Sifting through some DC detritus the other day there was a page set in a military command center in which the characters were staring at a giant map of the United States. The artist had to go to some trouble to make sure that the map was occluded so that certain cities–like New York–weren’t visible. And, by the same token, neither were any of DC fictional cities–Gotham, Central City, Metropolis, Star City. Because DC purposefully never really tells you where these fictional cities are.
I’ve always thought that the fake cities were a problem for DC. One of Marvel’s advantages is having its universe set in a coherent geographical world. By definition, DC can never do that–they won’t even allude to where the fictional cities are.
It’s pretty clear that the DC editorial team has thought this was problematic, too. That’s why, over the years, many heroes have been put into real cities–New York, L.A., San Francisco–which creates even more narrative problems. Because now you have real cities living side-by-side with their fictional doppelgangers. (DC has Gotham and Metropolis already. As Frank Miller always said, they’re both supposed to be New York–Metropolis is New York during the day and Gotham is New York at night. So why did DC need to add a real New York City to the mix, too?)
So when DC went to all that trouble to reboot its entire comic book universe a couple years ago, why didn’t they do away with the fictional cities?
Sure, it would have caused all sorts of momentary fan backlash. But the only two cities people really care about are Metropolis and Gotham. No one was going to cry if you plopped Green Arrow down in Seattle instead of Starling City. And after the initial whining was done with, DC would have cleared space for more narrative cohesion.
I suspect the answer is that they couldn’t reconcile Metropolis and Gotham. Either you make them the same place, and put both Superman and Batman in the same city, or you keep Supes in NYC and put Batman in Chicago. Which probably sounded like a risky proposition.
Which is why I suspect they decided to let the moment pass without doing anything to fix foundational problems in the DCU and contented themselves to just wrecking individual characters.