A Tribute to the of

The Silver Lantern and of course the Silver Age Sage feature itself are politics free zones, but I had to laugh when my attention was drawn to this little bit of humor floating around on the web: "You cannot nuke a hurricane for obvious reasons. The resulting shock waves could reverberate into space, shatter the Phantom Zone, and release galactic criminals into our atmosphere who may then try to invade Earth. I can't believe this is even a discussion."

So, after a good chuckle, I was reminded of an issue on the shelf, once again generously provided by the webmaster that I wanted to review soon. This seems a good time as it’s the very first introduction of the concept of the Phantom Zone and it takes place in a Superboy story from Adventure Comics #283 with a publication date of April 1961. The actual on-sale date was February 28, 1961. The cover was rendered by the great Curt Swan with Stan Kaye inks while George Papp did the duties on the story itself. “The Phantom Superboy!” was written by Robert Bernstein and Mort Weisinger served as editor.

It should come as no surprise that the setting is Smallville, Superboy’s home base, and young Clark Kent is assisting his stepfather, Jonathan Kent at the Kent General Store, where they’ve just received a double shipment of milk (in those large cans, no less) but no butter. Well, this is no problem when Superboy is around. He simply takes the extra milk and does some super speed churning and voila! Plenty of fresh butter for the store. Also included in the shipment of goods are some newfangled electric typewriters. You can even see the “Remington” on the case.

Lana Lang swings by the store for some baking pans and notices Clark trying out “the first electric typewriter on the market!” He quickly types “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy white dog” and explains to Lana that it’s a practice typing sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet. Like a super salesman, Clark demonstrates how the machine works, from the initial task of plugging it in to where the “on” switch is located and showing her that it takes very little finger pressure to work the keys. Amazing technology!

Lana muses that since it’s electric, perhaps brainwaves, or thoughts, which are essentially electrical impulses, could theoretically operate the machine…if one had a super-brain capable of super-strong waves. Clark briefly wonders if she’s onto his secret identity, but she was simply musing and Pa Kent asks him to deliver a couple of packages. In the bargain, Clark takes Lana along in the Kent station wagon to offer her a lift home. During the drive he asks about her father, Professor Lang and she informs him that he’s off on an archaeological expedition in the southwest.

A quick segue and there he is in the New Mexico desert with some colleagues when out of the clear, blue sky, a large box falls to the ground. The men note that the box glows and gives a tingling sensation when touched. Naturally, they want to open it, but not even a handy acetylene torch will do the trick. One of the men, a language expert, notes that the inscription on the box is not of this world. So, there’s only one thing to do. Bring the box home to Smallville so that Superboy can take a crack at it.

Back in Smallville, Superboy’s x-ray vision is ineffective as the box is lead-lined, but he does recognize the inscription as being in Kryptonese, from his home world of Krypton. The box was fired into space two decades prior and was possibly dislodged from orbit causing it to land on Earth. There is also a warning not to open the box, so our hero decides to fly it to a remote location before opening it. Makes sense to me…

At the distant spot, Superboy notes that there are no hinges or openings of any kind, so he zips it open with his hand and discovers a scroll, a helmet and three weapon-like objects. The scroll contains another warning, describing the contents as weapons that are too dangerous to keep. The signature is one Jor-El of Krypton.

The next logical step is to try out each device. Superboy, you’re a knucklehead. He starts with a disintegrator ray that looks like a rifle on a nearby mountain. The Boy of Steel reasons that since the railroad is intending to blast it to rubble to clear the path for a new track, he’s actually doing them a favor. The ray works like a charm, easily dissolving the mountaintop and Superboy hastily returns it to the box. Next up is an enlarging ray, set up like a camera on a tripod. The intention is to try it on a plant, but wouldn’t you know a lizard was on the plant and caught the ray and was turned into a dinosaur and an aggressive one at that. It immediately heads for an observatory on the edge of a cliff over a canyon (because where else would you locate an observatory?) and Superboy lifts the building out of the creature’s way, causing it to fall into the water below and to drown. That’s enough of weapon #2.

The final two objects are a thought helmet and what appears to be a spotlight on supports. The thought helmet allows Superboy to both hear and mentally “see” all about the other object. Dr. Xadu is on trial for illegally using suspended animation on a couple for his scientific research. Despite the scientist’s protests that they’d volunteered and the research was vital, he is found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in the Phantom Zone. He is chained to a wall and the spotlight-looking device is used. The black button beams the freshly convicted criminal into the Phantom Zone and when his sentence is up, he is to return for the white button to be pressed, bringing him back.

Next up on the docket is General Zod, who had created his own private army with a duplicator ray to overthrow the Kryptonian government. Interestingly, each duplicate “Zod” is an imperfect copy that strongly resembles the Bizarro creature Superboy had encountered before. Zod is sent away for 40 years.

Superboy then removes the helmet, but another lizard has crawled onto the projector and stepped on the black button, so Superboy, who just so happened to be standing in front of it, is changed into phantom form and quickly realizes he can no longer affect the world around him. He cannot be seen or heard and cannot touch anything. He is, indeed, a phantom.

To his utter frustration, he witnesses crimes, but cannot intervene. With little choice, he heads back to the Kent home to ponder his options. His parents are concerned, but not overly worried yet. They decide to take the precaution of activating a Clark Kent robot so as not to arouse suspicion, but Superboy recalls that this robot still needs some tweaking and might cause him trouble. Sure enough, when the “Clark Kent” double encounters a moving van with a flat, he offers to lift it so the slipped jack can be put back in place. Superboy, in desperation, flies over and concentrates his thoughts, sending an electrical charge to the mechanism in the robot that controls his super powers and disables it.

Then, an epiphany strikes and the phantom Superboy heads for the Kent General Store. He’s in luck as the electric typewriter is just as he left it, plugged in and containing a piece of paper on the roller. Using his powers of concentration again, he starts it typing, which naturally catches Jonathan Kent’s attention and proceeds to use it to explain what has happened and where to go and how to bring him back from the Phantom Zone.

Pa Kent follows the directions to the letter and soon Superboy is back in the real world. He tells his father that he’ll now seal up the weapons in the box and dump it to a place in the ocean where only he can get to it again. The final panel contains a little foreshadowing: “Maybe some day when I grow up, I’ll re-visit the Phantom Zone and meet all the criminals from Krypton who are still there!

That wraps up this 14-page tale that gave us our first glimpse of the Phantom Zone. Obviously, this gimmick would be used again and again during our beloved Silver Age and we began to get well acquainted with Jax-Ur, among other denizens of that murky void. A Congorilla story filled out this issue for your hard-earned dime.

I always enjoyed Phantom Zone stories. It seemed to afford some interesting stories and it was usually fun to see how Supes would tackle the challenge of getting the genie back in the bottle. It’s nice to know how it all started and I’ll give this issue a rating of 8 on the 10-point scale for the simple significance of this element of Superman’s adventures.

The next review here at the Silver Lantern will happen on the first of October, so while you patiently wait, why not send us a note about your reactions, ideas or any other feedback. You now the address, but just in case, fire off an e-mail to professor_the@hotmail.com and you will get a prompt response.

See you in a couple of weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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