Review: The Ray: In a Blaze of Power trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 06, 2016

In all the talk of "Rebirth," I was reminded during a recent skim through a trades remainder bin that a character who went unmourned in the New 52 reboot was The Ray Raymond Terrill. There's been a subsequent New 52 Ray, but I don't think he quite caught on.

I recall reading the Ray miniseries when it first came out in the early 1990s and liking it a lot. Based on those memories and my enjoyment of the Ray character some time ago in Justice League and Freedom Fighters, I picked up and expected to enjoy The Ray: In a Blaze of Power quite a bit. I did not. Blaze of Power is not the very worst story -- the premise regarding Ray Terrill's childhood remains fairly interesting -- but it is an unfortunate product of its time. The dialogue is terribly dated ("Yo! No brew if you dis my crib, baby!" says Ray's increasingly annoying cousin Hank) and the story is terribly confusing; in an attempt perhaps to differentiate the Ray's origin, writer Jack C. Harris obfuscates it much more than seems necessary.

[Review contains spoilers]

In the introduction to Blaze of Power (oh, for the days when trades had introductions), long-time DC editor Bob Greenberger writes that Harris comes up with "a link between the new Ray with the old work that [isn't] cliched." Possibly this set my expectations too high. The bottom line is that the old Ray was the new Ray's father; this is hardly new fare in the realm of comicsdom any more, given any number of Justice Society families, Damian Wayne, so on and so forth.

Harris tries to complicate it all by introducing the possibility that Ray is part alien; this turns out to be a lie, and the truth is instead that Ray really is the Golden Age Ray's son -- only the Golden Age Ray is someone different than we're lead to believe in the beginning. The "is/is not/is" trick doesn't quite work for me, and in addition the actual Golden Age Ray seems like a villain for much of the book, such that it's hard to accept him as a good guy only in the very last pages of the story.

What Blaze of Power has going for it, at least in the beginning, is a perfectly riveting story of a kind of "bubble boy" who grows up believing he has such sensitivity to light that he has to live in the dark all his life. Then-new artist Joe Quesada draws a creepy candlelit eighth birthday party for Ray, complete with too-tall grown-ups and mysterious nuns (and a nicely muted color palette by John Cebollero); I also think the Ray design, a largely white costume that turns black when the character flies, remains engaging to this day. I would have been satisfied with a more straightforward story in which the Ray explores his newfound powers while dealing with his parents having kept him essentially "in the dark" throughout his childhood; maybe that's too simplistic, but I felt what emerged instead was too complex.

Indeed, Blaze of Power shifts its focus about halfway through the miniseries (with Quesada handing the art over to inker Art Nichols) when the villain Dr. Polaris arrives. It would seem in the first half of the miniseries that Ray is meant to fight a strange government cabal, possibly employing his cousin Hank, but the second half sends Ray to a hallucinatory light dimension while a perfectly ridiculous amalgam of Polaris and the Golden Age Ray wreaks havoc on the city. The Polaris/Ray monster is neither frightening as a villain nor funny as comic relief, but the reader follows his exploits for almost all of the last issue. Again, I liked the beginning of this story, but it's strange how the wind goes out of the book in the end.

In reading Ray: Blaze of Power, I'm reminded of a DC house ad (some precursor to DC Nation, I think) that resembled a yearbook with notes for the Ray, Superman, Robin Tim Drake, Damage, and Anima, a supernatural teenage character emerging from DC's Bloodlines crossover. For a good long while after Jason Todd died and Tim Drake became Robin, DC had no teen superhero set; even after Superboy arrived during Reign of the Superman, it took a while for Superboy and Robin to team up, and the first inklings of new teen teams appeared not in Teen Titans but in Justice League Task Force. With the Teen Titans now essentially a foregone conclusion in the DC Universe (and legacy characters, per "Rebirth," a must), it seems unimaginable that there was ever a time that there wasn't a "teen culture" in the DCU. As a historical document (if only a so-so story), the Ray miniseries is an interesting precursor to Peter David's Young Justice and all the Teen Titans that followed. Now if only DC would only use "Rebirth" to bring back the original Damage ...

[Contains full covers -- with logos, as a matter of fact; introduction by Robert Greenberger. Printed on newsprint/non-glossy paper]
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6 comments:

  1. I always like Jack C Harris as an editor, but a lot of his Bronze Age writing was not the best. Still, he always seemed to be a great guy. Haven't read this at all, but generally liked the New 52 Freedom Fighters we got to see, however briefly.

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  2. I really liked The Ray, so much so I sought out the old Golden Age material created by Lou Fine. There's one such book if you are interested http://www.amazon.com/Ray-Black-condor-Steranko-Special/dp/B0006X9BYM

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    1. Hey, it's Chris Marshall! What've you been reading these days?

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  3. I got this in a bagged set with the first five or so issues of the ongoing. You could see the jump in writing quality immediately with Christopher Priest.

    I still think he should've joined the JSA rather than Young Justice.

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    1. JSA: Our Worlds at War. Written by Johns but not collected in the JSA volumes, I don't think; maybe in the omnibus?

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    2. Well, he was with the Freedom Fighters by that point, as was Damage, who also should've been in the JSA to begin with. OWAW is also one of the rare moments of STRIPE fighting alongside the JSA/All-Star Squadron.

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