Superman: The Apokolips Factor, Chapter 4: The Phantom Zone Revisited

by PDebord and JSAGL

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Power Girl stood dumbfounded, staring at a mirror image of herself. The face was the same, but the hair was longer and the features were contorted in rage.

“You — you’re dead,” Power Girl gasped. “We watched you die.”

“Does it feel like I’m dead to you, Kara?” Lady Death asked as she swung toward Power Girl.

“No,” Power Girl said as she ducked.

“This has to be one of Darkseid’s tricks,” Superman said. “I buried Kara Zor-El, and when that impostor showed up two months back, the Stranger assured me that the woman I buried was really my cousin.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: The Return of Supergirl.]

Lady Death spat something in a foreign language, and Superman shook his head. “How could she know that?” he asked.

“What did she say?” the Star-Spangled Kid asked.

“It’s not what she said — it’s the fact that she said it in Kryptonian,” Superman answered. Looking around, he asked, “Hey, did anyone see where the Spectre went?”

Before anyone could answer, the doors at the end of the room swung open to allow in the room a platoon of heavily armed Parademons wearing what appeared to be bionic armor, followed by Darkseid.

“Never thought he would run on his own turf,” the Star-Spangled Kid said.

“Here we go again,” the Flash of Earth-Two commented as the Parademons began to move toward them.

Enough!” came a shout as a figure appeared between the heroes and the Parademons.

“You cannot interfere, Stranger,” Darkseid said, emphasizing the name.

“That was before you failed to heed my warning and changed history,” replied the man who appeared to be the Phantom Stranger to all those present. It was, in fact, Tannarak in disguise. He had one role left to play before his agreement with the Stranger was complete. “Now it is my duty to stop you.”

The Parademons parted as Darkseid began walking toward the Phantom Stranger. “You have interfered in my plans once too often,” Darkseid said as his eyes began to glow.

“Your arrogance will get you nowhere,” the Stranger said.

As beams of energy came from Darkseid’s eyes, the Phantom Stranger spread his cloak. When the omega energy hit the cloak, it reflected straight back into Darkseid’s face, knocking him out of the room.

The Stranger turned and faced Superman, the four JSAers, and Lady Death. Spreading his cloak once more, it seemed to surround all them. When he pulled it back, they stood in a field on the outskirts of Smallville.

“We need you around more often,” the Star-Spangled Kid said. “You’re a whole lot quicker than Fate.”

“Hush, Kid,” Power Girl snapped.

“I think you have some explaining to do, Stranger,” Superman said.

The false Phantom Stranger walked over to Lady Death, who stood motionless like she were frozen in place. He lay his left hand under her chin and closed her eyes with his other hand.

“Remember,” the Stranger whispered only loud enough for Lady Death to hear. He moved his hands away, and her eyes snapped open wide.

“Zod, Kru-El, the others — they’re out of the zone!” Lady Death gasped.

“That was a few months ago,” Superman said, “last fall.”

“To understand what happened, you would have to go back to the beginning,” said Tannarak in disguise as the Phantom Stranger, “and events that were only brought to my attention lately by an impostor posing as Kara Zor-El. After the Monitor built his satellite orbiting Earth-One a few years ago, Darkseid almost immediately recognized him and realized what he was to bring with him. He needed someone that the Monitor was sure to call on to keep him apprised of the situation. Since he didn’t have the time required to brainwash Superman, he decided to replace Superman with a clone that he could control and monitor. All of his attempts failed, so he turned to the one man in the universe who could successfully clone a Kryptonian.”

“General Dru-Zod — that’s what got him stuck in the phantom zone,” Superman said.

“In 1983, Zod agreed to duplicate his matrix in exchange for his freedom. What Darkseid had not counted on was Zod putting Superman in the phantom zone during that well-known prison break shortly afterward. Then Zod and the others beat Supergirl and left her for dead in the Fortress of Solitude. (*) It was at that moment that Darkseid seized the opportunity to clone her. He couldn’t replace her immediately, since the cloning process was largely untried and took a few months to perfect.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Phantom Zone #1-4 (January to April, 1982).]

“Old stone face should have boned up on his history before he trusted Zod’s matrix,” Superman said. “The reason his takeover attempt on Krypton almost failed before it began was because Zod originally tried making perfect clones of himself. They each had his ambition, lust for power, and desire to rule. He had effectively become his own worst enemy, so he was forced to introduce an imperfection in the matrix and create imperfect clones that were much like the Bizarros.”

The false Phantom Stranger continued his story. “It was that original oversight of Zod’s that made Darkseid’s plan fail, when he could not control his apparently perfect clone — which he switched with the real Supergirl one year before the Crisis — and it was that clone that gave her life to save yours in the antimatter universe during that conflict. (*) She did exactly what the real Kara Zor-El would have done had she been there. I doubt if she even knew that she wasn’t the real Kara Zor-El.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Beyond the Silent Night” Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October, 1985).]

“OK, but how do we know that the one who died was the clone, and that this one is the real Kara Zor-El?” Power Girl asked.

The false Stranger replied, “In order to monitor his clone, Darkseid implanted a transmitter in her skull while she was under the influence of red sun radiation, necessitating the clone to change her costume and conceal a slight scar. There were a few other differences which I’m sure Superman would have noticed had he not been so busy with the Crisis.”

