The Ray is a superhero whose history stretches all the way back to the 1940s, but whose prominence didn't really take hold until the 1990s with a surprise hit miniseries by Jack C. Harris, Joe Quesada and Art Nichols. While two characters with the same name and basic powers have appeared since then, with "Justice League of America: The Ray," Steve Orlando and Stephen Byrne mostly get back to basics even as the book is updated to a present-day feel.
Terrill Time Two
The original Ray was Happy Terrill, and he was part of the Quality Comics lineup that was later bought up and absorbed by DC Comics as part of "Crisis on Infinite Earths." (Other characters from that group included the Human Bomb, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, Uncle Sam, and Black Condor.) Part of the Freedom Fighters, he was a fairly standard superhero, who probably would have been forgotten entirely if he hadn't been co-opted into the 1992 revamp of the character concept.
"The Ray" #1 introduced Ray Terrill, a young man who was told he was allergic to light and forever kept in the dark. It wasn't until he was college-aged that he learned the truth: he was the son of Happy Terrill, and he was kept in the dark to keep his powers of light manipulation from activating. Over the course of his mini-series, he was coached by the ghost of his father on how to use his powers to transform into light, create a hard-light construct or two, and attack with bursts of light and lasers. The mini-series was a huge hit, in part because of Harris's conversational, every-day-guy-gets-power narration, and in part because of the excitement over Quesada's pencils. That popularity resulted in the Ray joining Justice League America for a time, as well as serving as a member of both Justice League Task Force and Young Justice. A 28-issue series also followed (and helping push both writer Christopher J. Priest and artist Howard Porter into greater prominence), but over time, the lights seemed to go out.
Two More Rays
In 2006, a short-lived new Ray named Stan Silver debuted. Part of the all-new Freedom Fighters, he had remarkably similar powers to the previous two Rays. He co-starred in the "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" mini-series, but ultimately betrayed the team as a double agent working for the group S.H.A.D.E. Most notably, this new Ray was defeated by none other than Ray Terrill.
Several months after the reboot of the DC Universe with "Flashpoint," a brand-new Ray was introduced as part of the New 52. Lucien Gates was created by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Jamal Igle, a Korean-American lifeguard who when hit by a strange government energy cannon, was transformed into the Ray. After starring in an introductory four-issue series, the Ray appeared twice more; first in the final issue of a "Phantom Lady and Doll Man" mini-series, then in the final issue of a "Human Bomb" mini-series. All of these characters were part of the Freedom Fighters in earlier continuity, and it certainly looked to be the start of a new incarnation of the team. That said, all of that appears to have been quietly forgotten, as the Ray goes back to basics.
The All-New Ray Terrill
The new Ray Terrill's origin story is very similar at first to the old Ray Terrill. Kept cloaked in darkness due to a fictional "light allergy," his only friend Caden Zapote is partially blinded when Ray's powers briefly manifest due to a camera flash at a birthday party. It's not until he turns 18 that he learns the truth. Notably, Orlando gives this new Ray the information not by someone telling him the information, but by actively rebelling against being kept indoors and breaking out of his mother's home. When his body begins to absorb the light, his powers manifest. Similar to Ray Terrill, he can fly, can blast bolts of light, and can create hard light items. Something new to this Ray is the ability to turn invisible, by bending the light around his body, or around someone else's. Similarly, that light-bending can also be used to blind the person turned invisible.
Unlike the previous Ray, this one has no mentor, and goes through life for four years virtually unknown. He's still in love with his childhood best friend Caden, though, and secretly follows him to Vanity, Oregon where Caden is running for mayor. Vanity was the setting for the short-lived "Aztek: The Ultimate Man" series by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and N. Steven Harris, and considering that Grant Morrison's suggestion that the Ray in "The Multiversity: Mastermen" was gay, this feels like a nod towards the genesis of this Ray.
When the Ray ultimately saves Caden -- appearing in public for the first time as a superhero and inadvertently getting named as "the Ray" by a line from Caden -- we also get one other revamp of a long-forgotten character. The attacker refers to himself as part of the Sons of Liberty, and when he does so has both an energy shield on his right wrist, and a double bandoleer with a star in the center. Those were both trademarks of another DC Comics character from the '90s, Agent Liberty, who had in fact been outfitted by the previous continuity's Sons of Liberty paramilitary group. Interestingly enough, Agent Liberty was briefly a member of Justice League America, and joined the same issue as the Ray. It's an apt return of an old face.
By the end of "Justice League of America: The Ray" #1, we have a character who is happy and finally living his own life. He's got a boyfriend (or is at least starting to date), he's ready to be a superhero, and there's a real joy in his narration. The final words of the comic are that, "the future looks bright," and that's definitely the case for the Ray. Orlando and Byrne have taken a lot of the fun and excitement from Harris and Quesada's original mini-series, but added in character traits of making him more pro-active and ready to enter the world. This new "Justice League of America" has another strong addition to its ranks.