WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Superman #3
Superman is quickly becoming the only hero who can save Earth in the DC Comics Universe. In a big change from his Man of Steel miniseries which moved more slowly than some expected, Brian Michael Bendis isn't wasting much time in the mainline Superman series. New villainous killer of Krypton Rogal Zaar is still around, but he's not (directly) behind the latest crisis to hit Superman's world. The entire Earth has been sucked into... the Phantom Zone.
Made famous by Christopher Reeve's Superman movies, the Phantom Zone is a dimension Kryptonians used to house their most dangerous criminals. These days, the Phantom Zone is literally killing many of DC's mightiest heroes - leaving only Superman untouched.
Earth's new home in the Phantom Zone was revealed at the end of Superman #2. It's only with the release of Superman #3 that the real side effects of Terra Firma's new place among the stars is being felt. Understandably, being swalloed up by the Phantom Zone is causing all kinds of havoc with the forces of nature, and twisting reality to the point that everyone from Batman to The Flash is slowly dying.
The slow death of Superman's friends is only understood when he reaches out to them for help in dealing with the many proverbial and literal fires scattered across the globe. Batman is seen huddling over a toilet, muttering that he's been poisoned, and The Flash is slowed way down. Martian Manhunter, who remains unaffected for now, attributes it to Earth's atmosphere negatively reacting to the Phantom Zone. Luckily, Superman's Kryptonian physiology makes him immune.
There's a common comic book argument which poses that the DC Universe really doesn't need any heroes aside from Superman exists. Given all of Superman's superpowers, he could almost save the entire Earth single-handedly. Brian Michael Bendis is putting that question to the test, and doing so fairly early into his run. Granted, trying to be a one-man Justice League probably won't go Superman's way. After all, a 'perfect' Superman wouldn't make for the most compelling story (or the most refreshing, at the very least). Still, seeing a comic book try to answer the question of the Earth's need for the Justice League, or just Superman, is exciting for any fan.
The only guaranteed part of this new Superman story is that it will be action-packed. Because the Earth is suddenly sharing the same space as everyone Superman and/or Krypton threw into the Phantom Zone - with the actual Phantom Zone prison orbiting outside Earth's orbit where the moon used to be located.
And Earth is looking a lot more tempting for a world of superpowered aliens. Superman #3 ends with The Phantom Zone prisoners getting ready to invade Earth with Rogal Zaar leading the army... even for Superman, holding Earth's line of defense against that onslaught is a tall order.
Superman #3 is available now from DC Comics.