I know what you're thinking: "When's Mark going to create those 'Top 10' lists all the cool blogs are doing?"
I know what you're thinking: "When's Mark going to create those 'Top 10' lists all the cool blogs are doing?"
I'm sure the suspense has been killing you since
Part One, so here's the final five of my
(sniff) Excuse me, there...there must be something in my eye.
Okay, so now that you've seen my Top 10
comic book robots, what are some of yours?
"Home, the spot of earth supremely blest,
A dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest"
– English poet Robert Montgomery (1807-1855)
Although they're not "homes" in the strictest sense, comic book hideaways and headquarters enjoy a similar status with various superheroes and villains. Stocked with customized vehicles, specialized equipment, trophies and secrets galore, these sanctum sanctorums were more or less fantastical extensions of childhood tree forts and clubhouses....and an element I've always loved about superhero comics.
Like my robot list a few months back, I've tallied-up the ten best comic book hang-outs. Some you'll no doubt recognize and agree with...and others you won't. But that's the great thing about running your own blog, right?
So, enough blathering...let's get to the first five of the Top Ten Comic Book Headquarters...
The Phantom's Skull Cave: Hidden behind a waterfall deep in the jungles of Bangalla, the Skull Cave has been the home base of the Phantom for over twenty generations. As each father passed the mantle of the Phantom on to his son, the eerie cave has not only housed their chronicles, armory, and treasure, but the bodies of fallen Phantoms as well.
The Rock of Eternity: Defeating a great force of evil in the ancient past, the wizard SHAZAM imprisoned it under an immense rock that later became known as the Rock of Eternity. With the very Moment of Creation blazing at its pinnacle, the Rock stands outside of space and time and can be used to access any dimension or time period. It's from his throne inside the Rock that the spirit of Shazam lends the power of the gods to Billy Batson and the rest of the Marvel Family. Is it the most exciting looking headquarters? No...but I think the existential starkness of the Rock of Eternity is the key to its appeal.
The SHIELD Helicarrier: Built by a cooperative of scientists and industrialists (including Reed Richards and Tony Stark), the Helicarrier fuctioned as both a flying aircraft carrier and a mobile headquarters for SHIELD, the planet's premiere intelligence/defense agency. Although the design has changed a bit over the years, the array of gigantic helicopter rotors keeping it aloft have remained...a staggeringly impossible (yet endearing) feat of engineering that could only work in the pseudo-scientific skies of superhero comic books.
The Baxter Building: Appearing in Fantastic Four #3 (1962), the Baxter Building became the first official headquarters of the Marvel Universe (click on the image for a larger view). Boldly breaking with the tradition to locate superheroes in fictional cities, the Baxter Building was located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, its top five floors housing the labs, vehicles, and living quarters of the Fantastic Four. Bottom line? Any headquarters with a built-in long range ICBM missile automatically makes my Top Ten list.
Challenger Mountain: As prototypes of the Fantastic Four, DC's Challengers of the Unknown were four adventurers whose massive headquarters was a hollowed-out mountain located in the Colorado Rockies. Though I've never been much of a fan of the Challengers themselves, having an entire mountain as your home base certainly counts for something.
That's it for now. Stay tuned for Part Two, where I'll finish off my Top Ten Comic Book Headquarters!
The best thing about Part Two? No long-winded introductory paragraph! Picking up where Part One left off, let's get to numbers five through one:
The JLA Satellite: Leaving their original cave hangout behind, the League moved into a spiffy new orbiting satellite in Justice League #78 (1970), undoubtedly inspired by the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Despite the "America" portion of the team's name, the satellite seemed to elevate the League's mission to that of international or even planetary protectors. In the years since the satellite's destruction, the JLA have steadily increased the "wow" factor of their succeeding headquarters (at one point building one on the moon)...but none of them quite surpass the groovy space-age vibe of that ol' satellite.
