Anatomy Lessons – Action Comics #761

Brandon Thomas writes for Bleeding Cool:

"For A Thousand Years…"  by Joe Kelly & German Garcia

Joe Kelly is one of the most underrated comics writers of the Modern Age.

Now clearly, he's certainly enjoyed a long and successful career in comics, and written almost every major character there is, but for whatever reason he's not of those guys who's always talked about with the kind of pronounced reverence usually elicited by a discussion of the "greats." Personally though, I think he's a fantastic writer with a brilliant range, voice, and an ability to naturally inject humor and levity into his work, which is something of a lost art in comics nowadays. But he's great, and I think terribly underappreciated given his long résumé and some of the great scripts he's written over the years.

Action Comics 761Most people will instinctively point to his work on Action Comics #775, and it being considered by many as one of the greatest Superman stories of all time. And it is, and we'll get there, but that's not the only fantastic issue of Action Comics that Kelly penned. It's the one everyone always talks about, and rightfully so, but as someone who read that entire run of his from beginning to end, the first time I thought, "WOW, this dude really understands Superman," was during only the second issue of his tenure, in a story titled "For A Thousand Years…"

Taking a major sub-plot from the books at the time—Superman being photographed with his wedding band on—Kelly and artist Garcia deliver an epic, yet remarkably self-contained story about love, relationships, and commitment. A Sunday morning in bed together for Clark and Lois leads to an unexpected visit from Wonder Woman, and ultimately a burst of energy, which strands both Superman and Wonder Woman on Valhalla. And of course they've been summoned there by Thor to help him win a massive war. And of course this war should only take about a thousand or so years to win. Meanwhile, Lois is left to deal with an inferiority complex and a guilty conscience about a bad deal she made to save The Daily Planet. Greatness ensues.

The storytelling here is dense, there are balloons and panels everywhere, but nothing is out of place and every emotional beat is perfect. Superman's duel vows, one not to kill, even a demon, and the other to never betray Lois, are the immediate standouts here, especially once Superman's memories of her are almost entirely eroded by the ravages of time and war. Another great example of the strength and potency of Superman's will. You don't believe an ordinary man could resist temptation and loneliness for so long, but Superman can and Superman will. And as Wonder Woman says, "It's perfect. It's right. Exactly right."

What brings it on home though is the emotional war that Lois is fighting on her own, and the notion of basing Lois' brief flings with jealously and inferiority not about her own physical attractiveness versus Wonder Woman's, but because she's keeping a huge secret from Clark, was very effective. Oh, that stuff is there, most hilariously in a perfect little scene with Jimmy Olson, but what's really bothering her and making her feel slightly unworthy of Clark's love and devotion is the secret she's keeping.

And she's able to "let it go" when the big guy comes home and swoops her into his arms, in a panel that rivals a glorious double-page spread that Garcia whips out just a few pages earlier as the coolest visual in the entire story. Imagine that—"the kiss" is the best panel in this superhero comic packed with vikings and monsters because of how great the build-up is throughout.

It's just an altogether sweet story about the transformative power of committed relationships, whether they're romantic, or those between siblings or friends, and it's yet another clear instance of how wrongheaded the general assumption is that all stories about married characters are inherently less interesting. Sometimes they are, but here they certainly are not, and the relationship between Clark and Lois is never depicted as an anchor that drags the drama of Superman's stories down. Kelly's script maintains that this marriage is a source of strength and infinite resolve for them both, and that as "obvious" as some believe the pairing is, Superman and Wonder Woman work just fine as merely friends/surrogate siblings.

"For A Thousand Years" isn't drowning itself and its readers in unearned cynicism, and it's one of those stories that'll still work over ten years from now. The first of several high notes that Kelly reached throughout his run, but this one told me everything I needed to know about his ability to be great.

Look for a few more return engagements for the writer in this feature, and thanks for reading.

Brandon Thomas writes comics and writes about comics. He's written stories for Dynamite, Marvel, DC, and Arcade Comics, and co-created The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, with artist Lee Ferguson, which is available right now from Archaia in OGN format. His personal blog is The Fiction House, and his Twitter handle is @mirandamercury.   

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About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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