Top Ten Superhero Lairs!
Having recently completed my own secret headquarters, my thoughts naturally turned to comic book secret lairs, and how I might rank them. And Lo … a Top Ten was born!
Like all of my Longbox Graveyard Top Tens, my choices are idiosyncratic and non-authoritative. I could more accurately call these lists “Favorite Tens” — but that wouldn’t stimulate as much interest (or conversation, as these posts invariably provoke a storm of comments setting me straight on my dubious selections). There are also the usual caveats that my selections are influenced by my obsession with the Bronze and Silver Age of comics, and that there are blind spots from my decades-long Odinsleep away from funnybooks, rendering me ignorant of many more recent developments in the field.
And one additional caveat, or maybe a semantic clarification … I’m talking about comic book lairs here, secret or otherwise, and by that I mean anyplace that primarily serves as the base of operations for a comic book character or group. This definition excludes kingdoms (Atlantis), planets (Apokolips), planetoids and asteroids (Titan, and Asteroid M), regions (the Savage Land), and nations (Madripoor … though an awesome base inside a nation is fair game, as we shall see). It also (barely) excludes superheroic city-states, so … sorry, Attilan.
What does that leave? Plenty, starting with …
10) The Outer Space Floating Palace of Awesome Skulls!
Near as I can tell, this only appeared in the Infinity Gauntlet, and it never got a proper name, but anyone who grew up with an Iron Maiden poster on their wall will agree that Thanos’ little outer space palace of death is radical, dude!
When you have the power to destroy half the universe with a snap of your fingers, limiting yourself to such juvenile decorating sensibilities might seem a little … unimaginative. But Thanos is working through some pretty serious girlfriend issues, and he is a death god, after all. Just go with it.
9) Sanctum Sanctorum
Doctor Strange’s Greenwich Village Sanctum Sanctorum is the very definition of groovy. Sumptuously appointed, home to priceless artifacts, and our world’s first line of defense against supernatural threats, the Sanctum Sanctorum is like the Library of Congress, NORAD, and Murder House from season one of American Horror Story all rolled into one!
Bonus points for the Sanctum’s other wizard-in-residence — the lovely Clea — and loyal manservant Wong, who possesses unexpected capacities, not least of which is that he brews a mean cup of tea.
The only school a comics-reading youth actually wants to go to, Professor Xavier’s upstate New York academy appeared in the very first issue of X-Men back in 1963, and have become a pivotal part of the X-Men mythology, both on the screen and in the pages of innumerable X-books.
Of course, like many things in comics, the sublime concept of a secret superhero base masquerading as a learning academy has been trampled upon through the years, with Xavier’s hallowed halls eventually reduced to ruins, and some newfangled Jean Grey school rising in their place … but for decades, school was cool at Xavier’s little sleep-away camp, and that the school was also a center for defending and preserving mutant culture gave the place just that much more gravitas. Plus … Danger Room!
7) Castle von Doom
This is one of only two supervillain bases on my list — not because villains don’t have cool bases, but because those darn heroes keep wrecking them. Fu Manchu, Magnetto, and Arcade have all had ace digs at various times, but with legions of superheroes tromping through the lobby and punching people through walls, it’s difficult to keep the lights on.
Here’s where Doctor Doom has an edge. As monarch of Latveria, Doom has the ultimate home field advantage. Not only does he have a creepy ancestral castle that would make Dracula green with envy, but he’s also boss of the whole darn country, so even if the Fantastic Four trash his digs, it is a trivial matter for Doom to rebuild. Having your “secret” headquarters listed in the Michelin Guide has its liabilities, but it only seems fitting that Doctor Doom — that most arrogant of villains — would brazenly hide in plain sight.
6) The Baxter Building
World famous headquarters of the Fantastic Four, the Baxter Building was the first iconic address in the Marvel Universe, and in many ways remains the most important.
