Quite a few superheroes are legacy characters. One will show up with a unique name and a strange array of powers. Then they’ll die or retire and then some time later the same name (and sometimes the same or a similar costume) is adopted by someone else who is either inspired by the previous person, has similar abilities or is directly connected to the original. Sometimes someone entirely new who has no connection or even knowledge of the hero who came before adopts the name.
This has happened with characters such as the Flash, the Human Torch, the Green Hornet. And it’s happened with a group of characters that have each used the name the Ray. The first was Langford “Happy” Terrill who operated during the 1940s. Decades later, we met his son Raymond Terrill. Briefly, we saw the adventures of a new Ray who was named Stan Silver, but he turned out to be a jerk. Now, with the relaunch of the DC Comics mainstream universe, an entirely new incarnation of the Ray is being introduced in a new mini-series. So with that in mind, let’s check out the many designs these heroes have sported.
THE GOLDEN AGE RAYThe original Ray was created by artist Lou Fine and writer Will Eisner, who also created the Spirit and is considered one of the biggest influences in the American comic book industry. First appearing in Smash Comics #14 (1940), the Ray
had one of the more off-beat origins of the Golden Age of Comics (roughly 1935-1951).
He was a reporter named “Happy” Terrill who worked for The Star newspaper (years later, comic writers would reveal that his first name was actually Langford). Covering the science beat, he was assigned to cover the launching of an experimental “strato-balloon” that was exploring the upper atmosphere. At one point, Happy left the cabin and was exposed to unfiltered ambient sunlight just as he was suddenly struck by lightning. Apparently, the combination of solar energy and lightning gave him light-based abilities. Now he could absorb and emit energy from his body and could propel himself through the air on beams of light.Like many folks who got powers in the growing genre of superheroics, Happy put on a mask and decided to start fighting crime as the Ray. During the 1940s, a lot of heroes wore primary colors or the red, white and blue of the American flag. There were lots of shorts outside of trousers and lots of capes and cloaks. There were even guys who basically wore nothing BUT shorts and a cape. The Ray, however, has a simple body suit with a finned cowl. He’s also got matching little pixie boots.
This is too much of a solid color all around. There’s nothing to break up the suit at all, making it a body stocking. The boots are strangely elfin like for no reason. The fin on the cowl is appropriate for the era, where many heroes and science fiction warriors wore a helmet with a fin on it because we apparently thought that’s what astronauts might wear in the future.
Although I get that his name is “Ray” and his powers are based on light, having him decked out in solid yellow or gold from head to toe is a little too simplistic when you have no other real design elements. Even the fin isn’t a big deal because if you removed, it wouldn’t really alter the impression of the costume.The Ray’s adventures were published by the company Quality Comics. Later on, the Quality characters were bought by DC Comics and integrated into their fictional reality. Ray was now said to have been part of a superhero team called the Freedom Fighters. In the new Freedom Fighters series, which took place in the past, the Ray was seen sporting a new version of his uniform. Now it was an orange bodysuit to contrast with the yellow cowl. And rather than the cowl having a starburst design against the suit, it left a lightning bolt shape.
The orange isn’t great, even though it breaks up the color unity a little. The lightning bolt can work and is a nod to his origin. But some could argue that it also implies he has lightning-based abilities, whereas he’s not that limited and is really a master of light and various forms of energy.
Later on, his origin was also changed so that his “accident” on the strato-balloon was revealed to have been a deliberate experiment where he was exposed to the blast of an experimental “light bomb.”
SECOND GENERATION HEROIn the 1990s, DC decided to infuse some new blood into its superhero universe. 1992 gave us a new mini-series entitled The Ray #1, introducing Happy Terrill’s son: Ray Terrill. Due to Happy Terrill’s exposure to the light bomb, his offspring Raymond was fated to be fusion of a human being and a light-based entity. Raymond’s powers began sparking during infancy, so the boy was cut off from sunlight until it was believed that he was old enough to control and deal with his abilities.
So young Raymond was a guy who’d just turned 18 and suddenly learned he was the inheritor of a heroic legacy, with powers that were similar yet superior to those of the Golden Age hero the Ray. After coming to terms with his new reality, he threw himself into the life of a superhero. His costume was basically the Golden Age suit, though with the bodysuit white while the headpiece remained gold. Then he added a jacket and switched the cowl for an actual helmet.The helmet is cool. The finned cowl was looking pretty dated by the 1970s. But having it be an actual helmet in the 1990s makes it a little bit cooler. It now seems like a mixture of old and new, something intended not just to mask our hero but to protect him for battle. It’s like a Roman helmet manufactured for a warrior of the future who uses light itself as a weapon.
The jacket is very much a sign of the times. During the 90s, it became pretty popular for superheroes to throw a leather jacket on over their costume. Some times it didn’t work. With Ray, I rather like it. The jacket gives an air of youth and a bit of toughness, but it’s also stylized enough to keep with the superhero atmosphere. Its presence also helps break up the costume so that Ray doesn’t seem like he’s wearing a body stocking with a helmet. Which, even for a superhero, would be a little weird.When Raymond activated his powers, his entire look would go black (except for the gold trim and, depending on the artist, the gold helmet) to indicate that he was no absorbing light and energy, causing a visual effect similar to a black hole. A very cool idea which leads to great visuals during action scenes.
