'The Ghost in the Fortress of Solitude' is presented as a fable for a dark, autumn night, with an omniscient narrator telling us what happened on October 31 on Krypton, and on Earth. Spinning out of Silver Age Superman lore, cryogenics abuser Doctor Xa-Du becomes the first Phantom Zone prisoner, projected there by Superman's father, Jor-El. Of course, he swears vengeance, and decades later escapes into Superman's sparkling new Arctic fortress and throws the Man of Steel into the Zone. There, Superman meets the Phantom Stranger, and a very old friend - Krypto, his childhood pet.
Unsurprisingly, our hero gets free, and wins the day, but can he retrieve the handsome hound?
I found this story hugely satisfying. It uses classic DC mythology with love and respect, shows Superman as a smart, confident hero, and brings several well-known knaves from Krypton into the revamped continuity. The idea that Krypton experiences Hallowe'en, when the barriers between 'seen and unseen' worlds thin - even if nobody knows it as such - is the perfect set-up for this story. And I'm pleased the Fortress is now in its most-famous spot, even if it does look like a quick-frozen sea anenome.
Writer Grant Morrison and artist Travel Foreman present the Zone prisoner's life as terrifying in a way we've seldom seen - it's no wonder so many inmates go ga-ga. As for the Phantom Stranger, we learn that as well as being a Wandering Judas, he investigates hauntings, which sounds a lot of fun, 'ecto-technology' and all. And he's useful in the story as a quick source of information for Superman; I don't doubt our hero would have figured things out for himself sharpish, but a super-speedy response to Xa-Du's breakout is needed, and it's Superman who puts the Stranger's words into action.
Superman and Stranger alike toss out some excellent lines, while the narration's measured tones contrast nicely with the increasingly frenzied events. There's no 'arf' from Krypto, as is traditional, but I can wait. The main thing is that the scenes between man and dog convince - these guys love one another.
One question - how long was a Kryptonian year? Jor-El is a grown man when he sends Xa-Du to the Zone, and 20 years later the planet blows up with the scientist looking exactly the same. I recall that Krypton's red sun is bigger than Earth's yellow star, but that would mean Krypton's years were longer, not shorter, surely? I may have to write to the Metropolis Mailbag ...
This story is great work all round - letterer Steve Wands deserves a nod, too, for mood-setting font choices. One thing I'm not keen on, though, is the cover illustration, by fan favourite Bryan Hitch, in which Superman's head resembles a particularly unlovely pig carcass.
The back-up strip is a happier affair, taking us through Krypto's life on Krypton and life (very) beyond. It turns out that the 'ghost dog' a hobo once told Clark was watching him has actually been by his side since his Smallville days. The unknowing Clark was never able to respond, but Krypto loved and protected his friend anyway. I'm so glad these two are now properly reunited to romp through space.
The one thing I don't like in Sholly Fisch's elegant story is the detail that Jor-El ensured dog/boy bonding via a spot of 'helix interweaving'. He should have trusted the pair to become friends, not stick the poor pet into a gas-filled booth . It's better than Silver Age Jor-El sticking Krypto into a prototype rocket and losing him, but still, this blog is agin unnecessary alien animal experimentation (we're sponsored by the Space Canine Patrol Agency, don'tcha know).
If editors Wil Moss and Matt Idelson are reading this, perhaps watching from some DC version of the Phantom Zone, a reminder - don't leave the back-up strip creators' names off the cover. I can't see sales falling if Grant Morrison superfans aren't conned into thinking he's writing the whole book, and good work deserves recognition.
Or do I have to send my dog Eartho around to bite you on the bum?