the simple flick of a black button and a white button respectively.
The first prisoner to be exiled to the Phantom Zone was the renegade scientist Jax-Ur. Jax-Ur, a former colleague of Jor-El's, was responsible for the destruction of Krypton's moon Wegthor and the deaths of over 500 lunar colonists. Over a short expanse of time, the Kryptonian Science Council began exiling the worst of the planet's criminals into the zone, the most famous of which was the military insurrectionist General Zod.
When Jor-El later discovered that Krypton was going to explode due to geological instability, he proposed bringing the entire population of Krypton into the zone. Jor-El never had the opportunity or approval to conduct such a plan, and ultimately everyone living on the planet Krypton died when it exploded.
Those within the Phantom Zone survived however. It was years before they ever learned the truth about their home-world's destruction. Several of the exiled criminals, now led by General Zod, found a means of escaping the zone and eventually came to Earth where they battled the "Last Son" of Krypton, Jor-El's son Kal-El. Bar-El and Lilo-El also went there after the Bizzaor Invasion to 'instate' order.
Appearances in other media
In the 1978 season of Super Friends, there is an episode entitled "Terror from the Phantom Zone" in which a comet's collision causes the Phantom Zone to release three Kryptonian villains Hul, Rom-Lok and Logar. The villains go on a crime spree and banish the Super Friends to the Phantom Zone but keep Superman on Earth, exposing him to Red Kryptonite which causes him to age quickly. The villains get great enjoyment showing off "old Superman" to the world. Superman, with help from the Justice League computer, manages to figure out that Blue Kryptonite may reverse the aging process because Blue Kryptonite is harmful to Bizarro, and therefore should be helpful to Superman. Superman finds the Blue Kryptonite and is aged back to normal, then goes on his quest to rescue the other Super Friends and ultimately send the three villains back into the Phantom Zone.
The 3 evildoers later return in a "lost season" episode from 1983 titled "Return of the Phantoms". Here they hijack an alien's time-space conveyor and go back in time to Smallville and attack Superboy, in order to prevent him from becoming Superman. Fortunately, the pilot of that craft went to warn the Super Friends about what the trio would be attempting, and guided Superman and Green Lantern to the proper time period to help the boy.
The Super Friends version of the Phantom Zone is described as, "Far beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way. In the uncharted void of deep space. An incredible 5th dimension of space and time, lies parallel to the universe that we know. This interesting interstellar warp which holds the most sinister and ruthless criminals in the galaxy is the infamous Phantom Zone." The molecular structure of any person exiled in the Zone appears white and black. Batman's devices and the Wonder Twins' Exxor Powers are useless within the Phantom Zone.
Although the Phantom Zone is never explicitly mentioned or shown in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, there is a similar type of medium which resembles its representation in Season 4 Episode 10 "Meet John Doe" and Episode 11 "Lois and Clarks". A Utopian from the future programmed a "time tablet" to trap fugitive Tempus in a space-time cube if he tried to control the tablet. However, Tempus tricked Superman into being trapped in the cube, which was then lost in space-time. Superman was rescued by H.G. Wells when the exact second Clark disappeared was discovered.
The Phantom Zone is first mentioned in the first episode of Superman: The Animated Series, "The Last Son of Krypton, Part 1". Jor-El attempted to convince everyone to enter the Phantom Zone to be saved from Krypton's destruction, and one man would be sent via spaceship to re-establish Krypton's population on a new world. Since this idea was not accepted, Jor-El sent his son in the spaceship to Earth along with the Phantom Zone projector. In the episode "Blasts from the Past", Superman discovers the Phantom Zone projector which also has a communication function that allows him to converse with the inmates. He makes contact with the convicted traitor Mala, who is a loose adaptation of Superman II's Ursa. He learns that her sentence is finished, and releases her. Unfortunately, Superman then learns that Mala is arrogant and power-hungry, badly enough to possibly require returning her to the Phantom Zone.
When she learns that Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name) prefers the company of a certain terrestrial Earthling named Lois Lane, Mala turns against Superman, and later releases General Jax-Ur (a version of General Zod, although named after anothe1r villain from the Superman comics) to take over Earth. Banished once again into the Phantom Zone at the end of the story, Jax-Ur and Mala are later accidentally released on another remote planet and ultimately sent into a black hole.
In the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Doomsday Sanction", Superman and the Justice League send the nearly unstoppable Doomsday into the Phantom Zone after his capture. This usage of the Phantom Zone, effectively sentencing Doomsday to life imprisonment without trial, presented massive arguments about the Justice League's right to make such judgments. Batman was especially troubled by this move.
In the Legion of Super Heroes animated series, the Phantom Zone is close to its classical portrayal as a parallel dimension where criminals are sent. As a throwback to the Pre-Crisis version, inhabitants of the Zone become incorporeal - essentially, ghost-like phantoms - thus giving the Zone its name. In this series, Superman discovers his previous self's Phantom Zone projector, which he accidentally uses to free a villain named Drax (voiced by Greg Ellis). The projector is eventually turned on the other Legionnaires, but with Phantom Girl's help, they manage to escape without it and send Drax back at the same time. On a related note, Drax mentioned that he was born in the Phantom Zone.