Latveria: In the early days of Marvel Comics, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were determined to shake up the status quo. One of their many, many innovations was a Fantastic Four villain named Doctor Doom who, in addition to a compelling appearance and origin story, took the concept of the bad guy's lair to a completely new category. Instead of holing up in a building or even a compound, Doom's home base was an entire country...and he its beloved monarch! Located somewhere in Eastern Europe, the sovereign nation of Latveria was strictly ruled and fiercely protected by Doom and his advanced technology...which often made the Fantastic Four's efforts to stop him a diplomatically sticky situation.
The Tower of Fate: As one of the coolest heroes of the fabled Golden Age of Comics, sorcerer Doctor Fate had a headquarters that perfectly complemented his eerie modus operandi. Its Earthly aspect located in (a perpetually overcast) Salem, Massachusetts, this windowless and doorless tower could only be entered by Fate and his wife Inza. Inside were countless magical artifacts, weapons, and tomes dating back to the ancient world. Much like the Rock of Eternity (yesterday's #9), this stark, lonely structure exists outside of conventional space and time...and has recently been shown to have a bewildering, Escher-esque interior.
The Fortress of Solitude: God knows, I've said almost everything I could possibly say about Superman's Fortress of Solitude...but I have to reiterate just how much I love the concept of the Man of Steel needing a place to relax and unwind. Sure, he had the obligatory headquarters stuff like super-computers and trophy rooms...but first and foremost, the Fortress was a place for Superman to chill the heck out! (no arctic-pun intended). My favorite of its many iterations was, of course, the version featured from 1957 through 1986 which, as you can read about here, is intertwined with my first-ever encounter with the Superman character.
As much as I love the Fortress of Solitude, it was narrowly edged out by my top pick...which by now should be obvious to just about anyone who's read a comic book. The number one Comic Book Headquarters is, of course....
Okay, you didn't seriously think I picked this as #1, did you?
All right, all right...the real number one can only be...
The Batcave: The perfect expression of the secret headquarters concept, the Batcave simply can't be surpassed in its thematic compatibility with its hero and its sheer mythic weight. Mostly utilitarian, with intriguing touches of sentimentality, the sprawling underground complex is a breathtaking testament to the lengths Bruce Wayne has gone to avenge his parents' deaths.
Now that I've posted my Top 10 hang-outs, what are some of yours?
Since the fragile human mind can only handle so much horror, that's it for now. Get some rest, clear your minds, then come back tomorrow for Part Two, where I'll cover the final five of the Top Ten Lamest Comic Book Vehicles!
Like a bird without feathers, or pancakes without syrup, comic book superheroes would be nothing without their villains!
Although little more than gangsters or mad scientists in the early years of superhero comics, villains gradually became as flashy and powerful as the costumed crimefighters themselves. Ultimately, the sheer number of supervillains caused most of them to be forgotten as soon as they appeared. However, a small percentage of them have risen above obscurity and made a big impression on me. I've selected ten of my favorite supervillains, some of which most would agree with...and a few you might quibble with. But, if that's the case, the internet is in no danger of running out of real estate, so you can post your own Top Ten Villain list if the spirit moves you. For now, here's mine:
Reverse Flash: Considering my well-documented enthusiasm for opposite numbers, it's no surprise that my list begins with The Reverse Flash. Making his first appearance in Flash #139 (1963), Eobard Thawne was a 25th century criminal who gained super-speed from an old Flash costume using that era's ultra-advanced technology. Sometimes known as "Professsor Zoom", Thawne fought Barry Allen time and time again, eventually murdering his wife Iris and, some years later, lost his own life while attempting to kill Barry's fiance Fiona Webb. Recently, a villain named "Zoom" donned the costume of the Reverse Flash...but now that Barry Allen has returned to the land of the living, I suspect that ol' Eobard Thawne won't be far behind.
