Superman, disguised in his alter persona, Clark Kent, climbs the icy landscape, to the top of a frozen cliff, and peers out over the arctic open. This is the place, he thinks. Perfect. With his mighty force constrained, he gently unzips his backpack to remove the green crystal, heirloom of his father’s planet. Superman eyes a spot, the spot, that shall be the anchor of his fortress. He throws the crystal. It spins like a dagger, cutting the icy winds, until it lands with force and precision, sinking into the core of the area that will become the Fortress of Solitude. Now I wait, Superman thinks.
After several hours of standing and watching and witnessing nothing happening, Superman takes out the crystal’s instruction booklet.
“Remove crystal from crystal casing. Travel to arctic barren landscape. Choose spot with 100 yards on either side of the center. Throw crystal so that it lodges deep within the ice. Wait, and crystal should spurt growth of your very own Fortress of Solitude.”
Obviously, there has been some malfunction.
Superman flies around the globe picking up excellent carpenters, sculptors, and architects, whom he contracts to design and build his Fortress of Solitude. Minh Hohn, lead architect of the project, approaches Superman two weeks into the process. He and Superman argue about the practicality of the fortress. “Are you sure you won’t be having people over? I would love to create a guest bedroom, and maybe a game room.”
“No,” Superman insists. “It’s called the Fortress of Solitude. It’s just going to be me.”
Superman, frustrated man of steel, had already planned to be upending criminal schemes by now, foiling attempts at world domination, and working in a big city paper as a journalist. But it takes time to assemble a top-notch crew. Besides, if he could remember where he threw that crystal, things would have gotten off to a much faster start.
“I’m sorry,” he tells the crew. “It all looks the same out here now.”
Minh Hohn tries to calm him down, telling him that anyone would have trouble placing where the crystal is in this locale. Superman doesn’t want to hear that. “I’m not just anyone,” he says, “I’m Superman.”
“I think it’s in that spot.” The crew digs. Nothing. “Well, maybe over there. That spot looks familiar.” And so it goes.
At last the crystal is found and extracted from its lodging, and the architects, carpenters, sculptors, and laborers convene to begin work. Ice walls are raised. Massive icicle columns are grafted to the walls to lend structural support. Jagged chunks of ice are chopped up and smoothed over for the floors.
Minh Hohn pleads with Superman. “At least a few carpets. We can affix them quickly so you’ll have a place to relax. It’ll make the rooms feel more like home.”
Superman leaps into the air to escape from these discussions. It is my fortress, he thinks. What should Minh Hohn care what I want? And who said I wanted rooms? I just want one big open area for me to stand in; it adds to the solitude. But he can’t make Minh Hohn understand these things. That man just will not listen.
At the unveiling, Minh Hohn strings up a ribbon, and he plans a ceremony at the front of the secret entrance to the fortress. The workers gather around, sucking on champagne bottles, laughing merrily before their finished creation. Superman uses his laser vision to slice the ribbon in half. Upon entrance, he looks around and says nothing.
The workers wait, wondering. “Well?” Minh Hohn asks, to break the silence.
Superman turns. There are tears rolling down his cheek. “I told you I didn’t want rooms. I didn’t want carpets. Why don’t you ever listen to me, Minh Hohn?” He excuses himself through the crowd, steps out into the arctic air, and takes flight.
Months later, Superman is operating as Clark Kent out of New York City. No newspaper is willing to hire a green reporter, unless he starts out in a nonpaid internship position and works his way up.
Superman has bills to pay. He takes a job as a produce clerk in a grocery store on the Lower East Side. His boss is a high-school kid named Randy who orders Superman to cut the watermelon into quarters, wrap them in plastic wrap, weigh them, and affix a sticker onto each melon showing the sale price. Randy complains that Superman takes too many breaks. Even when Superman occasionally uses his super speed to complete all the tasks on the produce floor, Randy says that if Superman has nothing to do in produce, there are always shopping carts in the parking lot that need to be retrieved.
He returns to his studio apartment each day, depressed, where he readies himself to hear the ambulance sirens that pierce the windows and walls with ease, the laughter of drunks that echoes through the alleyway of his tenement-building apartment, and the domestic squabbles of the young couple that live in the apartment adjacent to his, along with their subsequent makeup love sessions. Superman tries to relax on his couch, zone out the chatter of the city. He yearns for complete solitude. There is something, he realizes, that he fears more than kryptonite. He fears the drum of humanity. The snares and the cymbals and the beats telling him, always, that he is an outsider, not one of this world.
Minh Hohn locates him on a day when the city is drenched in heavy rain. Superman opens his door, the door that sometimes sticks and creaks, and he finds Minh Hohn soaked and shivering.
Superman takes care of his lead architect. Chicken-soups him, and bundles him warm with blankets.
Days later, when Minh Hohn has recuperated, he tells Superman that he is sorry for having been so stubborn. “I realized soon after you flew away that I had been selfish,” he says. “I thought I knew what was best for you, but I now see that, even though you look young, you are a man beyond your years. Now I understand why they call you Superman.”
A few days later, when Minh Hohn is in perfect health, Superman flies the both of them to the Fortress of Solitude where Superman finds another ribbon waiting to be cut with his laser-beam eyes. Once inside, Superman finds what he has always dreamed of: an icy cold fortress, icy color, one huge room furnished only by ice. This time Superman weeps tears of joy. “This is more than a Fortress of Solitude. This is a Palace of Loneliness.” He hugs Minh Hohn.
Finally, Superman, with his solitude intact, begins fighting crime. He saves the world twice each night during his first week on the watch. Criminals and evil masterminds of the world rue the day Superman found his way home.