“That still doesn’t explain this Lady Death persona,” Power Girl said.

“She has been captive on Apokolips for a year and a half since the summer of 1984, when she was captured and replaced,” said the false Phantom Stranger. “During that time, Darkseid’s scientists have been instilling Lady Death’s personality into her mind. It was obviously unsuccessful, since part of Kara Zor-El’s persona showed through here and in the thirtieth century.”

“She waited until the police chief and his deputy got out of the car before wrecking it, and she couldn’t bring herself to kill Brainy,” Superman said.

“I don’t get it — why would Darkseid send her here now?” asked Green Lantern of Earth-Two. “He could have waited until she was under his influence completely.”

“For the same reason I called upon the Justice Society,” the Phantom Stranger said. “He had but a limited time to act before Apokolips is phased between the dimensions.”

Superman glanced over at the Stranger doubtfully. He suddenly realized that something about him just didn’t ring true. It was a feeling he already had about the JSAers. Turning to the Star-Spangled Kid, he asked him, “You’re still leading Infinity Inc., right? How are the Silver Scarab and the new Mister Terrific doing?”

“They’re both fine,” the Kid said, nonplussed, then turned to Doctor Fate as if to change the subject. “Shouldn’t we be catching up with the Spectre soon, Fate?”

Superman stared at him for a moment as his suspicions were confirmed. His x-ray vision wouldn’t work on any of the Justice Society members. It was almost as if some magical force was preventing him from investigating them too closely. Still, they had aided him, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it just yet. There was already so much to process about this cloning business. It all seemed too good to be true. Could this forbidding figure called Lady Death really be his dear cousin? He wasn’t sure of that but was determined to find out.

At that moment, that the silver medallion on Lady Death’s cape made an electronic beep.

“What was that?” the Flash asked.

Superman squinted slightly. “There’s an explosive concealed within that medallion. I’m guessing Darkseid just activated it,” he said.

“Then I have to get out of here,” Lady Death said, taking off into the air.

Superman soared into the air himself and flew by her, snatching the medallion off her cape. “Not this time you don’t,” he said as he flew straight up, well out of Earth’s atmosphere, where he tossed the medallion at high speed into space. Just as it passed the outer edges of the solar system, the medallion exploded with a force beyond Earth’s nuclear potential. Meanwhile, Superman had flown back to Smallville to find only the Phantom Stranger and Lady Death awaiting.

“What happened to the JSA?” Superman asked.

“They had to return to their place of origin,” said the real Phantom Stranger. And what he said was true; Tannarak had vanished with the false Justice Society members, mystically transporting them back to Professor Ivo’s laboratory in the Rocky Mountains.

“I have to get out of here, too,” Lady Death said. “I need some time to think.”

Before Superman could stop her again, she flew out of sight to the far north. He started to fly after her until the voice of the Phantom Stranger stopped him.

“She must reconcile what she was and what she is,” said the Stranger, “and she cannot do that with you hovering over her.”

On Apokolips, as Darkseid watched Lady Death fly toward the Fortress of Solitude on a monitoring screen, he laughed to himself. “If they only knew,” he muttered as he walked toward the door. “If they only knew.”

***

Meanwhile, in a space outside of space, the shock waves from the detonation of the medallion reached a glowing crystalline form. As the waves began to wash over it, the crystal began to quiver and fracture in places.

Nooo! I can’t hold it together!” a high-pitched voice screamed.

***

The JLA’s Secret Sanctuary monitor room:

“It was strange. Power Girl was wearing her original costume, the one with the circle cut out on her, uh, chest, but the others seemed to be the same. One thing that really bothered me, though, was when I mentioned Infinity Inc. to Sylvester. I asked him how the Silver Scarab and the new Mister Terrific were doing. He said they were both fine.”

Looking at the face of Superman on the monitor screen, the Martian Manhunter appeared puzzled. “Correct me if I am in error, Kal, but there is no new Mister Terrific on Earth-Two, is there?”

“Not that I know of, J’onn. It was almost like these were the JSAers of a few years ago, shortly after Power Girl and Sylvester first joined them.”

“And they made no move to stop you or aid Darkseid?”

“None at all. It was all very strange. When I tried checking them with my x-ray vision, there was some kind of interference that seemed magical in nature. They then just vanished in Doctor Fate’s portal, supposedly back to Earth-Two.”

“Thank you for informing me, Kal. It is very strange, indeed.”

“I’ll talk to you later. Superman out.”

Hmmmm, thought the current chairman of the JLA. Why would anyone pretend to be the JSA?

“Why indeed, Manhunter from Mars?”

J’onn J’onzz turned around in his chair. “It has been a while, Stranger. What brings you here?”

The Phantom Stranger seemed to be floating in the air, his velvet cape swirling around him. “I bring a warning, Manhunter. Those who impersonated the JSA are just the beginning. A great evil approaches, and it may destroy the League from within. Be wary.”

“Who is it, and why…?”

As quickly as he appeared, the Phantom Stranger vanished, leaving a very puzzled J’onn J’onzz sitting in the monitor room alone.

“Well, I don’t suppose he’s interested in rejoining the League.”

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