The Ray: Rebirth #1 Review and Recap

Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Stephen Byrne
Colours by Stephen Byrne
Published by DC Comics
Cover price: $2.99 USD 

Review and Recap is where I give a quick review of a comic, usually less in-depth than my regular reviews, before recapping it and adding some commentary here and there. Obviously spoilers abound in the commentary section. Anyway, here’s my Review and Recap of The Ray: Rebirth.

The Review:

The Ray is, like the Atom and Vixen before him, a character I’ve had little to no exposure to. I know he’s in the Freedom Fighters, a pretty cheesy group of patriotic superheroes, and that he’s gay (and it turns out I was even wrong there; he’s gay as of this issue, so I don’t know why I thought he was gay beforehand). He’s got a cool aesthetic, but other than that, I’ve never really cared for him. This issue inches me closer to caring, but doesn’t quite get there because it’s just a bit too frustrating.

The Ray: Rebirth is more or less about Ray Terrill (yes, ‘Ray’ is his real name, really), a man who grew up under the impression that exposure to too much light would kill him. The issue does a good job focusing on Ray and his problems with people, and you get a sense of who he is and why he avoids people the way he does. But what gets him to do so is just a bit contrived, as is the happy ending to a degree, as Ray suddenly gets a big dose of development off-screen. Plus, Ray himself comes off as a bit — and I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic — whiny. He just doesn’t seem to understand the seriousness of his condition, and it bugs me.

But the story does a nice job incorporating homosexuality into its story without ever preaching to you. The entire story is basically Ray coming out to the world as the Ray, but this is subtly woven with metaphors for realising one’s sexuality, and just problems that some LGBTQI people may come across, such as fear of condemnation for being different (and this is definitely subtler than any X-Men comic has been in recent years).

The art works for the issue and is versatile. When Ray’s a child, the art is cartoony enough that the expressions come across well and you get the feeling that Ray views the world this way. However, it never veers into being too cartoony. It has a nice clean look to it. When he’s a teen, the lines a less pronounced and everything has a softer look, while not feeling like there’s a huge shift in art style. Oh, and [ARTIST NAME] excels at making Ray’s powers look cool, and he obviously really enjoys letting loose with Ray’s powers just as much as Ray himself does. The comic also has a nice thing where light is played on, with the more depressing stages of Ray’s life taking place in the dark, with subdued colours. It’s a nice little thing that makes sense, given his powers.

3.5/5 – Good

Join me after the break for the commentary!

The Commentary:

I am really late on this, but I procrastinated, then personal stuff came up and… I’m finishing this, dammit! At the very least, I’m doing all the Rebirth one-shots for Justice League of America! I ain’t no quitter; I’m a procrastinator! Meaning I finish things! (I lied, I am sometimes a quitter).

Our story begins “years ago”, which reminds me that I should correct a mistake I made in my Vixen: Rebirth review: it too noted that it took place “years ago”, so me mentioning the story clashing with Justice League International doesn’t exactly work. Personally, I blame Orlando and Houser for being such hacks, and the letterer for not making it clear enough. Because I don’t make mistakes! Ever!

Oh, and the cover is lying. Not about he content, but about the ‘Houser’. Jody Houser is not involved in this comic. At all. She’s not listed in any way int he credits. Weird oversight is weird.

Anyway, we’re shown Ray Terrill as a child in a dark room watching some TV show about heroes or some such. It’s his birthday, and his mother gives him a birthday cake, and Ray asks for candles which causes his mum to flip out. Ray is apparently allergic to light once it’s at a specific intensity, and he knows this, so she’s pissed he’s asking for candles. Which he apparently does every year.

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I’m sure I’m supposed to feel bad for Ray here, what with his mother’s sneer and him not getting birthday candles, but I just don’t. It’s a cake without candles, kid. A lot of kids don’t even get birthday cakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I know this is setting up the next event where he has borderline tries to commit suicide, but it just doesn’t make him that sympathetic. It makes his mother sympathetic, even if she obviously is very jaded about the situation. We’re even told that she can’t leave the house either, and this is so she can take care of her son. So yeah, I feel bad for the mum, probably more than I’m supposed to. And that feeling only gets worse later on.

