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Off My Mind: Real Cities in Comics Versus Fake Cities

Does it matter to you where your favorite heroes are hanging out?

The idea of using real cities and locations in comics versus using made up cities isn't a new idea. Last summer I brought up the question of whether or not actual locations should be used. Today I want to focus more on the two main publishers that tend to prefer one tactic over the other. 

Marvel and DC Comics clearly have a different feel to their stories. I don't want this to turn into a Marvel Vs. DC argument because neither publisher strictly adheres to one philosophy. For the most part, Marvel uses actual locations. You will see Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and Avengers fighting evil in New York while the X-Men are keeping busy in San Francisco. DC's stories more often take place in made up cities. Batman hangs out in Gotham City, Superman calls Metropolis (and Smallville) home while the Flash is running around Keystone City. Even though comic books and superheroes aren't real (*gasp!*), does seeing the heroes in a real or fake city affect the way the stories come across? 
 == TEASER == 
When I last touched on the subject, one area I focused on was when a real location was damaged. Soldier Field was blown up in Marvel and San Diego had some sinking issues in DC. When an actual location is wrecked and you happen to live nearby, that reinforces the fact that these stories are pure fiction (not that anyone in New York is really expecting to see Spider-Man swinging by). 
It was Stan Lee that pioneered the move to using real cities. This was a way for readers to feel closer to the stories. Aside from Asgard, Wakanda and Latveria, pretty much all the locations in Marvel exist in the real world. Nightwing relocated to New York City recently and the Teen Titans are in San Francisco, so neither publisher is strictly using fake or real locations. When I was in New York and drove over the George Washington Bridge, I couldn't help but think that was where Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy. That gave me a tiny moment of feeling like I was connected to the story even though I had read it years ago.
Most readers do enjoy stories from both publishers but there are those that strongly prefer one over the other. What I want to know is, does the fact that DC uses made up cities more often and Marvel uses real ones affect your opinion on the two publishers and their characters? Does it matter if made up characters are in made up cities or do you prefer to think of them in real locations?
Posted by Jake Fury

I prefer the real cities but that's not a knock against DC.
Posted by johnnyliar

I prefer real cities as well, but I prefer DC comics... interesting.

Edited by ComicMan24

I don't really care as long as the story is good. Anyway most made up cities are based on real ones.

Posted by longbowhunter

I get tired of so many comics using New York as a setting. Its not just Marvel either. Fables for example, Y: The Last Man started in New York, Ex Machina was totally based in NYC and several of Brian Wood's Veritigo titles are in New York. Its just over kill for me. I honestly couldnt care less about New York City if I tried. I prefer the made up cities like Opal City in Starman. I actually wish I could live there.
Edited by playdohsrepublic

I prefer real cities because it gives me something to relate to geographically. I don't know how many discussions I've had or read about where Gotham and Metropolis are on the map, and no one seems to know. It only gets more confusing in the DC universe because they do have a NYC and other real cities and we know that these other ones are not just stand-ins. The one advantage that the fictional cities have is that it gives each of DC's respective characters or families their own playground to operate in. You can't seem to turn a corner in Marvel NYC without tripping over some costumed goon.

Posted by howlettgrowl
@Jake Fury said:
" I prefer the real cities but that's not a knock against DC. "
agree...with real cities (for me at least) it has a more realistic tone to the plot.
Edited by SC
Real City Pros  
- If your loaded with money or live in America you can see where lots of cool comic things happened.  
- If your character lives there, strong chance their city won't be utterly destroyed ala Asgard style 
- Characters can run into famous people easier. Why would Uri Geller be hanging out in Latveria?  
- Won't spend years as a kid looking for fake places on a globe causing you to develop a inferiority complex.  
Fake City Pros 
- Destruction on this magnitude can be amplified Groove Armada style. Permanently. 
- Don't have to worry about offending people from real cities.  
- Architecturally original and innovative designs can take place, who doesn't love creating and designing their own city?  
- You can make fun of actual cities and play up tropes.  
Imma go Real. I hate fakers. 
Posted by tbpinkfloyd

To me, as a whole, Marvel seems more grounded than DC. 
A lot of their characters don't have this god-like power, and they're more relatable and human for it. It's not a knock against DC, I just feel as though it's easier to see ourselves in Marvel's heroes. The whole fake city vs real city goes along the same lines; the cities, like the heroes, in DC are these iconic ideas (fast-moving Central, gritty Gotham, or utopian-esque Metropolis, etc.), so it's hard to get a true feel for what they'd be like.

