Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Visit Metropolis

I want you to read Superman. Not because the story is good (it is; quite), but because it's a vindication of the concept of the fictionopolis.

The fictionopolis is one of our favorite concepts here, and a powerful element in our Dynastic Centerpiece Model. It was once a standard in DC comics, faded under the pernicious influence of Marvel-style "realism" *snort*, and has reasserted itself strongly in recent years.

Its chief modern apostle is James Robinson, of Starman fame. There's a lot about Robinson's Starman I didn't like (weak plots, mostly), but his achievement over seven years (1994-2001) in creating an entire fictionopolis (Opal City) and making it unique impressed and delighted me to no end. His success led the charge back toward the fictionopolis as the setting of choice for the modern DC hero: really, if you don't have a fictionopolis of your own, you're just not top drawer. Oh, and for Wonder Woman's purposes, Washington D.C. counts as a fictionopolis; honestly, I think it counts as one for me.

I credit Robinson's work on Opal City with inspiring the "new Gotham City", suddenly an island and now with a map all its own, as debuted in No Man's Land (1999), and the B13 revamping (2000) of Metropolis (also with a new look and layout of its own).

The B13 changes were de-vamped, of course, but the desire to give Metropolis its own character as the home of the Man of Tomorrow didn't go away. Kurt Busiek's certainly been striving toward it, and under his pen Metropolis has become the place where you might encounter, on any given day, Kryptococcus the Omni-Germ on the Avenue of Tomorrow.

The new creative team is building (quite literary) on Busiek's beginning vision of the city. Yeah, sure, it's "Deco", but most of DCU cities are, to some degree. That's a natural function of DC's roots in the late 1930s. But, within the Deco vernacular, Metropolis is clearly being defined as having its own characteristic style; vertical, bright but not shiny, glass as an accent but white stone for structure, soft rather than hard, powerful but not harsh.

The Tomorrow Diner, evocative of 'the city of tomorrow' Note that at every level the architecture favors curved edges over sharp ones. The building is a series of many strong, upward elements. Spacially the building is stout. But the repeated, thin, upward pointing elements make it seem tall and thin. The effect is almost cathedral-like.

The characteristics we noted in the Tomorrow Diner are here in the Ace O'Clubs (and throughout Metropolis). Favoring curved edges over sharp ones. The 'Metropolis' deco font. Structures as a series of strong straight vertical strokes. Note the angle of view adding to Metropolis's characteristic 'up, up and away' look. Note also the elevated causeways and rail-lines. This has been an element in previous visions of the city and it's becoming a Metropolis sine qua non (like the gargoyles of Gotham City).

The 'pylon pile-on' effect. This is the essence of Metropolis's new design. Cleverly, the team has chosen a look that can clearly indicate to the view that they are in Metropolis, even when only one otherwise unidentified building is visible. Note the look is both reminiscent of and in contrast to the 'crystal cathedral' look of the Fortress of Solitude. Both are composed of repeated strong vertical straight lines. But the Kryptonian style favors 45 degree angles and pointed tips, whereas the Metropolitan styles favors perpendicularlity and rounded tips.

Compared the previous buildings, the Steelworks and its environs are stocky, down to earth. This solidity helps send the message "factory/warehouse district". Still, most of the Metrotecture elements remain evident (note the cathedral style windows, for example), even if they no longer dominate. The decorative ironworks are a very nice touch as is the symbolic wall carving in the window casing; very WPA.

A broader view allows you to see all the characteristics of Metrotecture on a grander scale. Note that not only do the buildings themselves have the pylon pile-on effect, but the invidual buildings become pylons replicating the effect at a grander scale across the cityscape. Very fractal, in a non-organic way. And because the buildings, individually and collectively, taper as they reach skyward, you don't get the effect same narrow-canyon effect you get in, say, New York City. Metropolis needs to be a city where it's easy to look up in the sky.

Put it all together and you get


SallyP said...

And this is why backgrounds are so important. That is some seriously gorgeous architecture.

I like the idea of a fictionopolis, heck, Opal City was one of the best characters ever created. I LIKE having Opal,and Metrpolis and Gotham and Star City and Coast City...and Apex City. It is rather ridiculous when you come right down to it, to have 99% of ALL your superhero action occuring in New York City the way that Marvel does.

Scipio said...

Superman's "absence" from his own title is perfect for the creative team to flesh out his supporting cast... including Metropolis, which needs to have its own identity, apart from its hero, as much as Gotham does.

