As the adopted home of Superman, Metropolis is one of the most famous cities in superhero comics. While the dingy streets of Gotham City might be more famous, Metropolis is “the city of tomorrow” that promises a bright future for the DC Universe. Under Superman’s watchful gaze, Metropolis has thrived as both an almost-real urban utopia and as an art deco sci-fi wonderland in various forms of media. But beneath that shining veneer, Metropolis has been shaped by several unsettling truths, unseen horrors and disturbing past events. While Gotham City is defined by its darkness, Metropolis has hidden its darkness in its alleyways and sidewalk cracks. That only makes Metroplis’ dark side more insidious.
Now, CBR is counting down some unsettling facts about Metropolis that will change the way you think about Superman’s adopted home. In this list, we’ll be examining the secretly horrifying parts of the city that helped shape Superman’s world for decades. We’ll also be looking back at some of the worst things to happen to the city in comics, TV and film. Even though Metropolis might seem like a nice place to visit, it’s not the nicest place to live for the residents of the DC Universe.
15. METROPOLIS MOVES AROUND
Metropolis was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1939’s Action Comics #16, and its exact location has varied significantly over the years. Since the DC Universe has to make room for fictional cities like Metropolis and major real world locales like New York City, the size of its Earth has swelled and shifted during its various reboots.
Most sources agree that Metropolis is located somewhere in the northeastern United States, but conflicting pieces of evidence have placed it in different states. In the DC Extended Universe and some comics, Metropolis and Gotham City sit on opposite sides of a bay. Since New Jersey is the generally agreed-upon home of Gotham City, that would likely place Superman’s home in Delaware. Despite that, other maps have clearly shown the city as part of New York. Still, some accounts have placed Metropolis in the midwest, within driving distance of Smallville, Kansas.
14. MAN OF STEEL’S METROPOLIS MASSACRE
Even though it kicked off the DC Extended Universe, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel sharply divided audiences in 2013. Shortly before Henry Cavill’s Superman and Michael Shannon’s General Zod had their final brutal battle, Zod’s massive terraforming device devastated a large chunk of downtown Metropolis. In the wake of the device’s destruction and the Kryptonians’ brawl, the area was utterly obliterated, and thousands of civilian lives were lost.
After the film’s release, this catastrophic human toll was a hot topic of debate among fans, and several subsequent superhero movies went out of their way to save or mention civilian lives. While Metropolis has been destroyed plenty of times in comics, those battles have usually been fairly bloodless. Since Man of Steel‘s Metropolis suffered such a massive loss of life, the ghosts of Metropolis’ fallen citizens have cast a long shadow over DC’s cinematic universe.
13. THE FIRST METROPOLIS
Even though it’s a fictional city, Metropolis’ known history is similar to the histories of most major eastern American cities. However, Metropolis was first settled over 60 million years ago by humanoid aliens who called themselves Space Pilgrims. As revealed in 1972’s Action Comics #412, by Cary Bates and Curt Swan, the Space Pilgrims founded the “First Metropolis” in the Mesozoic Era.
Superman discovered Jodsin, a Space Pilgrim, under the streets of present-day Metropolis, and the alien explained that they came to Earth to escape from an interstellar tyrant. After Superman found the abandoned ruins of the First Metropolis under his city, he agreed to take the Space Pilgrim back to his own time. In the past, Superman discovered that Jodsin’s people had contracted a virus and transformed into reptilian “Half-Men.” After Jodsin transformed too, he left the Space Pilgrims to go the way of the dinosaurs.
12. TOMORROW’S METROPOLIS
In the final days of the 20th century, news reports were filled with claims that a vaguely-defined Y2K bug could cause a technological apocalypse in the first minutes of 2000. While the real world was unaffected by the Y2k Bug, a different kind of Y2K virus transformed Metropolis in the 2000 crossover “Superman: Y2K.”
In the story by Joe Kelly, Butch Guice, Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and others, a future version of Brainiac gave Metropolis a futuristic makeover. With technology that was centuries beyond the rest of the world, Metropolis literally became the “City of Tomorrow.” While Lex Luthor had to sacrifice his daughter to secure the city’s forced update, the rest of DC’s world moved on without too much fanfare. This new Metropolis injected a sense of sci-fi wonder into Superman’s adventures during this well-regarded era. In 2004, a time storm returned Metropolis to its natural, more modern state.
11. THE JOKER NUKED METROPOLIS
One of the most famous recent versions of the DC Universe began with the total annihilation of Metropolis. In the 2013 NetherRealm Studios game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, the Joker launched an aggressive attack on Superman. After tricking the Man of Steel into killing Lois Lane and his own unborn son, the Joker detonated a nuclear bomb that he had hidden in the city.
