Over the years, DC Comics has published some stories showing how Clark Kent moved from his childhood hometown of Smallville to the big city of Metropolis. But why did Clark choose Metropolis? Why not Chicago, or Gotham City, or Kansas City, for that matter? Granted, with Clark’s super-speed, he could work in Sydney, Australia if he’d wanted, while still living in Smallville.
The most frequent reason given since the 1950s has been that Clark moved to Metropolis in order to go to Metropolis University, where he studied journalism. Metropolis University first appeared in “Superman” (vol. 1) #125 in November 1958, and has been a mainstay of Metropolis (and many versions of Superman’s backstory) ever since.
That said, here’s a look at the comics’ various takes on how and why Clark moved to Metropolis as opposed to becoming a Kansas City/Chicago/Gotham resident…
The earliest Superman comics seemed vague about where Clark grew up. By the mid-1940s, with the introduction of Superboy, some flashbacks to Clark’s younger years began to be presented, mostly along the idea that Clark grew up in Metropolis. One such story (May 1947’s “Superman” #46) claimed Clark went to a “Metropolis High!”
By the time the Superboy series became fully established at the end of the 40s, it was also made clear that Clark grew up in a town separate from Metropolis, eventually revealed to be named “Smallville” (in 1949’s “Superboy” #2).
Post-Golden Age, while the Earth-2 Superman was stated to never have had a Superboy career (per the early Golden Age stories), it was eventually revealed in 1980’s “Superman Family” #203 that Kal-L grew up in a small town named Smallville, just like his Earth-1 counterpart.
The “Superman Family” story also indicated Earth-2’s Smallville stayed, like the post-Crisis and New 52 versions, an insignificant small town since it never had a Superboy. Earth-2’s Lana Lang, who debuted in the “Superman Family” story, stated her family had left Smallville years ago (thus never having met Clark until that story’s events), since there was “no future in such a little town.”
1986’s “Secret Origins” #1, retelling the Golden Age Superman’s origin story (and elaborating on the events of “Action Comics” #1) showed Earth-2’s Smallville was a small town located near Metropolis. It’s shown that Clark moved to the nearby big city of Metropolis to find a newspaper job, though not to go to college, per being the 1930s (when attending a university was less common versus post-World War II).
While a lack of college education not preventing getting a newspaper job with a major paper was probably plausible when Superman was first introduced in 1938, by the late 1950s, it probably seemed unlikely to the comic’s writers. The post-war increase in individuals attending college also might’ve helped spur the idea that Clark would’ve gone to college, as well.
Thus, as I noted above, Earth-1’s Clark left Smallville to go to Metropolis in order to attend college. Starting with 1955’s “Superman” #97, occasional stories were told about Superboy’s final days in Smallville (after the deaths of the Kents), including a giant “farewell” cake Superboy had baked for a going-away celebration.
As for why Metropolis University, “Superman” #359 (May 1981) reveals Clark’s alternate choices for college were Gotham City’s Gotham University and Hudson University, the college Dick Grayson attended. The story shows Clark was initially undecided about which school to attend, but a brief adventure’s events led him to feel that Metropolis was where his future truly lied.
While some stories at the time showed Smallville located near Metropolis (and Metropolis and Gotham City being twin cities), it’s made clear that Clark opted for Metropolis for its university and the city itself, not just out of the convenience of its location. (All three universities had offered Clark a scholarship, so cost wasn’t a factor.) Of course, previous stories had shown Clark visiting Metropolis on occasion (and even interned at the “Daily Planet”), so I’d imagine Metropolis might’ve been more favored by Clark over Gotham City, anyway.
After going to Metropolis, Clark made sure Superboy eventually showed up there, but delayed his debut there for some time. “Superman” #365 (November 1981) was a follow-up story, focusing on Clark’s early college days, as well as the world at large debating to which city Superboy had moved. Cue this panel showing a newscast about Las Vegas casinos taking bets to which city:
Besides that they gave better odds to Los Angeles (of all places) over Chicago (the city sometimes compared to/serves in movies and TV as Metropolis), of interest is there’s no other fake DC cities listed in that comic panel, besides Metropolis and Gotham City. No Star City, Central City, or Coast City appear above. However, Washington DC is listed (the eventual home of Wonder Woman), as are New York (eventual home of the New Teen Titans) and Detroit (one-time home of the JLA).
While there’s no Superboy post-Crisis, Clark still was shown to have moved to Metropolis to attend Metropolis University. However, he’d only moved to Metropolis after spending several years post-high school traveling the world. Since Smallville post-Crisis is now firmly in the midwest (Kansas), while Metropolis is (somewhere) out on the east coast, it’s clearly not just for convenience here, either.
From what I can recall, there’s even fewer stories focusing on Clark’s college years post-Crisis than there were pre-Crisis (and those weren’t a ton, either). The main reference to such is his romance with Lori Lemaris (which went similarly to its pre-Crisis version, sans a superhero identity), when Lori returned in the 90s stories for awhile.
Once again, Clark moves to Metropolis in the New 52 to go to Metropolis University. In this continuity, however, Clark goes to work for the “Daily Star” after college. The “Star”‘s editor-in-chief George Taylor had known the Kents in Smallville, where Taylor once worked for the “Smallville Sentinel” (a Smallville newspaper sometimes seen in Silver/Bronze Age Superboy stories). Thus, further incentive for Clark to go to a city out on the east coast.
Other media’s depictions of this matter often seem to go with Metropolis being a nearby major city to Smallville, with Clark thus moving there out of convenience/being used to Metropolis as the main “big city.” This certainly seems to be the case for the 2000s TV series “Smallville,” which kept the older comics’ “Smallville near Metropolis” motif, but oddly moved Metropolis to Kansas (instead of Smallville out east).
Being fairly close to Smallville might also be the case for 1990s series “Lois and Clark” (which used Chicago as a Metropolis stand-in).