SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Superman #4 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Alex Sinclair and Josh Reed, on sale now.
At the end of Superman #1, the Man of Steel discovered the entire world had been transported inside the Phantom Zone -- home to Krypton's worst criminals. Issue #3 revealed that this was caused, at least in part, by an errant experiment on the part of S.T.A.R. Labs. In Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis' Superman #4, the Justice League has come up with a plan to hopefully pull the Earth back into its own dimension. Moving an entire planet certainly has its unique challenges, though, and the end of the current issue poses a troublesome question: Did it work?
To Free Earth?
The scheme that's concocted is the Atom's idea, and the Phantom Zone-sickened Flash is on hand to help. Ray Palmer's idea is to shrink the entire planet small enough to be transported back through the Phantom Zone projector. And it's up to Barry Allen to get the projector into position quickly enough to facilitate the transfer. All the while, Superman leads Rogol Zaar away from Earth and deeper into the Phantom Zone so that he's not also transported back to Earth's dimension.
Once Zaar is lured a safe distance away, Superman gives Atom the go-ahead to shrink the planet. The problem is, the weakened Flash has stumbled with the projector in tow. The result? Ray appears to succeed in his part: The planet seemingly vanishes from view in the sights of Superman and Rogol Zaar. But, with Barry presumably not getting in position in time, Earth still remains in the Phantom Zone.
Which means the projector was shrunk along with the rest of the planet, and logically not able to fulfill its function. Oops.
Bendis' story doesn't make it clear where exactly Barry was trying to go, or how he was going to get there. The only solution seemingly would have been for Barry to run into space somehow, as flying isn't one of his known superpowers.
The good news, at least, is that Earth should be safe from any of the prisoners in the Phantom Zone, unless the planet ends up as a splat on one of their faces as they speed by. But, it's still subject to all the ills that the Phantom Zone's atmosphere has created already. So, now what? Is the Earth destined to become nothing more than a poisoned speck of dust in an alien dimension?
Well? Now What?
Within the scope of the Justice League's wild and crazy plan, it's not unreasonable to think that Atom and Flash can still implement the second half of their plan. If Barry can get far enough away from the planet with the projector and then re-enlarge it, it would be a relatively simple matter to then transport it back.
Of course, that presents problems of its own. Has the projector ever successfully been used while inside the Phantom Zone? And would it work properly if it was? Can the Earth even be found at this point? Superman stands to have his very own Horton Hears a Who moment if he can locate the world and rescue it from destruction.
Let's not forget that the projector was recently used for another risky maneuver: To transport Superman to the Dark Multiverse in Dark Nights: Metal. The recent DC Comics event revealed that the location of the Phantom Zone within the multiversal landscape of the DC Universe is near the gateway to the Dark Multiverse. Could a shrunken Earth find itself able to accidentally slip through the dimensional barriers between the two multiverses?
Superman's got his hands full now -- as if he didn't already with Rogol Zaar, Jax-Ur and a plethora of Kryptonian criminals. But now he has to face them alone, all while trying to figure out how to save the entire planet.