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8 Real Places That Inspired Superhero Headquarters

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Google Maps/Wikimedia Commons

Superheroes are everywhere you look these days—and if you're in the right city, the same can be said for their favorite meeting spots. From Avengers Mansion to the Super Friends' Hall of Justice, many of the homes, headquarters, and hangouts of comics' most famous icons were inspired by real-world locations. Here are some of the most notable heroes' headquarters that have served double-duty in both comics and the real world.

1. Avengers Mansion

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First appearing in 1963's Avengers #2, the mansion that Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and the rest of “Earth's Mightiest Heroes” called home is located at 890 Fifth Avenue in the Marvel Universe's version of Manhattan. Here in the real world, that address corresponds to the Henry Clay Frick House (above and top), a massive mansion that occupies much of the city block where Fifth Avenue meets East 70th Street, and now serves as a museum. Avengers co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby modeled the superhero team's mansion after the Frick House, which Lee passed each day on his commute.

2. The Sanctum Sanctorum

The lair of Marvel's sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange, is located at 177A Bleecker Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Often at the center of various magical goings-on in the Marvel Comics universe, the real-world apartment building at that address is significantly less impressive—though it does have a notable connection to the comics world. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich shared an apartment at 177A Bleecker, which explains how the address eventually found its way into comics canon. (The fact that there's now a Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt shop on the ground floor of 177 Bleecker is a detail the comics seem to have ignored, for some reason.)

3. The Hall of Justice

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Anyone who grew up watching the feel-good animated adventures of Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends will recognize the unique architecture of the Hall of Justice, the headquarters for Superman, Batman, and the rest of the DC superheroes featured in the program. The unique art-deco style of the building was inspired by the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio—a former train station that now serves as a museum and library. A background supervisor on the series, Al Gmuer, modeled the Super Friends' iconic base of operations on the terminal, and the fictional building was later incorporated into the DC Comics universe as the headquarters of the Justice League.

4. The Daily Planet Building and Metropolis

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Superman co-creator Joe Shuster once worked as a newsboy, and the inspiration for the fictional Daily Planet newspaper building where Clark Kent works is believed to come from the former headquarters of the Toronto Star, which was called the Daily Star when Shuster worked there. Shuster himself has indicated that Toronto was the visual inspiration for Metropolis, though there isn't anything even remotely resembling the iconic globe that tops the Daily Planet headquarters to be found in the Toronto skyline.

5. Peter Parker's House

Right from the start, Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko chose the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, NY, as the home of everyone's favorite webslinging hero, Peter Parker. However, it wasn't until a 1989 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that his exact address was specified as 20 Ingram Street. While the real-world house at 20 Ingram Street is significantly larger than the modest home Peter Parker lived in with his Aunt May in the comics, the buildings do share one very notable, mind-blowing connection: they're both the home of the Parker family. For more than a decade before Peter Parker's home address was outed in comics, a family with the “Parker” surname had lived in the house at 20 Ingram Street. It's unknown whether the series' writer at the time, David Michelinie, was aware of the coincidence when he chose that address for Peter Parker.

(Bonus: One of the Parker family's neighbors on Ingram Street in real-world Forest Hills is the Osborne family, who are apparently friendly with the Parkers.)

6. Nightwing's Cloisters HQ

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In the late 2000s, former Batman sidekick Dick Grayson (who had switched from Robin to the more adult-sounding moniker of Nightwing when he went solo years earlier), took up residence at The Cloisters Museum in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. Serving as the museum's curator by day, he prowled New York by night, and even had certain portions of the building remodeled to suit his secret-base needs. In the real world, the medieval-styled Cloisters hasn't served as the home to any superheroes that we know of, but it still strikes an impressive silhouette at the northern tip of Manhattan.

7. The ­All-Star Squadron's Perisphere HQ

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The World War II-era adventures of DC's superheroes were rewritten in this early-'80s series which had the old-school versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and a long list of other Golden Age heroes operating out of the Trylon and Perisphere in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Built for the 1939 World's Fair, the futuristic pyramid and sphere shapes of the Trylon and Perisphere, respectively, seemed like appropriate headquarters for the team of classic characters—though they were dismantled at the end of the event. All-Star Squadron suffered a similar fate, with the series ending in 1987.

8. Yancy Street

The Fantastic Four's rock-skinned, blue-eyed heavyweight The Thing has never shied away from an opportunity to remind readers that he came from Yancy Street, a tough neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. While there isn't any Yancy Street to be found in the real-world version of that neighborhood, there is a Delancey Street—which just so happens to be in the neighborhood where Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby grew up. Given how many real-world details from creators' lives made it into these early Marvel comics, it's assumed by many comics experts that Yancy Street was indeed a stand-in for Delancey Street, which spans the Lower East Side from the Bowery to the East River.

Bonus! Address On File, No Such Resident

Some other famous fictional landmarks that have addresses in the real world but weren't inspired by any existing buildings include the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building, located at the corner of 42nd Street and Madison Avenue; Iron Man's Stark Tower, near Columbus Circle in Manhattan; and the Justice Society of America's former headquarters in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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