The Phantom Zone. It’s perhaps Kryptonian scientist Jor-El’s greatest legacy, if not for the daring choice to spare his son from the destruction of his world. An entirely separate plane of reality with untold potential, but one which Kryptonian society ultimately used as a penal colony—sending its most notorious criminals to the ghostly realm to carry out their sentences. Today, the most notorious criminal to receive the Phantom Zone sentence is General Dru-Zod, the Kryptonian military strategist who once sought to seize control of his home world. Spared the death of Krypton through his Phantom Zone sentence, Zod finds that with Superman calling Earth his home, the legacy of their home planet falls upon his shoulders. It’s with this responsibility we find Zod in his first comic book series by Joe Casey and Dan McDaid, Kneel Before Zod.

How did the great general fall into disgrace, rise as one of Superman’s most notorious villains, and turn to a new purpose across the stars? Let’s take a leaf through the many chapters written thus far in the Book of Zod.


If you were reading Superman comics in the Silver Age, General Zod wouldn’t even be the first villain who came to mind when you were talking about Phantom Zone criminals. Generally presented as a group, these criminals largely consisted of wayward scientists such as Dr. Xadu, Va-Kox, Quex-Ul, Superman’s first cousin once removed Kru-El, and most notorious of them all, Jax-Ur, who was responsible for the destruction of Krypton’s moon. Although Zod was one of the first Phantom Zone criminals introduced in the comics, it was typically Jax-Ur who led the Phantom Zoners when they plotted vengeance against the son of their jailer.

Just as the El family has long followed a scientific tradition, the Zods have been the stewards of Krypton’s defense. When space travel became outlawed on Krypton, Zod turned the forces under his command inward, seeking to bring the world under his control. Zod would be the final Kryptonian sentenced to the Phantom Zone before its destruction, and as such deferred to Jax-Ur’s seniority—at least, until they might someday secure their freedom.

Invitation to Kneel

Which raises the question: if Jax-Ur was originally considered the leader of the Phantom Zone contingent, why isn’t he the most feared and regarded Kryptonian villain today? Why not Kru-El, Jor-El’s cousin? Or Jer-Em, the mad prophet? Or Krypton’s deadliest serial killer, Faora Hu-Ul? The answer is unmistakable: Richard Donner’s cinematic Superman duology. In the first minutes of 1978’s Superman, we see a powerful, defiant Zod played by Terrence Stamp sentenced to the Phantom Zone alongside two original cronies developed for the film, Ursa and Non. In the sequel, the three criminals escape their bonds, and with newfound powers, seek to conquer the Earth for themselves as they once failed to take Krypton.

So why use Zod, and not Jax-Ur? We can only speculate. Perhaps Zod’s particular military bend made for a more interesting contrast with the peace-seeking Superman. Maybe his history as a conqueror made him a more versatile antagonist for Superman than a mad scientist with a paternal vendetta. Whatever the case, from this point on, when the world thought of villains from Krypton’s past, they would think of General Zod, who commanded the world to kneel before him.

The “Last Son” Conundrum

Six years after Superman II, DC was faced with a new problem. After Lex Luthor, General Zod was now Superman’s most well-known adversary. But with Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC had made the decision to remove the ancillary surviving Kryptonians from Superman’s supporting cast, allowing him to be the true “Last Son of Krypton” as he was once intended. So where did that leave Zod?

Over the next two decades, many different writers would try their hands at approaching Zod without breaking the law of the Last Son. First was John Byrne, who presented Zod as a Kryptonian villain inhabiting a pocket universe created by Legion of Super-Heroes villain the Time Trapper, where he and his fellow Phantom Zone survivors eradicated the entire population of Earth. Left with no other governing body to sentence him, Superman felt it was his duty to carry out the execution of Zod and his cronies—an action which would continue to haunt Superman for years afterward.

In 2001, Leo Dorfman presented another General Zod of an artificial Krypton created by Brainiac-13, who still led his world’s military. Superman would defeat him by teaming up with a similar counterpart of his own father.

However, the most notorious interim Zod would be introduced that same year by Joe Kelly—the Russian cosmonaut Avruskin, who under Soviet experimentation was granted Superman-like abilities when exposed to red solar energy. In meditation, Avruskin made contact with the ghost of Zod whom Superman had sentenced to death years earlier in the pocket universe. Avruskin took up his name and mission, conquering a small country and reoccurring for a time in Superman’s rogues gallery. But it wouldn’t be long before the proper Zod would make his comeback.

The Return

In 2004, Supergirl made her return to comic book continuity as Superman’s cousin and with that, the floodgates were open. If Supergirl could be a survivor of Krypton again, why not Zod? A dry run in Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s Superman: For Tomorrow primed us for Zod’s true return in 2006 crafted by Geoff Johns and the man who made Zod a household name, Richard Donner. In a story arc following Infinite Crisis appropriately titled “Last Son,” Superman and Lois take in their first child, a young boy with Kryptonian powers they call Christopher Kent. To their surprise, they soon learn Christopher’s true parents are none other than two of the Phantom Zone’s most notorious criminals, Zod and Ursa.

After a failed bid to conquer Metropolis, Zod and Ursa are exiled to the Phantom Zone once more…until Zod is pardoned for his crimes by Alura In-Ze, the governor of New Krypton. In 2010, the survivors of Brainiac’s bottled city of Kandor were restored to their original size and together formed a new society. Zod was appointed their military leader, until differences with Earth led to a war between man and Kryptonian, New Krypton’s destruction and Zod’s re-imprisonment.


Meanwhile, Zod would rise to prominence once more in the cinematic universe. 2013’s Man of Steel featured Michael Shannon as a new take on General Zod, who would prove to be the most enduring antagonist of the shared DC Extended Universe for the next ten years. Shannon’s Zod would be instrumental in informing the character as he appeared in the contemporary comics, fanatical and resolute. In 2018’s Krypton, we would see the most sympathetic interpretation of Zod to date as played by Colin Salmon, traveling back to his home world’s past to avert its destruction.

After the continuity-changing events of Flashpoint and Rebirth, the former Chris Kent, now Lor-Zod, would return as the loyal son of Zod and Ursa. Freed from the Phantom Zone in Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics, Zod, Ursa and Lor would take up residence on a world far away, reaching a tentative truce with Superman as they sought to found their own New Krypton outside of Kal-El’s jurisdiction.

And that’s where we find ourselves today. Will Zod, Ursa and their son find a way to restore Krypton’s glory across the universe? What might a Kryptonian future be like under military, and not scientific, guidance? Will Superman be forced to intervene once more—and will it prove as deadly as in comics and films before? The next chapter in the book of Zod is being written now in Kneel Before Zod.

Kneel Before Zod #1 by Joe Casey, Dan McDaid and David Baron is now available in print or as a digital comic book.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about games, movies, TV, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Bluesky at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.