Posted by ComicMan24
@ComicMan24 said:
" I don't really care as long as the story is good. Anyway most made up cities are based on real ones. "
That said, I lean more towards fake cities.
Posted by DeadpoolvIronFist
@Jake Fury said:
"I prefer the real cities but that's not a knock against DC. "
Posted by MrCipher

The good thing about not using real cities is this: 
Artists and writers have creative license to make those cities interesting and to make them "fit" the world they're collectively building. Saying a hero comes from NYC, L.A., or Chicago implies an alternate reality. It's bad enough that people need to wonder where the made up cities are located in the fictional U.S.A. Using real cities invites them to state how this feature or that building is incorrect or doesn't belong in the city.

To me comics are all about suspension of disbelief. When you set a hero in a known city is literally opens the door for the over-thinkers who incessantly ask "how is this or that possible from a real stand point" - trying to use science or just common sense to explain why a thing is in a comic book when the answer is incredibly simple; IT IS A COMIC BOOK - that's why.
I don't worry or wonder why a pair of glasses or a domino mask can and does hide a person's identity or why a "techie" villain just doesn't use voice recognition technology to figure out a hero's identity, or why a well-connected villain doesn't just borrow (or hijack) a spy satellite to track a hero back to his home - it's a comic book. period.

Posted by Noctis

I prefer fake cites. It allows artists more freedom to draw from their imagination, which makes their drawings more interesting. At least that's how I see it...

Posted by Billy Batson

Fake. But why does Marvel use New York so often? There are other cities.

Edited by FoxxFireArt

Both are valid choices. I just think it's silly when they base 10 super power teams within five city blocks of each other. How many Marvel characters are based in the greater New York area? It always seemed silly how New York could be going to hell in a hand basket in one comic, but the sun is shining in another. How could aliens be invading in Fantastic Four, but Iron Man is having a quiet night on the town? Makes you wonder why no one was ever attacking the mid-west.
That's why I liked when they moved the X-Men to the east coast. San Fransisco seems like a good fit for the X-Men.
With fake cities you can do more of an Alice Through the Looking Glass. Be a little more extreme, such is the case of Gotham. It's always dark, corrupt, and violent. Base that in a real city and the locals might not be too happy about that their home is made to look so dangerous. The city can be what you want and have everything your story needs. It also helps sell the fantasy aspect and go just left of reality.
Even Superman dips into some reality. I remember Bill and Hillary Clinton were at Superman's funeral.

Posted by Xenozoic Shaman

I prefer real cities as well, and must echo the comment that I'm a little tired of people focusing mainly on places like New York, San Fran, etc...  Those are classic cities, but it would add so much to the stories, if they also took place in some different locales.  Heroes protect the world, and not simply the United States, do they not?  There's a lot of culture out there to add some variety to their adventures.   I liked it when he X-Men were in Australia or when the stories took them to far off places, like Russia or Egypt. 
All the same, there are moments when Gotham City almost feels real, with all the comic book history behind it.  While I may like a real setting more, an artificial city does have advantages.  One being that they are not as limited in having to maintain a certain closeness to our real cities, and that can allow them a little more freedom to do what they want.

Edited by J1ml33

well I do not know where to begin ( Chicago ) in the pages of savage dragon is practically a war-zone . demi-gods and criminal super freaks constantly lay waste to the city on  a weekly/monthly basis (it`s a wonder it has`t been either nuked or turned into a no-man`s land by the government . and if it was not for the savage dragon`s being there at the right time ( 1992) when it looked like the whole state was going to hell in a hand basket when the first overlord was running the show .then yes it`s one of the more noticeable non-marvel/DC comics city to be mentioned here but I think it is one example of a real city being put Thur it`s paces during massive earth-shaking battles  and the police and local law enforcement before and during dragon`s early run in his own book was a mess ( they were clearly out gunned and overpowered ,what ever man power they had was getting fed Thur a wood-chipper in every battle ,dragon was no superman but his efforts slowly helped out the city during it`s most darkest of times ( in the mid 90s even to this day the city looks like hell ,scored earth if you ask me !) and Gotham city is no better it`s ten times as worse but only with constant corruption and ever increasing levels of both normal and meta -human crime it`s a wonder that it has not stayed a no man`s land . but back to Chicago the windy city and how it should have became a no-man`s land after the first 50  issues of of the regular series . anyways it`s nice to see any other city than new york in every comic book every once in a while besides as much as I admire marvel and DC comics over the years but I always found Erik Larson`s Savage Dragon location to be a little bit more interesting and a little bit more realistic than new york  as in terms of organized crime and realistic criminal activity ( and everything happens in new york ,it`s almost over used ) other than that  this was my two cents on the matter of real cities (and fictional cities ,And this one is one of my favorite one ,new york was once my favorite city now Chicago is number one in my book ) and beside there is no such thing as a perfect city in a comic book then way should anyone start now -_-!
Posted by RazzaTazz

