Warning! Spoilers for Action Comics #1027 by Brian Michael Bendis, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, and Dave Sharpe
Despite his incredible power, Superman isn’t usually one to make threats. The Big Blue Boy Scout is known for his upstanding moral character, which is why the ultimatum he gives Red Cloud in Action Comics #1027 comes across as particularly harsh.
Robinson Goode was a journalist who works alongside Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen at the Daily Planet. However, Goode also secretly operates as the supervillain Red Cloud, a member of the metahuman crime mob called the Invisible Mafia. Red Cloud has the ability to transform her entire body into a toxic red mist, allowing her to fly and making her intangible to physical attacks. The mist is also poisonous even to Kryptonians, making her one of the Man of Steel’s most dangerous adversaries. Fortunately, the Super-Family is able to take her down in Action Comics #1027 by bringing her to the Phantom Zone. There, Superman makes what just might be the darkest threat of his superhero career.
Long before Jor-El sent Superman to Earth, he was Krypton’s foremost scientist, and one of his most notable discoveries was the Phantom Zone, a pocket dimension that Kryptonians used as a prison. However, the Phantom Zone isn’t just any old jail – it was actually put in place as a substitute punishment for the death penalty, which was deemed inhumane on Krypton. Superman describes it as, “Somewhere for us to cast out terrorists and other out-of-control Kryptonian criminals…It’s just nothing but terrible.” Basically, only the worst of the worst get sent to the Phantom Zone, so Superman offers Red Cloud a choice. “I can easily leave you here,” he says, “or we take you back to Earth and you go to proper prison…So which is it? Jail or Hell? I promise you I’m okay either way.” After a threat like that, the decision should be a no brainer, and sure enough, Red Cloud is shown locked up in Stryker’s Island prison a few pages later.
By showing Red Cloud what her fate could have been, Superman hopes she will decide to change her ways and do some good – after she serves her time, of course. Still, the Phantom Zone isn’t a punishment Superman uses lightly. It’s reserved for only the most powerful and dangerous villains, like General Zod and Doomsday, so the fact that Red Cloud was nearly sent there shows just how serious of a threat she is. Even so, making threats like this is pretty uncharacteristic of Superman, but who knows – maybe Batman’s scare tactics are starting to rub off on him.
Red Cloud is given the choice of prison or Hell, and when it’s put like that, jail time really doesn’t sound so bad. Regardless, this issue serves as a reminder of how terrifying the Phantom Zone is – and how scary Superman can be when he wants to.