Comic Book Base of Operations

The recent new story arc in Uncanny X-Men #500 got me thinking. A large part of the issue was the X-Men giving a tour of their new base of operations in San Francisco. The X-Men have long been associated with the X-Mansion in Westchester, New York and this move to San Francisco is a pretty big deal. As someone who’s still in the process of moving from New York to San Francisco, I took note at this move to see exactly how the X-Men were setting up shop.

You see, dating back to my earliest days of comic book reading I’ve been fascinated with the idea of the super hero or super villain base of operations. I used to pour over those bonus pages where they’d show the cross section of the Baxter Building, or the layout of the sub-basement of the X-Mansion. I loved the idea that right under our noses, these amazing people were training in the Danger Room, or moving large pieces of machinery from room to room, like the Thing used to for Mr. Fantastic. I used to analyze every room and wonder what the purpose of it was, and when I would go to Manhattan as a small child I would always look to the skies hoping to see a Quinjet fly by.

Now as I’m older, I realize how silly that was, but hey I was a kid. Part of maturity as an adult and a comic book reader has been to become focused on the practicality of many of the things we read in the comic books, and again the base of operations is one thing that keeps coming to mind.

If I’ve learned anything from reading comics as an adult, it’s that being a super hero or super villain doesn’t come cheap. Being “super” anything is clearly a game for the super rich, on both ends of the spectrum. Having a family fortune seems to work the best to work from. Do you think that Batman would be able to wage his war on crime if he didn’t have the money of the Waynes behind him? The X-Men have directly benefited from the family fortune of Charles Xavier, and most recently, Warren Worthington the III (also known as Angel). The Avengers have been funded by Tony Stark (Iron Man), and even Iron Fist, who seems as street level as they get, but is really funded by his families riches from the Rand Corporation. Super villains are no exception, with the best super villains coming from untold riches, like Lex Luthor (but who knows what Lex’s real history is at this point?) or Doctor Doom (who has an entire country’s resources behind him). If you have dreams of being a super hero in this world, and unless you’re willing to be a pawn of the government, like Invincible, then you’re going to need a lot of cash to fund your operation. At least Stan Lee had the genius to explain the Fantastic Four’s amazing building as benefiting from the profits of Reed Richards’ technology patents. That makes some level of sense and nary a family fortune in sight. But pretty much everyone else was explained away by the mythic “Family Fortune.” The days of Spider-Man, the poor kid from Queens, are long gone as superheroing is obviously a big business.

That’s to be expected. Blackbirds and Quinjets don’t come cheap, so it makes sense that the super hero or villain’s base of operation would be justified by some unlimited source of riches (although this begs the question of the economy in the Marvel and DC universes respectively. It seems like there is A LOT of money is being hoarded by individuals and their families, but that’s a discussion for another day. So assuming that just about every other super-type has some sort of fantastic riches to draw from, practically how do they convert that money into an actual functioning base?

I’m reminded of the classic scene in Clerks, brought to us by Kevin Smith, where they discuss the people building the second Death Star and how their deaths were unjustified as they weren’t the evil empire, just a bunch of contractors doing a job.

Picture this — it’s 1962 and you’re a general contractor in Westchester County, New York. A bald dude in a wheel chair rolls in and lays out blueprints (assuming Professor Xavier had an architect friend to design the mansion, or barring that, he had a side interest in architecture himself) for improvements to his families mansion. Times are tough and you need the job, and you figure how hard can it be to add a room or two to an existing mansion. But as you look closer you realize he’s asking you to build a sub-basement structure that goes several hundred feet UNDER the mansion, including a hangar for a jet (that is accessible by a sliding basketball court above it), and a large room that the bald guy keeps referring to as a “Danger Room”. He’s offering you a ton of money for this job, but this is hardly the typical construction job. How can you even build something UNDER an existing mansion?

Is there some sort of super-construction company that handles these types of builds? I would imagine there was the same discussion when Tony Stark began remodeling his families mansion on the upper east side of Manhattan to house The Avengers. Now The Avengers were a very public organization, but the X-Men operate under some level of discretion (at the time) and Batman? Last I checked but Batman’s secret identity was meant to be a a secret. So how did Bruce Wayne handle the building of the Batcave? I know he and Alfred are resourceful, but I have a hard time believing they were able to build the Batcave over a weekend with a couple of “How To Home Improvement” books from Home Depot. There’s no way he’s able to outfit the cave under Wayne Manor without his help. So how do these construction jobs get done?

In the X-Men world, I can justify the construction of the vast sub-basement in that the construction crew were probably mind-wiped by Professor Xavier to protect the X-Men’s identities and what they were doing in Westchester. But if that’s the case, how screwed up is that?!? But that’s just the X-Men, how did Batman get the Batcave built? One could argue that you can get whatever you want with money. That if you offer a contractor enough money, they’ll do the job and keep their mouths shut. But I don’t believe that. People, by human nature, cannot keep their mouths shut. So if you were a contractor and you were building this immense structure in a cave for Bruce Wayne, you know you wouldn’t be able to keep that to yourself.  Word would get out eventually and ultimately Bruce Wayne would be revealed as Batman. It seems as if the necessity for a cool base for a super hero or a villain is a point of exposure. You’re going to tell me that when Lex Luthor starts construction on what will become the home for the latest Injustice Gang, that it’s not going unnoticed? Hell, in Smallville Lex can’t even build a shed in his backyard without Clark accusing him of something.

I understand this is a bit of overthinking and I really should just chalk it up to suspension of disbelief, but it’s fun to think about and analyze. And if anything, it gives you a glimpse to the warped point of view I bring when I read comic books. Enjoying comics is one thing, but it can get tiring trying to piece together how the universe they exist in actually works.

Tiring, but fun.



  1. My secret hideout is called, "Your Mom."  

    Great article.

  2. I do agree with you that eventually heroes would get outed by their secret bases, but have you ever heard about the Congressional Bunker underneath the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV?  It lasted 30 years, hidden in plain sight before being outed.  I can’t really imagine a normal heroing career lasting longer than that.  It’s a fascinating story of something that sounds like a real-life superhero lair being built, complete with a cover-up building project and everything.  I have family from that town who worked at the hotel and claimed they knew something was up but never said anything.  <;

  3. I suspect that if you looked back on Professor X’s life, you’d see a long line of puzzled, blinking people who couldn’t tell you what they’d been up to for the last half hour. Still, wiping the minds of that entire supply chain would be a job and a half. "What do you need all this reinforced concrete for, anyway?" "You are getting very sleepy."

  4. "These aren’t the droids you’re looking for."

    I would think that instead of mindwiping the construction crew, he would plant some really cool humanitarian pciture, like maybe they’ve been part of a really Extreme Home Makover. But I’m an optimist.

    From comics I’ve read Bruce Wayne is just so cool that a lot of the work on the Batcave is slave and child labor – Alfred and Dick. But that still doesn’t explain how you get a Dinosaur and a big-@$$ penny in underground without anyone noticing it. But then, in The Dark Knight, when one of his accountants brought a discrepancy to the attention of Lucius Fox, the response was, "You’ve just found out that your boss goes out dressed up in body armor and kicks @$$ all over Gotham – and your answer is to blakmail him. Good luck with that. Do you want me to notify your next of kin now?



  5. In All Star Batman and Robin, Robin has the best thing to say about the giant Dinosaur.  I just love that series.  Don’t care how many people hate it.

  6. I’ve often thought that making and keeping a super hero/villain headquarters full of fully consenting adults would be a piece of piss compared to building and hiding this:

    And that actually got built, and was kept secret from all of the people that lived aboce it, for decades. 

  7. yeah… I heard about that when he was first exposed.  That is truly one of the most sick and twisted things I’ve ever heard.

  8. I hear the new X-Men HQ in SF has a great view.

  9. I suspect Bruce Wayne hired some non-english speaking migrant workers then when work was done reported them to INS to have them deported.

  10. Gotta be like Nightwing and just have all his friends do the work for you.

  11. Reading this article makes me wish I was rich so I could build a Batcave under my house.  I would’nt use it to fight crime,  I would use it so I could watch Smallville without hearing my girlfriend drool over Tom Welling.

  12. If this is true…wait, do people not get stronger, better, faster, or smarter when the are exposed to radiation? Dammit, Ron! You totally just ruined all comics and my entire childhood for me…  

  13. WAIT!!! The baxter building is only 35 stories tall… pssssh.  I always thought it was taller.

  14. Here’s the thing regarding Prof X mindwiping the builders- did they build all that in one day? Probably not. Which meant, I’m sure, that many of the workers would be returning home to their friends,  families, wives and children. Since I doubt that the workers wouldn’t talk about that weird project they were working on, looks like the Prof’s secret would be out…unless he grabbed the identities of everyone they had told out of  their heads and went looking for them too…

    If I recall correctly the Batcave was a pretty modest affair in the beginning, kinda low-tech with a bunch of radio equipment, television screens, reference materials, garage and of course giant pennies. I could see how Bruce and Alfred could set all that up, just by working down in the cave below the house. Don’t know what they did for all the bat guano, but that’s a different problem. But then you have computers and all of the character’s high-tech gear he’s shown using today, and it gets more problematic.

    And if Reed Richards sold so damn many wondrous patents, then why wasn’t the Marvel world a Utopia?

  15. Actually, I think Bruce Wayne just took a page from Mr. Myagi’s book and had a young Dick Grayson building everything in the Batcave under the guise of training.

    Robin: Bruce, can I ask you a question?

    Batman: (sighs) What?

    Robin: I don’t understand what this has to do with fighting crime…

    Batman: This is for when the Joker needs to be stopped by converting 220 volts to 110 volts.

    Robin: OK…

    Batman: And when you’re done with that, pretend that that shelfing unit is a bomb that is set by Two-Face and needs to be assembled or Gotham will blow up.

    Robin: Why would a bomb need to be assembled?

    Batman: Shut up! I’m the goddamn Batman! Alfred, where’s my hot pocket?

  16. Just find a warehouse in Detroit…it worked for the Justice League.

  17. Is it wrong that I call my office "The Batcave?" Although I don’t have a gigantic penny……..

  18. Great post – I have wondered about the secrecy of bases of operations forever.


    My only explanation is that individual contractors are hired for very small parts of the job, and that the overall plans for each project are known only to the heroes/villains themselves.

  19. The Batcave is really the only place that bothers me. I can understand if Wayne has a computer and a place for his car and batsuits/equipment….The cave was pretty realistic in the first Nolan and Burton films. But then you add more equipment, computers, desks, mementos, and it just seems like his cave is over 25 miles long. I know it’s a big cave, but does it go to China? Considering the animated series made it look like it was a bottomless pit.

    I mean the Fortress of Solitude is the same way for me….But it’s in the middle of antarctica so it’s fine cause no one could ever find it.

    @horatio: It is a good view, but you wouldnt know (ever) if you read that issue.

  20. Well, not to be morbid, but they could have done it like H.H. Holmes built his Chicago "Murder Castle":  hire one guy to do one part, fire him, hire a new guy to do the next part, etc. etc, so that no one ever really saw the totally of what was being built.  And then they could leave the really telling things for the teams themselves or other trusted individuals to put together.  The various contractors would just think they were working for finicky, eccentric billionaires.

  21. The secret can now be revealed… Superman and Batman traded places and remodeled each other’s superhero base. The hard part for Batman was pocketing the Fortress key.



  22.  "Do you think that Batman would be able to wage his war on crime if he didn’t have the money of the Waynes behind him?"

    I have thought about this question before & think it would make an exellent article alone, or even an Elseworlds comic. Even a series of Elseworlds, with a bunch of different writers exploring the different options: would Bruce become a police man? A fire fighter? A private eye? Set up his own cheap-ass Bat-Cave in his garage & do the vigilante thing?  

  23. I love that pic of the Baxter Building. Giant map room? There’s a room called the Giant map room. Bwa!

  24. The greatest base for me was The Watchtower from the Morrison era JLA run.  I would think the materials were probably funded by Batman which building a base half the size of Dallas I can’t imagine the cost but I would assume that the JLA were the ones that actually built the thing being able to zip around in a vacuum and all.  Which means that along with being superheroes you can add expert space contractors to their already impressive resumes.  The DC heroes are always shown rebuilding city blocks, bridges, and towns- these guys could go full time if the hero thing doesn’t work out.

  25. Perhaps someday the iFanboys will become more sedentary in their search for comic excellence but for now they prefer to travel light and battle graphic storytelling mediocrity on the streets.  Besides, they look so cool wearing their Al Franken Satellite Dish Helmets™;

  26. This article (which was great, by the way) reminded me of the Batman: The Animated Series episode where the Penguin figures out who builds the Batmobile and takes it over.  It’s actually pretty clever the way that the Batmobile is built, and opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Bruce Wayne doesn’t build everything he uses.

  27. I like how the Torch’s room is made of ASBESTOS