Bizarro: Let's face it: despite being the original superhero, Superman's rogue's gallery has never quite measured up to his vaunted status. Sure, Lex Luthor is usually offered up as one of his best...and from the brains vs. brawn angle, he IS a compelling villain, but his last two decades as a somewhat inert corporate & political figure has dampened his standing (at least with me). That leaves only a handful of Superman villains that could make the A-list...and chief among them is Bizarro. Taking the concept of "evil opposite" to its most literal extreme, this "imperfect duplicate" wasn't only a physical distortion of the Man of Steel, but a twisted, illogical version of his intellect and morality as well. Alternately portrayed as a figure of sympathy, humor, or terror (depending on the era or creative team), Bizarro has always embodied the frightening reality of the power of Superman untethered from wisdom and self-control.
The Kingpin: Making his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1967), New York's imposing "Kingpin of Crime" quickly developed into one of comics' most fascinating and complex characters. Part of that appeal stemmed from how much the Kingpin resembled "real world" figures of organized crime, with few trappings of the more traditional costume-wearing, gimmick-toting villain crowd. Although hints of a more complex personal life came to light during his years as a Spider-Man villain, it wasn't until a young turk named Frank Miller made him a Daredevil foe that the Kingpin (a.k.a. "Wilson Fisk") gained the compelling backstory and machiavellian personna that make him the A-list master criminal he is today.
Thanos: With his massive, craggy-faced appearance and space-god heritage, it's clear that Jim Starlin's Thanos character was at least partially inspired by Jack Kirby's Darkseid, who'd made his DC Comics debut a few years earlier. However, that's where the similarities end. Whereas Darkseid was primarily confined to Kirby's quartet of "Fourth World" titles, Thanos threatened the entire Marvel Universe right out of the gate. Originally appearing as a "cosmic villain" in Iron-Man #55 (1973), Thanos quickly rolled out a plan that spanned several Marvel titles...which became (quite possibly) comics' first mega-epic, multi-title crossover (am I forgetting anything before it?). Seeking to win the love of Death (personified as a mysterious hooded woman), Thanos had long sought to obliterate the universe through a variety of schemes and objects of power (such as the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Gauntlet). Add to this inexhaustible ambition an origin story with fallen angel/Oedipal overtones and a sprawling supporting cast, and you've got yourself a Top Ten villain.
The Green Goblin: Despite a rather underwhelming debut in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1963), the Green Goblin was still the most mysterious and intriguing figure in Spidey's burgeoning rogues gallery. Unlike other comic book villains, the true identity of the Green Goblin was kept secret from even the reader for several years. According to comic book legend, co-creator Steve Ditko wanted the Goblin to remain completely anonymous, having grown tired of stories where the villain is unmasked as someone known by the hero. Well, thankfully (in this case) Ditko was overuled by Stan Lee, because in Spider-Man #39 (1966) the Goblin was revealed to be Norman Osborn, the father of Peter Parker's best friend. That same issue, Osborn discovered Parker was actually Spider-Man, escalating their conflict to an intensely personal level. Another fascinating (and somewhat groundbreaking) aspect of Osborn was his struggle with mental illness. Sure, insanity had been a pillar of supervillainy for quite awhile, but Osborn's psychosis gave readers a glimpse into the twilight world of mental illness that no comic book had really explored before. This cyclical struggle culminated in the death of Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man #121 (1973), followed by the ironic death of Osborn the very next issue.
Sadly, anyone familiar with the current Marvel Universe knows that Norman Osborn was retroactively resurrected some years ago, was revealed to have secretly fathered two children with Gwen Stacy (!), and is now some kind of out-of-control Homeland Security official bent on world domination. Or something.
Well, in my mind, Norman Osborn is still dead from a bat-glider to the chest...with his evil still haunting Peter Parker from beyond the grave.
Galactus: For the first quarter century of superhero comics, villains didn't do much more than steal money from banks or priceless artifacts from museums. However, in Fantastic Four #48 (1966), Jack Kirby and Stan Lee upped the ante to the Nth degree with Galactus, an elaborately-armored space god so powerful, he could steal the life force of entire planets! Although many near-omnipotent figures have come along since Galactus, ol' bucket-head remains my favorite (despite some funky costume issues in his first few appearances). As the years went by, Galactus became a more ambiguous figure...less a straight-up villain and more a universal force of nature who occasionally assisted the planet Earth when he wasn't threatening to consume it.
