Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fictional Locations in Fiction!

This is a strange thought that I've been mulling over for a while. Before I get into it, I want to recount a conversation I had with a friend that let me realize how differently fans can perceive properties.

So, the conversation had to deal with the decision to have Sulu be gay in the new Star Trek movies. George Takei had stated that he was opposed to the idea, on the grounds that it was a disservice to the character, because it would mean that Sulu had been closeted. A friend of mine had suggested that Takei was opposed to the idea because he was still in the mindset of the times (apologies if I didn't summarize their argument perfectly, we were both drinking on a river). My theory was that if you think of Star Trek as an existing universe, the movies take place in the same universe, albeit after being diverted from the original timeline just before the birth of Captain Kirk. If you buy into that, then you're saying that Sulu's sexuality was changed by the different chain of events, OR that he was closeted for the entirety of the original Star Trek series. The latter would certainly change how people would think of Takei's Sulu, the former sidesteps that, but maybe makes uncomfortable implications about how fickle a person's sexuality could be.

My main take away from the conversation was that a person who was a much bigger fan of Star Trek than I am, wasn't a fan of it in a way that let them see it as a living universe, and they actually struggled a bit to see it how I thought of it. 

Okay, that was more than a little rambling, and doesn't deal with what I really wanted to talk about, but I thought it was important to try and illustrate how I think about fictional universes before I got to it.

Right! So, fictional locations. I'm going to mainly talk about them in comic books, because I've got a lot of knowledge there, and the Big Two (Marvel and DC) have been doing it for seven decades now. DC comics has used two fictional cities pretty much since the beginning, Batman protects Gotham, and Superman's got Metropolis. Both of these locations are supposed to be heavily based off of real world locations, Gotham is usually thought to be New York, while Metropolis has been a few different cities depending on the era, for awhile it was Chicago, but I think it's LA now? Could be wrong on that one. It doesn't end there though, there's also Bludhaven, Star City, Keystone City and Central City make up the Gem Cities that Flash hangs around. Bialya is a fictional country ruled by the villain Queen Bee, Kahndaq is an arab country on the coast of Africa that's ruled by Black Adam. The amusing thing about Gotham and Metropolis is that the cities that they are supposed to represent, ALSO exist in the comic universe. So what does a map of the US look like in DC comics? Where is New York in relation to Gotham?

Marvel comics are less in love with creating new cities. However, they have a few very prominent fictional countries. Sokovia and Latveria are both generic European countries, the former featured in Avengers: Age of Ultron, while the latter is a dictatorship ruled by Doctor Doom's iron hand. Symkaria is once again somewhere in Europe, and it's notable for it's principal export being the badass mercenary forces of Silver Sable. Wakanda is an African country ruled by Black Panther.

So, what's the point of all of this? I don't have a solid one, other than I'm curious what the motivation for it is. I'm sure there's no small amount of laziness involved, which I don't mean as an insult. When you're creating a comic book, your audience isn't exactly looking for a rock solid, realistic geopolitical setting, and it's probably pretty far from your mind. It also allows you to sidestep criticism and hurt feelings on the part of the real world country if you come up with a completely fictional country that was taken over, rather than say, Bolivia, which Ubisoft and EA have been criticized over in the past. There's also the fact that the traditions and lifestyles of the region can be whatever the story demands, rather than having to worry about it being a good depiction.

I understand the expediency of all of that, but at the same time, I want to know: What country lost some territory in order for Doctor Doom to have his weird idyllic dictatorship. Are any of the great pyramids of Egypt in Black Adam's Kahndaq? Genosha and Madripoor are both copouts in that regard, because they're island nations, but even then there's information to consider, who do they trade with? They're probably not self-sufficient.

Like I said, I don't really have a point, so there's not really a conclusion down here at the end. I've just spent a lot of brainpower thinking about it, and figured I'd share. Thanks for reading, and no, you can't get that five minutes back.

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