The Phantom Zone makes an appearance in the television series Smallville and it is home to "lost souls" of Kryptonian criminals and trapped alien beings called Phantom Wraiths. In the 5th season premiere "Arrival", Clark Kent battles two evil Kryptonians named Nam-Ek and Aethyr (disciples of Zod). When he refuses to join them in their quest to subjugate Earth, the Kryptonians attempt to banish Clark to the Phantom Zone using a metallic bracelet, inscribed with Kryptonian symbols, that opens up a vortex. However, Clark manages to turn the tables, sending them into the portal instead. Aside from its entrance, the Phantom Zone is represented as a floating black square, similar to its depiction in the Superman films. In the episode "Solitude", the Kryptonian artificial intelligence known as Brainiac, posing as Professor Milton Fine, manipulates Clark into believing that Jor-El is responsible for Martha's mysterious illness; this is all part of a plot to free the imprisoned General Zod. Professor Fine persuades Clark to take him to the Fortress of Solitude, where he gives Clark a black crystal and instructs him to insert it into the Fortress' control console, misleadingly saying that it will destroy Jor-El and therefore save Martha. However, the crystal, once inserted into the console, instead opens up a vortex in which another black square is seen, with a figure resembling General Zod as portrayed in the Superman movies. However, Brainiac's plan is thwarted once Clark removes the crystal.
In the episode "Vessel", General Zod is finally freed from the Phantom Zone. After inhabiting Lex Luthor, Zod traps Clark inside the Phantom Zone using a Kryptonian bracelet similar to the one used in the episode "Arrival". In the season premiere of the 6th season, the Phantom Zone itself is shown as a desolate wasteland and is revealed to have been created by Jor-El as a prison for not only Kryptonian convicts, but also criminals from the "28 known galaxies". The more dangerous prisoners (e.g. General Zod and Bizarro) are stripped of their corporeal forms and their spirits are then cast into the Zone. Clark escapes with the help of a Kryptonian woman named Raya, who claims to have known Jor-El. To ensure her survival, Jor-El sent Raya to the Phantom Zone just before the destruction of Krypton. Raya reveals that those of the blood of Jor-El's house can utilize a secret exit from the Phantom Zone, therefore Clark can leave.
Upon escaping the Phantom Zone, Clark accidentally releases Raya and various prisoners and phantoms to Earth. Chloe Sullivan later refers to the escaped convicts as "Zoners". In the season 7 finale "Arctic", it is revealed that Brainiac has trapped Kara in the Phantom Zone. In the season 8 episode "Bloodline", Clark and Lois are both trapped in the Phantom Zone, where they are reunited with Kara. Also Zod's wife Faora takes control of Lois' body so she can be set free by Kara, and goes on a rampage in Metropolis.
In the season 10 episode "Icarus", Clark uses a crystal of El to send Slade Wilson to the Zone. When Wilson is found back on Earth in "Dominion", Clark and Oliver Queen enter the Zone to see how that escape was possible. They learn that the clone of Zod - who was sent to New Krypton with the others - was sent to the Phantom Zone for his crimes. While there he merged with the Phantom of the original Zod, gaining all of his memories, and a blood transfusion from Clark allowed him to send others out of the Zone. Clark departs the Zone while destroying the control console on the Zone side in order to prevent anyone else from leaving.
In the 1950 film serial, Atom Man vs Superman, Lex Luthor traps Superman in another dimension. Though the Phantom Zone would not appear in the comics until 11 years later, it is styled in the same fashion and is named by Luthor as, The Empty Doom.
In the 1978 Superman film, the Phantom Zone is presented as a large, flat rhombus-shaped mirror that moves by spinning. Jor-El uses the Phantom Zone to imprison General Zod and his co-conspirators Ursa and Non, who appear to be transferred into the two-dimensional space on the mirror's surface, which is then flung into deep space. The Phantom Zone is only referred to by name in the extended versions of Superman when it is mentioned by the Krytonian First Elder. Superman's mother Lara refers to the Phantom Zone by name in Superman II when she first makes the revelation about the three villains contained inside it. In his DVD commentary, director Richard Donner refers to it as "the Zone of Silence".
In Superman II, as Superman saves the city of Paris from destruction by hurling a nuclear bomb into space, the resulting nuclear explosion inadvertently shatters the Phantom Zone and releases the three prisoners. Now free, General Zod and his cohorts travel to Earth, wreaking havoc with the powers granted to them by Earth's yellow sun. The Phantom Zone appears in Richard Donner's cut of Superman II, released in November 2006. In this version (per the original shooting script prior to being altered by director Richard Lester for the theatrical version), the Phantom Zone is shattered by the XK-101 rocket Superman threw into space in the first Superman film. The Zone is shown splitting into three separate shards, one containing each villain, before it finally shatters, freeing them. After defeating Zod and his followers, Superman uses a time-warp to imprison the three criminals back in the Phantom Zone and undo the damage they had done during their time on Earth.