In the aftermath of the Joker’s attacks, Superman killed Batman’s nemesis and took over the world. Metropolis was an irradiated wasteland for years, until Black Lightning and the Atom developed a plan to clean up the contaminated areas. As seen in Brian Buccellato and Marco Santucci’s Injustice: Year Five Annual #1, Superman’s Regime led a rebuilding effort that restored Metropolis to a thin echo of its former glory. Despite all that, the city was destroyed once again over the course of the game’s 2017 sequel, Injustice 2.
10. BRAINIAC’S BOTTLED CITY
Superman’s longtime foe Brainiac has been trying to add Metropolis to his collection of miniaturized cities since his 1958 debut in Otto Binder and Al Plastino’s Action Comics #242. Several of his plans have revolved around shrinking the city, placing it in a capsule and adding it to his collection of tiny cities from dead worlds. In Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s 2008 story, “Brainiac,” the villain briefly shrank the city again, as horrified civilians watched their loved ones shrink down into millimeters.
In 2015, Brainiac captured several versions of Metropolis from alternate timelines in the crossover Convergence. While investigating the effects of DC’s reboots on its Multiverse, he captured several versions of Metropolis and other cities from abandoned timelines and alternate realities. After his curator, Tellos, forced these cities to fight for their survival, Brainiac purged his collection and helped restore the natural order of the Multiverse.
9. METROPOLIS IS A PRISON HUB
Thanks to Superman and his heroic allies, Metropolis is a hard place to be a criminal. For the criminals and supervillains who are brave or bold enough to do wrong on Superman’s turf, Metropolis has an unusually high number of prisons. Regular convicts could find themselves in the Metropolis Correctional Facility, Metropolis State Prison or Pocantico Federal Correctional Facility, which was located outside of Metropolis proper.
Capable of holding superpowered criminals and the worst of humanity, Stryker’s Island is Metropolis’ most famous prison. Like its real-world namesake, Riker’s Island, Stryker’s Island is located just off the coast of Metropolis in the West River. Since John Byrne created the facility in 1987’s Superman #9, Stryker’s has been featured in numerous games and TV shows like Superman: The Animated Series. Before that prison was constructed, superpowered criminals were held at the McCallum Ultramax Detention Facility and occasionally at S.T.A.R. Labs.
8. THE BATTLE OF METROPOLIS
While the 2005 crossover Infinite Crisis might seem hopelessly complex, it basically revolves around Alexander Luthor and Superboy Prime, once-noble heroes from alternate worlds who were corrupted by decades of isolation. While chaos enveloped every corner of the DC Universe, those two planned to transform DC’s Earth into their ideal world. As part of that plan, Luthor brought the vast majority of Earth’s villains together to form the Society.
While DC’s strongest heroes were elsewhere, Luthor and the Society attacked Metropolis in Infinite Crisis #7, by Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, George Perez, Ivan Reis and Joe Bennett. Earth’s remaining heroes formed a defense force, and the ensuing conflict was one of the biggest battles in DC’s history. Dozens of minor heroes and villains were killed or maimed as the streets of Metropolis crumbled. After the heroes won, they spearheaded a global effort to rebuild the city in record time.
7. ZOMBIE INFESTATIONS
Like any major population center, Metropolis is particularly vulnerable to epidemics or viral outbreaks. Since it’s part of a sci-fi world, those outbreaks have naturally involved zombies. Like the rest of the DC Universe, Metropolis was besieged by a legion of undead Black Lantern zombies in 2009’s Blackest Night, by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. Many of those Black Lanterns were hyper-focused on attacking Lex Luthor’s compound and getting revenge against him for orchestrating their deaths.
In the 2009 Smallville episode, “Rabid,” Tom Welling’s Clark Kent had to deal with a Kryptonian virus that turned the people of Metropolis into super-strong zombies. Series regulars like Luthor’s sister Tess Mercer, Daily Planet editor Randall Brady and Lois Lane were infected with the virus, along with most of Metropolis. Ultimately, Chloe Sullivan and Dr. Emil Hamilton were able to synthesize a cure from Clark’s blood and release it into the atmosphere.
6. SUICIDE SLUM
Every city has forgotten boroughs that have been run-down by years of neglect. In Metropolis, that neighborhood is Suicide Slum. When it was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1942’s Star-Spangled Comics #7, it was the home of a vigilante named the Guardian and his young sidekicks, the Newsboy Legion. While it initially seemed like a stand-in for New York’s Lower East Side, Suicide Slum eventually became a distinct part of Metropolis that was officially called Southside.
