In A Blaze Of Power...
The Ray is a DC Comics Legacy Character themed around light-based powers, originally created by Quality Comics in The Golden Age of Comic Books. The Rays are most commonly associated with DC's team of Quality characters, the Freedom Fighters.
In the early 1940s, Quality Comics needed a new feature for their title Smash Comics, so Will Eisner and Lou Fine produced the first Ray story, which ran in Smash Comics #14.
Happy Terrill was a reporter exposed to radiation on an experimental balloon ride into the atmosphere, which turned him into a coherent beam of light. Quite what that translated to in terms of powers changed from story to story, ranging from projecting light, to being pure energy, to riding light beams and manipulating magnetism.
After 1943, Happy fell into comic book limbo for several decades, remaining there even when DC acquired the Quality characters in 1956. He wouldn't see the light of day again until 1973, when Len Wein brought most of the Quality characters back in Justice League of America vol. 1 #107 as the Freedom Fighters, the resident heroes of Earth-X, a world where World War II continued into the 1970s. For the next decade or so, most of his appearances would be as part of the team.
When Crisis on Infinite Earths hit in 1985, among other things it allowed DC to integrate all the characters they'd acquired from other companies, including the Quality characters, into one universe.
Enter editor Jim Owsley (later known as Christopher Priest), writer Jack C. Harris, and artist Joe Quesada (yes, that Joe Quesada), who did a six-issue miniseries in 1992 introducing a new Ray, Happy's son Ray Terrill.
Ray had spent his childhood kept indoors in darkness, told he would die if he were exposed to light, only to discover everything he thought he knew was wrong: He'd been kept in the dark because he'd inherited the Ray's powers as an infant, and was unable to control them. The man who'd raised him, who he'd thought was his father, was actually his uncle; his real father, Happy Terrill, was still alive. And on top of that, his father had been set up to gain his powers so he'd have a child "born one with the light", who would be able to communicate with an immensely powerful energy being, the Light Entity, and prevent it from trying to return home to Earth, displacing the planet and killing everyone - that child being, naturally, Ray himself.
The mini's success eventually resulted in an ongoing written by Owsley, now using the Priest name, which focused on Ray getting to grips with the outside world and dealing with his dysfunctional relationship with his father, with hefty amounts of gambits and Time Travel thrown in. It ran for 29 issues, plus an annual, from 1994 to 1996.
Ray also ended up joining Justice League Task Force during Zero Hour: Crisis in Time!; shortly afterwards Priest became the title's co-writer, then main writer.
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti introduced the third Ray, Stan Silver, in Brave New World and the first Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters miniseries in 2006. Stan was a journalist who gained his powers in similar circumstances to Happy, exposed to radiation on a trip to see the close approach of a comet. Unlike Happy, however, he was a self-absorbed pleasure seeker. He joined a black ops government team using the Freedom Fighters' codenames who got recruited by Uncle Sam to help him fight their bosses and save the nation. Stan eventually revealed himself as a mole working for the bad guys, just as Ray made a comeback with a Big Damn Heroes moment and trounced him.
The second Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters mini saw Happy get a minor Re-Power and take up the mantle of obscure Quality hero Neon the Unknown, calling himself Neon.
Gray and Palmiotti introduced the fourth Ray, Lucien Gates, in a four-issue mini in 2012, a Korean-American lifeguard who gained his powers after being hit by a misfiring particle beam. Of note is that Gray and Palmiotti hinted Lucien wasn't the first Ray of the new timeline, having him worry about copyright infringement and mentioning a version of Happy's origin involving a "light bomb". Gray and Palmiotti were planning a new team of Freedom Fighters, but it didn't pan out.
Steve Orlando reintroduced Ray Terrill in a DC Rebirth one-shot setting up Justice League of America (Rebirth). In the new timeline, he'd been raised by his mother rather than his uncle, and went from being straight to gay. He left home after an argument with his mother, and the trauma around his powers first manifesting shortly afterwards sent him wandering the world invisibly for years, until seeing a long-lost friend attacked motivated him to step up and become a hero. Batman subsequently recruited Ray for his new League.
Ray Terrill is set to be the first LGBT superhero to get his own show, the animated Arrowverse series Freedom Fighters: The Ray. Here, he's a journalist who gains his powers from exposure to a 'genetic light bomb'. This iteration of the character will be voiced (and portrayed in live-action) by Russell Tovey. The Ray had previously made several non-speaking cameos as a member of the expanded Justice League in Justice League Unlimited.)
Tropes associated with the Rays:
- Adaptational Sexuality: Pre-Flashpoint, Ray Terrill was straight, losing his virginity to Black Canary. The Ray of Earth-10 in The Multiversity is gay, which has fed into the Arrowverse and DC Rebirth depictions of Ray Terrill.
- Affirmative-Action Legacy: Lucien (Korean-American) and Rebirth Ray (gay).
- Ambiguous Disorder: Joshua, Happy's first son, who regressed developmentally as he aged, so that by the age of eight he had the mentality and logic skills of a four year old, in addition to periodic fits of rage... which is not a pretty combination, combined with the Ray's powers. Happy believed it was due to his powers overwhelming him.
- Calling the Old Man Out: In his mini and ongoing, poor Ray has to do this every other issue or so. It's rarely effective.
- The Call Knows Where You Live: Ray's original mini and ongoing, where the Call knows where you live, and will lie to you about who you are, who your parents are, and which parents (fake or otherwise) are dead or alive. Also, there is another Call who not only knows where you live, but will threaten and/or murder your loved ones until you answer it. And that Call is coming from inside the house.
- Clothing Damage: Lucien Gates' powers leave him permanently naked due to the fact that his clothes instantly burn away when he puts them on. He manages to get around this...sort of...