Oh, and are we really going to call him Ray? And his superhero name is ‘The Ray’? And there’s already going to be a Ray who’s mentioned a lot in Justice League of America (Ray Palmer)? Really? We couldn’t use one of the other Rays? Because even I know the Ray is legacy character. Heck, a quick Wiki-stroll reminded me that there was a The Ray miniseries in the New 52! And the Ray featured in that was named Lucien Gates! Which is definitely a cool name, without, y’know, having his superhero name in it! I guess he’s already defined, and Steve Orlando wanted a fresh start, but there were even other Rays called Lanford “Happy” Terrill (who’s probably this Ray’s dad who’s mentioned later) and Stan Silver (that is a name Stan Lee would’ve come up with!). Whatever, I’ll push past it.

Ray asks about his friend who used to come over, Caden. However, we’re shown that the last time Caden came over, the two boys were palying with a camera and the flash set off Ray’s powers, and this put Caden in the hospital. Weirdly, we’re told they don’t even know if he’s dead or alive… as if phones don’t exist. In fact, how are they paying their bills and buying food and such when the mum can’t leave the house and they have no contact with the outside world, as in no friends? I guess the mum could be working from home or selling the rights to Ray’s story (we later see some articles about the “night boy”), but how about everything else? This takes place “years ago”, so I don’t think they’re using UberEATS. Take that, “years ago”! Shows you for making me look bad!

Oh, and apparently Ray’s dad died due to light exposure, and Ray inherited his condition from said dad. So that’s probably Larry. I like that Steve Orlando is tossing these references out, like with Adam Cray (who was an Atom pre-New 52) being Ryan Choi’s roommate. It’s a nice touch and doesn’t just feel like fanservice: there’s potential for both Larry and Adam to play parts in future stories.

Ten years later, Ray has apparently developed a rebellious streak, even calling his mum by her first name, and shaves the sides of his head, giving him an undercut, because of course. That’s the go-to hairstyle for gay characters. I actually like the look, and since Ray’s a redhead, the style really works for him. But seriously, the undercut is the go-to style for when someone has a gay character. I hope writers realise not everyone who’s gay has that style, or vice versa.

After his tantrum, he decides to leave the house in the middle of the night, not caring if he lives or dies. Yeah… probably should’ve gotten a therapist at some point, mum. And Ray dies a horrible death as the light causes him to explode in a fiery explosion, and he regretted not listening to his mother…

No, of course not. He’s fine. He starts walking the streets, and his first thought, that we see, is that he thinks his mother lied to him.

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Hey, dude. I don’t think she knew. Maybe it’s just me and my semi-okay relationship with my mum (rounding up), but that wouldn’t be what I think. At all. Ray, why would she do that? why would she condemn herself to a life indoors, cut off from human contact besides a kid who made no secret of the fact that he didn’t like her? What does she serve to gain from that? I know it shouldn’t bug me this much, but for fuck’s sake, this is his first thought that we see?! Yeah, this is why I feel worse for his mum. And spoilers (for the thing I’m spoiling by recapping this): he never mentions his mum ever again. No phone call, no nothing. For all she knows, he died when he jumped out the window… in fact, why didn’t she chase him when he jumped out…? Whatever. Moving on.

Ray runs into these kids who invite him over to hang out. His powers go off and they tell him to get away, and he almost explodes before turning invisible. So it’s very possible, and I’ll even say very likely, that this is what happened to his father and he didn’t die. The kids call the cops and bullshit about how Ray came over uninvited and call him a freak and someone draws the connection between him and the Night Boy. Oh, and Ray is still around seeing all of this.