Suicide Slum’s most famous resident is the ground-breaking hero Black Lightning. Created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden in 1977’s Black Lightning #1, Jefferson Pierce was an Olympic decathlete who used his electric abilities to fight organized crime in his hometown. He even turned down a full Justice League membership to focus on his neighborhood. In some continuities, Lex Luthor and Daily Planet editor Perry White also grew up in Suicide Slum.
5. LUTHOR OWNS METROPOLIS
Before Superman came along, Lex Luthor was the most powerful man in Metropolis. After John Byrne re-envisioned Lex Luthor as more of a business tycoon than a mad scientist in his 1980s Superman revamp, Luthor’s company LexCorp was one of the biggest multinational corporations in the DC Universe.
As LexCorp grew through acquisitions, the company branched out into every major area of commerce with stores like LexMart, airlines like LexAir and the petroleum company LexOil. At one point, Luthor owned every major media outlet in metropolis except for the Daily Planet, and on occasion, he’s owned that too. At the peak of LexCorp’s influence, an estimated two-thirds of Metropolis residents worked for the supervillain in one form or another. When Luthor’s private actions have been publicly revealed, LexCorp’s assets have been liquidated and largely absorbed by Wayne Enterprises in some timelines.
Even though Superman lives in Metropolis, it’s still the long-standing headquarters for the heavily-armed Intergang. Created by Jack Kirby in 1970’s Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133, Intergang menaced the streets of Metropolis using high-tech weaponry from Darkseid’s world Apokolips. Intergang has concealed its criminal activities through various legitimate businesses, most notably including the Happyland Amusement Park.
Intergang’s most notable leaders are the stereotypical gangsters Bruno Mannheim and his father, Boss Moxie, who started Intergang in the 1920s in some timelines. Media mogul and former Daily Planet owner Morgan Edge has also been connected with the organization a few times, and Lex Luthor has occasionally led the organization as well. Since the 1980s, Intergang has usually been the target of reporting by Lois Lane, Clark Kent or their fellow Daily Planet reporters. Despite that, Intergang’s influence has only grown beyond the confines of Metropolis.
3. SCIENTIFIC ABOMINATIONS
Despite his prominence as a businessman, Lex Luthor has never drifted too far away from his roots as a mad scientist. Given Luthor’s prominence within the city, that had made Metropolis a hotbed of illegal and often inhuman genetic experiments. In the modern age, several of Superman’s most famous foes started out on Luthor’s operating table. Some versions of Bizarro started out as failed attempts to clone Superman, and Luthor was responsible for creating some versions of the Kryptonite Man and Metallo, the Kryptonite-powered cyborg too.
Outside of Luthor, Metropolis still has an unnerving number of mad scientists. Even though S.T.A.R. Labs usually helps Superman, their experiments have caused problems on occasion. Project Cadmus, which is located just outside of Metropolis, has done extensive work in cloning and genetic engineering. Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen, also found himself transformed into deeply strange creatures throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
2. THE FALL OF METROPOLIS
By 1994, Superman had already died and come back from the dead. So when creators like Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens and Louise Simonson had to come up with a jaw-dropping storyline for Action Comics #700, they turned their attention to Metropolis. In “The Fall of Metropolis,” Superman’s home faced true devastation for the first time.
The crossover concluded several long-running storylines involving clones and Lois Lane’s attempts to reveal Lex Luthor’s criminal activities to the public. When Superman confronted a rapidly-aging Luthor, one of Luthor’s henchmen launched Luthor’s missiles on Metropolis. After landmarks like LexCorp Tower and the Daily Planet Building crumbled, Luthor unleashed killer robots and a hallucinogenic gas on the city. With his reputation ruined, Luthor donned his battlesuit for a seemingly final battle with Superman.
1. METROPOLIS WILL NEVER DIE
Despite the constant alien invasions, supervillain attacks and rampaging monsters, Metropolis seems destined to live on forever. According to 1984’s Legion of Super-Heroes #313, by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, Metropolis’ border grew to cover most of New England, New Jersey and a big chunk of New York. In that timeline, it became the capital of the universe-spanning United Planets and the teen heroes of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
In another version of the 31st century, Metropolis grew even larger, and covered the entire North America seaboard. While its exact borders have varied, that means it could conceivably stretch from Canada down to Florida. According to some estimates, this version of Metropolis was home to over 78 million humans and aliens. In this future, hundreds of distinct towns and cities fell prey to Metropolis’ never-ending march towards tomorrow.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest and greatest in comic book and pop culture news. Let us know who your favorite Metropolis resident is in the comments!
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