Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Remember ‘headquarters’?

It used to be something you just associated with superheroes. They had superpowers, secret identities, and- a headquarters. Usually some big, fortress-like structure filled with high-tech gear that they could use if they needed it.

This was just one of those cheesy ideas that, depending on the writer, is more or less relevant for characters these days. Of course Batman and the Batcave are inseparable- Superman and the Fortress of Solitude are another story. Sometimes Superman really USES it- like his own private resort/getaway filled with extra-terrestrial technology and creatures (not to mention his own mini-army of Superman robots) that he can use to plan the defense of Metropolis (or the planet) from some threat. Other times, the fortress is a place Superman visits and weird things happen to him, but it's not exactly his HQ. The fortress can be dangerous for Superman too, in these stories…

But yeah, in general, headquarters used to be a bigger deal. The climate in as far was "How much do we want the hero to have some impenetrable stronghold with ridiculous resources" has cooled somewhat. It still happens, but sometimes it’s done with a little more panache than they used to- like Four Freedoms Plaza. I know the F.F. are rich, but the idea that they owned the top twenty floors or so of a skyscraper and that every level was loaded up with technology and security that only the FOUR of them attended to always seemed a little far fetched to me. The F.F. still live at the plaza these days, but it has a more realistic feel to it, I think; other people, businesses, scientists, live in the building, rent out parts of it and even help the F.F. as a support staff (in every sense of the word- scientists, business personal, etc.). Of course the top floors are reserved for Richards and family. But this makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?

Sometimes I think half of what made X-Men such a great comic was the design of their living quarters. Even when the comic first started, I remember the writers putting a lot of detail into the layout of the school and how it really WAS a school, with classrooms, dorms, etc. (although there weren’t the number of students there then that there are now). In fact, it was a nice school, the kind of private one you’d love to go to. But, of course, you the reader knew that it also housed some pretty fancy equipment for the X-Men to train with.

It was just so real. Admit it- anyone who ever read that comic fantasized about being a student there themselves, right? It’s true- you wanted to live there. I remember, in the 80’s, they actually printed floor plans for the X-Mansion. It was an entry in the "Official Marvel Handguide" or something like that. And it was (of course) extremely well planned out and realistic. Now do the X-Men have access to ridiculous resources at their headquarters?

Yes, of course they do, but there’s always been something…tempered about it. Maybe it was because the X-Men really do, more than others, have to keep their cover under wraps. But it was sort of like okay, they had the Blackbird, which took them places (usually dangerous) and they had an alien-holographic training room to reproduce scary moments from the X-Men’s past (the Danger Room- but I’m getting to that). But it was sort of like you never got the sense that the X-Men were sitting on some ridiculous stockpile of technology and funds that could potentially change the economy of the known world if they put their minds to using it (or, at least, not to the same extent that others could have- I’m sure holograms would be big money. But that’s not the point.) They had what they needed- and it was safe AT the mansion (usually). It was like a tiny island in a sea of chaos.

Now, all of this has just been a buildup to say I like when a writer tries to get back to the roots of what made a comic great. I think Joss Wheedon is particularly adept at this. When X-Men first got REALLY big (80’s) Kitty Pryde was really, kind of, the lead, I think. And it had been- literally- a decade or more since Kitty was featured on an X-Men team. So what does he do? Puts her back in (i.e. Astonishing X-Men). This felt so right to me. She had grown up a lot since her original debut, sure, but still- it was very classic.

I think Danger is a nice touch too. The now physically manifested form of the Danger Room consciousness, Danger started off as a very real threat to the X-Men. Imagine the Danger Room going haywire and producing holograms rigged to kill (more like reality-warps, at that point). Now imagine the room itself coming alive and deciding it was sick and tired of being ordered around for years and years. That’s Danger. Mostly, I’m just a big fan of this story and character because, like I said, it’s sort of at the heart of the X-Men mythology. I like how close to home it is to the original ideas that made X-Men great.

Of course, the twist that Xavier may have had suspicions that the Room was conscious and did nothing to alleviate any of its potential suffering (wouldn’t you suffer if you didn’t have a body to move, or a mouth to speak?) was also a very classic one. See, I love stories where you get to see Xavier up close and personal. Really understand him, what makes him tick. But back in the day, it wasn’t like that. Xavier was more the X-Men’s very distant, very mysterious benefactor. Sure, he was the savior of mutantkind. But his methods and his ultimate goals were a little unclear. He usually had some trick up his sleeve you didn’t fully expect and occasionally, it might even shake your faith in him.

So, I suppose it makes Xavier kind of dreamy. How much can he, himself, live up to the doctrine he teaches? Do you do the wrong thing, sometimes, in order to make the world a better place? Does Xavier? And if he does, can you really believe in what you’re fighting for? Or is it all just that: a dream that no one, even Xavier, could ever live up to? Of course Xavier had his reasons for doing what he did with Danger (after all, just look at "her"- she’s dangerous!). But the point is, this kind of tension between team and mentor was very much a part of the old X-Men comics and I sort of like that Whedon plays around with it (not too much, but just enough).

Eventually, Danger goes on to become a sort-o’ X-Man itself. Actually, Danger is currently something of a prison warden, keeping high-profile X-Men villains in lockdown at Utopia (the team’s San Francisco HQ. I know. Always with the HQs.). Danger even provides holographic "rehabilitations" and "interrogations" when needed.

Finally, I’d just like to point out that X-Men used to be a comic that was, yes, about mutants, but also a comic about general weirdness! The X-Men stood for diversity and in the past, some of their members have just been people, or beings, that didn’t fit in any where else. Warlock was a techno-organic shapeshifter from another world, Magik was a mutant teleporter, sure, but she was also raised in the dimensional realm of Limbo and possessed magical powers, and Longshot was a genetically created action-television-gladiator from the Mojoverse (see editorial on Longshot- and brace yourself for confusion). So I always think it’s cool when the X-Men embrace a member who’s a little different- because isn’t that what being an X-Men is all about, really?