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Friday, November 01, 2013 

Since when were only Metropolis and Gotham important fictional cities?

Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard continues to demonstrate why he's not a reliable voice on comics and pop culture with petty criticisms of fictional cities. He says:
I’ve always thought that the fake cities were a problem for DC. One of Marvel’s advantages is having its universe set in a coherent geographical world. By definition, DC can never do that–they won’t even allude to where the fictional cities are.
Wrong. They've given hints and suggestions for the locales of their fictional cities in the past. That Metropolis was an allusion to New York City, and Gotham the same. I would surmise that the former was a stand-in for Manhattan/Long Island and the latter for the Bronx, though Newark, NJ may be a more likely metaphor these days. And Coast City was obviously a stand-in for Los Angeles, and Ivy Town was supposed to be set in or near New England. Keystone City was once a fictional take on Allentown, PA and later established as more in the vicinity of Minnesota, right next to Central City. Midway City was clearly a stand-in for Chicago, and Star City for Seattle, WA.

Sure, Marvel could have some advantages in using real cities more often. But some people could easily make the argument that it's hard to believe so many superheroes could exist in the same location - New York City - and not bump into each other much of the time. Fictional cities and towns, which even Marvel's used at times, have advantages too: you can conceive tons of fictional streets and neighborhoods where the stories could take place, giving a lot more room than a real city does.
It’s pretty clear that the DC editorial team has thought this was problematic, too. That’s why, over the years, many heroes have been put into real cities–New York, L.A., San Francisco–which creates even more narrative problems. Because now you have real cities living side-by-side with their fictional doppelgangers. (DC has Gotham and Metropolis already. As Frank Miller always said, they’re both supposed to be New York–Metropolis is New York during the day and Gotham is New York at night. So why did DC need to add a real New York City to the mix, too?)
And Latveria doesn't exist side by side with its fellow real life Balkan countries? Or Wakanda alongside other countries in Africa? I don't see the point of this petty argument. Fictional cities and countries have been used in fiction before. Why wouldn't they work now? Because people like Last won't be the least bit impressed.

Now, here's where he really screws up:
So when DC went to all that trouble to reboot its entire comic book universe a couple years ago, why didn’t they do away with the fictional cities?

Sure, it would have caused all sorts of momentary fan backlash. But the only two cities people really care about are Metropolis and Gotham. No one was going to cry if you plopped Green Arrow down in Seattle instead of Starling City. And after the initial whining was done with, DC would have cleared space for more narrative cohesion.
Say what? Is this supposed to mean people like myself are wrong to care about Central City, Ivy Town and Coast City? What he's really implying is that all the second and third-tier superheroes are worthless to boot, and the only 2 DC superheroes we should care about is Superman and Batman. In other words, nobody should care about the Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Firestorm, Teen Titans, or Infinity Inc. How insulting. To think, that all those veteran writers of yore went to such pains to create the heroes, co-stars and cities all so that people like Last would not only dismiss them, they'd even discourage other people from reading their work.

And if fans became angry at DC for doing away with their fictionalized cities, would that be wrong? Once again, Last has run the gauntlet of tarring all comics fans with the same brush, making us out to look like "obstacles". There were plenty of DC series with fictionalized towns that did well for years, and the only reason nobody might care about them now is because DiDio went out of his way to alienate them. That's just why, in a manner of speaking, nobody cares about Metropolis and Gotham either: because the stories are no longer appealing. So it's not a matter of nobody caring about other fictional cities and characters, but rather, that they don't enjoy the stories they appear in now, all because of the horrors DiDio unleashed. Last should do the math to figure that out, but probably won't.

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Coast City was always confirmed to be in California... although I guess I didn't know it was supposed to be an LA stand-in. I always assumed it was supposed to be San Francisco or Oakland.

Last's complaints are superficial. I think the fictional cities are what sets DC apart from Marvel, and to do away with them would be to lose its uniqueness.

And I see he's still defending the reboot.... ugh.

Fictional cities are good because stories don't get dated.

Could anyone see the Detroit era Justice League existing today? No, because in the past 30 years Detroit has gone from struggling city to absolute disaster.

On the other hand, fictional cities allow you to retain their basic nature despite "real world" changes. Gotham can always be corrupt even in the age of Giuliani. Metropolis can always be the city of tomorrow even in the age of Dinkins. So on.

Technically, if you do cite a real-life city, that makes the connection more real to the reader. Or, if something happened to said city in the comics, one could empathize better with the size or scope vs. a fictional city, as the latter can be more abstract. Or, at least, that's how it used to be.

And, anymore, I got to go with Drizzt, as fictional cities don't have that potential "dated" issue, as per Detroit's downfall.

Oh, forgot to say, as for Last..., "stick to discussing demographics, as you're better at that, anyway."

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