Locating a Fictional Superhero City



Gotham City. Metropolis. Central City. Star City. Coast City. Opal City. DC Comics has a number of fictional cities in the United States. As a counterpoint, Marvel Comics tends to use real cities, though it does have its share of fictional nations such as Latveria and Wakanda.

As I work out a superhero setting I have to confess to preferring the DC Comics method. I'm the type of person who likes "getting things right" and setting a game in a city can put me into a research loop. To be sure, it's a mental block on my part. It's one of the things I like about setting Call of Cthulhu games in Arkham.

However, creating a fictional city gives its own type of problem. A city needs to go somewhere. And good places for cities tend to be occupied by... well, cities. Being a Brooklyn originally boy my bias tends to be a city along the eastern seaboard and no further north than the mid-Atlantic. Gotham City is probably my main inspiration, with influences from Star City on Arrow and the New York seen in Daredevil and Jessica Jones. 

At the top of this post you'll find the excellent map developed for Gotham City as part of the "No Man's Land" story which also found its way into the Christopher Nolan Batman movies and continues to be used in modern Batman comics. Artist and illustrator Elliot R. Brown made this map - the Smithsonian has an interesting article about the development of this map. 

Where is Gotham City though? The most common location for it tends to be somewhere in New Jersey. As an original New Yorker and now a resident of the outer Boston suburbs that answer pains me but to be honest it makes a lot of sense. First, Gotham City feels a lot like New York. Frank Miller described Gotham as being like New York at night, whereas Metropolis is New York during the day. Locating it in Massachusetts or Rhode Island doesn't quite work - those areas have a culture where such a city does not really fit. Putting it somewhere in Long Island doesn't quite work either.

One fan rendering suggests it might fit in the Great Bay in New Jersey, placing the Brown map there. I can't find a credit for the original artist, but the following image comes from the Gotham City Archives - Where is Gotham City? 


It seems a reasonable location, with only minor alterations to the "real world. The alterations would actually have to be pretty severe though - the Great Bay is only about five feet deep and is surrounded by tidal wetlands. Despite its closeness to many urban areas it is deliberately undeveloped. My inclination is to go ahead and say my city is indeed here in the Great Bay, with a Dutch settler extending New Netherland further south and founding a city there and draining much of the wetlands. Sorry environment. There is still plenty of room for wetlands in the vicinity for gangster disposal of bodies and we can add some fun mystical elements to the drainage. You gotta have tentacles.

We've got a likely location for the campaign. Right now I'm gravitating toward some incarnation of Fate for our rules engine. The time period is a little bit in flux, though it appears likely to either be in the 1950s or 1970s. 

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