Have we talked about this scene yet? Because I want to talk about this scene and why it’s important that this is the memory Steve is thinking about right before he has to face the Winter Soldier again.
We all know how out of place and unhappy Steve feels in modern society. The moviedoesn’t make any bones about it. Even though good ol’ Cap exudes positivity, we see how he uses his time. When he’s not at work for SHIELD, he’s grasping at straws, trying to catch up, trying to make sense of how he fits in a world that’s moved on without him. When Steve starts to feel out of place even when he’s playing soldier for SHIELD, Sam tells him that he could do something different, anything at all; but Steve looks blank. Sam asks him what makes him happy, and Steve doesn’t know.
The only thing that keeps him going is knowing that his sacrifice helped save the world. As he says to Peggy, he always wanted to do “what was right,” and at least he can take some comfort from the fact that he helped save countless lives from Hydra by losing everything that meant a damn to him.
That is, until he and Natasha find Zola in the underground bunker and they find out that Hydra is still alive and well – thriving, even – within the ranks of SHIELD.
This is the moment Steve learns he gave up his life for nothing.
So. The flashback scene.
I’ve heard some people say that they think the scene is extraneous. That it’s enough to know that Bucky and Steve were friends way back when, only Bucky doesn’t remember (and if you want more skinny!Steve and scenes of Bucky and Steve being chummy, go back and watch The First Avenger). On the surface, it may seem like this scene is rehashing old territory, but it’s actually telling us quite a bit more than that.
Bucky is walking Steve home after his mother’s funeral, and Steve is obviously vulnerable and shaken. His parents were the foundational figures of his life, and they’re both gone now. Before Bucky can even get the question out, Steve rejects the idea of moving in with Bucky. He insists he can get by on his own. Then he fumbles clumsily in his jacket looking for his key, but he can’t find it. Bucky casually picks up the spare and hands it to him.
It’s such a simple gesture, but the camera focuses in on that key like it’s the freaking Tesseract. Why? Why is this moment with Bucky so prominent in Steve’s thoughts? Why not something out of their days together with the Howling Commandos? Or why not something from when they were kids running around on the playground?
This moment is an echo of exactly what Steve’s feeling in the future: lost and alone. Everything that means home is shut behind the locked door of time (or a coffin lid).
But against all possibility, Bucky is alive. And, to Steve, Bucky doesn’t just have the key back home, he is the key back home.
“I can get by on my own.”
“But the thing is, you don’t have to.”
Suddenly that promise is everything. If Bucky is still alive, then Steve isn’t alone. He didn’t make a mistake putting the plane in the water. There’s a meaning for him to be in this time and place, and Bucky is that meaning. That’s why Steve has to believe Bucky will remember, why he desperately doesn’t want to fight him. Steve wants them both to be able to go home again.
I watched To The Bone on Netflix and while there were aspects of it that were problematic, I’m really glad that I watched it because it made me realize that I have to get my shit together. I need to take care of my body and learn to love myself! I can’t let my insecurities and issues get in the way of my happiness anymore, and I’ve got to prioritize my health.
First and most importantly, before we go into petty commercial concerns, let’s remember the meaning of this day. Because friends, this is no ordinary day: this is Miracle Monday, the anniversary of Superman triumphing over no less than the biblical prince of darkness himself (or at least a respectable substitute), and it was so awesome that even though it was expunged from humanity’s collective consciousness, they still instinctively recognized the third Monday of May as a day of good cheer to be celebrated in Superman’s honor from now until the end of time.
I know I write plenty about Superman on here, but with as much as a pain as comics can be to get into, I’m sure at least some of those I’m lucky enough to have follow me haven’t been able to find an easy in for the character. Or maybe a follower-of-a-follower or friend-of-a-friend is looking for a reasonable place to start. So in the spirit of the season, I’ll toss on the (admittedly already pretty massive) pile of recommended starting points on Superman: ten stories in a recommended - but by no means strict - order that should, as a whole, give you a pretty decent idea of what Superman’s deal is and why you should care, all of which you should be able to find pretty easily on Comixology or a local bookstore/comic book shop. I’ll probably do a companion to this in September for Batman Day.
