Celebrating 50 YEARS of Superman's
Fortress of Solitude
After a full week of examining Superman's classic Fortress of Solitude, I thought my final installation of The Fortress at 50 could take a look back at all of Superman's secret hideaways...from the very first to the most recent. Ready? Here we go (deep breath):
1. The Secret Citadel: Superman's first "home away from home" appeared in Superman #17 (1942). With "hands flying like piston rods", Superman carved his first fortress into a mountain range somewhere near Metropolis. I've always loved its Art Deco design and the huge S-emblem of that magnificent entry way. The Secret Citadel was later designated as the Fortress of the so-called "Earth-2 Superman", an alternate version of Superman who's history mirrored the earliest Superman stories.
Note: Before and after the Secret Citadel's handful of appearances, there were also mentions of vague locations such as Clark Kent's "laboratory" (Action Comics #32, 1941) and Superman's "hidden laboratory" (World's Finest #11, 1943), which may or may not have been part of the Secret Citadel.
2. The "Polar Wastes" Fortress of Solitude: The term "Fortress of Solitude" and an Arctic location are mentioned for the first time in Superman #58 (1949), which depicts a castle-like structure encased in ice...looking more like Santa's North Pole workshop than the Fortress we're all familiar with. A hearty "thank you" to a fellow Superman fan for locating this hard-to-find panel for me! I saw it for the first time only a few days ago!
3. The Fortress of Solitude: Nine years after its proto-appearance in Superman #58, Action Comics #241 (1958) saw the official debut the classic Fortress of Solitude, an enduring favorite of many (including yours truly). This version enjoyed a whopping 28 year run (the longest of any Fortress) before DC packed it away in 1986 (more on that later). Check out some of my previous posts for more information on this version.
4. The Undersea Fortress: A few months later in Action Comics #244, Superman created an undersea version of his Fortress of Solitude, later ceding it to the people of Atlantis for their use. Note the repetition of the "golden door with giant key hole" motif.
5. The Outer Space Fortress: In Action Comics #261 (1960) it was revealed that Superman had tried two alternate Fortress locations before settling on the Arctic location. The first was in outer space inside of a hollow meteor:
6. The Center of the Earth Fortress: When Superman's Outer Space Fortress didn't work out (after being attacked by an evil space entity), he relocated the hollowed out meteor to the molten center of planet Earth. His stay was short-lived after he was attacked by a race of hostile fire people.
Honorable mentions: During this same period, there were two interesting Fortress variants that weren't built by Superman, but certainly deserve to be included in my survey.
The Fortriss Uv Bizarro: When Superman's cast of characters dramatically expanded during the late 50's and early 60's, it included an imperfect duplicate named Bizarro. In Superman #140 (1960), the dim-witted Simpleton of Steel created his own hideaway in a desert (as opposed to Superman's Arctic location) and filled it with worthless junk!
The Doghouse of Solitude: Yup...even Krypto got in on the act.
Okay...back to the Superman Fortresses ("Fortresi"?):
7. The Movie Fortress: When Superman: The Movie hit theatres in 1978, I have to admit I was disappointed by the outer appearance of the movie's Fortress of Solitude, which seemed to resemble the classic childhood game of "Pick-Up Sticks" (left) than the Fortress I was familiar with. However, the look eventually grew on me, especially its elegant crystal motif and stark, dramatically angled interiors. Another departure from the comic books was how this Fortress was created. Instead of Superman building it with his own strength and ingenuity, the advanced technology of a mysterious Kryptonian crystal built the structure as a young Clark Kent looked on in amazement. This new "automated" twist on the creation of the Fortress would eventually play a role in later comic book versions.
8. Clark Kent: When John Byrne reimagined the Superman character back in 1986, part of that "extreme makeover" involved eliminating many of the "barnicles" the popular creator believed were weighing down DC's flagship character. One of the casualties of this radical reboot included the elimination of the beloved Fortress of Solitude. In its place, Byrne felt that Superman's alter ego of Clark Kent was, in effect, his "Fortress of Solitude"...since posing as a normal human (according to Byrne) offered him the same respite from his responsibilities as a physical hideaway could. Although I can sort of see where Byrne was coming from, it was tough saying good-bye to the Fortress of old...and to shake the impression that its banishment was a prime example of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater".
9. The Antarctic Fortress of Solitude: Thankfully, the "Clark Kent as Fortress" concept didn't last too long as 1989 saw the creation of an actual Fortress of Solitude. This time around, the Fortress was located on the opposite end of the globe in the Antarctic and built not by Superman, but by an advanced Kryptonian artifact named "The Eradicator". Initially programmed to recreate Earth in the image of Krypton, Superman managed to bend the Eradicator to his will...thus saving the Earth and getting a brand new Fortress out of the deal in The Adventures of Superman #461 (1989). Much like the green crystal in Superman: The Movie, the Eradicator's power built this new Fortress and stocked it with Kryptonian artifacts drifting in the Phantom Zone.
