Where are DC Cities REALLY Located?


The main difference in setting between DC Comics and Marvel is that Marvel really only happens in one place: New York. It’s a big city, to be sure, but DC’s heroes often have an entire city to themselves, all over the country.

The cities of the DCU are mostly fictional and are commonly analogues for real-life places. Strangely, the locations they represent ALSO exist along side the imaginary ones. So, where are these cities, exactly?

Thankfully I’ve been studying this for years now and I think I can help solve the mystery.

On more than one occasion DC Comics has tried to establish just where all of these places are to clear up confusion created by poor editing oversight or overzealous writers changing things to suit their own designs. Not surprisingly, most of this came in the mid-80’s when DC was trying to get everything on the same page and establish a solid continuity.

The biggest source for this information was an official DC role playing game called DC Heroes by Mayfair Games in 1985. In it the game makers used information provided by real writers and editors to establish the company’s official Atlas of locations. This is the same game in which Alan Moore wrote the source material for Watchmen characters, later used to frame the plots of Before Watchmen.

In this series we will take a look at all the major DC cities, where they are, and what they represent. Let’s start with Batman’s own home town Gotham.

  • Gotham City

In most incarnations, Gotham is located in New Jersey, though it’s been likened to everything from Chicago to New York to Baltimore. Hell, Christopher Nolan modeled it after Singapore. Bill Finger and Bob Kane implied that Gotham was actually New York, even before they had coined the name Gotham, since they were both native New Yorkers. The real problem with this is the fact that Metropolis is also a fictionalized version of The Big Apple.  More on this later in the post.

During the Batman story arc No Man’s Land, a mapmaker was hired to detail an exact look at Gotham which is considered official canon to this day.

In Batman v Superman, as well as Nolan’s Dark Knight series, Gotham had license plates that simply say ‘Gotham’ instead of a state, implying the city is its own principality like Washington D.C.

Based on everything I’ve found in my research, though, a safe bet is in New Jersey, south of both Metropolis and New York. It also indicates that, just like Batman and Superman, Gotham and Metropolis are the two personalities of New York City. Metropolis being the bright, hopeful, glittering beacon on the hill. Gotham being the darker, grounded, chaotic swell of humanity New York is also known to be. In that way, Gotham is in New York, just like it is in any major massive, older city with a real American spirit. Gotham is in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and New York or any place that people love and struggle to make better.

  • Star City

Star City is the fictional home of Green Arrow. In some versions of the comics it’s implied that Star is in the Midwest, specifically Ohio. If I had to liken it to any real place it would be Cincinnati. An old, blue collar town now down on its luck since the death of industrial manufacturing, now rife with corruption and gentrification. Detroit is another classic parallel.

In Arrow (where it was called Starling City until recently) they imply that it’s an Eastern port city like Gotham. It could, however be a river town like Cincinnati, Cleveland or really any place with a port economy.

According to the atlas from DC Heroes, Star City is officially on the WEST coast. Based on the liberal leanings of the comic version of Oliver Queen, it almost feels like a Northern California city or perhaps Oregon/Washingon. The atlas shows Star City at 1 and San Francisco at 3. Pretty far north.

Considering how easy it is for The Flash to interact with Arrow, I’d still like to think it was the Midwest, but not much I can do about it.

  • Central City

Speaking of The Flash, Central City is a place near and dear to my heart. Central City and it’s sister, Keystone City have the most direct analogues of all, even though the TV show leaves this pretty vague.

Central is the fictionalized version of Kansas City, Missouri and Keystone stands for Kansas City, Kansas.  It just happens to be my hometown. It was likely positioned there because of KC’s geographical location, being pretty dang close to the center of the country.

Just like Star City, it’s a port town, but that’s due to it being right on the Missouri River. In the comics Central (once referred to as Center City and shown to be on Ohio, but only once) is just north of KCMO around where St. Joseph is in the real world.

Sadly, this is also where the atlas begins to break down a bit. In it they claim Keystone City, Kansas and Central are across the Mississippi from each other, but if you know anything about geography, you’ll know that the Missouri borders Kansas, not the Mississippi. The Mississippi river intersects around KC. That is most likely an oversight by writers who consider the Midwest ‘flyover states’.

I still have no idea where the ‘Badlands’ from The Flash TV show would be, though. My guess is Nebraska. Makes sense.

  • Keystone city

Keystone City, Kansas is the sister city of Central, just across the river from its Missouri counterpart. Keystone is the home of the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick) and Bronze Age Flash (Wally West). Before Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, however, Keystone and Central didn’t exist together. The latter was a city only on Earth Two, later retconned to be in the past of Earth One.

Just as with Central, the atlas makes some errors, claiming both highways I-74 and I-44 go through both cities, even though neither of them find themselves in Kansas at any point in the real world. The best part about Keystone, to me, is that it’s far more interesting than KCK.

  • Coast City

The home of Hal Jordan , AKA, The Green Lantern. This city is often debated over, since most people see it as an analogue for San Diego, CA, while others see it as a Northern CA town.

In the man DC atlas we see that it’s located north of San Francisco (3) and south of Star City (1). If this was the case, then it’s strange that the CW shows Arrow and The Flash cross over so often, when it would be a heckuva lot closer to just go to Coast City.

This also means that Coast City is really more like LA than anything else. Though considering Hal Jordan being a jet pilot and Ferris Airfield being located there, it would make more sense if it were actually San Diego. There is a much larger aviation presence there, with the military base and places like Brown Airfield.

Some fan made maps have the city near SD like we would expect, though those are obviously not in canon.

Now, the most important city (other than Gotham) in the DCU:

  • Metropolis

Just like with Gotham City, Metropolis is an analogue for New York. That part isn’t a debate. While they both perhaps represented two sides of the same coin, the heroes that inhabited them created an identity that couldn’t really be considered New York. Metropolis is what we all hope – perhaps wish – New York to be. The optimistic melting pot of cultures and cradle of modern human society, Metropolis is the good that comes from Life in the Big City.

Its location has been a hot topic, though. Fanboys and writers alike have proposed that it’s anywhere from Maryland to Massachusetts to New York state. So what does the official canon say?

According to the continuity of Batman v Superman, Metropolis and Gotham are both east coast cities that share the same bay, a la  San Francisco and Oakland, CA.

One of my favorite differences between this world and ours is when writers took into account the idea that if there were two giant cities like those, New York would be overshadowed. New York isn’t The Big Apple in DC. Because it’s geographically located between Metropolis and Gotham, it’s been called The Cinderella City,  much different than its center-of-the-universe importance in Marvel.

According to the atlas, here is how the whole thing shapes up.

That’s right, the home of Superman is in…Delaware! Didn’t see that coming, did ya?

Next time we will examine the second tier locations like Smallville, Faucet City, The Fortress of Solitude and more!

For an interactive view of the DCU, check out this Google Maps project for yourself!

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