DC has rebooted The Phantom Zone once again – the first time since the launch of their Rebirth line – and in the process turned it into something decidedly more Lovecraftian.
As revealed in Action Comics 2021 Annual #1, which presents readers with a story of the future House of El (first seen during the recent Future State event), The Zone has once again reopened for business and is ready to take prisoners, though its latest incarnation does something drastically different than any seen before: It now turns those in its charge into gruesome tentacle monsters.
The issue explains that the pocket dimension known as The Phantom Zone is a “projection” created by the “living mind” of Aethyr, a powerful god. As it turns out, those sentenced to Phantom-Zone internment are only allowed to remain in their regular (albeit ghostly) forms only as long as Aethyr sleeps.
However, he is now wide awake, and the Kryptonian prison dimension that was already more twisted than Arkham or Blackgate has now become “a place of living nightmares” running wild with entities called “Sleeping Old Ones.”
Taking a page from H.P. Lovecraft’s bibliography, Aethyr, undoubtedly perturbed by waking up on the wrong side of the bed or some other issue, has now transformed The Phantom Zone’s prisoners into tentacle creatures (which bear a strong resemblance to the classic horror author’s Old Ones) and ordered them to attack any visitors to the dimension.
Though it seems new and novel, this twist for The Zone has roots in Superman’s history going back to 1982, when the concept of Aethyr and The Phantom Zone as cosmic-horror consciousness was introduced in the aptly named The Phantom Zone miniseries by Steve Gerber and Gene Colan a few years before Crisis hit.
Therein, The Zone was revealed to have existed as an outer layer of Aethyr’s mind where abstract thought and other possibilities of existence, dreamed up by the malevolent “Oversoul,” resided.
It got trippier during Rebirth when a theory arose that the plane was a membrane between the DC Universe and the gnarly, upside-down Dark Multiverse from which all the ‘evil’ Batman variants seen during Dark Knights: Metal and Dark Knights: Death Metal came from.
The Phantom Zone is most often depicted as a wasteland or a limbo that, when you boil it down, is little more than an extradimensional jail, even if there are ghoulish phantoms floating around that prove to be a challenge for Superman and Supergirl.
Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson with art by Siya Oum, Action Comics 2021 has a retail value of $5.99. Here is the synopsis of the book:
“The return of Future State’s House of El! It’s time to head back to tomorrow, as Superman’s descendants face a threat from today. This special tale connects to ‘[War World] Rising’ as the actions of Clark Kent in the present reverberate, leaving long-lasting changes…and a deadly threat for the House of El to reckon with. Can Brandon Kent, the Superman of his era, stop the danger from hurting the next generation? Also, for those wanting to know more about Brandon’s [relationship] with Theand’r, the Tamaranean queen, prepare yourself for a little romance as well.”
The briefly delayed Action Comics 2021 Annual #1 is on sale now.
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