Note the presence of the giant Jor-El and Lara statues (based on the then-current designs of Superman's birth parents), obviously a tribute to the Jor-El and Lara statues of his classic Fortress. Also, check out how the movie's crystal motif accents the new Fortress interior design.
10. The "Tesseract" Fortress of Solitude: When the Antarctic Fortress was destroyed following a manipulated Superman's attempt to rule the world (long story), a new "hard sci-fi" concept was introduced to replace it in Superman: The Man of Steel #100 (2000). Using a "Spectral Nexus Apparatus" to gather metaphysical traces of the destroyed Fortress, the "trace singularity" was transferred to an inter-dimensional portal called a "tesseract" created by Superman's friend John Irons (a.k.a. "Steel"). Defined as "an infinite space within a finite space", the new tesseract "containment sphere" could access the inter-dimensional Fortress of Solitude by Superman unlocking its elaborate mechanism (think "cosmic Rubik's Cube"). Obviously an ambitious new take on Superman's Fortress, but a little too metaphysical and needlessly complex for my tastes.
11. The Amazon Fortress of Solitude: For the first several years of the 21st century, the Superman titles slid into a dreadful rut as a result of editor Eddie Berganza's poor stewardship of the character. A crazy quilt of creative teams, false starts, embarrassing gaffes, unpopular storylines and inattention to detail made this arguably the toughest time to remain a Superman fan. One of the many mismanaged elements was the status and location of the Fortress of Solitude, as it became difficult to track whether it was still the tesseract thingie or, as it was sometimes shown, still located in the Antarctic. During this "period of flux" (to be charitable), the Antarctic Fortress was destroyed during a battle between Superman and Wonder Woman, leading Superman to create yet another Fortress of Solitude, this time located deep in the Amazonian jungles of South America.
Note Superman's mention of "crystals from my old Fortress", which...while retaining the "automated" nature of the Fortress established with the Antarctic Fortress, made a bigger step toward the crystal concept of the Superman movie than ever before. As they were in the movie, the crystals were "designed" by his Kryptonian parents to perform their super-scientific wonders, and not from the direction of the ancient Kryptonian "Eradicator" artifact. Considering this version appeared in Superman #215 (2005), it's likely the stronger resemblance to the movie crystal was introduced to better tie in with the new Superman Returns movie of 2006, which based much of its visual look and continuity on the original movies.
12. The Current Fortress of Solitude: Following the reality-scrambling events of DC's Infinite Crisis mega-event (late 2005-2006), Superman finds a Kryptonian crystal (now called "Sunstone") that had been sent with him from Krypton. After mentally activating it in Action Comics #840 (2006), he hurls it into the wastes of the Arctic, where the Sunstone builds a new Fortress of Solitude patterned exactly after the version in Superman: The Movie.
Although lip service is paid to the "damaged" Amazonian Fortress...and options are kept open for "multiple sanctuaries", I hope this version sticks around for awhile. The best part about it is how they've combined the movie look with elements of the classic Fortress, such as the Interplanetary Zoo, the Bottle City of Kandor, and even statues of his friends and family! Hey, and is that the Disintegrator Pit at the bottom of the spread?
(Click on the double-page spread below for a super-sized view)
Now, how this rejiggered reality affects the other post-1986 Fortresses is unclear at this point. Since a coherent version of Superman's past hasn't yet been presented, it's hard to know which elements of the past twenty-two years still remain, or which ones can now be considered officially ret-conned.
Whatever the case, I think we can safely say the spectre of John Byrne's banishment of the classic Silver Age Fortress has itself been completely banished, since the fantastic synthesis of both the film and comic book Fortresses make it clear that some ideas are simply too good to abandon for good.
Well, that does it for my survey of Superman's Fortress of Solitude...a topic so rich I could easily fill two more weeks worth of posts. Who knows...maybe I'll include some "Fortress Addendums" in the coming months, especially since 2008 not only marks the fiftieth year of the Fortress, but the 70th year of Superman himself!
In conclusion, when all is said and done, what was the real appeal of Superman's Fortress of Solitude in all its many forms over so many different eras? Sure, its unique designs, exhibits and other cool stuff are a big part of that appeal...but at its core, I believe the enduring popularity of the Fortress of Solitude has more to do with that simple (yet profound) yearning of all free people to have a place of their very own.