- Composite Character: Arrowverse Ray - his name and costume come from Ray Terrill, his job from Happy, and his sexuality from Earth-10's Ray. His origin combines Happy's Post-Crisis origin, which had his Golden Age origin engineered by a secret scientific project with governement backing, with a reference in Lucien's mini to a reporter who gained powers via exposure to a light bomb.
- Costume Evolution: Ray's original pre-Flashpoint costume comprised a black and gold bandleader's jacket, a white and gold bodysuit, fingerless gloves, and a Cool Helmet. His Freedom Fighters costume keeps the Cool Helmet, but instead has a high-collared black and gold bodysuit. His DC Rebirth costume is based on his original costume, while his Arrowverse costume is based on his Freedom Fighters costume.
- Happy changed costume during Ray's ongoing thanks to Ray's interference in the timeline. He reverted in later appearances.
- Disappeared Dad: Pre-Flashpoint, Happy for Ray, for 18 years. Post-Flashpoint, Ray's father, currently believed dead.
- Fish out of Water: Ray, due to being isolated from the outside world for most of his life.
- Flying Firepower: The Ray possesses flight and light-based energy powers and beams. Pre-Flashpoint, his power level had no cap; at certain points (Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! being a notable example), he'd absorbed a pretty big share of ALL THE ENERGY IN THE UNIVERSE. This, coupled with the fact that he could move (and, thanks to a writer change, react) at the speed of light, instantly heal from all damage, shrink, cast illusions, and turn invisible, is probably why most writers either didn't bother to use him or picked three or four of his powers out of a hat and limited him to those.
- Freudian Excuse: Happy, who had Ray raised as he did in part because he was afraid that otherwise he'd end up like his first son Joshua and start developmentally regressing.
- Happily Adopted: Lucien doesn't have any trouble with being adopted; his issue is more Parents as People, his parents being hippies and New Agers from California.
- Happy Dance: Ray does a memorable impersonation of James Brown, accompanied by hard-light constructs to facilitate Brown's "cloak" bit, across the Washington skyline after bedding Black Canary.
- Invincible Hero: Christopher Priest gave Ray a really, really versatile and diverse power set, and avoided the issues that can cause by giving Ray problems that couldn't just be solved with a fight scene, and focusing on his inexperience and doubts. Part of the reason other writers very rarely used Ray pre-Flashpoint, or conveniently forgot half his powers, was because he was no longer inexperienced and it was hard to consistently come up with problems that could challenge somebody at Ray's power level. There's an alternate future where Ray turns kind of evil and ends up killing all of the other superheroes except Triumph and Bart Allen's Flash.
- Light 'em Up: All the Rays have power over light, although the exact details vary between them. Most common are flight, light manipulation, and energy blasts.
- Matricide: Joshua inadvertently killed his mother, Happy's first wife.
- Manipulative Bastard: Happy just can not be straightforward with people, telling them whatever serves his ends.
- Missing Mom: Pre-Flashpoint, Happy convinced most everyone, including Ray's mother, that he had died as an infant, only for Ray to discover the truth when he accidentally ran into her. It took even longer for her to find out who he really was.
- Mr. Fanservice: Lucien takes the cake—he's a handsome, muscular guy whose powers make it impossible for him to wear clothes (he can use illusions to make it look like he's clothed, but he's really not...).
- The Mole: Stan Silver.
- Mundane Utility: Lucien makes use of his Big Bad's powers to erase the memories of his girlfriend's parents of the Epic Fail that was his first visit to their house.
- Parental Substitute: Vandal Savage ended up as this for pre-Flashpoint Ray, thanks to his dysfunctional relationship with Happy. There's a case to be made Uncle Sam was also this for him.
- Stable Time Loop: Pre-Flashpoint, Ray was responsible for his own father's becoming a superhero and passing his powers on to his son. There's another, more complicated one involving Gaelon as well.
- Stalker with a Crush: Gaelon to Ray... because she's his girlfriend from the future, come back in time to make sure he doesn't turn into an evil jerk.
- Superpowerful Genetics: Pre-Flashpoint, both Joshua and Ray were type 1, inheriting their father's powers. Rebirth Ray doesn't know what he is, but given both he and his father were thought to have the same medical condition, there's a good case he inherited his powers.
- Super Power Lottery: Extreme control over light in all its forms, allowing him to absorb and then emit and reshape the molecules for any purpose he desires. He's like a Green Lantern on steroids, with a side order of illusion casting, invisibility, teleportation, and intangibility. Ray's control of light is the reason he's never around whenever there's a major Green Lantern-related problem: He can literally defeat all seven corps by himself without breaking a sweat. Somebody finally realized this late in Blackest Night, where Ray single-handedly destroyed a whole bunch of Black Lanterns (which had otherwise been shown to be invincible to everything except the combined powers of other lanterns).
- Technically Naked Shapeshifter: Poor Lucien can't wear clothes due to his powers destroying them. His illusion power helps him make it look like he's dressed, but he isn't.
- Time Travel: Played a big part in Ray's ongoing, helped by him being able to travel in time by slingshotting around the sun.
- Voluntary Shapeshifter: Due to being a Master of Illusion. Lucien Gates even lampshaded this by stating that this power negates his need for a secret identity.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: Lucien Gates takes this to its logical extreme—his powers destroy all of his clothes whenever he tries to wear them, and this is the one aspect of his power he never gains control of...meaning that he ends up completely naked forever. Played with in that he gets around this by projecting illusions, but his narration reveals that he's still naked and he's more than a little uncomfortable going around like that in public, even if everyone still thinks he's dressed.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Happy for Ray in his ongoing.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Pre-Flashpoint Ray, since he was stuck in his house growing up, and just about everything he knows about the world he learned from watching TV.