As a lead-in to February’s twice-monthly Justice League of America title, Steve Orlando—writer of Supergirl Rebirth—has a writing credit on out of the four Rebirth-style one-shots meant to reintroduce some of the lesser-known key cast members back into the DCU.
The first two, The Atom—penned solo by Orlando—and Vixen, have already proven successful for both fans and critics, and this week’s The Ray is no different.
Alone In The Dark
Ray Terrill, the second man to hold the mantle of The Ray, is first introduced to us as a child, no older than twelve. He is a bit of a suburban legend, known as the “Pennsylvania Night Boy” since he is forbidden from ever leaving his dimly lit home.
According to his mother, Nadine, he has a deadly allergy to light. Natural light, candle light, even artificial light could kill him.
Of course, this is a blatant lie as anything else. Nadine is portrayed here, with unsettling accuracy, as emotionally and psychologically abusive. She twists Ray’s condition into being about her. Her suffering and frustrations, disregarding her son’s current state of being in favor of her own.
However, it doesn’t appear as if she’s doing this with malevolent intent. Rather, the nuance presented is more about her inability to cope with this impossible situation. That doesn’t make her behavior acceptable, but it does add a layer of complexity where other writers often leave it be.
What’s more, though, is that the darkness in the first part of The Ray is more than a little symbolic of the literal and proverbial closet that Ray himself is trapped in. As we find out quite soon, The Ray is gay, so being locked in dark room with only his judgemental and angry mother is far from subtle, and yet…it works.
In less skilled hands, something so “on the nose” would fall flat, but the sincerity in which Orlando and Houser integrate this aspect of Ray’s history and his abilities makes it work exceptionally well. And that’s not even counting how it brings the topic of LGBTQ youth suicide into the picture.
Death being a preferable alternative to living in the dark, living a lie, is something that, well, a substantial amount of readers can absolutely relate to.
His escape to freedom on the banner above doesn’t read as cheesy because it simply isn’t. Sometimes, that leap of faith truly is that exhilarating. Terrifying, at times, but no less liberating. It’s not the end of his coming out journey, of course, merely the first, and most difficult, step.
Thankfully, he does hit the ground running.
In Plain Sight
Soon after leaving his childhood home, Ray comes across some teenagers. In trying to introduce himself he accidentally activates his abilities and blinds some of them, vanishing completely. As it turns out, his allergy to light couldn’t have been more wrong. He feeds on light. He doesn’t need to eat or sleep.
What’s more is that he can turn invisible, which in this context is a pretty fantastic metaphor for “straight passing.” As long as he doesn’t call attention to himself, no one notices Ray. And why should he? That would only bring prejudice and fear down on him.
But there comes a point when hiding is no longer acceptable. After finding his old, and only friend, Caden, who these narrative boxes are addressing in letters written by Ray, is running for mayor he stops by the press conference to check in on him. He’d accidentally hurt him with his abilities when they were children and never saw him again.
Blinded By The Light
What happens next is a perfect example of why superhero comics exist in the first place, and why they continue to be important pieces of media.
After Caden delivers a short speech explaining why the city of Vanity was voted the most depressing in America (because Gotham and Hub City won too many times I guess), an angry bearded white man starts screaming at him from the crowd. The panel structure is clearly meant to evoke a white supremacist reaching into his jacket pull out a gun, but instead…
Not a gun. Just an energy sword and shield. Still, the intent is the same: kill the biracial, half-blind gay man wanting to bring positive change to a hurting city. And some people just cannot abide that. This is the part where Caden and a good deal of the audience are killed; shot to death with a legally purchased firearm being wielded by an individual who has no business owning one.
I very much doubt that needs further clarification.
Instead, we get The Ray exploding on to the stage, into the literal light, and defending Caden’s life. Even better, Ray manages to turn the tables on the assailant in a very explicit and cathartic way.
How does it feel to be invisible? To have your voice ignored? To be thought of as less than nothing? Well, now this guy’s got some inkling of what that’s like. Maybe he’ll take it to heart. Maybe he won’t. But, the point being is holy crap that was awesome.
Once that’s dealt with, Ray has a short reunion with Caden. He hints that’s pretty sure who he is, even with his face obscured. As if he could forget that time he went blind in one eye.
A New Dawn
With that, The Ray is cemented as Vanity’s new costumed protector. Not only that, but he’s finally found a real place for himself. I’d say more, but everything else just speaks for itself.
I dunno about you guys, but after this, I cannot way to see The Ray pal around with Lobo, Vixen, The Atom, Killer Frost, Black Canary and Batman over in Justice League of America next month.
Because, well, if it’s anything like those other one-shots, hooboy…
Strap in, because we are in for one helluva ride.
JLA Rebirth: The Ray #1
Writers: Steve Orlando
Art and Colors: Stephen Byrne
Letterer: Clayton Cowles