Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review: Phantom Zone #2

Today I review Phantom Zone #2, continuing my look at the mini-series that brough the concept of Aethyr into the DC Universe.But I am doubly lucky reviewing this issue because Supergirl is really a star in this issue. With Superman stuck in the Phantom Zone, it is up to the other heroes to deal with the repercussions of the Phantom Zone villains being free. Let me tell you Kara and Wonder Woman step up big time.

As I said in the review of the first issue, the pacing of this mini-series is interesting and almost overly deliberate. Writer Steve Gerber has a lot of stuff to cover. He has to cover all the action on Earth and he takes his time. This issue is mostly the villains initial actions, removing as many heroes as they can. But it isn't enough, Gerber throws in some cold war paranoia. In fact, he barely touches on all the wackiness that is going to happen with Superman in the Phantom Zone.

The art is again wonderfully rendered by Gene Colan. I still don't know if he is the right choice for superheroics but there is enough horror for it to be a Colan issue. Tony DeZuniga on inks seems to ground the work making the more JLA pages a bit more solid and less ethereal than the usual Colan fare. Let's start with this eye grabbing cover of Supergirl supposedly dead while the ghostly Superman looks on. Wonderful!

On to the book!
We start with a dynamic page of the Phantom Zone villains spilling out of Charlie Kweskill's apartment. While we don't know their plans, the title here is 'Earth Under Siege' and so we have an inkling of what they want.

Now I will say their ultimate plan is a bit too elaborate and a bit too nutty to seem sane. But what they do early on to try and actualize their revenge makes good sense.

But not everyone heads out to enact General Zod's plans.

Left behind are the two Kryptonian hipsters, Az-Rel and Nadira. They just seem to not care enough about any sort of authority to throw in with the militant Zod.

Also sticking around is Nam-Ek. He actually is a repentant of his experiments with Rondor and feels scorned by God. You may remember him as the 'loneliest man in the universe'. But when our young slackers dismiss him, he gets angry. And so, they do what they do best, inflict their psionic attacks on him. As these are Kryptonian psionic attacks, they are powerful enough to make even a super-powered Kryptonian like Nam-El convulse and burn. He flies off in agony.

And then in the background, we see Jer-Em. A zealot priest, he was responsible for the deaths of all those on Argo City. He also doesn't want to join in the siege. He will instead preach how all are doomed.

It is pretty impressive that Gerber gives these characters personalities which link to their histories incredibly well.

But let's peek in on the villains who took off.

They wisely decide that the best thing they can do is destroy anything that can send them back to the Zone. So they break into Superman's Fortress of Solitude and demolish the Phantom Zone projector.

That makes great sense. These criminals have almost escaped any number of times. Now that they are out, the best thing to do is eliminate any way of being sent back.

And then they do a double whammy.

To limit any interference with the super-hero community on Earth, they grab the JLA satellite and throw it deep into the galaxy. Another solid move on their part. While it is unlikely that the Elongated Man can do anything against them, why risk it? Certainly getting rid of the Flash this way is a solid strategy.

And then to put the world's population into a panic, the Phantom Zone crew go around and destroy all communication satellites in orbit around Earth. Suddenly, all the Earth's government are unable to talk to each other. Another solid move.

Maybe Zod truly is a military genius!

With the communication systems down for an unknown reason, the world political powers think that it must mean an attack.

So, of course, they empty their nuclear silos and start World War III.

No worries though. Thankfully, two very capable and two caring heroes fly around the world, plucking the missiles out of the sky and stopping nuclear armageddon!

The two heroes? Supergirl and Wonder Woman. Check out Kara jumping into the fray and saving the day. Trust me, there are some great pages of Supergirl action here. Colan really shines here.

Alas, poor Superman can only watch from the Zone. But he is very impressed with Supergirl and Wonder Woman saving the day.

Inside the Zone, Superman and Quex-Ul run into the one friend they have on the inside, Mon-El!

Mon says that everything that Superman knows about the Zone might be wrong. There is a limit to the dimension. And there is a space that even the criminals didn't dare enter. Perhaps there is back door out of the Zone there.

Okay folks, get ready. Because we will see where Mon-El leads them and it is crazy.

Thankfully all the world's heroes weren't on the satellite. In fact, one of the most powerful heroes is still on the playing field! Green Lantern!!!

Unfortunately, this is not Hal's greatest day.

He is attacked by multiple Kryptonians just as his ring is about out of juice. (I don't know, I think I'd recharge my ring whenever it was aty 50% juice. I mean, I don't run my gas tank down to completely empty.

