Superman’s Fortress of Solitude has been a staple of the Man of Steel’s mythology for decades. We’ve seen it in comics, TV shows, and in feature films. And now, it’s playing a big part in the series Superman and Lois on the CW. But what is the history of Kal-El’s majestic home away from home? And how did its media representations change from the source material, and then change the comics in return? Let’s take a deep dive into the history of Kal-El’s iconic tribute to his long-lost world.
Superman’s Golden Age “Secret Sanctuary”
Today, we think of Superman’s Fortress as an ice palace, far away from humanity in the Arctic. But originally, it was just a mountain cave where Clark stashed his belongings he didn’t have anywhere else to house. This “Secret Citadel” was located in a mountain range outside of Metropolis. It first appeared in Superman #17 in 1942, and it didn’t make many appearances. In those days, Superman’s Kryptonian heritage was more of an afterthought, a mere explanation for how he got his powers. The term “Fortress of Solitude” first appeared in Superman #58 1949, as Superman’s sanctuary located in “the polar wastes.” Interestingly, the name “Fortress of Solitude” actually predates Superman. The pulp adventurer Doc Savage had a Fortress of Solitude located in the frozen north, and DC Comics very liberally took the name and concept.
Kal-El’s Home Away From Home
The Fortress as we know it today really first appeared in Action Comics #241, in “The Super-Key to Fort Superman,” back in 1958. This Fortress was built into an Arctic cliff, and was safeguarded by a giant iron door. The only way to turn the lock on that door was with an equally giant metal key, located just outside. Not entirely subtle there, Kal-El. Of course, no one on Earth but someone with Kryptonian strength could lift said key, making the Fortress only accessible by Superman and his cousin, Supergirl. And, of course, Kryptonian criminals like General Zod.
During the Silver Age of Comics, and into the Bronze Age, Superman’s Fortress was both a museum dedicated to his Kryptonian heritage, and a tribute to his many adventures. There was a giant statue of his birth parents Jor-El and Lara, holding up the planet Krypton. In addition, there was an alien zoo, a legion of Superman robots, and the projector into the Phantom Zone, which housed Krypton’s worst criminals. Most importantly, the Fortress became home to the Bottle City of Kandor, a city from Krypton shrunken down by the villain Brainiac. There were statues of his childhood best friends, the Legion of Super-Heroes. And of course, the Fortress housed Superman’s super-powered dog, Krypto.
Superman: The Movie Showcases the First Live-Action Fortress of Solitude
The first time we saw the Fortress in other media outside comics was in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Director Richard Donner radically reinvented the looks of the Fortress for his film. Instead of being carved into the side of an Arctic cliff, a Kryptonian crystal formed it from scratch in the frozen wastelands. This Fortress wasn’t “made,” so much as “grown,” and it didn’t have all the artifacts found in the comics version. In fact, all it had were slots for various Kryptonian memory crystals, that allowed Superman to access thousands of years of Kryptonian knowledge. Chief among them was an interactive hologram of Superman’s father, Jor-El.
We saw this version of the Fortress in Superman II, and again in Superman IV. The Fortress debuted on TV a year after the film, on the animated Super Friends cartoon. In the few appearances in that Saturday morning cartoon, the Fortress of Solitude was a bit of an amalgam of the comics Fortress, and the movie one. Thanks to the continuity-altering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, the classic version of Superman’s home would get wiped from reality. It would be several years before a new one appeared.
A New Fortress for a New Era
The Post-Crisis Superman got a radical reinvention, and didn’t even have a Fortress of Solitude for years. Finally, he received an ancient Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator. Much like the big screen fortress, it “grew” from this device, also in the Arctic just like the movie one did. There were several nods to the Silver Age Fortress with this one, only now reflecting a modern take on Krypton. There was Kryptonian tech everywhere, from the planet’s golden age. The robot Kelex, who served Superman’s father Jor-El on Krypton, maintained the Fortress. He was to the Fortress what Alfred was to the Batcave.
The ‘90s Superman: The Animated Series took a “best of both worlds” approach to their version of the Fortress. Superman constructed it from parts of the Kryptonian android Brainiac’s ship, but also contained alien species liberated from cruel alien zoos. It was the perfect mix of Silver Age and Modern Age comic book sensibilities. 2011’s New 52 reboot kept a lot of these elements, although now the Fortress was spherical.
The Fortress of Solitude on Television
In the 21st century, we’ve seen the Fortress a lot in live-action. Smallville had a version, inspired heavily by the ’80s Richard Donner films. Both the TV series Krypton and Supergirl showcased the Fortress, again, taking their visual cues from the design and look of the 1978 big-screen Fortress. 2013’s Man of Steel perhaps changed the Fortress concept the most, as their version was an exploratory Kryptonian ship, thousands of years old, and trapped beneath the Arctic ice.
All of this brings us to today, to the Fortress of Solitude on Superman and Lois. The show kept a similar aesthetic to the Supergirl version, only seemingly larger and more expansive. In season one, the Fortress was where Clark brought his son Jordan when he began to exhibit Kryptonian powers. Later, Superman’s half-brother Tal-Rho built his own Fortress out in the desert. But the newest Fortress isn’t just for the Kryptonian side of the family. Although it’s programmed with holograms of Superman’s villains for his son Jordan to fight, it’s meant to be a home for the entire family, including Clark’s son Jonathan and his wife Lois. After all these years, maybe it’s time to drop the “of Solitude” part of the Fortress’ name.