If you ever discover that you’re living in a fictional world, my advice is to stay far away from Manhattan. In our reality, Manhattan is a bustling metropolis full of culture, enterprise, and good people. But, in the realm of fiction, Manhattan is often one of the first places that goes on lockdown when the worst occurs. Most recently, we’ve seen this situation with Tom Clancy’s The Division where a smallpox infection dubbed “Green Poison” causes mass hysteria and forces Manhattan to be quarantined.
You’ll find Manhattan’s predilection for getting walled off in a lot of popular fiction. Staying with video games, the Prototype series pretty much turns its version of Manhattan Island into a hellscape. The Blacklight virus mutates its hosts into an array of nightmarish creatures while protagonist Alex Mercer (and in the sequel, James Heller) gains extraordinary powers from the infection. It’s not a very realistic depiction of a viral outbreak but it sure is a fun one.
Even Spider-Man has had to deal with a Manhattan quarantine; back in 2011, the Spider-Island storyline presented a scenario where the wall-crawler saw most of Manhattan’s inhabitants infected with his superpowers. It turns out that the villainous Jackal was behind the scheme and even gave Spider-Man costumes to some villains hoping to frame Spider-Man for the chaos.
When it comes to cinema, you won’t want for Manhattan disasters. Probably the most classic of these is John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. Set in the distant future of 1997, Manhattan has been turned into a penitentiary where the inmates are allowed to run wild. Anti-hero Snake Plissken has to infiltrate the prison in order to rescue the President of the United States who crash-landed there when Air Force One was taken over by rebels.
Like your Manhattan with more monsters? Try the 2007 film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s seminal novel I Am Legend. Though the book takes place in Los Angeles — you should definitely read the book — the film moves the action to Manhattan where lonely Robert Neville must do battle against hordes of vampiric beasties. The film does show us a future where Batman v Superman was released, but it was a little too early (the poster in the film gives a release date of May 5, 2010).
Director Roland Emmerich definitely loves to make his Manhattan a sealed-off danger zone. The overly ridiculous climate change in The Day After Tomorrow traps the protagonists on the island for most of the movie’s running time. And do we even need to bring up his Godzilla? The entire island is shutdown and somehow a giant lizard — which Japan and I refuse to call Godzilla — finds a way to hide between the buildings?
You can’t even win in alternate timelines! In the television series Heroes, there’s a possible timeline that the characters visit where Manhattan has been practically wiped out by an outbreak (the Shanti virus). Thankfully, this future did not come to pass, but come on! If you thought you just snag Rick Sanchez’s portal gun and visit another universe’s Manhattan, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Manhattan is a fantastic place to live in the world we inhabit, but for all the fictional characters we love, it’s a Tom Clancy video game/Roland Emmerich movie waiting to happen.
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