This building has it all — sophisticated laboratories, rocket silos, and a portal to the Negative Zone. Doctor Doom tried to carry it away in a net, and Galactus set up his planet-devouring apparatus on the Baxter Building’s roof. I always found it especially charming that the Baxter Building had regular civilian residents, too, who would complain about Ben Grimm stomping around on the ceiling or the Human Torch speeding past their window while they were taking a shower. While the current Baxter Building is a kinda-sorta replica of the original built on the foundations of the first headquarters, it does at least share the name and address of the original iteration, which is more than I can say for many of the locations on this list.
Like much of the best of DC Comics, the Justice League Satellite was sacrificed during the Crisis On Infinite Earths … which seemed like a good idea at the time, but nothing that has followed has ever been remotely so cool as that Justice League clubhouse located 22,300 miles above the earth. The Silver Age DC characters were the ultimate “science heroes” and nothing suited them better than traveling to and from their many meetings by teleportation beam.
4) Avengers Mansion
The Avengers are superhero royalty, so what better place for them to live than in the Gilded Age splendor of the Tony Stark family mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue?
Like many entries on this list (and it is getting depressing typing this out again and again), Avengers Mansion has been cruelly devalued in recent years, having been several times destroyed and rebuilt, and now presently headquarters to something called the Avengers Unity Squad, which sounds like a suite of Microsoft business tools. But before our present era of unwise line-extensions and mandatory summer cross-overs, Avengers Mansion was the center of the Marvel Universe, home to the Vision (before John Byrne messed him up), the Scarlet Witch (before she went crazy) and the indefatigable Jarvis (before he became a disembodied A.I. voice in the movies).
And you wonder why I prefer old comic books?
3) S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier
As Tom Mason noted when we named Nick Fury the manliest superhero of them all, it takes a special pair of stones to operate out of a “secret base” that’s as big as an aircraft carrier and that also flies through the air. But that’s our Fury for you!
The Hellicarrier has had a lot of looks through the years, but I still prefer the original Jack Kirby design, introduced during one of the greatest “reveals” in comics history in the pages of Strange Tales #135. Since that time, the Hellicarrier has been grounded, crashed, subverted, and even wrecked by Godzilla, but the secret flying spy base always rises again … and thanks to a starring turn in the Avengers movie, the Hellicarrier is today more popular than ever before.
2) The Fortress of Solitude
While it has been reinvented many times down through the decades, the mission of the Fortress of Solitude still cleaves close to its Silver Age roots, as a hidden retreat for Superman. It really is the answer to the age-old question of what you get for the man who has it all …
The Fortress of Solitude is the most alien and contemplative of the locations on this list, housing as it does what remains of Krypton (including a bottled city), as well as the other artifacts and memorabilia of Superman’s life. It is an exotic and vaguely creepy retreat, and while I have generally given contemporary comics a hard time (both on this list and at Longbox Graveyard in general), the Fortress of Solitude may never have been more intriguing than in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, where the complex is revealed to house bizarre genetic labs and miniature suns. Located in an arctic fastness and stocked with otherworldly enigmas, the Fortress of Solitude is the least cozy homestead on this list, but it is certainly the greatest …
… but for one …
1) Pet Avengers Mansion (!)
Located behind Avengers Mansion, Pet Avengers Mansion is headquarters to Hairball, Throg, and Lockjaw, the intrepid Pet Avengers! Unquestionably the greatest superhero headquarters in all of comics, the …
… the …
… oh, all right. Of course the backyard base of the Pet Avengers isn’t tops on this list (though if I could unearth records of a meeting place for the Legion of Super-Pets, it surely would have claimed a spot). But, sheesh, we all know what’s #1.
It’s the Bat Cave, silly!
1) The Bat Cave
But it does say something about the nature of comics that what is certainly the greatest superhero hang-out of them all seems … not boring, exactly, but kind of predictable. I’m not doubting the Bat Cave’s cool factor for a second, but after seeing the place so many times in comics, film, and television, I guess I’m just a little over the whole idea (but not so over it that I’d rank it anywhere but the top of this list, nor would I turn down the opportunity of having my very own Bat Cave under the house!)
So there you have it, True Believers, the Longbox Graveyard list of the greatest superhero lairs in comics. What did I miss? What did I underrate? Take me to task in the comments section, below!
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