Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Reader John D. wrote in to ask, "I’ve always loved all the alien artifacts in the fortress of solitude. Despite his collection’s recent destruction, I sincerely hope that the blue boy scout’s trippy hoarding continues. Next to Kandor my favorite possession of his is the Phantom Zone Projector, and I have a simple question about it. How the heck did it survive the destruction of Krypton and how did it make its way to Earth? I’ve always wondered! "
Sure thing, John!
As it turned out, the Phantom Zone Projector made its debut in 1961's Adventure Comics #283, in a story by Robert Bernstein and George Papp.
A giant crate lands on Earth. It is flown to Smallville so that Superboy can use his X-Ray vision to see what it is inside of the box.
He can't see inside of it because it is lead-lined, but he realizes that the box is from Krypton because the language written on the box is Kryptonese (I don't recall off the top of my head how Superboy understands Kryptonese) and it says that this crate was launched from Krypton BEFORE it exploded because it had weapons in it that were too dangerous to keep on the planet...
So Superboy, of course, opens up the crate and experiments with the weapons to see if they're really as dangerous as his own father, Jor-El, says that they are. Nothing could wrong with THAT plan, right?
After a couple of other weapons, Superboy finally finds the Phantom Zone Projector, along with a thought helmet that will explain to him what the Projector does and the history of the device...
I've got to say, doesn't it come off as kind of cruel to invent a punishment for criminals and then get rid of the only way to free them? The Phantom Zone criminals are not all life sentences, after all! Anyhow, since his plan to test out dangerous weapons was a terrible one, sure enough, Superboy accidentally gets hit by the Phantom Zone Projector himself. He finds a way to get a message to his dad through the highest form of technology in 1962 - an electric typewriter!
Superboy then re-seals the crate and dumps it deep into the ocean!
Years later, Steve Gerber would reveal in The Phantom Zone #1 (art by Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga) that Jor-El got rid of the Phantom Zone Projector because the Phantom Zone criminals were using their telepathy to try to get him to release them, so he made sure to get rid of the device before they were able to succeed...
So that's BASICALLY the answer to your question, John, but we should also find out how the Phantom Zone Projector got to be part of SuperMAN's life, as well, after it was sealed up in that crate and thrown into the ocean!