A Guide to the Fictional Cities of the DC Universe

How far is it from Superman's hometown to Batman's, and how many fake San Franciscos does one world really need?
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
How far is it from Superman's hometown to Batman's, and how many fake San Franciscos does one world really need?

With a new promotional campaign for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice focusing on fleshing out each hero's fictional home town, a spotlight has been shone (perhaps even a Bat-Signal) on the fact that so many of DC Entertainment's superheroes are based in cities that don't exist in our version of reality.

Beyond Batman and Superman, almost every member of the Justice League has a fictional burg to call their own: Green Lantern operates out of Coast City, the Flash out of Central City, with Green Arrow, Hawkman and Wonder Woman also opting for unreal real estate in fictional cities (Star City, Midway City and Gateway City, respectively). There are also entire countries that have yet to show up in our version of the world — I'm specifically looking at you, Markovia.

It's a phenomenon that has been commented on within the comic books themselves before — when Marvel's Avengers, who exist in a world that more closely mirrors our own, visited the DC Universe in 2003's JLA/Avengers, it was suggested that DC's Earth is actually physically larger than other Earths in order to fit in all of the fictional locations. But where are all these fictional cities supposed to be? Here's a quick guide.

Metropolis/Gotham City

It's no secret that both Superman and Batman's cities are based upon the same real-world location: New York City. (Which isn't to say that there isn't also a New York City in the DC Universe; that's where the New Teen Titans were based for quite some time.) It's been suggested that Metropolis is an idealized version of New York at its best, while Gotham shows an exaggerated take on the city its worst. This might explain why the two have generally been portrayed as being relatively close to each other — and placed traditionally in New Jersey, of all places. In the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the two cities will officially be neighbors, likened by director Zack Snyder to San Francisco and Oakland — except, of course, on the east coast.

Judging by their profiles, Gotham is the more blue-collar sibling of the highfalutin' Metropolis, with the former built on manufacturing and shipping industries while the latter focuses more on "its long-standing tech industry" as personified by the Avenue of Tomorrow. Both the comic book and movie versions of the cities place an emphasis on Gotham being filled with long-standing gothic architecture, while Metropolis is filled with more recent skyscrapers that act as aspirational reminders to look, up in the sky.

Gateway City

It's not clear just yet where the cinematic Wonder Woman resides — although she will, presumably, still hail from Themyscira, better known as Paradise Island, the fictional (and magical) island populated by Amazons somewhere out in the Aegean Sea — the comic book heroine has a history with Gateway City, a harbor town on the west coast that has also been the home to supernatural hero and part-time wrath of God, the Spectre (The city actually debuted in a Spectre story in 1966's Showcase No. 60). Home to the largest collection of Greek artifacts in the U.S., which is presumably what drew Diana to the city, Gateway is one of a couple of locations in the DC Universe version of America that acts as a stand-in for San Francisco. Unlike Superman and Batman, however, Wonder Woman has been somewhat mobile throughout her seven decades-plus in comics; she has also been based in both New York City and Boston at various points of her career, neither of which are fictional despite how hard some may wish that were the case.

Star City

DC's other home to fake tales of San Francisco is Green Arrow's hometown — temporarily renamed Starling City in the early seasons of the CW's Arrow, although it's been called Star City in comic book mythology since its 1941 introduction in More Fun Comics No. 73. A port city located somewhere on the west coast of the United States in its current comic book incarnation, its location hasn't always been so clear; 1985's DC Comics Presents No. 87 saw Superman cross over to our world and note that Star City had been replaced by Boston, while earlier references to its comic book location had suggested both Connecticut and somewhere in the region of the Great Lakes. (To make the matter more complicated, an onscreen map that appeared on an episode of Arrow suggested that Star City was actually Des Moines, Iowa, even though the show has repeated talked about the city being on the Western Seaboard.)

Central City

While there are many Central Cities in the real United States, the one that Barry Allen runs around in both comics and CW TV show is a fictional city located on the edge of the state of Missouri (as per not only current comic book continuity, but also references in The Flash TV show and Young Justice animated series), although it once belonged in Ohio (1974's The Flash No. 228 and 1987's The Flash Vol. 2 No. 2 both made that claim) and, in 2004's DC: The New Frontier, in Illinois. Its real-world analog would be Kansas City, given that Central City is paired with Keystone City, which exists just across the water in Kansas.

Quite how that works with the oft-stated assertion that Central City and Star City are only 600 miles apart is anyone's guess (Kansas City is around 1,500 miles from San Francisco). Let's just pretend that, while DC's comic book Earth is larger than ours, the CW's Arrow/Flashverse United States is somehow smaller. Or, perhaps, has a surprisingly different geography with regards to where the states actually lie in relation to each other.

National City

National City, Supergirl's stomping grounds, is a rarity in terms of DC media properties in that it has no comic book incarnation (It is, however, named after the original name for DC Comics, "National Periodical Publications"). Given that it's a city that contains a port, a tech company and the headquarters of at least one worldwide media company — albeit one that's called "CatCo" — and a city that's suffered earthquakes and wildfires, it's not too much of a stretch to suggest that it's an alternate take on Los Angeles. Which isn't quite the location of the real National City, but it's close.

Coast City

The name "Coast City" has been mentioned a few times on both Arrow and The Flash — Barry Allen believes it has the best pizza on the west coast, while it was the city where Oliver Queen was discovered by Amanda Waller — but it's better known to comic book fans as the home of Hal Jordan, AKA Green Lantern. It's also the setting for the 2010 movie Green Lantern, but the less said about that, the better. Its location has remained essentially constant since its debut in 1959's Showcase No. 22: Southern California, more or less in the region of San Diego. Following its destruction by alien invaders and subsequent rebuilding, the inhabitants of the city have taken to calling it "the city of no fear," somewhat ghoulishly. (It was temporarily pushed into Northern California by 2004's Green Lantern: Rebirth, but as we've already established with Gateway and Star Cities, that area is already well covered by superheroes.)

It should be noted that Coast City doesn't actually replace San Diego in DC's comic book mythology; that city also exists, or did until it plunged into the Pacific and became home to undersea dwellers, being renamed "Sub Diego." Yes, that actually happened; don't ask, but blame Aquaman.

Opal City

Even before Barry saw Kara while crossing realities, the first connective tissue between the universe of the CW's DC shows — specifically Arrow — and CBS's Supergirl is Opal City, a fictional location that has been mentioned in both series (On Supergirl, it's where Cat's son Adam lives). In DC's comic book mythology, it's the home to both the Elongated Man and Starman, as well as a number of supervillains; although its location has never been definitively stated, Opal has been vaguely situated somewhere inside Maryland, as per the wishes of fan-favorite Starman writer James Robinson.

Midway City

The location of Midway City might be gleaned from its name  — midway between the east and west coasts of the United States  — but the (fictional) reality doesn't follow that logic in the slightest. Traditionally the home for Hawkman and Hawkgirl as well as the superhero freakshow known as the Doom Patrol, Midway (which will make its big screen debut in this summer's Suicide Squad) was modeled after Chicago, Ill. but has been officially placed near Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan since 1977's Detective Comics No. 470. At least until Suicide Squad claims differently ...