1. Superman: Birthright
What it’s about: It’s his origin. He gets rocketed to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton, he gets raised by farmers, he puts on tights to fight crime, he meets Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, he deals with Kryptonite, all the standard-issue Superman business.
Why you should read it: It does all that stuff better than anyone else. He’s had a few different takes on his origins over the years due to a series of reboots, another of those tellings is even further down the list, but the first major modern one pretty much hit the nail on the head first try. It toes the tricky line of humanizing him without making you forget that hey, he’s Superman, it’s high-action fun without skimping on the character, and if there’s any one story that does the best job of conveying why you should look at an invincible man-god all but beyond sin or death with no major inciting incident in his background as a likable, relatable character, this is it. Add in some of the best Lane and Luthor material out there, and it’s a no-brainer.
Further recommendations if you liked it: About a decade before writing Birthright, its author Mark Waid worked with Alex Ross on what ended up one of DC’s biggest comics ever, Kingdom Come, the story of a brutal near-future of out-of-control superheroes that ultimately narrowed down to being about Superman above all else, and one of his most popular and influential stories of all time at that. Years after Birthright he created Irredeemable, the story of a Superman pastiche named Plutonian gone murderously rogue and how he reached his breaking point, illustrating a lot of what makes Superman special by way of contrast.
(Since Superman’s had so many notable homage/analogue/pastiche/rip-off/whatever-you-want-to-call-it characters compared to other superheroes, often in very good stories, there’ll be a number of those stories on this list.)
2. Superman: Up, Up and Away
What: Ever seen Superman Returns? That, but good. Clark Kent’s been living and loving a normal life as a reporter and husband after a cosmic dust-up in one of DC’s event comics took Superman off the board for a year, but mounting threats demand his return to save Metropolis again, if he still can.
Why: If you’d rather skip the origin, this is as a good a place as you’ll find to jump onboard. Clark and Lois both get some solid characterization, a number of classic villains have solid screentime, there’s some interesting Kryptonian mythology sticking its head in without being too intrusive, a great overarching threat to Metropolis, and it captures how Superman’s powers work in a visceral sense better than almost anything else. If you just want a classic, pick-it-up-and-go Fun Superman Story, this is where to go.
Recommendations: If you liked this, you’ll probably be inclined to enjoy the rest of co-writer Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics, including most popularly Legion of Superheroes and Brainiac, both with artist Gary Frank. Another series tapping into that classic Superman feeling pretty well - regardless of whether you enjoyed the original show or not - is Smallville: Season 11, showing the adventures of that series’ young Clark Kent once he finally becomes Superman. Currently, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s run on the main Superman title under the banner of DC Rebirth is maintaining that feeling itself, properly introducing Jon Kent, Lois and Clark’s 10-year-old-son, as Superboy in what seems to be a permanent addition to the cast and mythology (though there’s some continuity hiccups there, even as they’re mostly kept to the background - for the first 20 issues Superman is a refugee from a previous continuity, don’t ask).
3. Superman: Secret Identity
What: He’s Clark Kent, an aspiring writer from a farm town in Kansas. Problem is he’s only named after the other guy, an ordinary teenager who’s put up with crap his whole life for being named after a comic book character in an ordinary world. But when he suddenly finds himself far closer to his namesake than he ever would have imagined, it becomes the journey of his life to find how to really be a Superman.
Why: The best ‘realistic’ Superman story by a long shot, this doesn’t sideline its heart in favor of pseudo-science justifications for what he can do, or the sociopolitical impact of his existence. He has the powers, he wears the costume to save people (though he never directly reveals himself to the world), and in-between he lives his life and learns what it means to be a good man. It’s quiet and sweet and deeply human, and probably one of the two or three best Superman comics period.
Recommendations: Superman: American Alien is probably as close as there’s been to taking this kind of approach to the ‘real’ Superman, showing seemingly minor and unconnected snippets from his life, from childhood to his early days in the costume, and how they unconsciously shaped him into the man he becomes. If you like the low-key, pastoral aesthetic, you might enjoy Superman for All Seasons, or the current title Supergirl: Being Super. If you’d like more of writer Kurt Busiek’s work, his much-beloved series Astro City - focusing on a different perspective in the superhero-stuffed metropolis in every story - opens with A Dream of Flying, set from the point of view of the Superman-like Samaritan, telling of his quiet sorrow of never being to fly simply for its own sake in a world of dangers demanding his attention.
