Jul 03 2011

How to Make Interesting Headquarters and Bases for Superheroes and Villains

Published by at 6:26 pm under Writing Articles,Writing Comic Books

1.  Please make the base distinct to your superheroes or supervillains. For example, you can put in unusual touches that help develop the character(s) or team.  For example, one of the secret doors into the Batcave is opened by setting a clock to the minute when Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered.  Superman’s Fortress of Solitude incorporates the hero’s dead parents in a much different way (he keeps his family recordings and other mementos of Krypton there).

2.  Please use the architecture and scenery to set the tone. It’s hard to get grittier and more bleak than a cave built into an almost-unpopulated Gothic mansion.  In contrast, the Fortress of Solitude is much brighter and generally looks more hopeful and futuristic.

3.  I’d generally recommend a headquarters appropriate to the circumstances and needs of the owner. For example, if your team will be arrested on sight, it’d make more sense to do a low-key safehouse or something else discreet rather than a downtown skyscraper.

4.  It might be interesting to describe how the characters came by this particular facility, particularly if they’re not very wealthy. You can use it to establish traits of the characters.  For example, in The Taxman Must Die, one of the supervillains is undercover as a crime scene investigator for a police superagency.  He needs a base he can easily sneak off to without arousing much attention.  Buying a building would leave a paper-trail (paper-trail + taxman = location for airstrike).  This police agency maintains life-size models of several critical buildings on its training grounds.  (Like the Secret Service and FBI do in real life).  So, for example, agents will do a lot of counterterrorist training at models of the White House, the Capitol Building and the Sears Tower in case terrorists ever do attack these buildings.  The only model building that is not used for training anymore is the World Trade Center, since the real building has since been destroyed.  So the villain sets up at the model World Trade Center because it’s unused, large and not linked to him by any documentation.  I think this helps establish that the villain is dangerously clever and disturbingly utilitarian.


5.  If you’re doing a comic book, it might help to do something more visually interesting than a generic skyscraper. I feel like it’s been done a lot.  (Mansions, too).   There are so many other possibilities, like a space station with a death ray, a Starbucks in the Space Needle, a berserk Eiffel Towel with a death ray, a Broadway theater, Area 52 (“the last last line of defense”), a really unusual science lab, an alien planet, a prison cell and of course a Motel 6 (the preferred base for budding supervillains).

6.  If you have a training area in the base (like the Danger Room in X-Men), please use it for something more interesting than a training montage. Alternately, if you must have a training montage, at least keep the writing lively.  For example, in X-Men: First Class, the writers worked in some really funny bits about how Xavier and McCoy had trouble trusting the accuracy of Havok’s death rays (see :33-:43 here).  If the training montage is just a really bad superhero becoming a pretty good superhero, it’s probably not very interesting.  Show us more.  For example, you could do other sorts of character development, relationship development, comedy, developing the team, foreshadowing a problem for a character(s), raising the stakes, etc.

38 responses so far

38 Responses to “How to Make Interesting Headquarters and Bases for Superheroes and Villains”

  1. Contra Gloveon 04 Jul 2011 at 4:09 am

    Regarding #4, how are you going to use the World Trade Center? It’s not there anymore. Does the villain go underground or something?

    As for #5, here’s another interesting type of hero base: a Broadway theater. What do you think?

  2. Mynaon 04 Jul 2011 at 4:51 am

    Quick typo, in number 5 I think you mean *Eiffel Tower. ^.^ Otherwise this was a very helpful article! Good things to keep in mind (‘spech ’cause I gotta figure out what to do with the Hero Core headquarters in the next two chapters… xD)

    I’m a bit confused about number 4 as well tho, are you talking about the new buildings they’re making, or is this a pre-2001 comic deal?

  3. Milanon 04 Jul 2011 at 5:33 am

    Ooh bases!

    I imagine this World Trade Center is a mock-up designed for training maneuvers to prepare the forces of good for events that take place in the real thing. So the mock-up (over ten years old now) isn’t used for much these days. Voila, villain hideout. I like the concept a lot. It also alludes to a nasty-minded bad guy to be recycling it in this way.

