‘Batman v Superman’: NYC’s soul reflected in heroes’ mythos

Batman and Superman may have their share of differences, big enough for a big-screen showdown, but the two heroes share a part of New York City’s soul.

Both Gotham City and Metropolis have been dramatized versions of the Big Apple and media experts, writers and fans say both locales have given comic readers an in-depth look at New York’s best and worst sides.

With Gotham, they get a gritty, dark version of the city that needs a vigilante to keep it safe from street criminals, while Metropolis is a more optimistic view of New York complete with tall glass skyscrapers, green parks and always sunny skies.

Paul Levinson, a professor of media studies at Fordham University, said the conflicting geography adds to New York’s mystique in storytelling.

“It’s always exciting to see something real that’s portrayed in a slightly fictional sense. It lets your dreams run wild,” said Levinson.

The choice not to directly set the characters in New York stems from the 1930s, when comics were predominantly a children’s medium and the stories were meant to be highly fantastical.

“You wouldn’t want a superhero in a real city because that would deflate some of the mythology. But the names are thinly disguised,” Levinson said.

As the decades went on and comic books started to become more sophisticated, other publishers like Marvel put their heroes in real-world locations, but DC kept Batman and Supermanlodged right where they were. However, the teams of writers and artists infused an increasing amount of New York elements into their stories, in order to keep the storytelling grounded.

Scott Snyder, a Manhattan native who currently writes the “Batman” comic, said his stories have been influenced by local issues such as gun violence, gentrification and even Superstorm Sandy.

“Gotham I think as opposed to Metropolis … will challenge your fears and it’s this wonderful antagonist to everyone who comes there. Ultimately you become a better hero,” he said.

With Metropolis, readers are getting less of that gritty New York, but plenty of inspirational feel, according to Andrew Cohen, a spokesman for Midtown Comics. Superman has always been a hero filled with hope and writers and artists tap into the optimistic aspects of New York, like a panel of the Man of Steel soaring past the a caricature of Empire State Building, or Clark Kent having a quiet picnic with Lois Lane in his version of Central Park, Cohen said.

“You want a hero who can stand for something in the nice areas of the city,” he said. “It’s fun reading a panel and seeing people look up into the skyscrapers and see Superman fly by.”

Cohen has seen the new movie and said even though the Gotham and Metropolis scenes were filmed in Detroit and Chicago respectively, there still is a strong New York feel to theplaces. He particularly noted that it was interesting to see Superman operate in Gotham and vice versa.

“It builds up the idea of the greater fictional [New York],” he said.

Snyder, who will see the movie Thursday, said he is intrigued to see the characters fight while representing each of their versions of the city.

“Deep down they’re both New Yorkers,” he said.