The Black Zero was a huge starship originally designed by scientist Jor-El as a prison barge, to transport criminals into the Phantom Zone. It was thus first used to imprison war criminal General Zod and his Sword of Rao loyalists, but it also thus helped them escape Krypton's destruction. General Zod proceeded to take over and retrofit the ship, utilizing it as a means to search the universe in search for fellow Kryptonian survivors, the escaped Kal-El, and the Growth Codex, as well as a planet suitable for terraformation into New Krypton.
The Black Zero had several smaller ships attached to it, and was capable of interstellar travel via its Phantom Drive, which was retrofitted from the Phantom Zone Projector by Sword of Rao scientist Jax-Ur. The starship is capable of being hot-wired to terraform a planet into one that resembles Krypton, at is attempted to do to Earth (with only the timely intervention of Superman keeping the attempt from being successful). It also had several escape pods attached.
The ship itself has its own atmosphere (identical in composition to that which had once been on Krypton), as superpowered Kryptonians in the star system of a yellow G-type main-sequence star had all of their powers nullified by the ship, rendering them only human.
The Black Zero starship was originally designed by Jor-El, Krypton's foremost scientist of the Thinker Guild, and was originally a prison barge. General Zod and his Sword of Rao loyalists tried to stage a coup d'etat and take over Krypton, but they were eventually captured. Given that this was the worst crime committed on Krypton in many thousands of years, the Council decided to reuse the Black Zero to send Zod and his followers away to the Phantom Zone, for 300 years of somatic reconditioning. Once Zod and his men were imprisoned and loaded aboard the vessel, the Black Zero was sent into the Zone through Jor-El's projector.
When Krypton exploded due to its unstable core, and the Phantom Zone Projector was affected by the explosion, the Black Zero was subsequently released from the Zone along with General Zod and his loyalists, who, with the help of scientist Jax-Ur, retrofitted the ship as their new flagship and decided to travel the universe in search of Kryptonian survivors, the stolen Growth Codex and Kal-El. At one point during their travels, Zod and his crew found an old World Engine on the desolate Kryptonian settlement of Daxam and attached it to the Black Zero. 33 years after the beginning of their quest, Zod and his men finally picked up a Kryptonian beacon, sent out from the planet Earth; they followed the signal and subsequently realized that Jor-El's son Kal-El was on Earth, with the Codex.
Arriving in Earth's atmosphere, General Zod sent a message to both the human race and Kal-El, demanding that humankind hand Kal-El over to them and that Kal-El surrender or watch Earth suffer. Later, after the US military elected to hand Kal-El over to Zod, Sub-Commander Faora-Ul arrived in a dropship and retrieved Kal-El and Lois Lane, who were then brought aboard the Black Zero. They met Zod, who had a weakened Kal-El tied down before subjecting him to visions of humanity being wiped out while a new Krypton was being created on Earth. Meanwhile, Lois escaped from the Black Zero via an escape pod with the help of Jor-El. Kal-El also managed to escape with Jor-El's help and flew after Lois, whom he saved from the malfunctioning escape pod. As this was happening, Zod and his crew took the dropship and traveled to the Kent Farm in search of the Growth Codex.
After a battle with Kal-El and Earth military forces, General Zod and his forces retreated to the Black Zero, which they positioned above Metropolis, and prepared to activate the gravity beam which would destroy Earth as the World Engine terraformed the planet into New Krypton. As Jax-Ur and others piloted the Black Zero, Zod and Faora defended it from Kal-El and Earth military forces. Lois, with the help of Colonel Hardy, got Kal-El's infant starship aboard a C-17, and used the craft's engine against the gravity beam, causing it to become unstable and create a singularity that sucked everything inside, including the Black Zero (which spaghettified in the process) and the plane that Hardy and the ship was on.
- In the comics, Black Zero is the name used by various DC Universe antagonists, all of which are enemies of the Superman family. The original Black Zero was a super-villain responsible for destroying Krypton in Silver Age Earth-One continuity. Following the continuity relaunch after "Crisis On Infinite Earths," Black Zero was retconned as an organization that destroyed Krypton. The "Black Zero" name was also used by an alternate reality version of Superboy and a computer virus developed by the organization.
- In the film, the Black Zero is initially used to transport and contain prisoners sent to the Phantom Zone.
- The starship's name is revealed in Man of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization.