In villainy, as in real estate and life, the secret to success is location, location, location (or at least one secret to success). So, Big Bad, where do you set up shop and scheme your dastardly schemes and execute your plans? The choice of lair, besides logistics and practicality, also reflects your flavor of villainy. Is your lair obvious and ornately decorated so as to tell the superheroes you believe you are untouchable? Is your lair hidden to yourself and only a few of your trusted lieutenants because you prefer a shroud of mystery (and lower insurance premiums)? Or perhaps you have more than one lair because you wish to confuse the superheroes and find it practical to always have a back-up lair. Any lair has advantages, disadvantages, and customization options. Why customization options? Because if you’re the Big Bad, you want your lair to say, “Today this is mine. Tomorrow the world will be mine.”
1) The Corporate Headquarters:
a) Advantages – If you are a corporate Big Bad, a corporate style headquarters has a lot of advantages. You are close to your place of business, both legitimate and illegitimate. You have all the modern comforts and technology of a modern city. You can choose to have a penthouse style apartment at your headquarters or you can find one a quick private helicopter jaunt away from your headquarters. Anything you want to steal can probably be found within the city limits. You’re also close to as many scummy lawyers, marketers, and recruit-able low-lifes and higher level minions as you could possibly want.
b) Disadvantages – High insurance premiums and overhead. Cities seem to have a rather high concentration of superheroes as well. Also, the police, district attorneys, and superheroes know where to find you and even if they can’t prove your culpability, they may get all huffy and charge into your office and vow vengeance or justice or something. On the other hand, you can get them thrown out by security, which is always humiliating. Still, if a big fight goes down in your corporate headquarters, you’re going to have all sorts of headaches and costs in trying to repair it. You simply can’t have this kind of lair be your secret headquarters if that’s what you’re going for.
c) Customization Options – If you get to build the building, you have as many customization options as the building codes and engineering requirements allow. However, when you get down to it, you’re still just going to have another shiny skyscraper in the middle of downtown. It can be impressive and unique, but probably not in a way the superheroes will appreciate unless they happen to be uber-wealthy corporate moguls themselves. And if you don’t get to build the building, then your customization options are limited to interior decorating, and those options are limited to what is appropriate in a corporate environment. If that’s the case, well, at least you can put your name on everything.
2) The Remote Fortress:
a) Advantages – Whether you’re in the jungle, the desert, one of the Poles, or somewhere else, your fortress is remote. That means you’re probably outside of any police jurisdiction to begin with and it’s hard for the superheroes to find, and if they do, they have a lot of territory to cover which should give you plenty of warning to set traps and plan for their arrival. The ominous atmosphere of such a place can demoralize the superheroes (it helps if you have a weather machine to cause lightning to strike your lair precisely as the superheroes spot it for the first time). Your remote fortress is also, well, fortified, which makes it hard for the superheroes to bust in. The strength of your defenses also buys you time to escape, if it comes to that, and any good remote fortress has plenty of hidden escape routes. This is probably the best kind of lair to be your secret headquarters, if that’s what you want.
b) Disadvantages – It’s remote. The comforts of modern life such as electricity and running water may be difficult to come by. You’ll probably have to invest in your own power generation and water and wastewater treatment systems. Being in the utility business, no matter how necessary, is neither enjoyable nor intimidating. Such limitations may make high-energy scientific experiments all but impossible. You may also have to ship food and other supplies and any ill-gotten gains in from quite a distance away. Also, the only difference between a hidden escape route and an accessible back door is who’s in the passage and which direction they’re going.
c) Customization Options – Building from the ground up gives you the most options, and there are a lot. Do you want a Medieval style castle? Do you want a South American pyramid? Do you want a science-fiction style structure that looks paradoxically futuristic and ancient? Do you want a ton of ornate decorations that make it obvious to even the most oblivious superhero that this is yours? Even if you don’t get to build from the ground up, you still can decide if you’re going to cover it with gargoyles or cobra heads or whatever really speaks to you. Pretty much no matter what kind of customization you go with, the remote fortress is going to be intimidating.
3) The Private Island Resort:
a) Advantages – Ultimate comfort. You live and work in a tropical paradise. It’s stressful being a Big Bad, and having a place of relaxation can help you keep your blood pressure down. You’ve also got modern technological comforts. And depending on the corruptibility of the government whom you’re leasing/bought the island from, you probably don’t have to worry about any law enforcement messing up your good time. In fact, a truly corrupt government would also make it difficult for any superheroes to come find you. This may serve as a secret headquarters as well, depending on how remote and/or secure your private island resort is.
b) Disadvantages – You may still have to be in the utility business depending on how remote the island is. And a government that can be bought by you can be bought again by the superheroes if necessary. Also, you may be more susceptible to natural disasters, which can be an expensive proposition. And how embarrassing would it be if the superheroes had to come save you because of a hurricane bearing right down on your island? Also, if you want a secret headquarters, this may not be remote enough, especially if you like your modern comforts.
c) Customization Options – You have as many options as Las Vegas as themed resorts. Do you want a take on Atlantis? Or perhaps Monte Carlo? Are you going to have a casino with slot machines with your symbol or even your face? Do you have a volcano on your island and can you work that into your theme? The one drawback is that no matter what you go with, except possibly the volcano option, a private island resort is probably not going to be very intimidating.
4) The Laboratory:
a) Advantages – Any headquarters that is primarily a laboratory is likely to be near a city due to the various utility requirements, which means close proximity to modern comforts. It also means close proximity to other scientific research labs that have items you wish to steal. The laboratory will have a ready supply of experimental weapons to use anytime the superheroes come calling. Defenses will, of course, be state-of-the-art. The laboratory will also have a steady supply of escape methods such as advanced vehicles, teleporters, or portals to other dimensions.
b) Disadvantages – The high electricity demand makes the laboratory a bit conspicuous, even in a populated city. While experiments drive the development of new weapons, experiments also can and probably will go wrong. Such accidents could be as minor as blowing a breaker or as major as blowing up the entire facility. Also, while you will have many weapons and escape routes at your disposal, not all of them may work exactly as planned, or a loss of power may render them useless. And of course a careless superhero could damage the high-energy physics experiment and potentially rip a hole in the space-time continuum, and that will definitely put many aspects of your operation in jeopardy (including you).
c) Customization Options – Options here are quite limited. The laboratory has certain practical functions that can’t really be customized. A clean room is a clean room. A particle accelerator is a particle accelerator. You may have to settle for putting your name and or symbol everywhere, or focus on having customizable uniforms of some sort.
5) The Run-down Whatever:
a) Advantages – The run-down whatever (warehouse, ice cream shop, theater, etc.), is located in the middle of a bad part of a city. Cops don’t like this area and generally avoid it. Those that are there can be fairly easily dispatched if necessary because hey, this is the bad part of town. You’re fairly anonymous here; perhaps this is your secret headquarters. You’ve got all your modern conveniences and lots of low-lifes to recruit. You’re close enough to things you want to steal, and the overhead is not nearly as expensive as other real estate in the city. And if part of it gets wrecked in a superhero fight, it’s fairly cheap to fix up.
d) Disadvantages – Something that is run-down probably needs repairs. That’s not to say those repairs are outside your budget, but you really don’t want the power to go out right when the security cameras have alerted you to the superhero’s presence. Also, a run-down building may not be suitable for high-energy experiments. A proper defense grid may be difficult to install due to the structural limitations. You may have a hard time recruiting higher level minions to your cause if their first impression of your organization is your run-down whatever.
c) Customization Options – Practically none. If the building isn’t outright abandoned then it is at least a fixer-upper. There are some possibilities to customize the outside, but you probably want the outside to look as inconspicuous as possible. Interior decorating is probably limited by practical considerations. For example, a warehouse with high ceilings and lots of empty space is probably not going to be very cozy. An abandoned factory may be littered with a lot of inoperable heavy machinery you can’t move out and just takes up space. Your best bet is to find a run-down whatever that already matches your signature style, although this can have disadvantage of narrowing down the places the superheroes will look to find you.
6) The Orbital HQ:
a) Advantages – Orbital weaponry! Unparalleled surveillance! Everything must by definition be state-of-the-art or this wouldn’t even exist. You are outside of all governmental jurisdiction and could definitely serve as a secret headquarters. Or you could proclaim your evil for all the world to fear due the aforementioned orbital weaponry.
b) Disadvantages – Control of your evil organization is by definition remote unless you don’t spend time on your orbital HQ. As long as the communication systems are good to go, so are you. But there are a lot of routes the superheroes can use to sabotage your operations. Once they find you or bring a fight to you, your escape options are limited. While one would hope the superheroes wouldn’t destroy an orbital HQ due to the potential death toll both on the station and on the planet below, well, some superheroes aren’t that careful. That’s a lot of risk. Also, orbital HQs are the most expensive option available. Any damage to the lair will not be easy, quick, or cheap to repair, if it’s even possible to repair the damage.
c) Customization Options – This, like the laboratory, is limited by structural constraints. There must be life-support equipment and something to generate gravity and a way to recycle water and air and supply food and so on. All of these things will take up a certain amount of space. You may get some artistic license, but when all that separates you from the cold vacuum of space is thin metal and someone else’s engineering calculations, functionality really should be your top priority. Anyway, you can always use a giant laser to carve your name on the moon or something.
As the Big Bad, you must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and of course keep your budget in mind. Not only do you have to maintain your lair, you have to make sure it’s adequately staffed. Staff that maintain an orbital HQ are probably much more expensive than those to maintain a run-down whatever. But as you are the Big Bad, you are certain to make the right decision.