Supervillain Headquarters

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Detective Comics #365 © 1967 DC Comics. COVER ART BY CARMINE INFANTINO AND MURPHY ANDERSON.

Supervillain Headquarters

(pop culture)
Any villain worth his bile knows that if he's going to take over the world, he needs a place from which to plot his impending assault. Whether they are scientists, megalomaniacs, or evil geniuses, all supervillains need a home-away-from-prison to hang their hats (or trick umbrellas or labcoats, as the case may be). But not just any location will do. When supervillains set up shop, they try to translate nightmares into architecture. Although villains' headquarters are not as iconic as superheroes' headquarters (Superman's Fortress of Solitude and Batman's Batcave, for example), they do fall into recognizable types and are often as intriguing as the villains themselves. The traditional supervillain hideout is based on the mad scientist's lab, a workshop away from society in which the villain can plot schemes, mix chemicals, and perform maleficent experiments on living (and sometimes dead) victims. Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, set up his laboratory away from the social constraints of friends, family, and colleagues. In his isolation, he lost all sense of moral conscience as he created the monster that would eventually destroy him. In Romantic and Victorian gothic literature, crypts and laboratories were inhabited by mad monks, degenerate royalty, and corrupted geniuses such as Dr. Jekyll. Similar secluded hideouts were presented in pulp novels and film noir of the 1920s and 1930s, and superhero comics seized on this type of headquarters from their very beginnings. Early comics villains such as evil geniuses Lex Luthor and Dr. Sivana (Captain Marvel's nemesis) used laboratories to enhance and focus their villainous designs. Villains' headquarters have evolved quite a bit since the early years of comics. The following exchange occurs in an episode of the animated TV series Super Friends called “History of Doom” (1978): Lex Luthor: The thirteen of us will form the most powerful and sinister group the world has even seen. From now on we'll be known as the Legion of Doom. Sinestro: But we'll need a headquarters, too. Black Manta: Yes. And I say it should be at the bottom of the ocean. Captain Cold: We'll hide it under the ice in the polar cap. Grodd: Your brain must be frozen, Captain Cold. The jungle is the only logical place. Luthor: Silence. We'll compromise. Our headquarters will be in the swamp, hidden beneath its murky waters. Sinestro: Now all we have to do is construct an impenetrable fortress, equipped with the most deadly devices in the universe. Luthor: Nothing will stop us now. With our combined powers of evil, we must pledge to wipe out the Super Friends. If a group of supervillains ever built a headquarters that embodied everything a fortress of evil should be, it was the Legion of Doom. The Hall of Doom, which looks like a domed version of Darth Vader's helmet and houses a wide variety of technological tools of terror, is probably the most iconic of all villain headquarters. The base is mobile, but it usually resides in an unspecified swamp—not just in the swamp, but beneath it. Many other supervillains have also made their figurative “undergrounds” literal. The first villain the Fantastic Four fought was the Mole Man, the leader of a group of humanoids who live beneath the earth on a remote island. In Astro City, a villain named the Junkman operates out of the Astro City Dump and Landfill. The Frightful Four and the Lethal Legion, supervillain groups in the Marvel Universe, both set up their headquarters in subterranean Manhattan. In the Richard Donner–directed Superman: The Movie (1978), Lex Luthor constructs an elaborate headquarters—complete with a library and a swimming pool—far beneath the streets of Metropolis. In the 1992 film Batman Returns, the Penguin calls the Gotham sewer system his home. One of the deepest locations for supervillains' headquarters, however, is underwater. The Council, a group of villains who once fought Supergirl, set up their base at the bottom of Lake Michigan near Chicago. Some villains choose to distance themselves from society not by going underground, but by operating outside of the United States. Marvel Comics' villains are particularly international in origin and ambition. Dr. Doom resides (and broods) in an ornate gothic castle in Latveria, an eastern European nation where he is monarch. Baron Heinrich Zemo lives in an exotic castle in the Amazon jungle. For several years, the X-Men villain Magneto ruled an island nation called Genosha before the mutant refuge and most of its inhabitants were destroyed. In the DC Universe, Teen Titans villain Brother Blood operates the Church of Blood out of a country called Zandia. While most supervillains have managed to spread themselves across Earth, some prefer to reside above it. To counter the Justice League of America (JLA)'s satellite headquarters, the Injustice Gang launched its own satellite into orbit 22,300 miles above Earth. The Gang's satellite avoided detection by orbiting Earth directly opposite the JLA's base. The Injustice Gang satellite, resurrected in the 2004 miniseries Identity Crisis, still serves as a place of recreation and business for the DC Universe's criminal element. To a certain extent, the satellite performs the same function as supervillain gathering places such as the Dark Side Bar (a tavern where many second- and third-tier villains used to congregate) and the Oblivion Bar (a meeting place of many of DC's magical and supernatural characters). Many supervillains set up their headquarters not on or above Earth, but far away from it. Ming the Merciless, the villain from the 1930s comic strip Flash Gordon, rules a city called Mingo on the planet Mongo, where he is worshipped despite his cruel tyranny. In the Star Wars saga, the intergalactic Sith Lords Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine construct the Death Star as a central headquarters that reflects the power and sterility of the Empire itself. Interstellar terrors, along with their magnificent headquarters, also abound in comic books. Darkseid, scourge of the DC Universe, rules a planet of fire pits called Apokolips. Apokolips as a whole represents a hellish nightmare, but Darkseid's palace (the Tower of Rage) concentrates the doom and misery to an even greater extent. Darkseid's matron assistant Granny Goodness operates a school of torture ironically named “Happiness Home” on Apokolips. As grand as many of the international and intergalactic supervillain bases are, some of the most impressive and frightening headquarters are located out in the open on Earth. Lex Luthor owns much of Metropolis, and his LexCorp building rises above it all as a testament to his realistic human power. Similarly, the Kingpin of Crime operates openly in the Hell's Kitchen district of New York City, and Norman Osborn used the resources of Oscorp to facilitate his career as the original Green Goblin. The Brotherhood of Evil, enemies of the original Doom Patrol, actually operated from a Parisian girls' school called École Des Filles, where team member Madame Rouge was headmistress. Villain headquarters are intriguing because they reflect the aspirations, corruptions, and general style of the people who inhabit them. The Joker's Ha-Ha-Hacienda is as vibrant and as dangerous as the Clown Prince of Crime himself. Lex Luthor's and Dr. Doom's headquarters reflect their hubris and vanity. Supervillain headquarters resonate with audiences because they tap into the fears and nightmares of haunted houses and dark caverns. This imagination is not limited to the comics page or the screen, though. Several notable villain headquarters have been turned into action figure playsets—most notably the “Tower of Doom” from Mattel's Secret Wars line (1984–1986) and the designed but unproduced “Tower of Darkness” from Kenner's Super Powers line (1984–1986). In 2005 computer game company PlayNC offered players the opportunity to customize their own personal supervillain headquarters when they released their City of Villains game (a companion to the popular City of Heroes).