Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth Review #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Stephen Byrne
Colorist: Stephen Byrne
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
A review by Nico Sprezzatura.
There’s a new Justice League of America coming, and Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1 is the third in a series of four one-shots reintroducing some of its prominent (if slightly unknown) members. January has already seen the “rebirths” of Ryan Choi’s Atom and Vixen, while Killer Frost will be “reborn” next week; today, readers meet Ray Terrill: a superhero otherwise known as The Ray.
If you aren’t familiar with The Ray, don’t worry, neither was I. Created by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada in 1992, Ray Terrill can absorb and process light, which he uses to fly, release destructive bursts, or transform into a being of pure energy. He’s comparable to Marvel’s Monica Rambeau. A former member of the Freedom Fighters, 2017 promises to be a big year for the character; in addition to his inclusion on Rebirth’s JLA, he’ll also headlining an animated series set in CW’s Arrowverse that could see him make the jump to live-action down the line, much like Vixen herself did last year.
With all that said, is Ray Terrill’s reintroduction to the DCU any good? Putting it bluntly, yep!
Growing up a sickly boy allergic to light (both natural and artificial) under his overbearing mother’s watchful eye, little Ray Terrill could’ve had a better go of things in his early live. After accidentally killing his father with those aforementioned light powers and almost dooming his childhood friend with the same fate, Ray lived as a recluse in his home for years, longing for human connection.
Flash forward a decade or so, and Ray finally works up the courage to see the world outside his house, which doesn’t exactly work out well for him, at least initially. After saving a familiar face from an act of terrorism, Ray decides it’s time for him to step out of the shadows and become The Ray.
Written by Midnighter’s Steve Orlando (who’ll also be penning JLA), this one-shot gives us a full picture of who Ray Terrill is, and who he wants to be in only twenty-odd pages. Compressed storytelling is deceivingly hard to do, even when handling an origin story like this one, but Orlando manages to establish Ray as an interesting, compelling character in the short space given. I actually want to go back and read some of Ray’s earlier adventures as a result, which speaks to the quality of Orlando’s characterization of a superhero I only have tangential knowledge of.
The art here is similarly fantastic. Stephen Byrne, whose illustrations were recently seen in Green Arrow, is an absolute delight. His renderings are bright and lively, reminiscent of a cartoon, which makes sense considering his experience in animation. Superheroes need to be eye-popping and aesthetically interesting, and Byrne’s design for The Ray helps to make him standout. He’s very much akin to Marvel’s Sunspot, dressed in a black/yellow palette with eerie blackness covering his skin aside from the eyes and mouth.
Another thing worth mentioning is the degree of The Ray’s “rebirth”. Namely, his newly-established sexuality. While traditionally portrayed as a heterosexual man, this interpretation of The Ray is gay, re-developed by two queer men themselves. The change in characterization is justified both textually and meta-textually.
Because of Ray’s early circumstances, trapped in his home from sunlight, he’s essentially closeted from the world as a normal person and someone who identifies as gay. Because he can’t leave his house, he doesn’t get to meet other guys he could potentially strike a romantic connection with; double whammy, right? It’s an interesting creative decision that’s justified by the character’s backstory.
There’s also the matter of representation, which is obviously important. In superhero comics especially we don’t see many queer superheroes get a massive push like this, so any instance (such as this one) is a major victory. Moreover, the fact that it’s two queer men who get to help deliver said representation is another victory in of itself.
Orlando, particularly, has been a major boom for queer male creators working at the Big Two, thanks to his lauded Midnighter run and present handling of Supergirl in her ongoing Rebirth title. As a gay-identifying male who would like to write comics for Marvel and DC someday myself, it’s satisfying to see someone of my ilk succeeding in a field (and genre) I’m interested in.
Buy it! All of Rebirth’s JLA one-shots this month have been well worth checking out, and Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1 might actually be my favorite of the set thus far. Even setting identity politics aside, it’s just a quality comic book, delivered by a pair of (queer, mind you) rising talents in the industry. Featuring a little-known character who could afford to gain a few fans along the way, we don’t get many victories like this in mainstream superhero comics. Any chance we get to support diversity (of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc) is one you should take!