Ray stuck with this look for a long time. Later on, he briefly operated with the team known as the Forgotten Heroes and tended to wear the jacket open rather than closed. To make sure the costume still had something to break up the body stocking look, he wore a belt buckle with the Forgotten Heroes logo on it. Small changes that didn’t detract from what worked in the design.
THE TRAITORDuring the 2005 crossover Infinite Crisis, Ray Terrill was rocking out with the re-formed Freedom Fighters when they were viciously attacked by a group of super-villains. Ray was injured and forced to watch as most of his teammates were killed. He was out of commission for a while and when a new team of Freedom Fighters emerged, they wound up getting yet a new hero calling himself the Ray.
This guy was Stan Silver and wore a version of Happy’s original suit. This suit however was drawn to be its own light source. Stan shined with a golden glow along his body and his sleek, unadorned look made him appear almost angelic. It’s an interesting update on Happy’s classic suit and definitely a nice way of marking him as a different character from young Ray.
So who was this guy? Well, he was a corresponded for the Sun (foreshadowing alert!), who was then mutated by getting too damn close to a strangely radioactive comet. He then got light powers as a result and joined the newly re-formed Freedom Fighters, as one does.
Stan later turned out to be a no good traitor, however. After he revealed himself to be a villain and killed a man, his suit altered its appearance, either because Stan could control the light it was emitting or because fabric knows to change color when you go evil. In any event, Stan’s suit took on a cooler appearance, making him appear as a being of shining silver just as his name implied.
LATER UPDATESStan was taken down later and Ray Terrill stepped back into the role. Ray got himself a new outfit that was completely black from neck to toe with gold trim and now the jacket look was incorporated directly into the costume. The gold designs were simplified while the collar was expanded to almost silly proportions. All in all, an effective look. The simplicity works in streamlining it and the black uniform also nods to the fact that Ray had become darkened slightly by all his experiences and having watched his friends get taken down during Infinite Crisis. The gold trim down the limbs also nicely highlights his motions so that they’re not lost due to the black coloring. Happy Terrill got into action again too. He was now portrayed as being his own light source, similarly to how Stan appeared. After drinking from the waters of a magical oasis (dude, it’s a comic book universe, just roll with it), Happy gained powers similar to a character called Neon the Unknown. So, he got a new costume and now called himself Neon (that way no one would confuse him with his son who was still operating as “Ray”). It’s not a bad costume, but the new design makes the old cowl starburst now look like a letter W, which seems out of place.
NEW UNIVERSE. NEW HERO.Starting a few months ago, DC Comics relaunched its entire superhero universe. The “New 52” line involved 52 new titles starting at issue #1 and rolling back its superheroes to revised/modernized starting points. For some characters, this has meant significantly changed origins and complete history reboots. Along with the regular titles, we’ve got a couple of new mini-series, including The Ray, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and illustrated by Jamal Igle, with inks and colors by Rich Perrotta and Guy Major.
The mini-series is introducing a completely new character rather that revisiting the history of Happy Terrill or his son Raymond. In fact, Happy and Ray apparently don’t exist in this newly launched universe. Now the Ray is Korean-American Lucien Gates, a simple life guard who has the misfortune of standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. When an experimental “sun gun” unleashes a stray particle beam of “experimental light,” everything in its path gets mutated, including Lucien. With his light-based abilities, Lucien winds up getting into some strange adventures and the media dubs him “The Ray.”Since he’s a new, fresh take on the character and not the inheritor of a legacy, it makes sense that Lucien would completely break from the mold that Happy first gave us. Gone is the fin, the cowl, the starburst neckline. This outfit is sleek and simple but not so simple that it’s a big body stocking. Lucien is his own light source, but still has elements of break up that light and provide some contrast. It’s a very modern suit but its simplicity and line design makes it seem like some classic superheroes such as Spider-Man (which is a good thing).
The new chest emblem finally gives the Ray a symbol akin to the famous Superman S-shield and the bat-symbol. And the emblem can be interpreted as a starburst or as Earth’s sun with rays of power emanating from it. The fact that the symbol glows along with Lucien’s body indicates that it functions with him and that this hero’s suit isn’t merely for decoration.
All in all, it’s a very nice design. Time will tell if Lucien (or later artist) decide to tweak this uniform and lit-up body look. The Ray #1 comes out on Wednesday, so see for yourself what this character is all about. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan "Sizzler" Kistler is an actor and freelance writer. He has been recognized as a comic book and Doctor Who historian by major media outlets. He is a contributor to the upcoming Star Trek and History by Wiley Publishing and the author of The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cook Book coming out in May. He is the creator and cohost of the web-series and weekly podcast Crazy Sexy Geeks. His archives can be found at http://AlanKistler.com and his Twitter handle is: @SizzlerKistlerGot a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!