Retro-Reviews: The Ray Vol. 2 By Priest, Porter, Armstrong & Others For DC Comics! Get Caught Up Before His CW Seed Animated Series Debuts!


Editor’s note:

Get caught up on The Ray before his CW Seed Freedom Fighters: The Ray animated series debuts this Fall!

Now onto the retro-review by Comics Nexus workhorse James Fulton!


The Ray #1-28, including #0 and Annual #1 (May 1994 – October 1996)

Written by Christopher Priest

Co-plotted by Jason Armstrong (#23)

Pencils by Howard Porter (#1-11, 13-14, 0), Manny Clark (#12), Jim Cheung (#15), Claude St. Aubin (#16), Jason Armstrong (#17-28), Oscar Jimenez (Annual #1)

Inks by Robert Jones (#1-11, 13-14, 0), Andrew Pepoy (#6), John Stokes (#6, 9), Mark Stegbauer (#11, 14), Eddie Wagner (#12), Bambous Georgieu (#15), Ken Branch (#16), Ande Parks (#17-22, 24), Drew Geraci (#23, 25-28), Chip Wallace (Annual #1)

Coloured by Gloria Vasquez (#1), Pat Garrahy (#2-7, 9-13, 15, 0, Annual #1), Linda Medley (#8), Patricia Mulvihill (#14), James Sinclair (#16-28)

Spoilers (from twenty-one to twenty-three years ago)

Almost two years after his miniseries concluded, Ray Terrill returned in a new ongoing series featuring writing by Christopher Priest (who had just changed his name from Jim Owsley) and the new artist Howard Porter.  Priest had had a huge hand in creating and shaping Ray’s character, so it was very fitting that he ended up taking over the ongoing series.  This allowed him to focus on his original goals – to tell the story of a regular person (who had never been allowed outside his own home) to navigate the world while learning to use new powers.  Priest also moved Ray into the Justice League Task Force series when he took it over, and did his best to establish the character in the DC Universe.  

I remember being very fond of this series, although not loving it so much by the time it came to an end.  One thing I remember not liking was Priest’s use of slang in the series, and I can’t imagine that has aged all that well.  Let’s take a look…

 

These are the characters who filled this comic, other than Ray, of course.

Villains

  • Brimstone (#1-2)
  • Merritz (#1)
  • Death Masque (#3-4, 6, 11-17, 19, 22-23, Annual #1)
  • Light Entity remnants (#3-4, 9, 23)
  • Dr. Polaris (sometimes Dr. Neal Emerson; #3-4)
  • Sevatz (#6-7)
  • Mystek (#12)
  • Vandal Savage (#14-18, 20-21, 24)
  • Atomic Skull (#17-19)
  • Dr. Spectron (#18)
  • Neron (aka Kathy Noren; #18-19)
  • White Eagle (#21)
  • Tempest (#26-27)

Guest Stars

  • Superboy (Connor/Kon-El Kent; #1-2)
  • Blue Beetle (Ted Kord; #3)
  • Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onnz; #0)
  • Caldwell the Candle Man (#0)
  • Black Canary (Dinah Lance; #6-12, 25)
  • Lobo (#8)
  • Black Condor (Ryan Kendal; #13, 20-21)
  • Triumph (Justice League Task Force; #14, 25, 27)
  • Gypsy (Justice League Task Force; #14)
  • L-Ron/Despero (Justice League Task Force; #14)
  • Mystek (now part of the Justice League Task Force; #14)
  • Black Condor (Golden Age version; #18, 20-21)
  • Flash (Bart Allen, in the future; #25, 27)
  • Superman (Clark Kent; Annual #1)

