Why do people hate Joe Kelly so much?
I've read three decent-sized runs by the man: Action Comics, Superboy, and JLA. I've liked all three, at least to a degree.
Superboy was good overall. Kelly introduced some cool new rogues; he used Cadmus well, even telling a heart-wrenching story about the Guardian, the cost of war, the callousness of the Project, and the psychological effects of prolonged combat. He recognized that someone who stays sixteen for years, but doesn't progress past the year of his creation, ends up looking woefully unhip. He put Perry White and Jimmy Olsen in drag to cheer up the Creeper. Kelly told stories that were funny, fun to read, and even had the occasional catharsis. Then, Dan DiDio took over with a run so bad that I groused for months after I heard he was moving up the DC ladder.
On Action Comics, Kelly's run was more hit-and-miss. Kelly gave us "ebonics Kelex" and introduced "shizzle" to the Superman mythos. He bogged the title down with Kancer and the Zod story that wouldn't end and the inexplicable Japanese superhero/villain things. He did...something...with Girl 13 and Natasha Irons, though I don't exactly remember what. Most of the latter part of his run was pretty bland, but so was everything else in Superman. At least he wasn't actively sucking like Casey and Seagle.
But he also gave us a hilarious story about Clark going Christmas shopping while Etrigan wreaked havoc in Metropolis. He gave us the conflicted villain Encantadora, who was typically used to good effect. His "Last Laugh" story was second only to Loeb's "let's stop using Doomsday" tale, showing what happens when a creative Green Lantern actually goes insane. He wrote a really fun story about the Marvel family and a frog-god. I seem to recall that he was even the mastermind behind "Emperor Joker," one of the best Superman storylines in recent memory.
And he did Action Comics #775...which I'll get to later.
Then, there was his JLA run. He had some pretty big shoes to fill, following Mark Waid on a title started by Grant Morrison. Mahnke could be counted on to make the run beautiful, but well-written? "The White Rage" was incomprehensible...I think I've read it three times now, and I still don't have a clue what was going on or who half the characters were. "Stream of Subconsciousness" slammed you over the head with preachy, overtly political allegory. Kelly's last issue didn't really do much to give closure to the Batman/Wonder Woman relationship, and read more like an Elseworlds cost-benefit analysis of their potential union.
But "Two-Minute Warning" was an excellent "day in the life" story, which brought us nicely into Kelly's League. "Golden Perfect" introduced some interesting characters and put a new spin on the importance of Wonder Woman's lasso. "Trial By Fire" may have dinked with J'onn's fire vulnerability in ways that haven't quite been addressed since, but it was a decent story.
Naturally, any examination of Kelly's run has to focus at least a little on "The Obsidian Age." It's the biggest story out of the bunch, and features several different takes on the JLA, all of them interesting. The idea of someone time-traveling to the future from the distant past isn't necessarily brand-new, but it's not one you see very often, and it's definitely not one that you usually see from the point of view of the future people. The Ancient JLA had some fascinating characters, and I'd really like to see them again (maybe a miniseries?). Gamemnae brought both halves of the arc together nicely, and I liked both Nightwing's team, struggling to fill in for the heavy-hitters, and the new additions like Faith and Manitou Raven. Faith deserved better definition than she got, and that's certainly a knock at Kelly, as is the craziness of aging everyone in Atlantis by 15 years (has that ever been referenced again? I don't much like old Lori Lemaris) and killing the whole League. But Raven was a good character who died before he could really reach his potential, and Dawn was nice to have around until she became the new Manitou. Obsidian Age is a nice, epic story. It's not quite Morrison-level awesomeness (though I'd rank it higher than Crisis Times Five), but it's better than a lot of what happened under Waid.
Kelly's best stories, however, weren't the long ones. The two-part Kanjar Ro arc was fantastic, both in terms of characterization and plot. It was a quick, fun story about the League as peacemakers, but the shining moment was when the alien leader asked Wonder Woman if she was a whore.
That was fantastic, and that would have endeared me to Kelly if not for the fact that he'd already won me over with "The Dark Nut Strikes Again." People criticize the story for giving Plastic Man something to be morose about, but the story was hilarious. Batman and Plastic Man should team up more often.
He's not a perfect writer, by any means. He's certainly not my favorite writer. But, when it comes to the best modern one-issue JLA stories, I wouldn't object to including "Two Minute Warning" or "Dark Nut" alongside the best of Morrison or Waid's works. If nothing else, Kelly knows how to tell action stories, wacky fun stories, stories with an emotional impact, and sometimes even stories that include all three. That's more than can be said for many other, more popular writers.