Joe Kelly’s run on JLA was…, I think interesting is the right word. Some very good stories and some, that while quite ambitious, failed to work. It starts with the Golden Perfect TPB, where Wonder Woman’s action make the universal truth break down. I found the whole idea pretty outre, but not in a positive way. It was more like, what kind of mushroom has he been taking. It already exhibited a typical (and not always welcome) aspect of Kelly’s work on the JLA, a mix of wide-screen superhero action that is used to explore morality where no clear black or white answer is present. Sadly, Kelly solves most of these issues with a high amount of naivety and idealism that feels completely disconnected from the real world. This still worked in Golden Perfect, where the background for the whole moral dilemma was also pretty disconnected from real world issues.
After that followed the high point of Kelly’s whole run, a very long story that saw the JLA travel back to the far past to find Aquaman, but where they instead found an ancient precursor of the JLA that protected Atlantis and thought the modern JLA were harbingers of doom. This was really well done, with Kelly introducing new and unique characters and a perfectly executed parallel plot progression in the present and the past. Collected in the Obsidian Age TPB part one and two. Pretty good stuff, if you want the best of Kelly’s run, it’s here.
Rules of Engagement, that followed after the Obsidian Age, was sadly not so good. Pretty much the low point of the whole run. I can understand Kelly’s interest in exploring morality or even hot issues, but the stories collected here lacked any kind of subtlety and made the whole JLA look like sock puppets for the author. The rule of thumb to not include any real-world politics or problems in superhero comics doesn’t mean it should never been done. It’s merely born from the experience that most writers completely fail at it, since exploring superheroes with a real-world lens usually makes everyone look stupid. There have been a few who managed it successfully, but Kelly’s not one of them. The TPB collected also a fill-in issue by Rick Veitch, which was pretty weak too.
Between Rules of Engagement and Trial by Fire was also the uncollected issue 83. Understandable, as it’s just more of the sock puppet JLA and the whole annoying “it’s just a dream” conclusion that makes this issue pretty much pointless. It also misses it’s target by a wide margin. Invading Iraq wasn’t about the truth, because anyone with a brain could have seen that this was just a bullshit line to sell a war. The real question is whether such an outside intervention could have done anything at all to make the life of the people better by destroying most of their abusive political power structure. Did the killing really solve any problems or did it merely made matters worse.
The last storyline is collected in the Trial by Fire TPB. It’s an excellent story and a grand finale to Kelly’s run. Unleashed by good intentions the Matian Manhunter transforms into some pre-historic Martian that wants nothing else than to burn the world and unleash his children. Wide-screen superhero action that sees the return of Plastic Man (absent since the Obsidian Age) and shows him to be a truly formidable power. After that follows another uncollected story where Wonder Woman tries out a dream machine to get closure for her feelings for Batman, but since the ending couldn’t be anything else than what happened, it’s a bit pointless anyway. And a dream story again, so no point in missing that one.