  4. Mynaon 04 Jul 2011 at 6:11 am

    Ooooooh, I got this now xD That IS pretty clever! And slightly disturbing…

  5. B. Macon 04 Jul 2011 at 11:52 am

    Hello, Contra Glove. I rewrote the paragraph to hopefully make it clearer, but the villain is using a model of the World Trade Center, not the real one. Various law-enforcement agencies train their agents on life-size models of buildings that are likely to face a terrorist attack. This agency built a model of the World Trade Center after the failed WTC bombing in 1993, but hasn’t done any training on it since the World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001. (They’ve left up the training model as a grim reminder of the price of failure).

    To be honest, I don’t know if an editor will even let me use the World Trade Center in this manner. Understandably, it’s an extremely sensitive issue. (My backup plan would be having the villain use the White House gift shop. Agents wouldn’t use it as part of their training exercises because no terrorist would ever break into the White House just to attack the gift shop).



    Yeah, Milan, you’ve got it.

  6. Contra Gloveon 04 Jul 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I find that if you want a non-generic base, you should use a front organization of some kind. Of course, the front must actually provide the service it claims to provide — it can even be a source of revenue.

  7. B. Macon 04 Jul 2011 at 3:26 pm

    “Of course, the front must actually provide the service it claims to provide — it can even be a source of revenue.” For example, Mossad runs Domino’s Pizza. Get the door, it’s Mossad.

  8. Contra Gloveon 04 Jul 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Get the door, it’s Mossad.

    Ha! That’s actually pretty funny.

    There was also the “Secret Military Bakery” from the “Clearance Day” episode of Sheep in the Big City.

  9. Wingson 04 Jul 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Well, my heroes are in the typical skyscraper (though I’m pretty sure that it looks like an office building in a sea of other office buildings, so it’s hard to figure out which one it is), but they’re government-owned heroes, and the government was never known for excess of imagination.

    …Five minutes after I post this comment, B.Mac will inevitably offer up a witty anecdote describing a moment where the government was in fact very imaginative. I just know it. 🙂

    Villains…you know, I should probably think about what the Pathos lair looks like. Eventually.

    – Wings

  10. B. Macon 05 Jul 2011 at 1:15 am

    “…the government was never known for excess of imagination.” Yeah, I think that’s true. Governments tend to be stylistically very utilitarian and plain. (Police stations and military bases are generally not very fun-looking). However, governments do sometimes shake things up when they think there’s a good reason to do so. For example, in World War II, several navies used dazzle camouflage even though it looks goofy. (Dazzle camouflage tries to make it harder to gauge the distance and bearing of a ship by using wacky patterns).

    With my own team of government superheroes in The Taxman Must Die, the building itself looks pretty plain but I did a lot of wacky touches inside. For example, the first thing Gary sees when he comes inside is a sign warning that he will be shot (and/or immolated, irradiated and disintegrated as necessary) if he proceeds without an ID badge. I think that it helps establish that the stakes here are pretty high for Gary and that his team/workplace is much more violent than he is.

    I also worked in some personal touches into his teammates’ offices. For example, Agent Orange has an impressively odd collection of presidential bobbleheads and the doctor has some really unusual experiments going on. The doctor also has a personal bulletin board where he posts pictures of his patients, which impresses Agent Orange so much that AO starts his own bulletin board with pictures of the people he saves in various poses of wacky celebration. The doctor doesn’t tell AO that his pictures are of the patients he didn’t save. The doctor is really torn up by his failures and by mortality in general.

  11. Contra Gloveon 05 Jul 2011 at 2:12 am

    Don’t worry one bit, Wings. You’ve followed #2 and #3 — your government-run superheroes have a plain-looking base, the way government buildings tend to be.

    Here’s another angle you can use, though: separate things by government. Compare the US Supreme Court building with the German Federal Constitutional Court building. (Obviously, not many US government buildings resemble the SCOTUS; I just want you to note the stark difference.)

  12. B. Macon 05 Jul 2011 at 2:20 am

    Sweet mercy, that building is hideous.
    Bundesverfassungsgericht

    It’s like the KGB stole plans from a 1980s Miami mansion and the Red Army was overseeing construction.

