Superman’s Twisted Prison is Finally Called Out By Marvel

Superman’s Phantom Zone is an ethically-dubious extra-dimensional prison, and it is now called out by Marvel Comics in Sabretooth #1.

Warning: contains spoilers for Sabretooth #1!

The Phantom Zone, the twisted extra-dimensional prison used by Superman, gets called out by Marvel Comics in a new comic. In Sabretooth #1, on sale now in print and digital, the ferocious mutant is taken to Krakoa and put on trial for murder. When he is found guilty, Sabretooth is banished to the Pit, a special prison for Krakoa’s worst—and it bears more than a passing resemblance to Superman’s Phantom Zone.

First appearing in 1961’s Adventure Comics #283 from Robert Bernstein and George Papp, the Phantom Zone is an extra-dimensional zone, discovered by Superman’s father Jor-El, that was used as a prison for some of the universe’s vilest criminals, including General Zod. Beings exiled to the Phantom Zone were able to see and hear the outside universe but were unable to physically interact with it. The Kryptonians viewed this as a safe and humane form of punishment, but recent depictions of the Phantom Zone have called this into question. The Zone has been depicted as not the safe place it was thought to be, and its moral and ethical implications have been debated as well. In the Marvel Universe, there has been no real parallel to the Phantom Zone—until now. The irredeemable mutant Sabretooth has been exiled to the Pit, Krakoa’s darkest, deepest prison. The issue is written by Victor LaValle, illustrated by Leonard Kirk, colored by Rain Beredo and lettered by Cory Petit.


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Sabretooth, exiled into the Pit, lets his mind wander, running through various fantasies where he violently kills the X-Men. In one fantasy, Cypher and Warlock come to him, offering Sabretooth mental freedom, which would grant him both awareness and protect him from further mental manipulation. Sabretooth asks Cypher what happens if he says no, and Cypher replies then Professor Xavier’s original judgement stands, that Sabretooth be “alive but immobile…aware but unable to act upon it forever.” Sabretooth asks for the pen to sign his release forms.

Sabretooth is reminded of his punishment

Sabretooth’s description of the Pit makes it sound much like Superman’s Phantom Zone. Sabretooth was alive and aware of what was happening around him, but could do nothing about it, much like criminals who have been sent to the Phantom Zone. The X-Men take it a step further by manipulating the memories of the mutants they send to the Pit—something Kryptonians did not do. Much like Jor-El and the rest of Krypton, the X-Men view the Pit as a humane form of punishment, but readers see it is anything but.

People exiled to both the Phantom Zone and the Pit have had hellish times there, suffering untold mental agony and distress. In Sabretooth’s case, it has only hardened his heart further, cementing his hatred of Krakoa and the X-Men. DC has explored the ethical questions that Superman’s Phantom Zone raises on occasion, but Marvel directly calls it out, showing it to be the horrifying prison it truly is.

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