Supporting Characters

  • Zone (Ray’s manager; #1, 5, 12, 0)
  • Hank Terrill (Ray’s cousin; #1, 13, 15, 0)
  • Jenny Jurden (Ray’s girlfriend; #1, 3, 0, 16, Annual #1)
  • Ray (Golden Age Ray, “Happy” Terrill; #3-5, 9-11, 24, 27-28, 0)
  • Dr. Neal Emerson (sometimes Dr. Polaris; #3)
  • Nadine Terrill (Ray’s mom; #5, 15, 19-20, 22-24, 27-28, 0)
  • Gaelon (future cop; #11, 24-28)
  • Jazz (Ray’s new girlfriend; #13, 20-22)
  • Joshua Terrill/Spitfire (#17-24, 27-28)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The series begins with some great action sequences by Porter, as we join Ray in the middle of a big fight with Brimstone, the gigantic John Byrne-designed villain.  Ray isn’t doing very well against this creature, who is wrecking a city.  He looks to get crushed by Brimstone while trying to keep him from levelling a building.  At this point, we move into a flashforward of Ray writing a report of what happened, which he decides to start over on by announcing that he’s killed someone, before narrating how the day began.  We see Ray make an agreement with a landlord to rent a pit of an apartment, after we learn that he was rejected from many better places due to a lack of credit history.  Late for work at the Clucky Chicken, Ray rushes off, only to learn that he’s stuck wearing a chicken outfit outside the restaurant for his shift.  His cousin Hank finds him, suggesting that they use Ray’s powers to fly to Hawai’i.  Jenny, Ray’s girlfriend, stops by and cancels their date for that night.  It begins to rain.  After work, Ray and Hank do fly to Hawai’i, where they go to look at a volcano that looks like a big hand.  The people that work a tourist booth there remark on a weird-looking green dude who keeps tossing sacks of something into the volcano.  It turns out his name is Merritz, and he’s a servant of Darkseid who, through the use of technoseeds, revives Brimstone, whose hand is sticking out of the volcano.  Brimstone squishes Merritz and then aims for the city, and Ray, seeing this, goes after him.  This brings us back to the start of the issue, with Ray about to be crushed.  Superboy (the Kon-El clone nineties bad sunglasses Superboy) shows up, rescuing Ray.  They begin to fight Brimstone but immediately start a rivalry between them, tossing light insults back and forth.  They manage to knock out Brimstone and fly him to a more isolated part of the island.  Ray mouths off at Superboy, who decks him.  Ray blasts Superboy, using the last of his powers to do so (it’s night, so he can’t recharge).  He worries that he has killed Superboy, and it’s at that point that Brimstone revives himself.
  • Ray does his best to stop Brimstone with what little power he has remaining, burning himself out with one last blast.  Brimstone falls into the ocean, and getting back up, has a change of mind, deciding to go get itself some beer.  Ray buries Superboy under a cairn of rocks, and feels terrible about himself, but then Superboy is revived, and Ray apologizes for arguing with him.  Brimstone rips the roof off a brewery and starts to drink vats of beer.  Superboy and Ray trade origins, and Priest uses this as an opportunity to bring new readers up to speed on Ray’s short past.  They begin to bond, but then some helicopters arrive, threatening them, thinking they are perhaps working with Brimstone.  Their floodlights revive Ray’s powers some, and Superboy is feeling better, so they fly after Brimstone.  They begin to fight him again, with little effect.  They get the idea to try to lower his temperature, so Superboy flies off to look for a tanker truck, while Ray is almost crushed again.  Superboy dumps a tanker of refrigerated orange juice on Brimstone, which doesn’t do much.  Brimstone swallows Ray, who finds himself floating in lava, although he also finds the technoseed that powers the creature.  Superboy returns with a truck full of liquid nitrogen this time, which causes Brimstone’s exterior to harden.  Ray flies out, and a government type grabs the technoseed from him.  Ray and Superboy part as friends, and Ray returns home (telling us in the narration that he takes Hank with him and then heads straight to work).  We see Ray finish typing up this narrative, and then drop it off in Dinah Lance’s mailbox, before flying off.
  • Issue three opens with Ray in pitched battle with someone called Death Masque, who looks like a mashup of Dr. Polaris and Prometheus (in other words, totally 90s).  He knows everything about Ray, and things don’t look good, until Ray pulls out his laptop and shuts him down – it turns out that Death Masque is a training program that Ray built with the computer skills that he must have learned from the two elderly nuns that educated him.  Ray feels like he’s not cut out to be a superhero, and, while hovering high in the air, starts to examine his naked body in a mirror he constructs out of light.  An airplane flies past him at this moment, allowing the passengers a good look at his bits.  Ray returns home and narrates his shame in another letter to Dinah Lance, even going so far as to compare this humiliation to the time one of the nuns walked in on him while masturbating.  I have no idea why he’d feel okay telling Black Canary all of this (nor do I know when they ever met).  As he thinks, he begins to hear a voice coming from the weird metal sculpture that came with his apartment.  The voice is that of Neal Emerson, the good side of Dr. Polaris’s split personality.  Emerson tells him that remnants of the light entity they fought in the miniseries are coalescing in Philadelphia, and that the entire city is in danger.  Emerson uses his magnetism to write a code onto one of Ray’s 3.5” floppy disks.  Ray doesn’t trust Emerson, so he goes to see Jenny at work for advice, but she blows him off because she’s busy.  While riding the bus home after work, Ray is visited by Golden Age Ray, his biological father, who tells him that if the light entity were back, he’d know it.  Next Ray takes the code on his disk to Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle (when did he meet him?), but Ted doesn’t understand the code at all.  Ray decides to go see Emerson, but Emerson doesn’t want him to visit, as he needs all of his concentration to keep Dr. Polaris from taking control of him.  Ray frees Emerson, who is being kept in a coffin in an American prison (that’s just weird), in his full costume.  Emerson is in control, and so the two of them head to Philadelphia, where Ray fires a laser at Emerson, to help conduct the algorithm or something into the light entity bits or something.  Ray doesn’t trust him, and hesitates, which allows the light entity to coalesce and fly off; it also allows Dr. Polaris to take control of his body again.
