Ask Chris #242: The Worst Place In The World
Q: Which city in comics would be the worst to live in? In Gotham there's nutcases with random crimes, but New York and Metropolis attract trouble on a your-city-will-be-killed-at-once scale. -- @rj_white
A: That's the thing about living in a fictional universe, RJ: Generally speaking, it is an absolutely terrible idea. I mean, our world may have its share of pretty awful troubles, but at least you can rest reasonably assured that you won't have to deal with being poisoned into a smiley death by a murderous clown just because you wanted to go check out the museum's new exhibit on original folios of Shakespeare's comedies, or got bonked on the head by a dude in a lime green suit and suspended over a vat of boiling acid because you were really good at crossword puzzles.
Those were my first thoughts at least, and as you can tell, I'm already playing favorites. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that as improbable as it might seem, there might actually be a worse place to live than Gotham City.
I mean, don't get me wrong: Gotham City is a nightmare hellhole. There's that one issue of Aztek where the Joker claims that Vanity is actually a worse place than Gotham City, and while it's safe to assume that he'd know better than most people, there's also the undeniable facts that Gotham has been completely leveled by natural disasters on more than one occasion and played host to what can only be described as plagues on a Biblical scale twice. The more you read those comics the more you realize how improbable it is that anyone would actually live there. But it's really just a matter of making a list of pros and cons and seeing which of comics' most famous cities come out ahead.
Before we get into that, though, one quick qualifier: Getting thoroughly destroyed by a supervillain is pretty much going to happen in every city that's worth mentioning. We're just going to have to take that as a given and only mention the extreme circumstances that could result. Otherwise, we're going to be here all day trying to figure out if it's worse to be blown up by a hijacked Rocket Red suit or turned into a giant engine because Green Lantern was about to get a new creative team, and that's not gonna be fun for anybody.
So with that in mind, I've picked out a few cities that we can compare and contrast. Let's start with Metropolis, because even though it has a tendency to get destroyed en masse, it actually makes for a pretty good baseline:
- An improbably high number of meteors.
- Thriving economy thanks to the booming battlesuit-construction and space-rock analysis industries.
- Interesting architecture, such as buildings with giant golden planets on top and an oppressive brutalist monolith shaped like an L.
- The last remaining urban center in America that features the convenience and privacy of public telephone booths.
- Very well-maintained public parks.
- You can literally walk, jump or fall off any skyscraper or helicopter within the city limits and end up being gently carried to the ground by a very nice man who definitely smells like apple pie with just the right amount of cinnamon.
- An improbably high number of meteors.
- Local news media is basically useless unless you want to read stories about people who are actually employed by local news media.
- The most affordable rent is going to be in a place that is literally, officially called "Suicide Slum," which you have to think is pretty demoralizing for residents.
- There is a problem with gang violence, but unlike most urban gangs, these are either people dressed like playing cards who have seemingly endless access to super-strong androids or dudes being supplied with weapons by evil space gods.
- Any given Wednesday, there's like a 50% chance that some other evil space people are going to show up and start knocking down buildings. Note that for comics, this is actually better than average.
- You're probably going to end up working for Lex Luthor, and even if you don't really have a moral problem with that, opportunities for advancement are going to be limited unless you have the ability to potentially murder an invulnerable farmer from space.
Not bad, not bad. Let's see how it stacks up against another popular destination, shall we?
The Juban District, Tokyo:
- Local schools and bus routes are close enough that you can run to them with toast in your mouth.
- Nearby Shinto shrine is a popular hangout for local teens.
- Frequent turnover of local businesses offers plenty of exciting opportunities for a variety of interests and experience levels.
- Thriving urban renewal thanks to investment from local millionaire/doll enthusiast Maxfield Stanton.
- Incoming local government promises peaceful immortality for everyone, so that's nice.
- Very fashionable.
- Beautiful sunsets.
- Housing is so cheap that even teenage orphans with no visible source of income can afford to live on their own.
- Local schools and bus routes are definitely run by actual monsters who want to kidnap children.