  13. Contra Gloveon 05 Jul 2011 at 3:44 am

    Yeah. I wanted to clean out my eyes when I saw that thing.

  14. Sylaron 05 Jul 2011 at 9:24 am

    This article was very useful to me. My character, Joaquin Ink… well… I’m planning on his headquarters being his murdered father’s old tattoo parlor. He’ll stay while he tries to find his father’s killer. How does that sound? Good? Or is it too on the nose? Or too cheesy and cliche?

  15. B. Macon 05 Jul 2011 at 9:58 am

    I think it fits in with the ink motif and reinforces how important his father’s murder is to him.

    I think it could feel too forced, but that depends on how you execute it. I’d have to see the script to have an opinion there.

  16. ekimmakon 09 Jul 2011 at 5:00 pm

    A beserk Eiffel towel?

  17. B. Macon 09 Jul 2011 at 7:49 pm

    A Eiffel Tower gone crazy is certainly memorable. I highly recommend Umbrella Academy, by the way. (The name of the issue is “The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk“).

  18. Anonymouson 02 Jan 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Yeah. The government in my series is pretty imaginative/desprate. After alien technology fell to Earth and gave most of the citizens powers, they spent millions of dollars putting them in military camps. The terrorist orginization Viper sees that the city is vaunerable, and decides to launch an attack. Meanwhile, the supers at the camps have become crazy and violent. The president realizes that a bunch of killing machines with powers would be useful in a war, so he sets up a ghetto for superhumans and puts them all there until they turn insane, at which point he transfers them to the camps. My Mc, who had powers before the Outbreak, takes a group of new metahumans under his wing and tries to help them escape from the government and stop Viper as well. They make their home in an abandoned shack, because they need to stay inconspicus (I probably spelled that wrong.)
    Just thought I would share that here.

  19. Fletcheron 05 Jan 2013 at 11:55 am

    Hey, I’m writing a Novel centered around a 16 year old Fletcher Smith. To put it in short, he is hit by a meteor, transformed into half human and half the essence of light itself. He is told later he is the symbol of Light, Warmth, Goodness and Bravery in the Universe.
    He’s been given the mission to fight the Darkness of the Universe. The two can travel in time and have similar powers.
    Their Powers are; Flight, Super Strength, Invincibility, To be able to create objects from light (a bit like Green lantern), can travel in time and teleport.
    His weakness is severe cold, which happens to one of his enemies powers.
    Before you wonder, he will not be untouchable and it won’t be an innocent children’s book.

    But what I want to ask is;
    My Villain knows of his weakness, so makes a Castle of Darkness on the center of the South Pole.
    Would that be a good place to put a Villain’s Lair and is it a good Lair, a Castle?

  20. B. McKenzieon 05 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    –I think the South Pole would make sense. A castle strikes me as more appropriate for a fantasy, but I’m not getting a fantasy vibe from this work. Is there something about the villain that would make a castle fitting?

    –“To put it in short, he is hit by a meteor, transformed into half human and half the essence of light itself. He is told later he is the symbol of Light, Warmth, Goodness and Bravery in the Universe.” The symbolism strikes me as heavy-handed enough that it makes the character sound less interesting/human. I’d recommend letting the readers decide what he symbolizes.

    –Giving him a more active role in developing superpowers would probably help.

    –I’d recommend simplifying his powers. Right now he has 6; I’d recommend cutting down to 2-3. (For example, flight and teleportation are mostly redundant, so either could probably be removed fairly easily).

    –“It won’t be an innocent children’s book…” Then I’d recommend being especially careful about characters narrating/expositing how Warm/Good/Brave/Heroic he is.

  21. Fletcheron 07 Jan 2013 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for the advice,
    In the book he does develop more powers as the story progresses. He only gains all of his powers at the very end of Part I. (It’s in Two Parts)
    The last point you made, I realised this and have gone back through some of my planning material and changed up a few things. He will still be the symbol for all of these but it will be not so forcefully told, more subtly implied so that the adult side of the book can come through.
    To the point about the symbolism, I realised that it was something that needed to be subtle, it’s not directly said and more implied throughout the journey of the hero.
    Again thanks for the advice,
    I hope to have my book done soon with a few things different to my starting idea, I appreciate your advice and once again,
    Thank you.