  • Polaris yaps and attacks Ray, eventually using his magnetism to coat him in metal and cut off his access to light.  Ray drops underground, recaps a little, and breaks out of the metal.  He’s able to penetrate Polaris’s gravitation field, and take him out.  Ray feels really good about this, claiming it as his first real win, when GA Ray turns up angry at Ray for not listening to him before.  Ray points out that the light entity really has returned, and GA Ray is surprised, until they are both swallowed by it.  Ray remembers how the entity had previously tried to communicate with him, and then sees Happy tied to a weather balloon.  He realizes that the entity had probably tried to communicate with him first, without success, and he becomes worried for his father, recognizing him as such for the first time.  He frees him, and heads to his house, because before that’s how the entity interpreted the centre of Ray’s world.  On his way there, the Death Masque figure attacks; Ray realizes this is a light construct and after a brief battle ignores him.  Inside his house, he finds a young version of himself, crying and feeling alone because his father had left him.  Ray reassures the youngster, and when they touch, he absorbs him completely.  Ray flies off with all this energy, heading towards the sun before sending it out into space.  Ray returns to Philly feeling victorious and highly charged.  GA Ray comes at him in anger, threatening to “teach him a lesson.”
  • After his run-in with the light entity, Ray is basically drunk on absorbed powers, while GA Ray, angry, comes after him.  Ray figures that his father is perhaps angry because of the way the light entity affected him, and starts being playful with him.  GA Ray just keeps getting angrier as they zip around the globe, and uses his abilities to strip Ray of his, and leave him sinking inside a grain elevator, and then teleports him to Somalia where he sees the strife that people live under.  Next he dumps him in Chernobyl, after which point he’s pretty much sobered up.  GA Ray shows up again with a gigantic Cable style gun, which he uses to permanently strip Ray of his powers.  Ray comes to on a bench in Philly, and finds that he can no longer fly or turn into light.  He heads to work, where the joy at being a “normal human” is more than he can handle.  He has a lot of fun at work, but after his shift, while he tries to call Jenny, his restaurant is robbed.  Instinctually, Ray tries to help, but when the robber turns his gun on him, Ray begs for his life and collapses.  After the robber has left, Ray’s manager, Zone, points out that the robber was dressed like it was the 1940s, and Ray gets suspicious.  His powers turn back on, as Ray figures out that GA Ray gave him some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion to make him believe he was powerless.  He finds his father, and attacks him in rage.  He flies him around the moon, before he realizes that GA Ray still needs to breathe.  He returns to Earth and uses CPR on him.  When Happy wakes up, he yells at Ray, talking about how disappointed he is that Ray doesn’t think before acting, and reminds him how much he gave up on his behalf.  Ray cries, and the two eventually embrace.  They fly back to Ray’s apartment together, and Happy tells him that he hopes they will become friends before flying off.  Ray decides that he’d like to spend more time with him, and follows him to his home in Montana.  When Ray knocks on the door, he is surprised to see a woman he identifies as his mother answer.
  • In 1994, all (or almost all) of DC’s line received “zero” issues at the end of the Zero Hour event, with Ray’s fitting between issues five and six.  Martian Manhunter is working to free a child trapped under the Justice League’s destroyed embassy when he starts to hear from Golden Age Ray, who is unhappy with him for having recruited Ray to the Justice League Task Force (which will be the subject of my next set of Retro Reviews).  The Manhunter explains that Ray is an adult, and while they get into a fight, J’onn further explains that he doesn’t know where Ray is at the moment.  GA Ray next visits Jenny at work, appearing only to her and making her look a little crazy to her colleagues.  They go to Ray’s place together, where Jenny tries to hack into his computer (noticing that he has his battle simulation program running), and we learn that before seeing her, Happy tried talking to Hank, the nuns, Zone, and even Caldwell the Candle Man with no luck.  Jenny begins to read Ray’s journal, which is really his latest letter to Dinah.  In it, he talks about how he went to her house for advice, and ended up having a bath with his clothes on.  He writes about the shock of finding his mother, still alive, at Happy’s house, and also recounts basically reliving much of his father’s life.  We see Ray as Happy at Ray’s birth, and learn about his plan to have his brother take the child and raise him, neither of them really expecting him to live because of his light powers.  Happy learned that his wife was still alive, and let her believe that Ray had died.  When Ray was thirteen, he ran away from home, and Happy posing as a police officer found him and led him back home.  Back in Dinah’s tub, Ray figured out that Happy probably used his powers to make him relive these events, and he storms off in anger, showing up at Happy’s house and decking him.  As they argue, Ray’s mom comes outside.  Ray is about to reveal his identity, when Happy appears to step up, but then calls him the pizza guy.  She can tell he’s lying but leaves it alone, and Ray takes off.  The narrative flow of this issue doesn’t work, as Jenny and Happy read about Ray writing about being manipulated by Happy in the tub, but that is the same thing that allows Happy to locate Ray in the tub.  Priest got a lot better at this stuff on Black Panther.
  • Issue six begins with some narration by Black Canary, used to let us know that Dinah is the narrator later in the book.  Ray is somewhere under the Atlantic, checking out a cruise ship that sank in the 1940s, and testing his powers, when he is surprised to be attacked by Death Masque, his training computer program made solid.  Ray escapes him, but almost runs out of power before returning to the ocean’s surface.  He realizes he needs to debug the program, but heads off to work.  Here, the narrative switches to Dinah’s voice, as she attends a hostage taking with the police but spends time thinking about how Ray is like a street dog that is following her around.  There’s a guy named Sevatz who has taken a woman and female child hostage.  Dinah insists that the cop she’s talking to call the girl by her name, Lamercie, although for the rest of the book, she calls her Mercy.  The police give her a bulletproof vest when she insists on entering the building, which is after Sevatz throws the girl’s dead father out a window.  Entering, the Canary shows a deeply uncharacteristic amount of fear, hyperventilating at the thought of confronting the Sevatz guy (a flashback panel shows someone holding a gun on Dinah and saying he’s not afraid of her).  She hears Mercy scream, and opens a closet door, only to find it leads to an alien world.  An alien comes at her, and she freaks out a bit, but also makes it back through the portal to Earth, after which the portal disappears.  She realizes she needs Ray’s help, and appears to fly for a panel, which makes no sense at all.  Ray, meanwhile, is shopping for essentials, but instead decides to buy a big Superman poster and a stereo.  When he gets home, he hears that he has a message from Dinah asking for help.  She is still on the scene of the hostage taking, where the police are now unable to find any proof of the portal, Sevatz, or the girl (no one talks about the woman now).  Ray comes, and tries to play it cool around Dinah as he manages to discover some sort of light-based energy trail in the closet.  Dinah also tries to play it cool, as she keeps thinking about this guy (Sevatz?) holding a gun on her.  Ray manages to open the portal, and she jumps through; he decides to follow.  Things are weirder and more chaotic on the other side.  The transporter (she keeps calling it a Stargate) looks like it’s going to blow up, as she sees Ray’s hand coming through.  She struggles to help him through the portal, and when he emerges, he’s transformed into a half-alien creature, who hits her and flies away.  Dinah, afraid again, turns and sees a man, who I assume to be Sevatz, holding a girl on a weird skycycle thing, aiming a Rob Liefeld gun at her and yelling that he “ain’t afraid” of her.
