I'm not really all that mysterious

comic book geography

I find it slightly weird that “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” use Chicago to represent Gotham (while “Superman Returns” uses NYC to represent Metropolis!) I’ve always associated Chicago with Metropolis, and New York City has been Gotham City long before the Batman was around.

Apparently Gotham was first employed as a reference to NYC by Washington Irving (author of such American classics as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle”.)

The reason why I think of Metropolis as Chicago is because Clark Kent grew up in Kansas, making Chicago the closest major city with a waterfront. In fact, Metropolis was most heavily influenced by Toronto. But in DC canon, Metropolis, Gotham City, and NYC are all separate places which are all geographically close.

Another popular interpretation is that “Metropolis is NYC by day; Gotham City is NYC by night”.

Nevertheless, Superman seems to fit the Midwest better. The initial story actually had him living in Cleveland, where Joel Siegel and Joe Shuster thought up the entire idea.

So NYC has Batman. Chicago has Superman. Who does L.A. have?

Interestingly enough, L.A. has no superheroes, unless you count Hancock, or the “Adventures of Superman” 1950s-era series. I certainly can’t think of any major comic book character who ever walked the streets of the City of Angels. The closest, larger-than-life, science fiction/fantasy cult-classic hero that I can think of is Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, played wonderfully by Harrison Ford.

Undoubtedly because they were created in the early 20th century, both Gotham City and Metropolis have definite retro aesthetics. Gotham City is an archetype of noir. Metropolis has that retro-futuristic 1950s feel to it. In contrast, Phillip K Dick’s (and Ridley Scott’s) L.A. is unabashed cyberpunk techno-dystopia.

In this regard, I’ve always thought of the three major cities of the U.S. as snapshots of the U.S.-at-large. NYC is America-in-the-present, the cultural capital of the nation, constantly in motion and flux. Chicago is an America-that-could-have-been, the metropolis in a vacuum, the America that many white, middle-class Americans favor. But L.A. is America-that-will-be. Part of it is because L.A. churns out these fantastic (in the literary sense) works of cinema that end up creating a normative vision of the U.S. But the seat of power always seems to be moving westward, always westward. In Western Civilization, it was Babylon, then Athens, then Rome, then London, and now NYC. Inevitably, it will move again, and L.A.—with its logistical proximity to Asia and South America—is bound to be that center until power is finally wrested from the North American continent.

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