We skip to four years later, and–wait. Four years? And there’s… no other timeskip. Meaning that thing just then takes place, at best, two years after the Justice League formed, and that’s assuming everything from the start of the New 52 to right now took place over less than a year, which it didn’t from what I can tell. So… were the League not available to help the Night Boy? The kids still freak out at Ray like this was before the League? I guess it was still the New52 era of “we distrust metahumans”, but that faded pretty quickly when it didn’t involve authority figures, Atlanteans or Superman stuff post-Geoff Johns…

Anyway, yeah. Four years later and Ray stayed invisible that entire time. He’s still writing his letters to Caden, which is how the narration is framed, but is now using present tense. He’s been exploring the world and seeing how shit the world is, and says everyone is like those kids at the diner. Again, does the Justice League — and other superheroes who aren’t hated — not exist in this world? Is this world just filled with assholes? Come on!

So Ray runs across a political poster of Caden’s and goes to see his rally thing. Wait… how did he not know that? He’s been writing to Caden! In present tense! How did he find his address — in fact, how did he find the address at all — without knowing what Caden does? But yeah, Ray sees Caden as his reason to be visible again, holding onto their friendship when they were kids. It’s sad, but also heartwarming, and you get the feeling Ray wants more than just a friendship with Caden. When we see Caden, we see that he was blinded in one eye from the incident with Ray as a kid.

Caden talks about how he’s gay and biracial, and how the city of Vanity was crap and named “the most depressing city in America”. I guess Gotham and Hub City were sick that year. Also, seriously? ‘Vanity’? Someone called a city that? And they weren’t some supermodel? That is a seriously bad name, and sounds like a parody of something like Star City. I just can’t take that name seriously, I’m sorry.

Some loudmouth jackass barges in, railing against “[these] people”, calling his faction the Sons of Liberty and wearing some power harness with a star on his chest. You know what? I buy it. Seriously. I believe that, in the DC Universe, this is what this type of person would be. Kudos, Orlando.

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Hopefully it’s the harness giving this guy his weapons and he’s not revealed as Ray’s dad or something down the line, though a gay superhero having a homophobic supervillain father would be kind of interesting.

The guy can seemingly create light constructs, which Ray can also do. But as opposed to a giant Green Lantern-esque fight, Ray is easily overpowered in a melee fight. He instead uses his powers to turn the guy invisible, which was a neat trick. The guy panics and Ray punches him out. So I guess he’s not Mr. Terrill.

Ray checks if Caden’s okay, and Caden implies he knows who the Ray is. Also, he gives Ray the superhero name of the Ray… sort of. He says people could use “a ray of hope”, which further implies he knows who the Ray is, and the news took the name and ran with it. I guess you wouldn’t think Batman’s first name was Batman, so it’s sort of good in a troll-y kind of way. Maybe.

And we end with Ray finishing his final letter to Caden, noting that he got a boyfriend. Somehow. With next to no social skills, since he just watched people for most of his life. Don’t get me wrong, I want him to have a boyfriend; but I’d rather we see him date and the relationship grow organically from there.

And that’s The Ray: Rebirth! While I found the stuff with Ray’s mum to be frustrating, the ending where Ray suddenly has a boyfriend to be rushed, and think Orlando might be playing things a little too lightly if he’s trying to explore a superhero who has depression (if the Ray has depression), I do like everything else about this issue. Ray’s working to overcome his emotional issues, and this issue sets up future stories for him. In fact, I’d actually prefer if he got an ongoing out of this as opposed to appearing on Justice League of America (I actually typed ‘JLI’ by mistake; that’s how obviously JLI the team is!). Because, like Ryan Choi, he can very easily support a solo series based on his Rebirth issue alone! Stuff with Caden, relationship issues, social commentary, even possible reconciliation with his mother and possibly finding his father, it all lends itself to a good solo ongoing. But I guess we’ll have to wait until he gets some focus in Justice League of America.

Next up: Killer Frost: Rebirth

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