A Guide to Lesser-Known Superhero Sanctums.
By Rick McDowell
We’re less than a month away from the fall premieres of all our favorite primetime network television shows. 2014 saw a surge of comic-related series take flight, and with Constantine being the only noticeable casualty, 2015 is primed to be the year that comics overtake crime-procedurals as the highest ranked Nielson rated dramatic series.
One of the biggest breakout hits of the last year was Fox’s GOTHAM. For those of you who may have been in the Phantom Zone, and unable to read one-sheets, let me bring you up to speed on the premise of the show: initially pitched as a Gotham City-based crime procedural, akin to the comic series G.C.P.D. back in the 90’s, GOTHAM is actually one of mind-numbingly bizarre takes on the Bruce Wayne mythos ever conceived. While taking obvious influences of Batman: Year One and Grant Morrison’s late 80’s-early 90’s work, GOTHAM is a massive shoehorn that centers around naïve optimist Jim Gordon, as he trys to scrub a city clean of corruption, and Donal Logue’s drive-thru grease stains. There are some really great characters in this show: Robin Taylor is the true breakthrough star of this show as The Penguin. And Sean Pertwee, son of legendary Doctor Who alum Jon Pertwee, brings a dash of his father’s Third Doctor daring and wisdom as Alfred Pennyworth. Despite some very competent characters on-screen, I can’t help but watch Gotham regularly, not because it is a good show by any means, but because as a Bat-Fan, I want to see at what point exactly will this show jump a tank of sharks while gripping a canister of bat-shark repellant, in favor of opting to utilize an unnecessary fanboy lip service, rather than relying on strong story telling. Never, in my years of enjoying and consuming pop culture, have I seen a product that utilizes obscure Easter eggs as a narrative crutch, in favor of actually exploring new and unique storylines.
So, yeah. As you can see here, GOTHAM has picked up a surtitle of Rise Of The Villains to help set up its distinct atmosphere from Season One. I’d like to take a moment to point out that this is something Hasbro does, with its own toy line television shows, right before a brand is about to go out, and they end up repainting a bunch of existing molds, and swapping out their accessories, and going bargain bin right before doing their next big thing. FOX isn’t being so tight-lipped on some of the big plans of the show’s direction, this season: We’re going to get ourselves a new Joker. Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four is going to take Gordon under his wing. And to top it all off, we’re going to explore Bruce’s decent into the Bat Cave, and bear witness to its evolution into what may be the most iconic superhero lair of all time.
Arguably, one of the most defining thing of a pre-Civil War masked superhero or villain, is their chosen base of operations. In the Golden Age, we had pulp heroes like The Phantom operating from Skull Cave, patrolling the small African country of Bangalla. Come the sixties, we saw writers take the concept, and modernize it in the name of industrialization or education, like the Baxter Building. Sometimes, the lack of having a private place to hone their operations was central to a character’s story. One of the memorable traits of Spider-Man, was the fact that he had to try and disguise his activities and investigations under the prying nose of his sweet Aunt May. Over time, a host of different conceits were explored, from planet-blasting Death Stars, to private school campuses, even pocket dimensions. By the 90’s, characters had become so bogged down with ammunition pouches and giant future guns, that they generally found secret bases too conformist, and opted to sleep in alleyways, or live in a van down by the river.
Superheroes are arguably sociopathic performance artists, whose work translates to useful public service. Every artist needs their studio. Those studios could be used to train, and hone their skills. It could be a forensics lab, where antitoxins could be reproduced, or internet research can be performed. Ideally, the secret lair can even represent a sanctuary, or embassy of a hero’s ideals and culture, much like Superman’s fortress of solitude. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known residences of some of our favorite characters.
Iron Fist is about to hit the Marvel Cinematic scene in the near-future. He has his own Netflix series in development, which like Daredevil and Agent Carter, will likely mean we will see him explode in newfound popularity in the near-future. Something that really hasn’t been addressed as-of-yet: how is the Marvel Cinematic Universe going to approach the character’s training grounds of K’un Lun?
Allow me to break down what K’un Lun is, exactly. K’un Lun is an ancient alien spaceship. That was scrapped, and turned into a magical city. That was tucked away inside of a pocket dimension. A dimension, whose only known port of entry is hidden inside a 3000 mile mountain chain, in China. A portal, that only opens publically once every ten years, for an interdimensional martial arts competition. And, the only person who knows and can transverse to and fro from said obscure mountain pocket dimension spaceship kung fu city? Danny Rand. AKA Iron Fist, through a magic amulet. An amulet that happens to draw untold power and knowledge from energy sources tapped directly into said legendary city. I mean, the TARDIS doesn’t even have this many dimension-locking deadbolts in place, and all things considered, it probably should!
