3.09.2012

The Ray :: Road to Comic-Con #1


Superman, Batman, and Wonderwoman - D.C.'s holy trinity of iconic superheroes. Just a notch below the three of them are the Green Lantern and the Flash. Everybody knows them. These are D.C.'s flagship heroes, sometimes banded together for the purposes of saving earth together under the banner of the Justice League.

And like everyone else, those are the heroes that immediately come to my mind as well when anyone asks about D.C. I followed all of them throughout the 90's era of comic books and have fond memories of some of their most epic, human moments: Superman's death/revival, the breaking of Batman, the downfall of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Wally West's ascension/evolution as the Flash to combat the Reverse Flash. To me, those are some of the all-time signature moments in superhero lore and solidify each of their top ten standings in my book of super hero rankings.

In the midst of it all, a young superhero debuted in the early 90's and called himself "The Ray". Now, I wouldn't claim that this guy is anywhere near their level - he's been treated as a fifth tier utility hero and a wanderer for most of his D.C. career - but I've always believed that this guy has second tier potential.

Co-created by Joe Quesada himself in 1992 (Quesada would go on to become Marvel's Editor in Chief in 2000 and Marvel's Chief Creative Officer in 2010), Ray had a different feel to him. Unlike the aforementioned heroes that established themselves in the 70's and the 80's, this was a coming of age story for a brand new hero.

So what does the Ray (II) do? In short, he's a being made of light (he's a human that inherited his father's (the golden age ray) genetically altered DNA). His powers are largely undefined since every time he shows up they give him new ones, but staples of his powerset include transformation into light, flight, heat powers, and green lantern-esque solid light object construction.

In light form, he's shrunk into laser beams, carrier waves capable of teleporting people, and of course, becomes immune to physical damage. His light speed travel destroys his clothes so he uses his powers to create clothing constructs / armor for himself. And borrowing from the Rocketeer, his fin shaped helmet protects him from whiplash effects and assists his flight powers.

To that end, he's also decent at creating things from illusions to force fields, and although a little bit more crass, he can also generate and shoot various energy projectiles that melt / irradiate its targets. Pretty cool eh? I think he's a practically a mix of Green Lantern and the Flash, while borrowing from some of Superman's heat absorption traits. Throughout his run in the Justice League, he receives tutelage from the elder members as he discovers new applications for his powers.

His major flaw? He's an immature kid with the vanilla ice hair cut. After all, he was raised inside a house for the better part of 18 years because his father convinced him that exposure to light would be fatal (his powers manifested at birth). The miniseries covers his past, as well as his struggles to come to terms with his powers, and his new found freedom in the outside world.

His adventures include a stint with a depleted (i.e. post-Superman killing-and JL destroying-Doomsday) Justice League in 1993, where he played a decent role and even a got a few JLA cover highlights. His solo adventures start in 1994, where he intermittently competes with equally immature superman clone, Superboy while trying to make a living as a computer programmer.

Once again, we're following his life as he meets his mother for the first time (his dad manages to convince both Ray and his mother that the other died at childbirth due to his powers), struggles to make ends meet, and superhero fights with his dad for obvious reasons (they eventually smooth out their differences).

He resurfaces a half a decade later to join Young Justice (one of my favorite comic series in the early 2000's), but his existence as an integral part of the D.C. universe continues to fades in and out despite his great contributions in recent years to the Final Crisis and Blackest Night events (leading up to the D.C. reboot). I would love to see the Ray get another stab at a solo series, but it seems unrealistic at this point. Although Ray has always had a lot of potential and got mixed in all the right superhero groups over the years, the cynic inside me tells me that D.C. would never let a character created by Joe Quesada take a primary role in their universe.

I always thought that the Ray's life drama, the creative evolution of his powers, and the occasional supervillain-ruining-his-day storylines was fairly unique to D.C. and more interesting than many of Superman's bland outer space adventures. It's a shame for sure, but I guess I understand that at some point a character whose appeal comes from growing up, but has already finished growing up makes for a less interesting story. Personally, I think a hero like this deserves a death send-off, rather than some ambiguous MIA status.

Researching for this article, I discovered a new Ray (Ray IV, Lucien Gates) had debuted in 2011, and I was saddened to see this Ray (II) shelved once again. Wait a minute, what happened to Ray III (Stan Silver)? Apparently, Ray II beat the crap out of him and sent him packing towards the end of time.

This is article #1 of my Road to Comic-Con series.

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