In this particular case, I think it’s probably “Things Everyone Loves About Comics: Karl Kesel”. Because really, who has bad things to say about Karl Kesel? He’s a phenomenally talented inker who’s been working in the indsutry for decades, alongside everyone from John Byrne to Rob Liefeld, and who has a gift for making everyone he works with look better. (If you’re thinking, “He sure didn’t make Rob Liefeld look good,” remember that I just said “better”. Industry legend has it that Rob turned in the pencils for the final issue of the ‘Hawk and Dove’ mini-series late, without and hands or feet drawn in for any of the characters, then took the metaphorical phone off the hook. Those hands and feet you see there? All the work of the inker, which means they may be the only correctly drawn feet in a Liefeld book ever.)
In addition to his art, he’s got a lot of great writing work under his belt. The 90s ‘Hawk and Dove’ series he did with his then-wife Barbara remains a cult favorite, with all sorts of the things I absolutely love about comics that we never get to see enough of. (They actually created new villains for the series! It had unironic humor! The heroes used their powers cleverly, and were sympathetic and likeable! There was a really strong supporting cast, and good love interests for each of the two leads, who despite being male and female didn’t spontaneously fall in love! …until after the series ended, but in the interests of staying relentlessly positive I will not touch ‘Armageddon 2001’ with a twenty-meter cattle prod.) (And neither should anyone else.)
He did a phenomenal, well-remembered run on ‘The Adventures of Superman’ that’s perhaps best known for introducing the new Superboy…who wasn’t always that emo, I swear! As with ‘Hawk and Dove’, his run was always characterized by well-written, funny dialogue and fast-paced adventure (which he carried over to his two excellent runs on ‘Superboy’. Probably my favorite moment in the history of the character was when Knockout tried to manipulate him into becoming a supervillain, finally trying to cement his corruption by telling him to kill another villain in an issue-ending cliffhanger…only to told, at the start of the next issue, “Are you nuts?”) He wrote ‘The Final Night’, which was a nice, tight, one-month crossover of the kind we saw for about four years from DC and then never again, which gave Hal Jordan a noble, dignified send-off that undid a lot of the poor treatment he’d suffered at the hands of DC’s editorial crew and probably should have stayed as the final end for the character. He also did some nice work for the probably-misconceived but still well-written Tangent line from DC (he was the one who did the Joker stories).
Over at Marvel, he had a tragically underappreciated Daredevil run (anyone remember the awesome story where Mister Hyde was framed for murder and Matt Murdock had to defend him? That was Karl Kesel.) He also wrote the first few issues of ‘Fantastic Four 2099’, the really high quality ones before the line utterly imploded because Marvel fired the line editor and all the talented writers walked in protest. (There is, somewhere, an alternate universe where Marvel kept Joey Cavalieri on, and Peter David and Warren Ellis and Karl Kesel kept writing their respective titles for another few years at least. I want to go there and steal all the comics.) He wrote an awesome FF annual where Ben Grimm traveled to a parallel universe where Marvel time mapped to real time one-to-one, and Johnny was in his late forties and thinking about retiring and leaving the whole “super hero” business to his kids. (High concept, and funny as hell.) He also wrote some great fill-in issues of the regular FF series, including the one where Ben Grimm was revealed to be Jewish (in what was ultimately a very touching Jack Kirby tribute. Another thing that Kesel loves to do is to tribute Kirby in ways both small and large. I approve.) I’m still hoping that someday he’ll get a regular gig writing the FF, because he has their voices down perfectly.
Oh, and he also did a really cute and clever “inverted X-Files” series called ‘Section Zero’ that was a victim of the implosion of the Gorilla Comics company, but that was way ahead of its time and presaged series like ‘The Middleman’ and ‘Warehouse 13′. It’s a frustrating theme of Kesel’s writing that all too often, he’s not considered to be a “hot” creator, and his work gets short shrift as a result. Either someone more famous comes along to write the book (like Kevin Smith on DD), or sales aren’t high enough to sustain a series. Which is a damn shame, because I’ve never read a Karl Kesel comic that hasn’t brought a huge smile to my face.
Oh, and if all that doesn’t convince you that he’s awesome, he just sold his whole comics collection. Why? To pay the medical bills of a special-needs baby he adopted. Even if he’d never written or drawn a single comic, that’d make him special. When you add it to everything else, it makes him one of comics’ unsung heroes…but I like to think that everyone who knows anything about him knows that he’s one of the great ones.