So there is:
- Arn "Iron" Munro, a strongman (sort of a Superman analogue)
- Flying Fox, a First Nations Canadian (a very loose Batman analogue, only in the sense that they're both spooky-looking flying creatures; his powers are all tribal mysticism stuff)
- Helena "Fury" Kosmatos, deriving her power from the Greek Furies (replacing the Golden Age Wonder Woman as the mother of Lyta "Fury" Trevor of Infinity, Inc.)
- Neptune "Neptune Perkins" Perkins, who has water powers (a preexisting character, but he had only appeared in two Golden Age stories before Roy Thomas picked him up for use in All-Star Squadron; kind of an Aquaman analogue)
- Danny "Dyna-Mite" Dunbar, who has explosion powers (the only one of these characters to actually have an ongoing feature during the Golden Age, he had been sidekick to TNT)
- Miya "Tsunami" Mishada, also with water powers (she appeared as a villain in All-Star Squadron)
- [joining the team later] Paula "Tigress" Brooks, a master of all weapons (eventually it's revealed that she'll go on to be the original Huntress, a villain who appeared opposite Wildcat in Sensation Comics, as well as opposite the Helena Wayne Huntress in the 1970s All Star Comics revival)
Or is it the art? The more I read comics, the more I come to suspect things people perceive as "writing" problems are often art ones. If characters don't pop, is it because the writing is poor, or because the artists can't communicate character? I never really warmed to any of the series regular artists, and it went through a number of them. All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. were both blessed by Jerry Ordway, who went on to be a superstar, and other collaborators included standouts like Tony DeZuniga, Vince Colletta, and even, I must admit, Todd McFarlane. Young All-Stars didn't have such great artists, and the ones it did have were rarely constant; the first twelve issues had six different pencillers and six different inkers. The only one of the title's regular artists I'd ever heard of was Malcolm Jones III, who went from issue #19 of Young All-Stars in Dec. 1988 to issue #4 of obscure new title The Sandman in Apr. 1989. But being good is not the same as being a good fit, and you might guess someone well-suited to Neil Gaiman's milieu isn't well suited to Roy Thomas's, no matter how good he is.
But most of the time the series doesn't do this. I'm not sure why (various comments in the lettercol made me think it was a DC editorial directive, but also Roy Thomas seems to act like it's a creative choice at times). I think what really makes the Earth-Two/JSA stuff interesting, as I've said, is the sense of legacy and history, but that's largely lacking here.
Instead, the series often focuses on tying the DC universe into pre-superhero fiction. Iron Munro, for example, is revealed to be the son of Hugo Danner, the protagonist of the 1930 novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie (co-author of When Worlds Collide). Gladiator may have influenced Siegel and Shuster's conception of Superman, and so here Hugo Danner becomes the literal father of The Young All-Stars's Superman analogue. Similarly, Neptune Perkins is revealed to be the grandson of Arthur Gordon Pym, from the novel by Edgar Allan Poe, in a storyline that also takes in the vril (from The Coming Race, though Thomas doesn't seem to know this is the origin of the term because he never mentions it), Captain Nemo (establishing he was Pym!), and Frankenstein's creature! When Hugo Danner eventually appears, in the Sons of Dawn storyline, we learn he's taken refuge in the "lost world" of Arthur Conan Doyle fame, and there's even a relative of Professor Challenger involved.
Well, because if you're Roy Thomas, you're unable to do so in a way that's interesting. Young All-Stars doesn't really tell stories that use these connections; rather, it relates backstory that reveals them. The Arn Munro/Hugo Danner thing has an issue where basically Arn just reads Gladiator. The Dzyan Inheritance is the four-issue story where we learn about Neptune Perkins's ancestry-- and fully the first two and half issues are just people giving exposition! Does knowing his grandfather was Captain Nemo develop his character? It turns out, no; in fact, he barely contributes to the story. Sons of Dawn is the closest any of these tales come to have a present-day repercussion, but then the story is a bit of racist nonsense about how if American natives see an attractive white woman, they immediately begin with the pillaging to get ahold of her. Plus: will Arn be tempted to join his father as a genocidal dictator? Well, no, of course not.
There were a couple neat storylines aside from Atom and Evil! I liked the journey into Project M, America's attempt to create monsters to use in the war; the "Meanwhile..." issue that showed what the rest of the All-Star Squadron was up to was a fun one; the Millennium tie-in issues were fun, and a good use of the Manhunters. But too often I sighed as I opened another issue.
I'll be curious to see if future JSA writers make use of Young All-Stars concepts going forward. Something I had totally forgotten (I guess because it didn't mean much to me at the time) is that Arn Munro is actually the grandfather of the Kate Spencer Manhunter; he would sleep with the Phantom Lady, and she gave the child up for adoption, who grew up to be Kate's dad. Arn even appeared in the Forgotten and Face Off storylines, but rereading my reviews of them, I liked the Golden Age aspect of them the least! I know Helena put in some more appearances that I will get to. But did Flying Fox, Neptune Perkins, and Tsunami amount to anything? I have this inkling the answer might be "no" but comics writers always surprise me by bringing back the most obscure of concepts. Clearly Marc Andreyko was a big Young All-Stars (and Infinity, Inc.) reader, so who else was?
- All Star Comics: Only Legends Live Forever (1976-79)
- The Huntress: Origins (1977-82)
- All-Star Squadron (1981-87)
- Infinity, Inc.: The Generations Saga, Volume One (1983-84)
- Infinity, Inc.: The Generations Saga, Volume Two (1984-85)
- Showcase Presents... Power Girl (1978)
- America vs. the Justice Society (1985)
- Jonni Thunder, a.k.a. Thunderbolt (1985)
- Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 7 (1983-85)
- Infinity, Inc. #11-53 (1985-88) [reading order]
- Last Days of the Justice Society of America (1986-88)
- All-Star Comics 80-Page Giant (1999)
- Steel, the Indestructible Man (1978)
- Superman vs. Wonder Woman: An Untold Epic of World War Two (1977)
- Wonder Woman: Earth-Two (1977-78)
- Secret Origins of the Golden Age (1986-89)