  • Under the threat of Sevatz’s gun, Black Canary, who narrates this issue as well, jumps at him, knocking him off his skycycle, while he continues to hold the girl Mercy by her hair.  Sevatz lands on his feet, and brings down a building on the Canary as he falls.  When she comes out of the rubble, she is attacked by the alien lizard guys that are all around this alien cityscape.  She flashes back to how she got into this situation, and tells us that Sevatz was part of a gang of bank robbers known for disappearing after they finish a job.  Acting on a tip, Canary and the Seattle police were waiting for the gang at one of their jobs, and in a firefight, all of the robbers but Sevatz were killed.  Sevatz robbed a cop car while yelling his standard line, “You don’t understand – I ain’t afraid of you.”  Canary chased him, causing him to crash into a tanker truck, but he somehow was not injured in this.  He carjacked a family car, which is how he ended up with Mercy as his hostage, although it doesn’t explain how Dinah knew the girl’s name.  Back in the present, Canary is perhaps helped (Porter’s art is not very clear here) by Ray, who is still all silvery and monstrous after his trip through the stargate.  He grabs her and flies off, and the Canary tries to appeal to whatever part of the real Ray remains.  She suggests that he power down, expecting that he will revert to his normal self.  The art doesn’t really show that happening, but Ray is back in control of himself, and then he recaps some of the last issue, adding in the revelation that the reason why Sevatz’s gang always disappeared after a bank job is that they had this stargate.  They try to figure out why the entire planet they are on is bursting into flame, and Canary insists that they find and rescue Mercy.  They find him, he fires his Cable-gun at Ray, and Ray flies off with both Mercy and Dinah in his arms.  Canary insists that she face Sevatz while Ray takes Mercy back to Earth.  Canary and Sevatz fight (and she never uses her Canary cry), while Ray has to clear debris from the stargate before he can push Mercy through; the stargate blows up right after that.  Sevatz has Canary on the ropes, but she stabs him in the stomach (again, the art is not all that clear here, as it focuses on Ray’s reaction to the scene).  Ray grabs Canary and flies her around as the planet’s situation gets more dire.  They stand on a small rock surrounded by lava and Ray yells that they are trapped.
  • Ray flies through space, carrying Black Canary in a bubble that is quickly running out of fresh oxygen.  He has no idea how to get back to Earth, and is increasingly worried that he is completely lost and will end up killing Dinah.  He sees a space station in the distance and makes for it, deciding to burn through the wall, hoping there will be oxygen inside it.  There is, and he hastily repairs the hole he left in the hull.  Dinah is nonresponsive, and Ray calls for a doctor.  Falcone, a cyborg type, shows up to fix the wall, but refuses to help Ray, until he offers to make a deal.  Falcone takes Dinah to his infirmary, but will only heal her if Ray goes to a bar on the station and gets rid of a guy who has stopped the clock there so that happy hour never ends.  This guy, of course (it is 1995), is Lobo, and he and Ray get into a fight that takes them all through the station, causing damage to its reactor core which blows them into space and wrecks Lobo’s bike.  Ray’s thought bubbles stress how much he cares for Dinah, which spurs him to fight Lobo some more.  Lobo finally abandons the fight to take his bike to Falcone to get it fixed, just as Dinah wakes up.  Later, we see Ray about to leave with a map and a space helmet for Dinah (who is apparently okay with flying around space in fishnets and a short-sleeved jacket). Lobo finally remembers having seen Ray in the miniseries, and Ray almost starts another fight with him, until Dinah reminds him they have to go home.  They head off into space.
  • Flying through space with Black Canary, Ray realizes that he’s overshot the Earth, and isn’t sure how to turn around and get back, because of the speed at which he travels.  He decides to circle the sun and use it as a waypoint, but he finds the light entity child sitting on the surface, and it wants to play with him.  He knows that if the light entity absorbs him again, it will kill Dinah, so he zips back and forth around the sun to confuse it before flying back to Earth.  He drops Dinah off in Seattle, and she worries that she’s been leading him on.  Ray returns to Philadelphia but realizes that he’s gone back in time.  He learns that it’s 1941, and remembers that that’s the year that his father gained his powers.  We cut to Happy, who is in New York trying to write about what’s happened to him over the last few days.  He is a low-level reporter, complaining that his upcoming weather balloon story isn’t going to get enough notice.  He wanders out of his office and is almost hit by a trolley, except that Ray swoops in and saves him.  Ray goes into the newspaper and asks to speak to Happy.  The editor asks if Ray is a gypsy because of his earring (the casual use of the word ‘gypsy’ reads strangely today), and they are interrupted by Happy, who is yelling about a flying man.  Happy and Ray argue some, and the editor kicks them out of the office.  Ray flies off with Happy, and then drops him into a snowy field (it’s started snowing, and that’s significant).  Ray thinks that Happy has his powers already, but after realizing he’s talking about the balloon trip, Happy tells him it hasn’t happened yet.  Ray is about to fly him to the weather balloon trip, but in pure Back to the Future fashion, his powers cancel out, and when they fall, Happy almost falls off the mountain they landed on top of.  Ray calls him “Dad”, manages to grab him, and then they both fall, landing in a drift.  They eventually manage to hitch a ride, and in a diner, Happy makes a phone call and discovers that the balloon trip hasn’t happened yet because of the storm.  They agree to go to New Jersey together so Ray can fix things, but Happy wants more information, which Ray can’t give him.  They steal a car together (even though neither knows how to drive), and as they approach New Jersey, Happy learns from the radio that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbour.  He gets very angry at Ray, who could have used his knowledge to save lives, and dumps him on the side of the road.
