For many DC fans, The Ray is a character that varies depending on the era in which you grew up. For those who were children during World War II, The Ray was Lanford "Happy" Terrill, a golden-body-suited man punching Nazis alongside the Freedom Fighters. To those who read DC in the 90s, he was Ray Terrill, the son of the previous Ray. More recent readers might remember a new Ray in the wake of Infinite Crisis, or yet another one that sprung from the New 52 continuity—both of which had short lived careers and were soon relegated to Comic Book Limbo. However, with the changes brought on with DC's new Rebirth event, a fifth Ray has recently made his debut in Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1.
In this one-shot comic, by bisexual writer Steve Orlando and gay artist Stephen Byrne, The Ray is reintroduced and a brief overview of the character is given, along with his origin, powers, and supporting cast, in only 20 pages. It's a lot to take in, but the story doesn't feel rushed. Much like the 90s version of The Ray, this iteration is a young man named Raymond forced to spend his childhood in isolated darkness for fear that sunlight will have a detrimental effect on his health. His mother Nadine chides Ray for wanting to go outside, and when he asks to see his only friend Caden, she harshly reminds Ray that he hurt Caden when the flash from a camera triggered Ray’s light powers. While her frustration with the situation is understandable and she attempts to empathize with Ray, Nadine comes across a bit like the one-dimensional "evil stepmother" character that permeates so much fiction. A few pages later, though, 10 years have passed, and Ray soon escapes into the night despite Nadine's protests.
However, after a few hours roaming the streets, exposure to light from street lamps brings Ray’s powers to full bloom, and soon finds himself in an invisible ghost-like form. He proceeds to spend the next four years stuck that way, learning how to use other aspects of his powers, which include flight and creating images from light. Ray coincidentally spots a campaign ad from his childhood friend Caden Zapote, who is blind in one eye from Ray’s accidental use of his powers 14 years earlier. Curious to see how his friend is doing, Ray spies on the public meeting invisibly, until an angry xenophobic bigot shows up (with the same tech used by Ray's 90s JLA teammate Agent Liberty) and attempts to kill Caden.
Yes, the predictable "hero is spurred into action and defeats the bad guy" scenario happens, but to writer Steve Orlando's credit, it's done in a clever way that not only defeats the villain, but shows him what life is like for the people that he sought to destroy. The comic ends on a good note, with Ray (his face disguised by a combination of his powers and a makeshift mask) reconnecting with Caden and vowing not to hide in the darkness anymore. It's a promising beginning and a nice re-introduction of a legacy character to the DC Universe.
On the surface, the story sounds like yet another superhero origin story. But there's lots of subtext beneath that surface. Ray's youth spent in isolation and literal darkness is an allegory for LGBT youth who spend their lives in symbolic darkness, either due to isolation from other LGBT kids like themselves, or fear of rejection from their families, much like Raymond's terse interactions with his mother Nadine dissuaded him from going "outside" for years. Ray’s "coming out of the darkness" happens around the same time he comes out of the closet, and is the impetus for leaving his home and his mother far behind. Ray's full potential isn't reached until he has spent time out in the real world, much like many LGBT people don't reach their full potential until they leave home (an experience this writer is currently in the midst of and plans to discuss in a future article). Finally, Raymond makes the first full fledged display of his powers when the life of a fellow gay man is in grave danger. Many LGBT people rioted at Stonewall, ran for public office, or protested for LGBT rights and AIDS research because of love for their queer brethren.
Overall, the comic packs a lot of character background and development in just a few short pages, and is laden with more LGBT themes than most mainstream superhero comics on the shelves right now. The art is clean and expressive, the main characters (with the exception of the Ray’s mother) are thoughtfully developed, and it does the job of whetting the appetite for more Ray when he appears in forthcoming issues of Justice League of America: Rebirth series.