And, should you ever wish to try and seek this place out for yourself? Good luck. Because that amulet, in the hands of Danny Rand? It empowers him as the greatest hand-to-hand living weapon on Marvel Comic’s earth. As in Wolverine and the Hulk can’t even get a drop on this guy. It’ll take Charles Xavier telepathically asking reeeeeally nicely to convince him into giving you the grand tour.
After Manga series Dragon Ball shifted to its more Western Comics-influenced phase Dragonball Z, poor Goku and company couldn’t get a break from all of the obvious DC Comics comparisons. While there obviously was some major tropes being lifted from Superman and Martian Manhunter, one thing too cool to change? That when Earth’s strongest heroes needed a place to recoup losses, and plan a planet-crunching counter-offensive, it could be done effectively at the bright pink equivalent of the Delta’s pad from Animal House, complete with its own lewdly-comedic John Belushi.
In the south western oceans of Akira Toriyama’s Earth, there is an isolated island, where one Master Roshi has made his home. His primary goal: to train worthy students worthy of his turtle-sennin style mastery, and the hidden techniques of his devastating Kamehameha wave! His secondary objective? Collecting and hoarding that world’s largest collection of Playboy magazines.
It is established very early on that Roshi is very much, well, a scurvy old dog who commits to deplorable hijinks at the expense of his female guests at his residence. These usually end with a well-deserved frying pan to the face, although if local police were brought in, there’d hardly be any blame in Roshi having charges brought on him. He spends his days reading magazines in the sunshine, throwing back brewskis, and watching exercise videos. But, between those three things, its hard to see where he fits in time training to be one of the foremost fighting experts in the world!
Hyperspacing from Manga to Anime comes Cowboy Bebop’s title starship, the BEBOP. Generally, when one thinks of a starship, they think of something pristine, and orderly. Well, the Bebop takes a page out of Han solo’s playbook, and completely runs wild on it. Keeping in tune with Cowboy Bebop’s Americana themes, the BEBOP, for all intents and purposes, is a Flop House in Space. A hole-in-the-wall residency, where low-end opportunists reside, in high hopes of hitting the big easy.
Owned by former-policeman-turned-bounty-hunter Jet Black, the BEBOP was an intergalactic fishing trawler, refitted with hyperspace engines, and upgraded communications arrays, as a housing vessel for his rag-tag crew. Much like you’ll find in the stories of America’s blues, cowboys, and rock music, the BEBOP is a reflection of jaded opportunists, clamoring for their one silver lining of optimism. It’s not common for fights to break out over the last pack of ramen. And sometimes, illegal contraband finds its way in stow. But a family defines a house’s walls. And the BEBOP crew definitely is an honest depiction of what a modern western family really is.
The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense:
Last, but certainly not least, comes writer/artist Mike Mignola’s answer to The X-Files. The Bureau interesting, because while it has plenty of stories taking place in the present, it has served as the focal point for many interesting period pieces in all of the assorted Hellboy-related titles over the years, going back to the second world war. Founded initially as means to help subvert and battle supernatural Axis threats, the BPRD has managed to find a way to stay relevant as a secretly funded government agency, and has even bounced around locations over the years, whether it be New Mexico, Conneticut, or Colorado.
We’ve seen these sorts of supernatural operations in pop culture before. Stephen King’s shared universe has The Shop, which operates in a similar capacity. The X-Files, while alien-centric, dealt with a monster-of-the-week format which saw investigations of a host of various supernatural horrors. And, of course, the Friday The 13th television series dealt with a team of protagonists, traversing the world in search of dangerous magical artifacts that reigned wanton horror and destruction in their wake. What separates BPRD from the rest, is that some of these Monsters (I’d like to think of them as individuals. Monsters don’t put in work for an agency on the bequest of preserving the sanctity of life) and antiquities that are safeguarded by this facility, also double as personnel and resources, utilized in pursuit of the Agency’s goals. With no real connection to normal society, these fishmen, Homonculi, and, well, suits of ectoplasm have an opportunity to give back in ways that would only demonize them otherwise.
Rick McDowell, AKA Comic Geek Punk is a writer, blogger, and gentleman adventurer. His credentials include being featured on an Adult Swim bumper at two in the morning, and haven captured all 720 Pokemon through six game generations. You can reach out to him through any of Blueswade Cartoons various online media, or check out his stuff at facebook.com/comicgeekpunk.