  • At the beginning of issue ten, we watch as a powerful looking, naked hero rescues a man from an accident that is hard to understand because of Porter’s confusing art.  We can tell that this is at a naval yard, and can assume it’s Pearl Harbour.  The man, who we learn is 1940s Golden Age Ray, returns home to find our Ray in his apartment.  He tells Happy how to avoid burning off his clothes, but Happy is not willing to accept anything from him.  Ray recaps for us in his thoughts, and we learn that Happy carried on to the observatory in New Jersey, insisting on going up in the weather balloon alone, where he received his powers.  Ray teaches him how to make a costume, and reconstructs his usual one for him, but Happy rejects it, instead making a much more 90s full-masked costume.  He flies off while Ray tries to figure out what to do, and gives chase.  Happy heads straight to the White House, where the President is pleased to welcome him to the war effort.  Ray busts in, and is blasted out by Happy.  A man referred to as Senator Wright blasts Ray with a green ring and a black ray pistol, forcing Ray to tell him that he’s from the future.  The man tells him to meet him at the White House on Christmas Day 1995 to find out who he is.  Golden Age Ray flies off, and Ray is about to follow again when he remembers that Dinah is still on her own in Seattle.  He finds her on the same rooftop where he dropped her off, as she’s stayed put after realizing that she is in the past.  She wants to go home, but Ray feels like he needs to stop Happy from changing the past.  Happy attacks the Japanese fleet returning from the Pearl Harbour attack.  Ray comes to stop him and they fight a bit.  Happy figures that he can’t change the future, since he’s in his present.  He also suggests that maybe he did sink the Japanese fleet, and Ray just doesn’t know it.  Happy tells Ray to go home, and flies away.  Ray returns to Dinah, and they decide to fly around the sun in the opposite direction as before, and hopefully return to their own time, although they don’t know if it might now be changed.
  • Some guy breaks into Ray’s apartment, and while at first he’s unimpressed, he is happy to snatch Ray’s laptop.  Death Masque materializes and kills the guy, returning the computer, and calling it mother.  Just then, Happy calls to tell Ray he’s coming over, and immediately materializes, wearing the costume we saw him create in 1942.  Death Masque attacks him, and while they fight for a while outside the apartment, Death Masque throws him off by knowing his name, and is shown wielding a green blade against him.  Ray and Dinah are sitting on the ledge of a building in 2016.  Dinah’s unhappy that Ray couldn’t get them back to their own time, and Ray is about to give up, when a flying Philadelphia police officer named Gaelon shows up, as flying cops in 2016 do, to disguise Ray before flying media drones begin to film them.  Gaelon ushers them into a flying EMS van, because they are believed to be suicidal, and takes them out of the city, where she hands Ray a note in his own writing telling him how to get home.  Gaelon also gives Ray a kiss, before they fly off (revealing what I think is Bill Clinton’s face on Mount Rushmore).  They make it back to their own time, and Ray drops Dinah off at her place.  She feels some kind of way about Gaelon kissing Ray, and as he’s about to leave, she draws him into an embrace and kisses him.  The next day, an obviously post-coital Ray dances around the Philadelphia skyline (while Dinah, curled up in bed, shows regret).  Ray swoops in to rescue a young girl from a crumbling building, and recognizes her as the child version of Gaelon.  He gives her the note and instructions on when to return it to him, and loses the confidence he gained from the idea that he would live to 2016.  He returns to his apartment, where he finds Happy hanging out eating cereal, and the apartment trashed.  Happy tells him that Death Masque attacked him, and Ray decides he needs to go get some computer supplies to help him wipe the program from his laptop.  After he leaves, Happy calls the laptop mother, making it clear that he’s Death Masque.
  • Issue twelve, with art by the little-known Manny Clark, opens with Death Masque approaching a church in Turkey (strangely located “near Constantinople, not Istanbul).  Inside, it seems that there are a number of underclad children hanging in mid-air before be-turbaned people.  Death Masque turns one of the turban dudes into stone, unties one of the children, tells him that he’s his son now, and then lets loose with his energy on the church.  He walks, holding the naked kid’s hand, and says, “those who would walk in darkness, follow me to Philadelphia”.  In Philly, Ray, who has quite the five o’clock shadow going on, waits outside Circuit Shack so he can buy a new motherboard for his computer.  As he waits, he feels guilty for having betrayed Jenny – he imagines her learning about him and Dinah will cause her to die, or to want to kill herself.  When he finally gets into the store, he is surprised to find Zone working there.  A woman in the backroom finds that Ray trips her sensors, and she fears that he is a metahuman who is spying on her.  At home, Ray swaps his motherboard, which he believes will stop the threat of Death Masque, and is suddenly attacked by Mystek, who he (she?) accuses of having spied on him.  They begin to fight, but Ray starts thinking about protecting his secret identity, and instead hides.  As Mystek looks for him, Golden Age Ray (who we know to be Death Masque in disguise) arrives and offers help but leaves when Ray says he doesn’t need it.  This draws Mystek’s attention again, and he chases Ray.  Ray gets caught on a fence, and Mystek delivers a monologue about how he’s searching for his father.  Ray manages to run away, and then the Ray swoops in and saves him, making it clear to Mystek that he was wrong about Ray’s identity (he also makes a reference to the “other” computer hidden in Ray’s apartment).  The Ray blasts him, and flies away with Ray, who it turns out is a light construct.  Later, Ray is told to pay for all the fresh damages in the apartment by his landlord, and then Dinah calls him to tell him that she made a mistake in being with him.  Ray flies off to look for Jenny, who he learns is out of town until tomorrow.  Death Masque, dressed in the updated GA Ray suit at first, meets with his army, and we see that he has Ray’s computer.  He orders his followers to the airport, where we know that Ray is planning on meeting Jenny.
  • The only Ray Annual fits between issues twelve and thirteen.  It follow’s 1995’s Year One theme, which works, as Ray is closing out his first year as a superhero.  When we first see him, he’s sitting in his apartment clutching an unopened bottle of whisky, brooding and watching the news, which is talking about Superman having saved a jet from crashing in Philadelphia.  GA Ray (who we know is Death Masque, but Ray doesn’t) shows up to console Ray, who was actually the guy who saved the airplane.  We learn that Ray is upset that although he saved 112 people, eighteen died in the crash.  In a flashback, we see Ray trying to lift the falling plane, and then using some shaky physics to try to use his powers to create lift for the plane.  He clears cars off an expressway, and maneuvers the plane there.  He flashes back within the flashback to various scenes of his childhood and new adult life with Jenny, who we surmise is on the plane.  As it touches down, it slides off the track Ray made for it, looking like it will fall off the elevated roadway.  We flashback again to Ray waiting for the plane to land, reflecting on his life and the role Jenny plays in it.  We learn he’s going to ask her to marry him, but at that point, Death Masque grabs him out of the crowd at the airport.  