  22. Sakitaon 09 Jan 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Hi, can you help me on this issue I try to resolve?
    I have a superhero team, but I can’t figure out what headquarters I should give them. The team are all supernatural creatures (a dhampir, a witch, a nagual, an aliën and a kitsune) who come from different locations (Servia, Belgium, VS & Japan), and have missions from all over the world (wich involve the supernatural). They need a headquarters wich is close to everyday life (so they can lead normal lives), wich is secure to leave intrudes out, but close to transportation, so they can reach all parts of the world in an instant. Any suggestions?

  23. Oliveron 01 May 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Yeah I’m not sure how I should go with the book I’m writing.. I’ve got characters etc sorted out but Im not sure about the base.. any suggestions? The book is about a couple of young vigilantes about 13 and 14 who lead normal lives in high school but are sick of all the crime and stuff happening in their small town. One of them is rich and his parents work busy jobs so they are pretty much never home whereas the other is not very rich at all (I like how different they are and they make good partners kinda like Batman and Superman) They have a team put together but I need a base so if you have an idea please reply to me it means alot.

  24. Clarisseon 07 Feb 2015 at 6:04 am

    Helped a lot. Great work done…keep it up!

  25. Skylaron 27 Feb 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I am writing a book that has four superheroes that end up coming together and living in the mansion owned by one of them. One is rich, heiress of a major computer company, one is an assassin who decided to leave the organization and help the heiress, one is an FBI agent by day, and the other grew up on the streets and is the daughter of a drug lord. I don’t want to use the usual family death, but what other events could I use to prompt some of my characters to start fighting crime?

  26. Andrewon 22 Jan 2016 at 3:21 pm

    My superhero team has a base in a subway station and yard that was incomplete and shut down. Of course they spruced it up to fit their needs, small lab in trains left there, make-shift training course, computer with working network, the works. Reason being there is because they don’t have the most glamorous day jobs and make with what they can get. Does that sound like a good HQ?

  27. catswoodsriveron 22 Jan 2016 at 6:33 pm

    It sounds good, but maybe show how run-down it is? How third-rate the lab equipment?

  28. Andrewon 23 Jan 2016 at 4:33 am

    Sounds good, I’ll try that. Thanks

  29. Andrewon 19 Aug 2016 at 6:15 am

    This question isn’t for my superhero team, it’s for my government agency I made. What kind of base would be best for them? The general idea is this agency deals with major army-like criminal organisations and more mystical threats of the world (Magic, sorcery etc.) and enlists agents from all over the world. What kind of HQ would be best for that kind of agency?

  30. B. McKenzieon 19 Aug 2016 at 6:49 pm

    “What kind of base would be best for them? The general idea is this agency deals with major army-like criminal organisations and more mystical threats of the world (Magic, sorcery etc.) and enlists agents from all over the world. What kind of HQ would be best for that kind of agency?” What’s the mood/feel you’re going for? How would this group be different than, say, SHIELD? E.g. in Silence of the Lambs, the building is FBI Headquarters, and the mood is dark bordering on hopeless. It opens with the line,
    “Behavioral Science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth.” The building itself is somewhat ordinary but the details used go a long way there. In my own work, the main agency is exceptionally loose about following procedure/laws and reckless. The offices are outwardly pretty ordinary but the first image that came to mind for the office was a rocket launcher propped up against a water cooler.

    Based on what I (think I) know so far of the agency you’re working on, the main element that sticks out about them is incompetence (e.g. characters falling off of treadmills or knocked down by a Wing Chun dummy). If that’s the vibe you’re going for, I think details like that are probably more important than, say, whether it’s an urban highrise or a secluded base or a space station or a mobile platform (unless these somehow establish a mood and/or develop the plot or characters — e.g. if the group has a secret or mobile base because it’s running/hiding from something).

  31. Andrewon 20 Aug 2016 at 12:49 am

    The general feel is it’s public, but the agents themselves are off the record, like if your merge James Bond with the military. They have uniforms but their names are kept below the radar of the public. I was generally going for the outside to be an unmarked building in the city, but inside has training rooms, mess halls, sleeping quarters, showers etc.

