Previously in the heart of Normal Heights, now on its fringe (3220 Adams Ave.), what Villainous Lair Comics has lost in central location, it has made up in size and, most importantly, maintained in personality.

Touting the slogan "Villains have all the fun...," the funky atmosphere, playful decor and sense of community found at San Diego's best comics shop is convincing enough to make you consider turning to the dark side.

Well-designed mannequins showcase a slew of sexy super-villainesses in their signature costumed garb—Catwoman in the window and Poison Ivy and others throughout the store—while the quirkily attired, distinctively coiffed and tattooed/pierced staff look like they could be modern hench(wo)men in an update of the campy '60s Batman TV series.

But as any mild-mannered reporter might tell you, looks can be deceiving. It's the friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff—and the community they've created around the store—that is the Villainous Lair's secret weapon. To paraphrase one Google reviewer: "The staff speaks fluent Nerd."

Villainous Lair employees are equally adept at the language of tabletop-board-and-card gaming. The role-playing and other face-to-face competitive games have arguably become the store's centerpiece, thanks to communities that've sprung up around Warhammer 40,000 and Yu-Gi-Oh, among others. Villainous Lair hosts tournaments and board-game nights, and the bigger location is better suited for simultaneous game playing.

Other considerate, community-building programs that belie the store's nefarious name include its "Comic Commando Care Package," where for $12 the Lair will send five random older comics to members of our armed forces in service overseas (there's a current issue program, too; fewer comics/more money).

It's a good-hearted idea, but perhaps sending all these recent older comics to enlisted men and women is the reason for the Villainous Lair's lone clunker. Its back issue selection, which is surprisingly sparse and limited. But this is counterbalanced by the store's impressive selection of graphic novels and compilations, which have largely replaced the back-issue market other than as a collector's investment vehicle.


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