There’s an essay on the Atlantic Cities website discussing Batman, Gotham City and urbanism.
“It’s a city of fantasy and nightmare all at once, which makes it wonderfully American,” says current Batman writer Scott Snyder. “It’s completely locatable and totally nowhere, all at once.”
In fact, one of the most elegant things about Nolan’s Gotham in the newest film, The Dark Knight Rises, is that, thanks to editing and visual effects, Gotham is an urban amalgam. In Nolan’s first two Batman movies it was a computer-enhanced Chicago—a modernist glass-and-steel counterpoint to Burton’s version, as the architect Charles Holland wrote on his blog, Fantastic Journal. But in the third movie (with, again, a bomb-centered threat that isolates the city from the world outside) Nolan’s luxurious establishing shots show a CG-modified New York, several chase sequences take place along the streets of downtown Los Angeles, and other street-level scenes were shot in Pittsburgh. It’s like Snyder said: Locatable but nowhere. Gotham isn’t just any city; it’s every city.
One thing I did not know (because I was not reading Batman comics at the time), was that after No Man’s Land they standardized Batman’s world with an Official Gotham City map. It kind of resembles Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City.
For me, Gotham City rides the line between realism and fantasy that comics struggle with everywhere. An eye for realism helps give some heft to the story, helps with the suspension of disbelief. But too much realism smacks of trying too hard, and in certain hands it’s like you’re apologizing for the whole idea of superhero comics in general.
For his part, Snyder’s been trying to put some good civic planning into the Batman book. The most recent plot involves killing most of Gotham’s civic leadership, from the comptroller to the head of the cultural arts commission, as a way to destroy the city’s civic fabric. Forget Liam Neeson and his water bomb; this is how you take down a city.
But if you take it too far, you wonder why Gotham City exists in the first place. People pay leave the central city for the suburbs all the time, even if they have to pay through the nose and commute for hours. White flight would be nothing compared to homicidal clown flight.