Third World Diplomat said...

James Robinson has been working miracles in "Superman". But credit should also go to artist Renato Guedes.

A visionary writer needs an artist that can match his genius in order to create something epic.

My favorite comic book run ever was the Chuck Dixon / Scott McDaniel "Nightwing. Dixon had a vision for Bludhaven but it was McDaniel who brought to life in the pages Gotham's ugly sister. Other artists tried but could never get close to the original.

Ostrakos said...

I know you meant SINE qua non. ;D

TotalToyz said...

I've often wondered why a vast majority of the fictionopoli in DC Comics have the word "City" in their name. In the real world we don't have Atlanta City, Philadelphia City, Chicago City, et cetera. Maybe that's part of the charm, I don't know.

Captain Infinity said...

I like to think that the "City" moniker is just another difference between the real world and a place where people develop superpowers and put on costumes.

Spectrum Bear said...

The only problem I have with a thoughfully constructed, well-done fictionopolis: it increases the probability that a new chief writer, or a new editor (anxious to make his mark, or just out of ideas) will say: "You know what would be cool? DESTROYING THE CITY!"

I think it's the same impulse that goes with:

- "Let's completely screw up the Greek Gods and kill some of them off. Again."

- "Wouldn't it be interesting if the Guardians were to change their entire mission statement and how they handle the GLC, because they just stopped to think about it."

- "Blow up Themyscira."

It takes talent and craft to properly balance the background and foreground elements of a fictional universe, mainly using the background as a relatively stable "story engine" and only foregrounding it (and making major changes to it) rarely, if ever. I wish they'd pay more attention to this technique.

But I certainly agree with you: a good fictional city is a beauty to behold.

The Mutt said...

And none of the fictionopoli in the DC universe seem to be named after people, nor do they native American names.

I haven't read a Superman comic in a while. Is that Mon El? And what's with the flying sub?

K26dp said...

Yes, it's Mon-El. He's filling in for Superman in, erm, "Superman", while Superman is investigating New Krypton.

The "flying sub" is a surveliance drone utilized by the Metropolis Science Police.

TotalToyz said...

And none of the fictionopoli in the DC universe seem to be named after people, nor do they native American names.

Fawcett City might have been named after a person. In actuality, of course, it was named after Fawcett Comics, but in continuity it was probably the name of the city's founder.

TotalToyz said...

Although, I would have loved to have been on the planning committees that named some of these cities.

Central City: "What should we call ourselves?" "Well, we're in the center of the state." "There you go!"
Coast City: "What should we call ourselves?" "Well, we're on the coast." "Sold!"
Midway City: "What should we call ourselves?" "Well, we're about midway between..." "Done! That's lunch!"

I imagine the naming of West Virginia went something like that.

Dave said...

I mostly agree, but that first panel you link to is sloppy. There are no street light fixtures of any kind, but if you look at the very next panel in the comic (which is a closeup of that shot), suddenly a lamp post has appeared out of thin air.

And would a diner -- even on the Avenue of Tomorrow have the same dimensions as a basketball arena?

Maybe in Central City, but not Metropolis.

Roel Torres said...

Not surprising that Busiek is happy to build up a fictionopolis. This is the man who wrote "Astro City" after all! Now there's a writer who appreciates the utility of a good city...

TheStrawMan said...

Metropolis reminds me of Minas Tirith

Michael Strauss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Strauss said...

The building on the right in the Steelworks picture is a dead ringer for Buffalo's city hall.


Martin Gray said...

Great piece, I love the new Metropolis.

Did you just coin 'fictionopolis'? Nice one.

TotalToyz said...

There are no street light fixtures of any kind, but if you look at the very next panel in the comic (which is a closeup of that shot), suddenly a lamp post has appeared out of thin air.

Kryptonian technology. The street lights remain in a pocket dimension until sunset, when they phase into the plane of reality where they're needed.
Hey, if the police have flying surveillance drones...

Scipio said...

Mart, I did coin the word 'fictionopolis' but not just. I coined it on June 17, 2005.

Martin Gray said...

The day before my birthday/Superman's Earthday/Wonder Woman's Day of Truth!

SallyP said...

That IS my birthday!

DrSevarius said...



Scipio said...

Yes, Anton, I have seen that amusing April Fool's Joke.

Mike Blake said...

Like the other poster, I was startled to see Flying Subs from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea flitting over Metropolis!