He tells Ray he expects his total attention, and that he doesn’t want him distracted.  At this point, Death Masque attacks the approaching aircraft, wrecking one engine, before Ray comes to fight him off.  He blasts the plane again, and flies away, putting Ray back in the position of trying to lift it.  We move forward some, and see Ray cutting into the downed plane, looking for Jenny.  Later, Ray heads home to find Jenny in his apartment, explaining that she had missed her flight.  Ray proposes to her, and Jenny tells him that their relationship is over.  This brings us back to Death Masque-as-Happy, asking Ray if he is going to open his bottle of whiskey.  We see Ray attend some of the funerals of the crash victims, and then visit the grave of the uncle who raised him.  Death Masque-as-GA Ray is pleased to see that Ray is falling apart, but is unhappy to learn that Superman has come to the crash site.  In his GA Ray guise, he asks Superman to talk to Ray, but Superman refuses, afraid to encourage his hero worship.  Ray, now drunk, goes to his old house, scaring its new owner, but then Superman shows up to talk to him.  They fly around a little, catching a robber in the process, and Ray admits that he’s more upset about losing Jenny than he is the eighteen victims he couldn’t save, but then he figures out that Superman is really his father (not realizing that Death Masque is portraying GA Ray), and attacks him.  When he delivers a knock-out blow on GA Ray, he turns into Death Masque, but Ray interprets that as Happy still messing with his head (we have now reached the level of confusion and layering that definitely makes this a Priest comic).  Ray flies away, but then sees Superman standing on the plane wreck, and assumes that he’s Happy again, flying right into him.  When Ray wakes up, he’s in his apartment with the real Superman, who doesn’t approve of the poster Ray has hung of him.  They talk, and Ray asks how Superman deals with the pain of not saving everyone, and Superman says he was hoping Ray could explain to him before flying away.  This annual was 56 pages long – that’s something I miss.
  • Issue thirteen is a weird one, for many reasons.  It opens with a child, called Mr. Alexander, signing some papers with a UN functionary, which make his embassy, a suite of offices in a tower, sovereign ground.  We see that this child is accompanied by Death Masque (is it safe to assume that this is the child that Death Masque rescued before, despite a change in hair colour?), and learn that he is “most high king of New Riihad”, a newly recognized nation.  Outside of the offices, there are flags with a stylized rendering of Death Masque’s mask (masque?) on them, and a bunch of guys with torches dancing around.  From there, we move to Philadelphia, where it’s 2:35 in the morning.  A group of five white teenager drive into the Clucky Chicken drive-thru, debating movies, their college choices, and other things, including the downtrodden-sounding voice of the drive-thru worker.  As they talk, a large SUV pulls up behind them bumping anti-white rap music.  In it, a trio of black teens or twenty-somethings talk about how they don’t have money, but expect that their friend can hook them up with some drive-thru.  The car of white kids takes off, and the guys in the SUV are surprised to discover that their friend is not working.  Instead, Ray is feeling sorry for himself, and providing a recap of the Annual.  As he tries to take the order of the SUV kids, someone else pulls up to the order menu, and we overhear that whoever is in that car is arguing with his or her passenger.  Ray explains to the SUV kids that the usual night guy called in sick, and they argue about money until they see that the car behind them is a cop car.  They drive off, and we learn that this latest car is carrying Black Condor and his forest ranger friend (so not cops), and that they are the ones arguing about food.  Ray assumes the Condor is looking for him because of Justice League stuff, despite the Condor having never seen him without his helmet (I should do one of these columns on Black Condor – that was a great series).  Ray goes to get their food, but hears a knock at the door.  He finds his cousin Hank, looking to use the phone to check his pager (remember, it’s ‘95).  He leaves his date, a girl named Jazz outside, and then takes off, claiming his Aunt Beckie has hurt herself.  Ray lets Jazz in, and answers another order.  He takes a long time with it, and that is a plot device allowing the man in the car to mention the “UN thing”.  Ray turns on the TV, and learns about Death Masque and Mr. Alexander.  We see him costume up and go flying into the night.  Distracted by this, the original five teenagers end up driving into the SUV from before, and all the teens start arguing, until they see Ray fly overhead and maybe zap them?  Then we see that Ray is in the restaurant (so I’m not sure if the previous pages even actually happened), and he closes up the shop and goes for a walk with Jazz.
  • Issue fourteen jumps things ahead a little, as Ray has, between this issue and number thirteen, shown up in Damage’s series, and quit the Justice League Task Force in that series.  When this issue opens, Ray is fighting his way through some mercenaries who we learn work for Triumph, as he tries to apprehend some criminals.  Finally Triumph gets into it with Ray, who actually just wants to talk to him for a bit.  After fighting a bit more, and us learning what’s been going on with Ray through Triumph’s internal narrative, they stop fighting and sit down to talk.  Ray tells Triumph about Death Masque and his status at the United Nations.  We see Death Masque talk to his servant, Malovick, revealing that he’s a little jealous that Ray turned to Triumph for help.  Ray finishes telling Triumph what’s up, and Triumph refuses to help him, as he’s still hurt that Ray walked out on the JLTF.  Ray flies off, and we learn that Gypsy was watching this conversation, and that Triumph has decided to handle this problem his way, instead of involving the Martian Manhunter.  Ray goes to see his father, who we know is Death Masque, but holds back from telling him his problems.  Instead, he flies to a big shiny supervillain fortress, defeats the external defences, and busts in on Vandal Savage, who has stolen his table and chairs, and is eating Clucky Chicken.  Ray wants Savage to help him stop Death Masque.  Savage talks about Ray’s full potential, and the intelligence needed to create Death Masque’s programming in the first place.  He also tells Ray that Happy is dead.  He offers Ray a temporary job at a computer gaming company he owns in return for his help, and stresses that he is not a criminal.  Then, away from Ray, he phones Death Masque at the UN to tell him that Ray is his.  Death Masque reacts violently.  At Justice League Task Force headquarters, Triumph calls in the rest of the team (Gypsy, L-Ron, who is in Despero’s body, and Mystek, who is now a member of the JLTF) to tell them that Ray has gone rogue, working with Vandal Savage, and that they will have to stop him.