- Nearby Shinto shrine run by tiny creepy weirdo.
- Small businesses frequently close within a week, usually because their owners have been turned to dust by a teenager throwing a hat at them.
- Local government set to be replaced by hereditary monarchy from the moon.
- High crime rate due to several robberies of jewelry stores and time-traveling children with pistols.
- Pavement on sidewalks and streets is shoddy enough that roses can be thrown through them.
- Shockingly large population of vicious feral cats.
- Shockingly large population of bossy talking cats.
- Literally everyone who lives here has been in a coma at least twice.
Troubling, but definitely still livable. Now here's where things get really terrible:
- You will probably meet Batman.
- That is the only pro.
- Most housing is in the form of Art Deco buildings reimagined as a nightmare hellscape featuring gargoyles on every available surface, including inside.
- There are literally gargoyles inside a mental hospital, which does not create a very conducive environment for improving one's mental health.
- Also something like 90% of streets are either shadowy back alleys lit only by streetlights reflecting off knives or massive boulevards currently occupied by jet-powered cars.
- Local police force is incompetent, ill-equipped and/or corrupt enough that their major tactic for deterring crime is shining a giant flashlight with a scary picture on it up into the sky.
- The sky is red. Literally, actually blood red.
- That's super weird.
- Local economy is in shambles owing to the fact that the three major career options available are a) henchman, b) museum curator who makes terrible choices about which exhibits to bring to town, and c) designer/manufacturer of non-lethal weaponry who does not ask any questions about where it goes.
- If you go to any form of public entertainment --- movies, the circus, the opera, etc. --- you are 100% guaranteed to see someone die.
- The oppressive architecture is broken up by public parks and green spaces that, in all likelihood, will also come to life and try to kill you.
- Has been in a state best described as "post-apocalyptic" on at least two occasions.
- Also this one time the city across the river was nuked so hard that it immediately became a radioactive Mad Max wasteland, but also there were giant puppies running around with people riding on them and that's actually pretty adorable, so Gotham is still worse.
That is a rough, rough place to live. And the thing is, it's pretty consistently a miserable place to live across all different versions. No Man's Land might not be in continuity anymore, but Zero Year is, and that thing was like No Man's Land plus the Riddler making people fight lions in a gladiatorial arena, and while that's a pretty awesome thing to read about, I imagine it's kind of a bummer to live through.
But still, it does have that one redeeming quality of possibly meeting Batman, and even though that's tempered by the fact that the two most likely ways to meet Batman are being held at gunpoint in an alley and getting your teeth knocked out because you're helping the Calendar Man steal a sundial or whatever, it's still something that keeps it from being the worst place in the world.
So like I said, there's one that beats it:
Mega City One
- Is a totalitarian fascist police state where most if not all all civic power is held by a violent police force, which is actually one of the city's better qualities.
- Life in general is so overwhelming and miserable that being driven insane by your very existence --- "Future Shock" --- is such a common problem that nobody's even really bothered about it anymore.
- Has been steadily whittled down by a series of disasters over the past thirty years, including being briefly being taken over by robots and the temporary reign of a dude named "Judge Caligula." You can probably guess how that went.
- Was almost destroyed in a conflict called "The Apocalypse War," which resulted in the death of around 400,000,000 citizens. This is, despite the name, not the worst thing to happen to the city.
- Despite a shrinking population --- owing, most recently, to one of those Biblical Plagues we keep reading about --- citizens are still crammed into housing blocks that each contain a population of around 50,000, which frequently go to war with each other.
- Basically everything is illegal except wearing those weird future jumpsuits that still have not come into style despite us all being fifteen solid years into the 21st Century.
- Also there are a bunch of immortal extradimensional beings who show up and murder people by the thousands with alarming regularity.
- Seriously, it's like very year with those guys.
- There is no other place to live. Your only choice other than this city is a nuclear wasteland where you will be immediately killed by mutants who speak with what British writers think a Southern accent sounds like. Y'all.
And that pretty much settles that. I mean, Gotham is terrible, but at least you can leave.