In the Supergirl movie, Kara is banished to the Phantom Zone by means of a summoned crystal shard. The crystal transports her to a barren, desolate world where it shatters, casting her to the ground. This depiction of the Phantom Zone suggests that the crystal shard seen in the first two Superman movies is not the Phantom Zone itself, but simply a vehicle that takes prisoners to this desolate wasteland which is referred to as the Phantom Zone. In this movie, it is also revealed that there is a way out of the Zone, but the trip to the exit portal is extremely dangerous.
In the direct-to-video animated feature Superman: Brainiac Attacks, Superman must enter the Phantom Zone to retrieve a rare element which will cure Lois Lane of a deadly disease. This version of the Phantom Zone differs from previous animated continuity, as it is shown to actually be populated by "phantoms", and Superman retains his powers in the Zone.
The Phantom Zone is referenced in All-Star Superman. Like in the comics, Superman places Bar-El and Lilo into the Phantom Zone until a cure for their Kryptonite illness can be found.
In the 2013 reboot film Man of Steel, General Zod and his fellow rebels are sentenced to 300 cycles of somatic reconditioning in the Phantom Zone following their attempted coup d'état against the Kryptonian government. Upon sentencing, Zod and his co-conspirators are infused within a gelatinous substance, encased in a crystalline material and are subsequently loaded into a Kryptonian ship. The ship then launches into orbit around Krypton where three smaller vessels establish a window into the Phantom Zone into which the ship enters. A short time later, the destruction of Krypton triggers the release of the prisoners. Later in the film, it is revealed that the vessels Zod and his army are using possess a "Phantom Drive", a collision from a smaller ship (piloted by Col Hardy of the U.S. Military with Kal-El's rocket and operated by Emil Hamilton and Lois Lane) with a similar drive causes a cataclysmic reaction that creates a small singularity, returning the ship and its occupants to the Phantom Zone, along with the Military plane, Hardy, and Hamilton.
In Kevin J. Anderson's novel The Last Days of Krypton, Jor-El discovered and was temporarily trapped in the Phantom Zone. Later, after General Zod's (Dru-Zod's) insurgence/rebellion, Zod and his consort Aethyr-Ka, as well as his muscle-man Nam-Ek, were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone. In a mistaken attempt to destroy the Phantom Zone, where Zod had trapped some of his enemies, the revived Council of Krypton cast the Phantom Zone to the center of the Planet Krypton, causing, first it's implosion, then it's explosion. Fortunately Jor-El and Lara were able to rescue their son Kal-El by sending him into space just before the planet's explosion. He arrived on Earth where he became known as Clark Kent/Superman.
Parodies and homages
In the South Park episode "Krazy Kripples", Christopher Reeve is imprisoned in one after eating too many fetuses.
In Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, Radioactive Man is imprisoned in the Limbo Zone.
Family Guy parodied the Phantom Zone in the episode "Lethal Weapons". When Peter announced that "Krypton sucks", General Zod, Non, and Ursa came by and were promptly bested in a fight by Lois, and imprisoned in a Phantom Zone reminiscent of the Superman movies.
An American Dad! episode "The Most Adequate Christmas Ever" shows that God imprisoned Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog in the Phantom Zone when they tried to get into Heaven. It then shows Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog flying above in their rectangular prison as they beg to be released.
A dimension referred to as the "Null Void" appears in the television series Ben 10 (and its various iterations) and is used as an inter-dimensional prison for containing various alien criminals in the Ben 10 universe. It is primarily accessible via a "Null Void Generator," a device similar in design and application to Superman's Phantom Zone Projector.
Relations to the Phantom Zone
There had been similar Zones that were in comparison to the Phantom Zone:
- The Silver Age Phantom Zone appears to be prefigured in the 1950 Superman serial Atom Man vs. Superman, in which Lex Luthor uses a kind of matter-transmitter device to trap Superman in a limbo called the "Empty Doom" from which he can see and hear events in the "real" world but cannot touch anything or be seen or heard.
- In the Captain Future novel Planets in Peril (1942) by Edmond Hamilton, Chapter 13 "Phantom Prisoners", Captain Future is sent to the "Vault of the Unbodied"... essentially an early version of the Phantom Zone. Hamilton later went on to write some of the early DC comics Superman stories, including some Phantom Zone stories.
- Additionally, in the story "Wonder Woman's Wedding Day" from Wonder Woman #70 (November 1954), Wonder Woman is sent by Professor Uxo to another dimension much like the Phantom Zone, in which she becomes a spectral observer, unable to interact with those around her. She is able to escape by telepathically overwhelming Professor Uxo with the thought she is watching his every move, forcing him to "reassemble" her in his laboratory before a barrage of bullets, which she easily deflects. Wonder Woman captures the Professor and his henchmen; as they are taken away by the police, his "time dimension transfer machine" is damaged beyond repair.
- In the Richard Donner series of Superman movies which includes Supergirl, the Phantom Zone's gateway is depicted in the form of a rotating pane of glass, while the actual landscape is a desolate wasteland. Entry into the Phantom Zone is usually done by the gateway consuming its victims upon contact.
- The Phantom Zone made a cameo appearance in 2 videogames Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and Injustice: Gods Among Us.