  • Death Masque fights the collective might of the Justice League (Captain Atom, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Triumph, L-Ron/Despero, Maxima, Metamorpho, Fire, Supergirl, and Hawkman), killing them all, before taking his mask off and revealing that he is Ray, and snacking on some Clucky Chicken.  This is, of course, a dream, and Ray wakes up in his beautiful new apartment, in a round bed, and begins to organize his day.  He heads to his new job, where he is the senior systems analyst for video game designs.  Cousin Hank shows up to visit, but Ray doesn’t want him coming anywhere close to him, afraid that Death Masque might target him.  Ray suits up and they go flying together, Hank on a flying motorcycle that we have to assume is a light construct.  Ray tells Hanks what’s been going on, and that Happy is dead.  Hank is furious, and insists that Ray go deal with Death Masque immediately.  Vandal Savage is hanging out with some friends (apparently in the Oval Office, according to the next issue, but I missed that) when Death Masque pays him a visit, angry that Savage is controlling Ray.  They fight briefly, and Death Masque makes a threat and leaves.  Ray has another nightmare about Death Masque killing Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Wonder Woman, and when he wakes up, he calls Savage, trying to get him to speed up their action against Death Masque.  Not knowing where else to turn, Ray flies to his mother’s house, and is surprised to see her coming home at dawn in evening wear with some guy who she sends home.  She remembers him as the pizza guy, and lets Ray know that she and Happy are divorced.  She makes him breakfast and they talk – Ray learns that Happy was married before, and has another son named Joshua.  Ray identifies himself as Thomas’s kid (that’s the uncle that raised him), and says that he wants to do yardwork for her because he’s broke.  She knows he’s lying but agrees to it.
  • Issue sixteen opens with Ray on a hospital bed bleeding from the neck, about to be wheeled into surgery.  He insists, using his powers to write on a clipboard, that the doctors treat a young black kid who’s been shot in the chest first.  The doctor tells Ray to not move or swallow, so Ray lies there thinking about how he saw Jenny and some guy earlier.  After that, he was sitting at an outdoor cafe working on a laptop, and received a call from Vandal Savage, who had just completed his usual brand of hostile takeover of a tech company.  Ray asks again that they move on Death Masque, but Vandal stalls him.  As Ray keeps thinking about things, we follow a group of teenage boys through the area.  Death Masque confronts Savage at the tech office, and of course they talk about Ray.  A lone teenager shoots one of the guys in the group, and Ray rushes over to help him.  He feels a pain in his neck, and we realize that he’s been shot (although it’s not clear if it came during the initial volley of shots, or afterwards).  As he gives the kid chest compressions, he blacks out.  The narrative catches back up to the present, and Ray is about to undergo surgery, but he doesn’t want to black out, as he’s afraid that ‘they’ are coming.  As Death Masque and Savage continue to talk, Savage receives a phone call, but it’s actually Malovick calling for Death Masque.  He tells him that Ray has been killed.  Death Masque attacks Savage, who employs countermeasures that disrupt Death Masque’s corporeality, and so he backs off.  Death Masque flies away, and Savage calls in a teleport somewhere.  Ray is told that he has a bullet fragment close to his brain stem, which is why he has to stay still.  Just as he’s about to be put under, Death Masque turns up in the operating room, tossing doctors around.  Ray, afraid to even move, falls unconscious from the anesthetic attached to him.  When he wakes up, Death Masque is still tossing doctors around, forcing Ray to power up and attack him.  Ray believes that when he powers down, he will die, so he presses the attack on Death Masque.  Just as he’s about to finish him off, Death Masque reveals himself to actually be Vandal Savage.  He’s figured out that Ray turning on his powers would destroy the bullet fragment, allowing him to heal.  Ray returns to his human form, proving Savage right.  Just then, Happy Terrill (who we know to be Death Masque) turns up, and Savage, whispering, asks Ray if he trusts him.  Ray walks off with his “father” to get coffee.
  • Issue seventeen marks a departure for the book, as Jason Armstrong comes on as the new artist, forever changing the book’s style from typical 90s fare to more cartoonish.  The issue opens with three men opening an abandoned missile silo somewhere remote, as the narrator keeps telling us that Joshua, presumably Happy’s first son, is hungry.  The men, seeing something in the silo, shoot into it, at which point their equipment suffers some sort of an accident.  A small figure, looking a lot like Ray in a long cape, flies out of the silo, blasts the men, and flies to a nearby farm where he begins eating some harvested corn.  The art shows that Joshua is pretty young looking, despite the fact that the “long day” the narrator keeps referring to began in 1954.  Ray, meanwhile, is having breakfast in a diner with Happy, who both the reader and Ray know is actually Death Masque posing as Happy.  They walk through the town where Happy lives, and Ray decides to test the living computer program’s knowledge by asking about Joshua, who Death Masque wouldn’t know about, since Ray just learned of him.  DM Happy pauses, but at that moment the radio announces that in Dargath, the capital of New Riihad, the country the Death Masque basically runs, a villain is attacking a US carrier docking there.  Ray and Happy suit up, and as they fly there, DM Happy tells Ray how to handle the situation.  Ray flies in, and finds the Atomic Skull trashing the place and yelling for someone named Zelda.  They fight, but the Skull blasts Ray and knocks him down.  Happy wants to help, and for a while it looks like Death Masque’s personality is struggling to control Happy’s, and while it argues with itself, it drops into the sea.  Ray, tied up over the nuclear engine of the carrier remembers all the terrible things the real Happy has done to him, so he doesn’t feel the need to worry about what just happened with DM Happy.  The Skull is still looking for Zelda.  Happy shows up and attacks the Atomic Skull, and while they fight they rupture the reactor, causing radioactive steam to leak everywhere.  Ray figures he’s safe in his light form, but the steam begins to refract his light, forcing him to turn human and be exposed to radiation.  Happy, also badly hurt, struggles to help Ray, but it is Ray who instead has to save his father who he knows is his greatest enemy playing pretend.  He holds him for a moment, and then goes to rescue any endangered sailors before sealing the reactor.  Happy begins to recover and tells Ray how proud he is of him, and Ray is a little confused.  The Atomic Skull, meanwhile, has found Zelda and teleports away, while we see that Vandal Savage is working in the background to create this whole scene.
