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Friday, August 12, 2016

Taking a look at The Ray six issue mini-series (1992)

This is another mini-series I overlooked the first time. I'm going to guess it's because it said "six-issue miniseries" right on the cover, and by that point in my young life I was already savvy enough to know that first issues in ongoing series' tend to climb in value (as opposed to first issues in miniseries'). Thanks, Wizard Magazine.

Mark Beachum cover

I was aware of the Ray when he first debuted, but I'm sure I merely brushed him off as just another clone of Marvel's Nova. I was a shameless fan of Marvel's New Warriors in the early 90s, and Nova was appearing a lot in that title. I didn't like Nova. I found him too dull of a character. Obviously, me dismissing the Ray was to my loss, because the title was picked up for an ongoing series in 1994 (which I didn't purchase). Coincidentally,  Marvel also released a Nova ongoing series in 1994, and I didn't pick that one up, either (gold foil variant cover be damned). The early 90s were a wild time in comics and it was so easy to get lost in a sea of "great" titles flooding the market, you really had to be choosy with the $10 or so you had in your pocket when visiting your local comic book shop.

The recent announcement that 1) the Ray will be appearing in a new CW Seed animated feature, and 2) he's being touted as CW Seed's "First Gay Superhero Lead", had my curiosity piqued about the character and suddenly made me want to dig out any back issues I owned (and then some) from his 1992 min-series. I don't remember the Ray being gay. And if he was, I totally blanked out on it.

Created by Lou Fine, the original Ray debuted in 1940 as a Quality Comics character in issue #14 of Smash Comics. During a hot air ballooning accident, Happy Terrill is simultaneously exposed to lightning and sunlight and gains super powers. Happy Terrill is most vividly remembered as a member of Uncle Sam's Freedom Fighters (who had their own 15 issue ongoing series in 1976 and then made sporadic appearances in Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron during the early-to-mid 80s).

page from Smash Comics # 14 (1940). Property of Quality comics?
1940 origin of the The Ray (Happy Terrill)

The Ray mini-series from 1992 introduces a new character (it's his first appearance in comic book form), named Ray Terrill, who is the son of the original Ray. It's a really a well-written coming-of-age story in which the teen-aged Ray Terrill discovers that he, too, has powers. Edited by Jim Owsley (aka Christopher Priest) and written by Jack C. Harris, it's kind of difficult to determine who had more input into the story. In the letter column of issue #1, it is explained by Harris that the 1992 'Ray Revival' was heavily inspired by Harris' love of the Lou Fine version of the character (and the desire to revive the character for a new generation) as well as his time spent editing The Freedom Fighters ongoing title back in the mid-70s. In the same letter column, Jim Owsley explains that the new Ray (Ray Terrill) is based on an original concept of Owsley's called 'Avenger'. Avenger was an original character/story/concept that Owsley had brought with him to DC (presumably from Marvel), about a young man who inherits crazy super powers and needs guidance on how to use them. [Should probably be noted the Owsley edited Spider-Man for Marvel in the mid-80s. He'd have lots of experience overseeing a title about a young teenager suddenly gaining great power and responsibility.] So really, there's a bit of a discrepancy there. But why can't it be both? Owsley declares that it was Harris' idea to have the 'new' Ray be so heavily connected to the Golden Age Ray - so there's no question on who gets the credit for that.

The story is fast-paced and the art (Joe Quesada and Art Nichols) is really well done. [Joe Quesada was still relatively new to DC comics readers at this point in his career; prior to this he had illustrated a few issues of DC's Spelljammer and The Question Quarterly. Quesada's career would really take off after his work on 1992's Batman: Sword of Azrael mini-series.] There's plenty of mystery, intrigue, character development and humorous elements to keep the reader interested and wanting more. Dr. Polaris, a villain mainly associated with Green Lantern, is the lead antagonist of this mini-series and it feels 'natural' to the story. There's a bit of retconning to the origin of the 'Happy Terrill' Ray as well, but it's nothing too drastic and it doesn't tarnish the legacy of the original Golden Age character.

Humorous 'hip' dialogue courtesy of Jack C Harris

Sometimes, when a character is written as a gay character, the writer will make little subtle references without explicitly stating it but for whatever reason DC editorial will decide it may not be the best time for the character to 'come out' (due to political reasons or otherwise) and they will quickly re-write the character to cover up any hints that they are amorous towards the same sex. [I think we all secretly suspect that this is what really happened to Jericho in the New Teen Titans.] The Ray mini-series shows zero indication of this. As a matter of fact, throughout the series he's actively pursuing his childhood sweetheart - a female neighbor he grew up with.

Joe Quesada cover art

The Ray mini-series was kind of released as a 'soft launch'. More specifically, it was DC's first "un-advertised special" of 1992.  DC did not distribute any promotional flyers or posters to comic book shops advertising this mini-series - merely a few house ads scattered in random DC titles. Some retailers reported that this mini-series sold just as well as Batman and Detective Comics, and it sold out quickly because retailers ordered low numbers due to the relative obscurity of this title. This mini-series did ultimately lead to The Ray ongoing series in 1994, but with a much different creative team.

DC started to really amp up the hype around this character by having him appear in Justice League of America, The Adventures of Superman, Actions Comics, Bloodlines, Guy Gardner, Eclipso, and Justice League Quarterly in 1993. They even dedicated a card to him in their second Impel/SkyBox trading card set.

The Ray's 1993 SkyBox DC Cosmic Teams "rookie" card

If you get a chance to read this, either as single issues from a back issue bin or as the collected TPB (The Ray: In A Blaze of Power), I'd recommend that you pick it up as it's worth reading.  

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this min-series when it came out. It's a bit of an ongoing gag with me saying things like this on my Waiting For Doom podcast, but I actually really did have a letter published in issue 5.