To paraphrase the great George Carlin, all your house really is, is just a place to put your stuff. And since superheroes usually have some pretty cool stuff, and lots of it, their hangouts tend to be pretty sweet as well. But not always; for every Batcave or Fortress of Solitude, there’s a Hydrobase or Bunker as well. Last two don’t sound familiar? Then keep reading, won’t you?
If you ask me, there are three criteria that make up a truly great Superhero Headquarters. We’ll use the two best known examples to illustrate.
1. The Name
It’s just gotta have a cool name. It has to roll off the tongue. “The Batcave.” “The Fortress of Solitude.” Granted, these have the advantage of familiarity on their side, but still, they’re snappy names that instantly convey their purpose and function.
2. The Iconography
The best HQs have an immediately identifiable look or image about them (inside or out), one that identifies them with a glance. For Superman, it’s the giant golden door and keyhole wedged into the side of a glacier. (Or, alternatively, an enormous crystal fortress towering over the Arctic if you’re a movie fan. They both work equally well for me.)
For Batman, to quote Jack Nicholson, it’s all those wonderful toys. You see the giant penny and the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the huge playing card and two or three Batmobile, and you just think “Batcave.”
3. The Function
Does the headquarters fit the hero? Does it help them in their chosen role, or properly fit their M.O.? Superman needs a place where he can relax, be himself without the world bothering him, and that only he can get to. The Fortress of Solitude seems to fit the bill. Batman needs a place to hide, to plot, to plan and to lick his wounds. The Batcave works for that.
Now that our terms have been defined, let’s take a gander around the Marvel and DC Universes and see how some of the various super-hangouts measure up.
THE JUSTICE LEAGUE SATELLITE
Well, it may be a little on-the-nose, but I like the title. It’s concise, snappy and conveys a cool futuristic feel. The JLA Satellite’s unique construction is immediately recognizable, and as a place for these demigods to meet, looking down over the world they protect from orbit (as well as creating a common meeting ground for the Leaguers, whose hometowns range from both coasts, the Midwest and deep in the Pacific), I think this more than meets the “function” requirement. I think Alan Moore described it most poetically in his SWAMP THING run: “There is a house above the world, where the over-people gather…”
Of all the Justice League’s various headquarters, the Satellite is by far the coolest. The Secret Sanctuary in Happy Harbor was little more than a hole in the wall of a cave with a meeting table and a big map, and has since its abandonment been used as a flophouse for vagrant superheroes, with everyone from the Doom Patrol to the android Horman to Young Justice squatting there from time to time. The JLA’s Detroit years found the League hanging out in The Bunker, a drab headquarters compound located smack in the middle of the hood. The JLI Embassies were a little more uptown, but lost considerable points in the style department, with a pretty blah name and no real visual pizzazz. As for the Justice League Watchtower of the Morrison era, while it definitely gained massive points in the looks department, being located on the moon just feels way too remote from Earth for me, and the name always makes me think Jehovah’s Witnesses are knocking at the door. Satellite all the way, baby.
Again, I know the name’s a little matter-of-fact, but it still sounds cool to me. I also like all that the word “Mansion” implies: power, status, grandeur — all ideas befitting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. While the image isn’t as crystal-clear in the mind as, say, the Fortress of Solitude, it’s strong enough: an expansive, classical manor behind a wrought-iron fence with an “A” incorporated into the metalwork. It also works even better conceptually than even the JLA Satellite. I just like the idea that the Avengers live in the city they’re protecting, openly, and that it’s in a ground-level manor, and not a high-rise.
It makes the Avengers seem more approachable, which they should be, more so than the Justice League. If the JLA are the gods of Olympus, the Avengers are like the National Guard, and you should be able to run down the street to get them if there’s trouble. Avengers Mansion? Another classic HQ. Especially when you compare it to some of the Avengers’ other past hangouts. For a while, the Avengers were living on HydroBase, a giant floating research facility in the Atlantic.
Nothing conveys the grandeur of the Avengers like living on a raft. There was also a big unsatisfying concrete “Avengers Base” in the 90s, during Larry Hama’s brief run on the book, before Marvel came to its senses and restored the Mansion to its proper place. For a few years, the Avengers had been operating out of Stark Tower, which was all right, but didn’t really have the right tone: the Sentry’s big bug-looking nest on top of the building was just weird and intimidating; not gonna engender trust with your average New Yorker.
These days, thanks to the movies, most people think of Avengers Tower, which at least admittedly looked pretty sweet:
I even got used to Avengers Compound from the later AVENGERS movies, dull, and nondescript as it was.
Still, nothing will ever feel as cool to me as the original Avengers Mansion.
THE BAXTER BUILDING
The Fantastic Four’s home definitely meets all three requirements. While the name may sound pedestrian, it’s distinctive, easy to remember and immediately identifiable. The idea of the FF living and working in a high-rise also makes sense; they’re less of a “police force” like the Avengers, instead falling more into the “scientist/explorer” category, so their base of operations being an uptown high-rise falls right into line. And visually, while also very simple, the trademark squared-off design of the six upper floors is just distinctive enough to be recognizable.
It’s certainly better than the ostentatious redesign John Byrne gave the structure when he converted it to Four Freedoms Plaza, sticking a giant three-dimensional “4” on the top of the building. Gee, who lives there?
Even less impressive was Pier Four, an HQ down on the waterfront established during Chris Claremont’s brief run. I don’t even remember what that place looked like.
Yeah, I know, it’s a giant “T.” Bear with me. The Teen Titans had never really had a good headquarters. Whether it was the “Teen Titans Clubhouse” (might as well have the “S” printed backwards like the Little Rascals), or when they were hanging out at Mal Duncan’s disco (a swingin’ place called “Gabriel’s Horn,” if I recall), it was always kinda weak. With Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s launch of the New Teen Titans, readers were treated to an all-new HQ, a high-tech tower on an island in the East River, built by Cyborg’s scientist father, in the hopes of encouraging his estranged son to remain with his new friends. Iconic visual, snappy name, logical backstory — another winner.