4. Of Thee I Sing
What: Gotham hitman Tommy Monaghan heads to the roof of Noonan’s bar for a smoke. Superman happens to be there at the time. They talk.
Why: A lot of people call this the best Superman story of the 90s, and they’re not wrong. Writer Garth Ennis doesn’t make any bones about hating the superhero genre in general (as evidenced by their treatment in the rest of Hitman), but he has a sincere soft spot for Superman as an ideal of what we - and specifically Americans - are supposed to be, and he pours it all out here in a story of what it means for Superman to fail, and why he remains Superman regardless. It sells the idea that an unrepentant killer - even one only targeting ‘bad guys’ like Tommy - would unabashedly consider Superman his hero, and that’s no small feat.
Recommendations: If you read Hitman #34 and love it but don’t intend to check out the rest of the series (why? It’s amazing), go ahead and read JLA/Hitman, a coda to the book showing the one time Tommy got caught up in the Justice League’s orbit, and what happens when Superman learns the truth about his profession, culminating in a scene that sums up What Superman Is All About better than maybe any other story. If you appreciated the idea of a classically decent Superman in an indecent world, you might enjoy Al Ewing’s novel Gods of Manhattan (the middle of a loose pulp adventure trilogy with El Sombra and Pax Omega, which I’ve discussed in the past), starring Doc Savage and Superman analogue Doc Thunder warring with a fascistic new vigilante in a far different New York City.
5. Superman: Camelot Falls
What: On top of a number of other threats hitting Superman from all sides, he receives a prophecy from the wizard Arion, warning of a devastating future when mankind is faced with its ultimate threat; a threat it will be too weak to overcome due to Superman’s protection over the years, but will still only just barely survive without him. Will he abandon humanity to a new age of darkness, or try and fight fate to save them knowing it could lead to their ultimate extinction?
Why: From the writer of Secret Identity and co-writer of Up, Up and Away!, this is probably the best crack at the often-attempted “Would having Superman be around actually be a good thing for humanity in the long term?” story. Beyond having the courtesy of wrapping that idea up in a really solid adventure rather than having everyone solemnly ruminate for the better part of a year, it comes at it from an angle that doesn’t feel like cheating either logically or in terms of the characters, and it’s an extremely underrated gem.
Recommendations: For the same idea tackled in a very different way, there’s the much better-known Superman: Red Son, showing the hero he would have become growing up in the Soviet Union rather than the United States; going after similar ideas is the heartfelt Superman: Peace on Earth. The rest of Kurt Busiek’s time on the main Superman title was great too, even if this stood easily as the centerpiece; his other trades were Back In Action, Redemption, The Third Kryptonian, and Shadows Linger. Speaking of underrated gems, Gail Simone’s run on Action Comics from around the same time with John Byrne was also great, collected in Strange Attractors. And since the story opens with an excellent one-shot centered around his marriage to Lois, I have to recommend From Krypton With Love if you can track it down in Superman 80-Page Giant #2, and Thom Zahler’s fun Lois-and-Clark style webcomic Love and Capes.
6. Superman Adventures
What: A spinoff of Superman: The Animated Series, this quietly chugged along throughout the latter half of the 90s as the best of the Superman books at the time.
Why: Much as stories defining his character and world are important, the bread and butter of Superman is just regular old fun comics, and there’s no better place to go than here for fans of any and all ages. Almost all of its 66 issues were at least pretty fun, but by far most notable were two runs in particular - Scott McCloud, the guy who would go on to literally write the book on the entire medium in Understanding Comics, handled the first year, and Mark Millar prior to his breakout success wrote a number of incredibly charming and sincere Superman stories here, including arguably the best Luthor story in How Much Can One Man Hate?, and a full comic on every page in 22 Stories In A Single Bound.