Several months back, I listed my Top Ten Lamest Comic Book Vehicles, which inspired some good discussion in the comments section. So, to keep the conversation going, let's balance the cosmic scales by taking a look at the Top Ten COOLEST Comic Book vehicles.
(According to ME, that is.)
The Spider-Mobile: In addition to its sporty dune-buggy design, the early 1970's roll-out of the Spider-Mobile was also a clever parody of crass commercialism and celebrity endorsements. As part of their campaign to sell a new non-polluting car engine, the ad agency of Carter and Lombardo convinced a reluctant (yet cash-strapped) Spider-Man to lend his name to the promotion. With the help of gear-head Johnny "Human Torch" Storm, the Spider-Mobile made its debut in Spider-Man #130 (1974)...becoming a source of constant embarrassment and irritation for Web-Head until it sunk into the Hudson River less than a year later. More precisely, a dozen panels after the image below (from Spider-Man #141). Sure, as a concept the Spider-Mobile was a joke (a joke Spider-Man was in on), but it's cool design by artist Ross Andru demands the first slot on my Top Ten list.
The Asgardian Starjammer: Something I've always loved about Marvel's classic Thor series was its "Lord of the Rings meets Star Trek" fusion of fantasy and sci-fi elements. Take the Starjammer, for example. Looking like an ancient Scandinavian dragon ship, the enchanted Starjammer could sail the "seas" of the universe with only a sail and rudder as its only visible means of propulsion and navigation. An odd sight, to be sure, but perfectly consistent with the surreal mythic/cosmic whimsy that made Thor such a consistent joy to read.
Brainiac's Skull Ship: When DC upgraded Brainiac from a green bald guy into a Gigeresque high-tech horror, they also traded in his old 50's era flying saucer for a terrifying new spaceship that mirrored his spooky, skull-like head. Adding to the creepy factor were giant tentacles snaking and probing from the bottom of the ship. Although Brainiac himself has undergone several more upgrades/retrogrades since then, the Skull Ship has managed to stick around in essentially the same sinister form.
The Silver Surfer's Board: Has there ever been a character more perfectly suited to the time of its creation than the Silver Surfer? Channeling the surf culture of the early 1960's, artist Jack Kirby inserted this mysterious chrome-plated character into the artwork of Fantastic Four #48 (1966), taking writer and F.F. co-creator Stan Lee completely off guard...though not for long. In fact, Lee added some polish to the Silver Surfer by infusing his dialogue with noble, philosophical musings that mirrored the hippy-dippy cosmic spirituality of the age. Although the character is still surfing the skyways today, no artist has ever surpassed (much less equaled) the streamlined cool and eerie grace of Kirby's Silver Surfer...with the heiroglyphics of elaborate flight paths zig-zagging in his wake.
Yesterday we covered ten through six, now fasten your seat belts for the final five. Think you've figured them out already? Think again!
Samson's Chronomobile: I run hot and cold on the stories of Grant Morrison, the avant-garde metatextual shaman of superhero comics. Some of them, like Final Crisis, I find insufferably esoteric... yet others, like his All-Star Superman, I find fresh and wildly entertaining. Using the sprawling Superman mythos of the Silver Age (1960's) as his inspiration and template, Morrison celebrated many of the character types and situations the Superman of that far away era often encountered...such as his routine befriending of historic/mythological heroes! In issue #4 of All-Star Superman, Biblical strongman Samson showed up in the time-traveling Chronomobile (along with his Greek mythology pal Atlas) to challenge Superman to a friendly contest of strength (as mythic strongmen are known to do). Now, the Chronomobile appeared for only a panel or two, but the thought of Samson gallivanting through time in a cosmic hot rod just delights me to no end. Enough to earn it the vaunted number five slot.
Tags: Action Comics #1, All-Star Superman, Batman, Batmobile, Chronomobile, Dark Reign, Fantasti-Car, Fantastic Four, Goblin Glider, Grant Morrison, Green Goblin, Krypton, Marvel Comics, Norman Osborn, Superman origin