Alas, overrun like this, Hal is left depleted. And the Kryptonians seem to get what it was they were after in the first place ... Hal's power battery.

I think it is pretty cool that Kara and Diana shine here while Hal is just overrun. Maybe I shouldn't derive satisfaction from that, but I do.

While Diana patrols the sky trying to figure out what was happening, she sees the fiery Nam-Ek streak by.

She stops to help. Remember, Nam-Ek is immortal, ever healing because of the Rondor horn he attached to himself.

Again, Diana is just perfect here. Despite him looking like a charred skeleton, she doesn't turn away in disgust. She talks of Aphrodite's love for all! Boy, we are a long way from the sword and shield Diana we see a lot of these days.

But Nam-Ek is definitely a traumatized individual. He can't believe that she isn't repulsed. And so attacks.

This is a great page as you can sense the power he has here. His whole body is almost bestial, his legs (in particular his ankles) look anatomically more like a beast of burden's than a humanoid's legs

Still despite this surprise attack, Diana is able to recover and trap Nam-Ek in her lasso.

Wonder Woman kicks all the butt this issue.

Meanwhile, Supergirl is also wondering what is going on. Why didn't Kal respond to the nuclear missiles. Something must be wrong.
She heads to Gotham to ask Batman if he knows where Superman is.
It is a simple scene. It gives us some Colan Batman, something worth seeing.
But for me, what I love as a Supergirl fan, is that she approaches him as an equal. She isn't in awe of him. She isn't afraid of him. They are both established heroes. They have even teamed up. I love it. This is the respect Supergirl should get.

With no clues to go on, Supergirl figures the next place to check for Superman is at his Fortress of Solitude.

She is greeted by General Zod, freed and working at the super-computer.

Look at that top panel. She is not intimidated or scared of Zod at all. She is not only ready to throw down with him. She is commanding him. Now that is a strong Supergirl who cares about her family and isn't ready to run away. She stands up to one of Superman's strongest enemies without batting an eyelash.

The problem is Zod isn't alone. Family member Kru-El sneak attacks.

Even with this, Supergirl is able to take out Kru-El. But then Zod and Jax-Ur team up and knock her unconscious.

This is still a great Supergirl scene. She holds her own against three Kryptonians!

In the Zone, Mon-El leads Superman and Charlie to the end of the 'misty' realms of the Zone. No one knows what lies beyond. 

With no other chance of escaping and saving the planet, Superman can only hope that the deeper levels of the Zone will provide a way of egress. So he and Quex-Ul head into the unknown.

In 27 short pages, we have an averted nuclear war, 3 super battles, and progression of the Zone exploration story. Whew!!

But I love the criminals plans so far. Eliminate as many heroes they can with little muss or fuss. Sow paranoia among the humans themselves. And start to work on whatever big plot they have in mind, one that requires a Lantern battery. 

And I love how the heroes of this issue are Wonder Woman and Supergirl. They are competent and strong and respected. Just brilliant.

Settle in though. We'll start to move away from a straight forward story and into the weird next issue!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

I would point out that Supergirl single handedly destroyed HALF the world's deployed nukes in full launch mode, without a single loss of life! Her cousin on his best day in 1978 could just about stop ONE rogue MX Missile aimed at Hackensack NJ...and yes the other one, did detonate. Peace to Chris Reeve's ashes all the same.
Forget the Earth Angel, This is Bronze Age Kara Zor El in Full Goddess Mode!! For any other DCU Character teaming up with Wonder Woman & Batman with casual confidence, battling the Phantom Zone crooks to a standstill, would be Cry of Independence, "Tremble Evildoers, I Supergirl, Have Arrived!" At the very least it'd make a perfect debut for a solo book...but we all know how that ends don't we?
At the very least it's proof positive that outside her own $1 SMF feature with it's lifeless pencils and comatose plotting, Supergirl is still an awesome enthralling character. All she ever needed back them was a good artist and a writer that was All-In...See the results???!!
I don't think of Steve Gerber as a DCU mainstay, but he clearly has an E. Nelson Bridwellian memory for minor historic plot points out of which to weave an epic narrative. In his affection for the universe of the silver-bronze age Superman he resembles none so much as Alan Moore on his better days.


Martin Gray said...

I agree, Kara never shone more than when she was in team-ups, until the DNAoS came along. JLA, B&B, DCCP and now here… it’s a shame she didn’t alternate in DCCP with her cousin.

Thanks for a great recap and commentary… feel free to ignore the sequel in the final DCCP. I’ve had enough depressing Supergirl stories of late!