Recommendations: Superman has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to runs of just plain fun comics. For the youngest in your family, Superman Family Adventures might just be what you’re looking for. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade would fit on your shelf very well next to Superman Adventures. Superman: Secret Origin, while not the absolute best take on his early days, has some real charm and would be an ideal introduction for younger readers that won’t talk down to them in the slightest, and that you’ll probably like yourself (especially since it seems to be the ‘canon’ Superman origin again). If you’re interested in something retro, The Superman Chronicles cover his earliest stories from the 30s and 40s, and Showcase Presents: Superman collects many of his most classic adventures from the height of his popularity in the 50s and 60s. Age of the Sentry and Alan Moore’s Supreme would also work well. For slightly older kids (i.e. middle school), they might get a kick out of Mark Millar and Lenil Yu’s Superior, or What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way? And finally, for just plain fun Superman runs, I can’t ignore the last year of Joe Casey’s much-overlooked time on The Adventures of Superman.
7. Superman vs. Lex Luthor
What: Exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of 12 Luthor stories from his first appearance to the early 21st century.
Why: Well, he’s Superman’s biggest enemy, that’s why, and even on his own is one of the best villains of all time. Thankfully, this is an exceptionally well-curated collection of his greatest hits; pouring through this should give you more than a good idea of what makes him tick.
Recommendations: While he has a number of great showings in Superman-centric comics, his two biggest solo acts outside of this would be Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Luthor (originally titled Lex Luthor: Man of Steel) and Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics, where Lex took over the book for about a year. Also, one of Superman’s best writers, Elliot S! Maggin, contributed a few stories here - he’s best known for his brilliant Superman novels Last Son of Krypton and the aforementioned Miracle Monday, and he wrote a number of other great tales I picked some highlights from in another article.
8. Grant Morrison’s Action Comics
What: Spanning years, it begins in a different version of Superman’s early days, where an as-yet-flightless Clark Kent in a t-shirt and jeans challenged corrupt politicians, grappling with the public’s reaction to its first superhero even as his first true menace approaches from the stars. Showing his growth over time into the hero he becomes, he slowly realizes that his life has been subtly influenced by an unseen but all-powerful threat, one that in the climax will set Superman’s greatest enemies’ against him in a battle not just for his life, but for all of reality.
Why: The New 52 period for Superman was a controversial one at best, and I’d be the last to deny it went down ill-advised roads and made outright bone-stupid decisions. But I hope if nothing else this run is evaluated in the long run the way it deserves; while the first arc is framed as something of a Superman origin story, it becomes clear quickly that this is about his life as a whole, and his journey from a cocksure young champion of the oppressed in way over his head, to a self-questioning godling unsure of the limits of his responsibilities as his powers increase, and finally an assured, unstoppable Superman fighting on the grandest cosmic scale possible against the same old bullies. It gives him a true character arc without undermining his essential Superman-ness, and by the end it’s a contender for the title of the biggest Superman story of all.
Recommendations: Outside of this, Greg Pak’s runs on Action Comics and Batman/Superman, and Tom Taylor/Robson Rocha’s 3-issue Batman/Superman stint, as well as Scott Snyder, Jim Lee and Dustin Nguyen’s blockbuster mini Superman Unchained, are the best of the New 52 era. If you’re looking for more wild cosmic Superman adventure stories, Grant Morrison’s Superman Beyond is a beautiful two-part adventure (it ties in to his event comic Final Crisis but largely works standalone), and Joe Casey’s Mr. Majestic was a largely great set of often trippy cosmic-scale adventure comics with its Superman-esque lead. For something a little more gonzo, maybe try the hilariously bizarre Coming of the Supermen by Neal Adams. And while his role in it is relatively minor, if we’re talking cosmic Superman-related epics, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World has to be mentioned - it’ll soon be reissued in omnibus format to coincide with the Justice League movie, since many of its concepts made it in there.
9. Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
What: More than just the title story, DC issued a collection of all three of Watchmen writer Alan Moore’s Superman stories: For The Man Who Has Everything, where Superman finds himself trapped in his idea of his ideal life while Batman, Wonder Woman and Robin are in deadly danger in the real world, Jungle Line, where a deliriously ill and seemingly terminal Superman finds help in the most unexpected place, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Moore’s version of the final Superman story.
Why: Dark Superman stories are a tricky tightrope to walk - go too far and you invalidate the core his world is built around - but Moore’s pretty dang good at his job. Whatever Happened you should wait to read until you’ve checked out some Superman stories from the 1960s first since it’s very much meant as a contrast to those, but For The Man Who Has Everything is an interesting look at Superman’s basic alienation (especially in regards to his characterization in that period of his publication history) with a gangbuster final fight, and Jungle Line is a phenomenal Superman horror story that uncovers some of his rawest, most deeply buried fears.