When I read DC I always just associate the fake cities with real ones.  Metropolis becomes NYC, Gotham becomes Philadelphia.  Strange how in both worlds that Washington is just Washington though.

Posted by joshmightbe

I've noticed a general trend not just in comics but in alot of entertainment that seems to think of only New York and California, like theres not a country in between them, I can think of plenty of places that need a superhero Detroit for instance defiantly could use a few and how bout Chicago or Dallas. As for the topic at hand it doesn't bother me if whether or not a city is made up  

Posted by J1ml33
@joshmightbe:  well for chigago ( if  you count the savage dragon ) then yes ( he`s not the traditional superhero but he get`s the job done .) then yes Chicago has it`s twelve dozen or so heroes keeping the hounds of hell and the super-human criminal underworld in check !
Posted by Bestostero

No preference, who cares if whether you're blowing up Stamford or Star

Posted by joshmightbe
@J1ml33: well you have a point there and come to think about it Detroit has some heros too
Posted by Malhavok

It's hard to worry about if an adventure is taking place in a "real" city when you're talking about a man flying around wearing a cape, or being able to shoot laser beams from their eyes.  How much "real" do you need when you have to fight Galactus or the Sun-Eater?
Posted by Nefarious

I prefer....fake cities. I like to see something new for a change.

Posted by Vitality

I kind of prefer real cities...however, I love the ambiguity shown in Invincible. They give hints but they never actually state.
Edited by LordDeath

fake cities. and not why i like more DC, no, just because this is one of those things that 
allows me to fully immerse myself into the world of comics, and, as stated above, it give to writers and artists more freedom of imagination and action.

Posted by Zjd106

Sometimes when I read comics about one hero's adventure, I don't understand how they didn't run into any other heroes, especially when they live in real locations.  That distances me from the story big time.  That and you can't argue when insane stuff happens in fake cities.  I know that if the magic brightest day forest in Star City popped up in Central Park, I'd be damn skeptical... Fake cities is what I'm driving at

Posted by Neverpraying

I like Fake Cities better. Gotham FTW.

Posted by SmoothJammin
I miss Bludhaven :/
Posted by EdwardWindsor

I like a mix since it nice to see real landmarks but also cool to have places that can existg outside of regular earth.

Posted by GraveSp

I live in the Phoenix area so doesn't really matter to me.  Although we do have Rip Hunter's Time Lab.

Posted by thecheckeredman
@ComicMan24 said:
" I don't really care as long as the story is good. Anyway most made up cities are based on real ones. "
'Nuff said.
Posted by soundbite

real cities.
Posted by Supreme Marvel

Gotham rocks!!

Posted by InnerVenom123


Posted by tigerex78

If the story is good it makes no difference if the city is real or fake.  I do think that using real cities can connect the reader to a city, much like your comment about the George Washington bridge.  Marvel tended to use NYC because most of the people working for them at the time were from there.  They knew the city and it made it homegrown for them.  A sense of realism no matter how strange it sounds in comics can be important.  I will agree with other posts that many heroes are either east coast or west coast heroes. In the end, if the story is good then the city being real or fake makes no difference.

Posted by Asymmetrical
@longbowhunter said:
" I get tired of so many comics using New York as a setting. Its not just Marvel either. Fables for example, Y: The Last Man started in New York, Ex Machina was totally based in NYC and several of Brian Wood's Veritigo titles are in New York. Its just over kill for me. I honestly couldnt care less about New York City if I tried. I prefer the made up cities like Opal City in Starman. I actually wish I could live there. "
Brian Wood happens to live in NYC and he loves to intertwine his stories with cool details about the place he calls home...New York Four (and Five) for example contain all sorts of little captions on the locations where he gives his opinion on them 
Fables isn't in New York anymore but even when it was, it was hardly that important 
but I don't think I care where the comic's set...The City will always be the city for me
Posted by CRTrobinson

Definitely the real cities help the reader connect on a more familiar level.  As much as these stories are fantasy there is a huge movement over the last few years to ground characters in a more realistic lighting and having them protect real cities helps with the process.