    And incompetence isn’t one of the primary themes I’m going for, I’m going for character development, plot and character interaction

  32. B. McKenzieon 20 Aug 2016 at 4:19 am

    “I was generally going for the outside to be an unmarked building in the city, but inside has training rooms, mess halls, sleeping quarters, showers etc.” How would this group be different than a relatively vanilla police/military agency like SHIELD, which also has training rooms / mess halls / sleeping quarters / showers / etc? I’d recommend thinking more about what you’re trying to show about the agency, and what impression you want them to leave (e.g. the previous examples with an unusually grim/foreboding FBI department and a police agency that rarely goes by the book).

    If the main thing an editor walks away with is that your agency has a training room / mess halls / etc, I’m guessing the agency didn’t make a memorable impression, whereas if the editor can identify distinctive characteristics of the agency, that’d be more promising.



    “And incompetence isn’t one of the primary themes I’m going for, I’m going for character development, plot and character interaction.” If you’re not trying to suggest that characters are incompetent, having several characters fall off of exercise equipment would probably develop characters in an unintended direction.

  33. Andrewon 20 Aug 2016 at 6:11 am

    Well aside from the usual stuff, to understand what they can come up against, they have libraries that contain more mystical information like spell books and books written by sorcerers. There’s also rooms where they keep information regarding any cases they’re working on. While they do fight with guns, swords and another weapons, they’re often sent on missions to observe and learn any potential magical properties, whether it’s a recently discovered tomb in the Amazon, a magician who’s tricks look a little too good to be cheap parlour tricks and potential Satanic cult members who keep themselves to themselves

  34. B. McKenzieon 27 Aug 2016 at 7:42 pm

    “Well aside from the usual stuff, to understand what they can come up against, they have libraries that contain more mystical information like spell books and books written by sorcerers. There’s also rooms where they keep information regarding any cases they’re working on. While they do fight with guns, swords and another weapons…”

    It feels like the team is short on personality?

    I’d recommend taking a look not only at what the team can do and what sorts of resources/facilities it has, but how to use those to develop characters and/or create interesting scenes. E.g. the movie X-Men: First Class uses a fairly routine task (superhero training) to create humor and establish that the organization isn’t a very well-oiled machine yet.

    E.g. Hank (a notably unreliable genius) getting Banshee to jump out a window to test his flightsuit. BANSHEE: “You sure about this?” HANK: …”Anything’s possible.” Or the scene where Xavier is trying to help Havoc improve his accuracy, and trying to sound encouraging even though he and Hank are visibly terrified by (notably inaccurate) Havoc.

    In contrast, if they had had (say) a well-developed superhero training complex with (say) a flight chamber or a laser-proof room they could have tested their powers 100% safely, I think it’d be a lot more generic and less interesting.

    Going back to your team for a second, it doesn’t sound like you have a clear idea yet of what you’re actually trying to show about the team or what makes them interesting. I can envision some publishably effective scenes that use (for example) sword-fighting or a magical library, but they’d need to accomplish more than showing that the team has sword-fighting and/or magical capabilities. E.g. see this comment on how Terry Pratchett makes a magical setting stand out.

  35. catgirlon 04 Sep 2016 at 4:03 pm

    You may want to check out the Library in the TV show The Librarians.

  36. B. McKenzieon 05 Sep 2016 at 12:09 pm

    “You may want to check out the Library in the TV show The Librarians.” Can you offer any details for people not familiar with the show why the show might be useful?

  37. Cat-vacuumer Supremeon 17 Sep 2016 at 6:19 am

    Their base is in a magical library where they store artifacts. It’s very unique to them. Also, in a few of the episodes, the antagonists have interesting bases, like an office building with an odd amount of ancient Greek art or a house in the middle of nowhere.

  38. Cat-vacuumer Supremeon 17 Sep 2016 at 6:20 am

    Their base is in a magical library where they store artifacts. It’s very unique to them. Also, in a few of the episodes, the antagonists have interestingly designed bases.

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