Recommendations: There are precious few other dark Superman stories that can be considered any real successes outside a few mentioned among other recommendations; the closest I can think of is Superman: For Tomorrow, which poses some interesting questions framed by gorgeous art, but has a reach tremendously exceeding its grasp. Among similar characters though, there are some real winners; Moore’s own time on Miracleman was one of the first and still one of the most effective looks at what it would mean for a Superman-like being to exist in the real world, and the seminal novel Superfolks, while in many ways of its time, was tremendously and deservedly influential on generations of creators. Moore had another crack at the end of a Superman-like figure in his Majestic one-shot, and the Change or Die arc of Warren Ellis’ run on Stormwatch (all of which is worth reading) presented a powerful, bittersweet look at a superman’s attempt at truly changing the world for the better.
10. All-Star Superman
What: Superman rescues the first manned mission to the sun, sabotaged by Lex Luthor. His powers have reached greater heights than ever from the solar overexposure, but it’s more than his cells can handle: he’s dying, and Lex has won at last. This is what Superman does with his last year of life.
Why: I put this at the bottom since it works better the more you like Superman, but if you’re only going to read one story on this list, this one has to be it. It’s one of the best superhero stories period, and it’s everything that’s wistful and playful and sad and magical and wonderful about Superman in one book.
Recommendations: If you’re interested in the other great “Death of Superman” story, skip the 90s book and go to co-creator Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan’s 60s ‘Imaginary Story’, also one of the best Superman stories ever, and particularly one of Luthor’s best showings. If you got a kick out of the utopian ‘Superman fixes everything’ feel of a lot of it, try The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue! The current Supergirl title by Steve Orlando seems to be trying to operate on a pretty similar wavelength, and is definitely the best thing coming out of the Superman family of books right now. The recent Adventures of Superman anthology series has a number of creators try and do their own ‘definitive’ Superman stories, often to great results. And Avengers 34.1 starring Hyperion by Al Ewing and Dale Keown taps into All-Star’s sense of an elevated alien perspective paired with a deep well of humanity to different but still moving results.
You were running late. You were the last to finish your shift that day. Jim and Leonard had suggested a final night out before heading out on another long space mission. You had tried to turn them down, several times. You weren’t that big of a drinker, and honestly, you just wanted to sleep. You finally had to relent; it was the only way to get any relief from their constant begging for you to join them.
you know, I love this scene in the movie but I also love this alternate take because of the familiarity of it? How normal it just feels. Like, this is the first time we ever see the crew outside of their work place, with casual clothes, just having fun at a party. And it’s the only real glimpse we get of them being just friends hanging out together.. of their family dynamic. I love Spock and Nyota seem to be sharing a little happy kiss in front of their friends because, really, they already know they are an item since years and no one really cares about the pda at this point because they are used to it (and our expectations and prejudices about Spock as an introvert private vulcan are, once again, proved wrong by my dude because this would be the second time he has game kisses his girl in front of other people
/DGAForeva) And Jim is affectionately making a subtle ‘kissy’ face to tease them a bit for it because it’s adorbs, and maybe he’s the one who teases them about their little pda and always makes faces at them, this is his thing. Bones is just thinking about the new ship and…space, and trying to remember why he chose this job, again, but also really hoping that new medbay will finally be adeguate to his patients’ needs, and that they have fixed all the things that he had complained about for 3 years (and if they didn’t, he’ll just complain about it to Jim, again). Then there is Pavel who is just happy.. look Hikaru look! and Sulu’s like I know I know, and he puts his arm around Chekov and he’s about to put his arm on Spock’s back too, but he stops because he remembers that not all his friends are the same, even if he loves them all the same. Scotty is probably noticing, even from distance, all the things he doesn’t like already.. like a proud father looking at the wedding dress of his daughter and trying to understand if it’s truly adeguate for her beauty or they could do better. and then there is Jaylah who really doesn’t look that interested about the Enterprise, because, after all, she doesn’t even know her. And it’s not the Franklin, it’s not her home yet. For now she’s more focused on that starfleet card in her hand and imagininghow the Academywill be her home from now on and all the things she will learn there.