Where are Gotham and Metropolis?

This is an often asked question and one to which there isn't an easy answer.  The terms come from the Golden Age of comics when comics had a more grandiose sense of being - they were based more in fantasy than in real life, so fictional place names were more fitting with the times.  As comics evolved somethings were seen as so much ties to the mythology surrounding the heroes, whether this be for the bad (underwear on outside of costume) or good (character backgrounds.)   Marvel got a lot of good press in the 1960s and 1970s when it rolled out its modern lineup of characters.  A large portion of these characters were based in real places (specifically New York City) and even the made up locations sounded more real.  Does this allow the reader to identify more with the comic?  I don't think so necessarily.  But why hasn't DC ever come out and just said that say Metropolis is really New York City and Gotham is really Philadelphia? (an association I always thought to make sense, at least geographically.) 
 
I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  The first is that in being vague the cities can be anywhere.  One of the long time running jokes in the Simpsons is that their hometown of Springfield never has a state assigned to it.  This allows fans to debate the location and argue where it really is (some have even made the case its in Canada).  Springfield makes sense for this joke, it is the most popular town name in the USA.  Gotham and Metropolis also benefit from it, because those names aren't taken (at least that I know.)  While everyone debates the two most famous DC cities, it is generally considered that they are on the East Coast of the US somewhere, but this doesn't hold true for all cities.  Central City might suggest Chicago, but there are a lot of potential cities.  Coast City might be San Francisco, but then so might Gateway City.  Even the one time home of the JLA, Happy Harbor is so vague as to be anywhere, though it is identified as being in Rhode Island.  The application of fictional cities to any city means that the fictional cities can represent a lot more people than any one city can.   
 
Back to only Gotham and Metropolis though, these cities almost always are associated in some way with New York City, although they have been clearly defined as three separate places.  One writer succinctly described the distinction being that Metropolis is New York in day time and Gotham is New York at night.  I think this is on the right track but it is missing a little something.  For any of you who ever watched the Oliver Stone movie "Nixon", you might want to save yourself the time and read the encyclopedia instead.  He paints Nixon as someone fascinated by JFK, which seems more like Stone himself than the ex-president.  However, there is one great line I liked in the film, though not in its original context.  Nixon is looking at a portrait of Kennedy and says "When they look at you they see who they want to be, when they look at me, they see who they are."  For me this is the real reason between Gotham and Metropolis.  Gotham is the reality of modern life, cities full of problems and internal strife.  Metropolis is the potential of modern life, still with its share of problems, but dealt with more progressively.  In short Metropolis is New York City as we dream, and Gotham is New York City as it is. 

16 Comments
16 Comments
Posted by TypingKira

Metropolis is in Illinois, or at least that's what I've heard. 
 
Great article (can I call it an article? I think it qualifies), really. The differences between the two are remarkable, and once again you make an eloquently written point for both. Liked that you mentioned Springfield and it's apparent lack of a state. Great job!

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

 
I read that geographcially Metropolis and Gotham lie deep within the urban structure we know as Megalopolis (for all you urban geography majors you know what I mean), so I'm inclined to think that Metropolis is further north by northeast and probably closer to Boston, Massachusetts whereas Gotham is closer to the Big Apple.  After all, both those real cities are in DCU continuity so obviously Metropolis and Gotham can't be exactly those cities. Symbolically? Yes, like you said, Metropolis is the "City of Tomorrow" as we'd like to view New York City, and Gotham is unfortunately the seedy, gilded, and decayed city of reality that many come to see NYC as.

Posted by franklinrichards86

gotham is in wisconsin, and metropolis is in southern illinois
Posted by PowerHerc

I always thought of Gotham as being New York and Metropolis as being Chicago.
Posted by Supreme Marvel

Both locations have a lot of characteristics from many cities in America. For instance, I think the building design of Metropolis are from New York, they have the weather of Chicago and such. I can't remember them all. But I think that applies for Gotham. So if you hear where one city is, it maybe what had been taken from that city and added to Metropolis or Gotham.
 
This might be helpful. I don't know how accurate it is.

Posted by ld12278
@franklinrichards86:  Yeah, cause all the cool superheroes come the Midwest. Boo-yah!
Posted by franklinrichards86

im from springfield, il
Posted by superman77777

metropolis is not in new york its in illiones i have been to metropolis and illiones is the home to superman not new york new york is spidermans home
Posted by Jake Fury


 

This is from an old DC board game or something like that..
Posted by Theworldbreaker

i already made a blog about this.
Posted by Theworldbreaker
@RazzaTazz said: 
 The first is that in being vague the cities can be anywhere.  One of the long time running jokes in the Simpsons is that their hometown of Springfield never has a state assigned to it.  This allows fans to debate the location and argue where it really is 

 
 
 
But most people know its in illinois so why debate about it?, infact i was born in springfield.
Posted by RazzaTazz
@Theworldbreaker:
Oh yeah, I saw my brother's reply to your question (ForgottenZeroes is my brother's account) and got inspired to do this blog.  Thanks. 
Posted by digimod

I like this topic.
 
The fact that DC uses fictional cities has been a good example of why I have always been much more of a DC fan over Marvel.  I love the fact that DC heroes have their own cites that in some way reflect the style of the hero. For me it adds to the fantasy and my associations (or lack of) with real cities do not detract from the stories.  I have never been to New York and and for some reason it has always bothered me that almost the entire Marvel universe is centered on it.  What's wrong with Los Angeles?  (My city)  With DC I never have never felt inclined to try and figure out where their cities are located.

Posted by KnightRise

still, as far as i know its universally accepted: metropolis is in delaware, gotham is in new jersey (obviously), coast and star city are in california/the pacific coast in general, central city and smallville in kansas and keystone city in missouri.

Posted by KenTheProfile

@RazzaTazz:

The way i always saw it was Gotham is New york but the real sleazy 1970's new york think the french conection. Mertopilos is the windy city chicago. bludhaven would be new jersey or maybe my hometown buffalo.

Posted by sinestro_GL

Metropolis should be somewhere close to Kansas as that is where Smallville is. I've seen residents take buses in the comics between Smallville and Metropolis (but those buses could very well be like coaches that drive cross-country).