DC sure does love its legacies. Those legacies get more confusing and numerous when the original character, along with many of the subsequent versions, are less memorable than, say, anyone on the Silver Age Justice League.
But seeing as there have been at least four versions of The Ray, let’s take a look at the one that hung around the longest for modern readers.
The original version of The Ray was one Lanford “Happy” Terrill. He was a Golden Age hero from Quality Comics, publishers of previous Misplaced Heroes like Plastic Man, the Human Bomb, and more-iconic-than-Madame-Xanadu character Phantom Lady. Happy Terrill had some nifty light-based powers and when he finally appeared in a DC Comic, he’d been ret-conned into the Freedom Fighters of Earth-X, the superhero team that was still fighting Nazis.
It’s always the Nazis.
But then came the original Crisis and Earth-X wasn’t a thing anymore, so good news on there no longer being Nazis to fight. And since the Ray and his Freedom Fighter teammates were now part of the regular DCU, that meant they could be integrated into it. And here’s where we get the second Ray, who was a Ray in and out of costume.
The new Ray was Ray Terrill. He grew up in Philadelphia believing he was allergic to light or something and kept literally in the dark as much as possible. Why? Well, it turned out he inherited his father’s powers. Yes, it seems Happy Terrill was a slow-to-age type and also something of a deadbeat dad (seriously, the years have not been kind to Happy Terrill’s depiction), to say nothing of being extremely arrogant. Then, around the time of Ray’s 18th birthday, he apparently stepped outside for the first time on a sunny day.
Ray, like his dad, basically absorbed light for various purposes. What could he do as The Ray? Well, he could fly at the speed of light, convert his physical body to light, fire off light blasts, and that was just the basics. Like the Green Lantern, he could create energy constructs, “hard light” if you will, and most of his costume came from that stuff. In energy form, he could ignore physical attacks and even heal incredibly extensive damage to his physical body by shifting to light and then changing back. He just had to keep himself out in the light to gain power. The more he used in the dark, the weaker his powers got.
In fact, during his own solo series, a look into his future where he used his powers for financial gain, he’d also learned how to absorb all light in a region and cast it into darkness (even if he was outdoors), suck light and heat away for a freezing effect, and use light to create holograms and optical illusions. That future storyline stated that by that time, Ray was the most powerful superhuman on Earth.
That makes a certain amount of sense, actually.
And that’s not even getting into the fact Happy got around a bit, and Ray wasn’t his oldest child. Nope. Ray had an older brother kept in cryogenic freeze because he was a bit mentality unstable. Same powers. Looked a lot younger than he was. Not mentally fit. I hate when that happens to me.
For a time, what with a solo series and all, Ray was a fairly prominent DC hero. He bounced around different Justice League teams and even was one of two young DC heroes to get a special cover where instead of a drawing, a live model posed in a replica of Ray’s jacket.
So, what happened?
I have no idea. He seems to have largely disappeared except when it’s convenient for someone with his power set to do something. He went from a decent supporting role in Final Night to a quick, somewhat important, cameo in Final Crisis. He’d been a member of new versions of the Freedom Fighters and even Young Justice, and then he mostly went away.
But the weird thing is, the Ray name hasn’t. DC has introduced two other, completely different guys using that name and even Ray Terrill’s basic costumed look. Why not just use Ray? I said I have no idea.
But the thing is, the Ray name is not as memorable as, say, the Flash. The name can go to a lot of different characters with the same basic abilities, but because the Ray doesn’t inhabit the same general pantheon of heroic figures he’s less memorable. The only difference is, for a brief period in the 90s, the Ray was somewhat prominent in the DCU, moreso than pretty much all the other Freedom Fighter characters put together.
And now? Well, maybe he doesn’t matter as much. Besides, a good revival can bring back all manner of characters. It’s just, in this case, it always a different guy. Oh well.