Celebrating 50 YEARS of Superman's
Fortress of Solitude
As with any tour of a famous home or historic building, the best place to start my week-long tour of Superman's Fortress of Solitude is right at the front door, arguably the coolest (and most famous) front door in all of fiction.
As literally the first image of Superman I can recall seeing as a boy (which I detail here), the cover of Superman #187 (1966) combined every kid's fascination with secret clubhouses and the visual novelty of "huge stuff" into a powerful image that made me an instant convert to the fantastic world of Superman (and superhero comics in general). So, with that kind of life-altering impact, how can I not devote an entire post to that famous front stoop?
Oddly enough, the very first appearance of the golden key on the cover of Action Comics #241 (1958) looks nothing like its more robust (and familiar) appearance on page two of the story inside, making it clear that miscommunication between editors and creators has at least 50 years of history as well.
Action Comics #241: The "super skeleton key" of
the cover vs. the more familiar image on page 2.
Did you happen to catch Superman's rationale for leaving the giant key in the open snowfields, as opposed to hiding it somewhere (perhaps under a giant welcome mat)? According to Superman (who, keep in mind, was portrayed as an unparalleled super-genius at the time), his big shiny key would serve as an "arrow marker to guide planes over this lonely region"...as if giant golden arrows were a common directional indicator or pilots wouldn't be the least bit curious or suspicious of such an unusual object.
So, where did the idea for this utterly unique doorway (and airplane marker) come from? As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the Action Comics debut of the Fortress follows Superman's visit to a presumably long-finished structure with no background given on exactly how or when he created it. It wouldn't be until several years later that glimpses were provided into its actual construction, which included a look at the door and key system (click on the images for a larger view):
Again with the airplane marker! Did Superman honestly expect his Fortress to remain a secret with a huge arrow pointing squarely at its entrance? As if in answer to that question, along came Action Comics #411 (1972):
So, let's get this straight: He leaves his key out in the open as a guide to wayward pilots....then gets worried when an actual pilot follows the direction of the arrow....straight to the entrance of the Fortress? Hey, I'm a loyal Superman fan, but not even I can defend (much less comprehend) that plan.
After tricking the explorers into thinking their discovery was a bust, Superman takes steps to assure an accidental discovery will never happen again by hiding both the door and the key behind the illusion of a "mirage ray" (essentially a high-tech welcome mat to hide the key under).
A mere two issues earlier, in Action Comics #409, an "Untold Tale of Superman" revealed more details of the entry way. Forging a super-alloy of elements collected from alien worlds, Superman decided to test its strength by leaving it in the middle of Metropolis Park. For an entire day, a small army of cops, construction crews, and demolition squads fail to make even a scratch in the golden monolith...
After withstanding whatever human technology and know-how could dish out, Superman whisks the mysterious metal slab to his (then) newly-created Fortress to serve as its imposing, impenetrable door.
Now that we've unlocked the Fortress door and slowly swung it open, let's see what strange things await us inside. Of course....that'll have to wait until tomorrow!