Since 1933, New York City has been responsible for some of the best writers, artists and books in sequential art history. The Big Apple is where Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Karen Berger, and Harvey Kurtzman got their start. It’s the town both Marvel and DC call home. And with its infinite range of neighborhoods, people and moods that can change from block to block, it’s quite possibly the best place to set a book.
In honor of the city’s contributions to all things comic books, we’ve gathered the eight stories that highlight what makes New York unique.
If you’ve never hailed a cab or sat on the subway, what best symbolizes the urban playground that is NYC are its buildings. For citizens of Metropolis, life is made up of sun-drenched granite and gleaming skyscrapers. For those stuck in Gotham City, it’s an existence spent avoiding the dark alley sandwiched between two Gothic-styled high-rises. But despite their differences, both cities are a slice of the Big Apple, with each pastiche representing the hopes and fears of anyone looking out at New York’s famous skyline.
Out in the streets
Beyond the steel framework that shelters the city, there’s an abundance of life. In the concrete jungle, that life isn’t just ubiquitous—it’s loud. There’s the clunking garbage truck and the rumble of trains underfoot when you walk to work. There’s the string quartet playing alongside the wailing drunk on your way home. And there’s still that car alarm that keeps going off down the block when you’re trying to get some sleep. Will Eisner’s version of “the city that never sleeps” left out the superheroes, but it nailed what was really responsible for the street music of the five boroughs.
The old stomping ground
Other superheroes may call New York home, but Spider-Man is the guy who best represents it. Both Peter Parker and Miles Morales were born and bred among the toughest the city had to offer, and they still can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s almost as if no amount of criminals or crazed Daily Bugle editors can keep them from enjoying life in the Empire City. Something about swinging down Broadway for the thousandth time must be enough to remind the Spider-Men that they’ll always be a part of something special.
A strange new place
New city. Fresh start. Dangerous ooze. It’s not exactly how everybody gets welcomed to New York, but any outsider can certainly empathize with the Turtles. After all, a lot of newcomers end up hiding away and ordering delivery until they discover all of the unfamiliar and fascinating things their new home has to offer. Whether you’re a sewer-dwelling mutant or just from out of town, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and amazed while trying to figure where you fit in within America’s most hectic metropolis.
The daily fight for survival
Sometimes, it takes an anti-war allegory to say how you really feel about a place as complex as New York City. Life in Brian Wood’s futuristic demilitarized zone is often short, violent and tragic, but those who find a way to survive are rewarded with a sense of purpose. Matty Roth and Zee dodge gunfire and explosions—much in the same way actual people are out there every day, fighting to justify their presence in a city that, at its worst, can be as harsh and unforgiving as any war-torn city.
An ideological battleground
Let’s face it: Few cities in America, besides New York, would put up with a superhero, even if he did fight terrorism and save one of the World Trade Center towers. The idea of a costumed guy flying around fighting crime is too weird to be taken seriously anywhere else, but for those who seek to control the size of soda cups, it’s perfect. For better or worse, New York is where new ideas meet debate, and the city has seen enough rallies and protests to prove it. And hey, once you get past Mitchell Hundred’s whole ex-superhero thing, it’s not like having an outspoken, progressive independent for a mayor is anything special in New York.
Despite its population of 8 million, a bad day in New York can leave you feeling like you’re the only one in the world with problems. In bars, apartments and bodegas, your personal tragedy unfolds in hushed arguments and stifled tears while the city’s cacophony further isolates you. But as alone as you feel, Sherman, Ed, Jane, and Stephen understand, because they’ve been there, too. The characters of Alex Robinson’sgraphic novel have been where you’ve been, and just like any New Yorker, they know what it’s like to hide in a sea of stories.
Yet, what matters most about New York City is that, for as long as you’re there, it can make you feel like it’s the center of the world. All roads, all bridges, and all trains (except the G) bring you closer to what makes the place special. Everything is interconnected, even when each neighborhood does its best to remain distinct. The young women of The New York Five have no trouble grabbing breakfast in Washington Square Park, trekking out to Sunnyside to visit family in the afternoon, and still finding the time to catch a show in Williamsburg that night. From the small communities that pop up inside apartment buildings to the New Yorker attitude that unites the city, the Big Apple invites you to be a part of it—at every turn.
This article was updated September 24, 2014