In some comic books cities are represented as nondescript block buildings in the background not meant to distract from the superhero brawls happening in their streets; but in many, the city is an integral part of the story. Readers may only be given a glimpse or a bird's eye view of a metropolis, but that city can extend itself for countless miles in the reader's mind. That is the power of the comic book—to use both images and words to create surreal worlds that feel more real and more tactile.
Perhaps the comic most singularly about the city is a strange series called Mister X. Created by Dean Motter in 1983, Mister X is a bizarre tale of an architect driven mad by his radical "psychetecture" architectural style. The story is set in the gorgeous Radiant City metropolis, with fanastical art deco-esque skyscrapers. There is also some great Vorticist-like design.
Katsuhiro Otomo'sAkira, a story of gangs, mental powers and the most famous motorcycle ever, is centered around the futuristic Neo-Tokyo. The city is a sprawling megalopolis of laser lights and glittering towers, but also of abandoned highways and urban decay. The story is about change, in some ways, starting off in the darkened alleyways and forgotten side streets, but ending in the light with a city brought to its knees.
How can one really describe Sin City? Actually called Basin City, the true power is not what you see, but rather what goes unseen. Frank Miller has an amazing talent for using negative space. The black dominates the page and the reader must seek out the bits of white that peek through. In this same vein, Sin City is about drugs, sex, and greed, but also about love and friendship. As for the city itself, the buildings may blend completely into the darkness, but you know they're out there.
Now, to end with the most famous city of the night: Gotham. In contrast to Superman's glittering city, Gotham is the complete antithesis to the aptly named Metropolis. It is dark, dingy, and the perfect hunting grounds for its defender, Batman. The city embodies everything we fear most about the urban life. The few times Gotham is shown during the daytime, it feels almost insulting to expose the city for the hell-hole it really is. In the darkness, though, the buildings can still seem like majestic monuments to a dream for the future.
Dave Seliger is a Postgrad Fellow in Logistics and Ext Affairs at the NYC Office of Emergency Management. He has extensive experience helping firefighters, police officers, and disaster responders improve their services through design.