Posted by The Stegman

i kinda like the fake ones better because they can act as metaphors 
Gotham city is literally all the bad parts of metropolitan life, it's nothing but crime, pollution,  filth and mayhem, superman once described it as "A nightmare built out of metal and stone" 
opposed to that you have Metropolis, which for the most part is all the good aspects of a city, a strong sense of community, thriving business, high glorious skyscrapers, and there's superman to give everyone hope for a better tomorrow, plus you can blow up a fake city if you want without repercussions, but if you blow up new york people will be like "but um...New York's still here!!"

Posted by Spideycap

i would prefer real cities IF they used more of them. DFW metroplex would be a great setting, new orleans(been used a few times), atlanta, detriot....theres so many places they could use but it always seems to be new york, la, or san fran. blue beetle was intersting in that he didnt start in a big well known city. id like to see more of that. even with all of that said, i loved when nightwing was in New York city, it brought a certain real life quality to the book. i would say the best solution is for artists to really get to know whatever city they are drawing and or use real places as inspiration for made up cities.

Posted by jstarzyk

Well, I live near NYC, and have lived in the city before, so I prefer reading about real cities!  References to real places help pull me into the story.

Posted by Mumbles

fake. you can make anything up if you need to

Posted by queenfrost_

I prefer made up, cos it gets silly if all heroes are in New York

Posted by sora_thekey

It might be cheating, but real places seems to be easier than having to map out a fake city. Plus people can relate.  
"Hey I lived in Queens... So did Spider-Man" << Stuff like that

Posted by Fantasgasmic

I prefer fake,and here's why : New York.  
For years, Marvel had just about everyone in New York: the X-Men, Spiderman, Ironman, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, maybe more I can't remember. If you are a kid and you don't live in New York, or the surrounding areas, it's really frustrating that none of the superheroes visit your city.  I mean what is the likelihood that so many superheroes would liv in such a close proximity to each other, and they wouldn't (or would rarely) run into each other on patrol, or go after the same criminal? Does Daredevil chase a bank robber ONLY in Hell's Kitchen? I mean once the crook crosses Central Park, does he say "screw it, this is Spiderman's problem now."?

Sure the DC fake cities can have hints and speculation, but that makes it FUN. I can't tell you how many times I tried to prove that Metropolis was New York, Keystone City could be Philly since Pennsylvania is the Keystone State, Gotham could be Chicago, or maybe New Jersey, etc. Plus, fake cities mean there's always something you can identify with from your town.

Posted by Lvenger

Real cities are good in the sense that you feel connected to the story but fictional cities allow things to be done to that city that may not be acceptable to do to a real life city even in a fictional story. Also New York seems a bit crowded in terms of heroes sometimes which is kind of unbelievable but DC seem to put in so many fake cities that you think that their earth is twice as big as the normal one.

Posted by flash_fanboy

I personally prefer fictional cities, because when I'm reading about a real city i feel as if i should already have knowledge about that city. 
what i do like is what DC have done with Gotham city and Metropolis: there both basically new york but with small changes.

Posted by HometownHero

Honestly, I prefer the cities that are created for the continuity, like Gotham and Keystone. Because it actually sort of helps make it feel like it's a little more real. Gotham City could exist, I just haven't been there yet is all. I mean, both Metropolis and Gotham seem like two sides to NYC, but if Superman and Batman both called their Base of Operations in Metropolis, it would take away from the fact that they exist apart from each other as much as they do together. Me? I'm from a little podunk farm in Kansas, just like Clark Kent, so I can relate to him. But if you picked a specific, existing, town, I'd feel that connection a little less because I'd focus more on "It'd have been cooler if I'd have lived in that town instead of this one."

Posted by punisher1313
@ComicMan24 said:
" I don't really care as long as the story is good. Anyway most made up cities are based on real ones. "
Edited by El_Derrico

I like how Gotham City is analogous to corrupt cities like Chicago (yeah, yeah, I know Gotham is suppose to be New York, but it feels like Chicago to me. I think Tested almost got into a fist fight over this). 

Posted by freakmean16

What about real South American countries or places, Im getting sick on reading fake south american countries like Santa Prisca....Its not real.....Its really bad, I mean I dont care about Genosha or Madripoor, because theyre not even located in any map, but for Sta Prisca...Cmon,....