Exile to the Phantom Zone is one of the harshest punishments Superman can dole out, and he’s just explained why he still uses it.
Spoilers for Superman and the Authority #1 ahead!
Banishment to the Phantom Zone is one of the darkest punishments Superman can dole out, and now he has provided a justification for why he sends criminals there. In Superman and the Authority #1, on sale now in print and digital, Manchester Black, a noted Superman hater, confronts the Man of Steel over the ethics of using the Zone—and Superman finally explains why.
The Phantom Zone is a special, inter-dimensional prison used by the Kryptonians, and for many years, the galaxy’s worst criminals were banished to it. The prisoners would still exist as pure consciousness, but with no physical form. General Zod, the fascist tyrant who tried to take over Krypton, was sent there, as were his underlings. Other Superman villains, such as the Cyborg Superman, have done stints in the Phantom Zone as well. The exact nature of the Zone has changed over time, and DC recently revealed it is the projection of a dark god’s consciousness and it changes with his whims. This is a horrifying fate for anyone, and it feels out of character for Superman to use it, but Superman and the Authority #1 gives insight into why he still sends people there. The issue is written by Grant Morrison with art by Mikel Janin, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters by Steve Wands.
Superman is building a new version of the Authority to fulfill a promise made to JFK. One of his first recruits is Manchester Black, who hates Superman with a vengeance and has scrapped with the Man of Steel on occasion. He brings Manchester Black to the Fortress of Solitude, where Black grills him on the use of the Phantom Zone. He makes barbed comments about jaywalkers and tax evaders being sent there, but Superman corrects him, saying that every prisoner there was a horrible villain, and the prisoners there, if they were to escape, would most certainly destroy the Earth. In the Phantom Zone, they are harmless. This answer seems to satisfy Manchester Black.
Will the answer satisfy comic book fans? On the surface, being exiled to the Phantom Zone is a terrible fate—doomed to forever exist as nothing but pure consciousness. But as Superman explained, the beings in the Phantom Zone are the worst of the worst, and when there is almost a break out from the Zone later, Superman is nearly overwhelmed. Readers can see General Zod among the escapees, proving Superman’s point. However, in light of the recent developments regarding the nature of the Phantom Zone, this punishment could still be viewed as harsh by some. The Phantom Zone is punitive, and there is no attempt at rehabilitation.
After all these years, Superman has finally provided a rationale for one of the darkest punishments imaginable: being exiled to the Phantom Zone.
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