  • Issues eighteen and nineteen tie into the Underworld Unleashed event from 1995.  Joshua, having turned a ton of corn into popcorn, is not hungry anymore.  Instead, he dozes, and dreams about the time he was taken by Dr. Spectron (who calls him Spitfire) in the 50s.  The Ray, Happy Terrill, comes to rescue him, and while Spectron is able to get the upper hand for a while, it doesn’t last when the Golden Age Black Condor arrives and blasts him, giving Joshua the chance to grab his helmet-weapon.  The heroes talk about how modern the 50s are, and how Happy is unhappy with the lack of honour in people.  The cops come to the farm where Joshua is sleeping in the present, and when their dog barks and wake him up, he blasts it, which leads to the cops firing on him.  He is hit, and when the farmer goes to help him, he blasts everyone with his powers before flying off to look for his father.  In Philly, Ray comes to work to find a beautiful blonde who introduces herself as Kathy Noren in his office.  She offers him the secret of something called RAPA (rationalized pherometric animation) to help him in game development.  Ray awkwardly refers to RAPA as a hacker’s wet dream, and Noren asks what Ray would be willing to giver her for it.  Vandal Savage interrupts them, and he takes Noren out of Ray’s office.  Savage tells Noren that Ray if off limits to her, and we discover that she is actually Neron, and that they have a long rivalry.  They teleport to Savage’s Crystal Palace headquarters, where Neron accuses Savage of actually loving Ray.  Neron, as Noren, calls Ray to offer him RAPA and hit on him some more.  Savage offers another soul to Neron instead of Ray’s, but Neron doesn’t want Savage’s corrupt soul.  Instead, Savage offers him the soul of the Atomic Skull, who he is keeping imprisoned in a holographic simulator.  We learn that the Skull sees himself as a hero, but that he also suffers from dementia.  Neron agrees to take the Skull in exchange for Ray, but wants Savage to profess his love for the boy first.  Ray, meanwhile, prepares to go see Kathy Noren, and is surprised to see Savage in his bathroom.  Savage tells him to stay away from Noren, because she is evil, but doesn’t feel the need to explain that she’s also a male devil.  Ray gets upset at being ordered around, and flies off to find Noren.  He finds her address in a phonebook, and shows up at her door, where he kisses her.
  • While cutting his mother’s lawn, Ray obsesses over the fact that Kathy Noren is a man.  His mom, who we learn is named Nadine, stops him and asks him to explain why he’s upset.  She offers to take him to dinner so he can spill his story. Ray begins narrating with him kissing Kathy, who doesn’t react well to his not asking for consent first.  She blasts him, and begins sending the entire neighbourhood to hell, before thinking better of it and returning everything to normal.  She tells Ray that he misread her signals, but then asks what he would give her if she destroyed Death Masque.  At that point we switch to Death Masque, who is talking to his servant Malovick.  He says that his tracking of Ray shows him wandering the around, and he leaves to investigate.  Kathy makes it clear to Ray that she knows all about what Death Masque has been up to, and asks again what it would be worth to him to get rid of his enemy.  Death Masque, looking for Ray, finds young Joshua, who is asking cows where his father is.  Death Masque wears Happy’s costume, and when Joshua recognizes him as his father and hugs him, Death Masque/Happy slaps him.  Joshua blasts him.  Kathy asks Ray if he would give her his soul, and when he laughs, Kathy reveals his truer Neron form, which freaks Ray out in a specifically homophobic way.  Even when faced with proof of Neron’s powers, Ray keeps focusing on the gender switching thing, so Neron takes on the form of Circe.  Joshua and Death Masque continue to fight, and it looks like Joshua defeats him.  Ray tells Circe/Neron she can have his soul, but Neron insists that Ray complete a mission first.  The Atomic Skull, recently powered up by Neron, turns up in Los Angeles looking for Zelda again, and making a mess of things.  Later, after a quick Justice League Task Force mission delays him, Ray arrives in LA as well.  He’s tempted to put out a big bush fire, but wants to finish his mission for Circe.  The Atomic Skull breaks into a Beverly Hills hospital, and finds Zelda, an aging actress who is close to death.  Ray arrives, ready to complete his mission, which is to bring flowers to Zelda, but sees the Skull sitting peacefully with her.  He realizes that Circe/Neron was playing him, and decides to give up on the mission and to keep his soul.  At that point, Ray finishes telling his story to Nadine, which is a pack of lies about his marks in high school.  Nadine calls him out for lying, tells him to never sell his soul, and to not bug her anymore.  Ray flies off, and Nadine comments that his sudden disappearance is familiar.
  • Joshua has made a bunch of statues of Santa Claus and other related Christmas images in the snow, in the hopes that it will bring Santa to him so he can get help to find his father.  Instead, it draws over a pair of hippies in a VW van.  Joshua thinks that the man, with his long hair, is actually a woman, but he agrees to go with them when they offer to help him find his father.  When their van breaks down, Joshua flies it off.  Ray is at his new apartment, listening to a message where Hank is about to wish him a Merry Christmas but then decides against it.  From Ray’s narration, we learn that he’d left town just before Hallowe’en on a mission with the JLTF, and has returned at Christmas time, even though he thought he was gone for no more than a week.  He flies to his old apartment, where he finds a lot of messages, including one from a girl whose voice he doesn’t recognize, inviting him to a party.  His landlord shows up, but their brief conversation is interrupted by a beeping coming from Ray’s Justice League transmitter.  He flashes back to his having left on the recent mission to space, and then hears on his machine a message from Tom Wright, the senator he met in the past, reminding him that they were supposed to meet on this date.  Ray flies off to answer the Task Force’s summons.  The hippies quiz Joshua on his family’s names, and using a laptop discover that Nadine lives close to where they are eating.  Ray arrives in Washington, and we learn that whatever the Task Force wanted, it was a false alarm.  Write, who is the Golden Age Black Condor arrives via a psychic projection, and explains that he lives on a higher plane of existence now.  He wants to recruit Ray to work for him and the group he represents as their champion, since their current champion, the modern day Black Condor hasn’t worked out for them.  The hippies take Joshua to Nadine, who wants nothing to do with Happy’s first son, and tells them to look for Ray instead, who she believes has been spying on her for Happy.  Ray flies around the New Jersey Pine Barrens until he finds the current Black Condor, who is not happy to see him.  The Condor flies to the home of his friend Ned, accusing him of sending Ray to get him (apparently he’s just been sitting in trees for a while now) and interrupting a Christmas party.  Original Condor shows up, but only Ned and Ray can see him.  While they talk, the Condor flies off, and gets zapped by someone.  Ray figures out that the girl leaving him messages about a party is Jazz, and flies to her neighbourhood, where he misses the party.  She kisses him and takes him into her place.
  • Black Condor is trussed up in a deep well.  The person who is holding him there has a lot of anger towards him.  He’s called White Eagle now, and he explains that he didn’t die when Black Condor thought he did (presumably in the Condor’s short-lived series, which I really do need to reread).  He plans to kill the Condor, but not yet.  Ray wakes up in Jazz’s place, with her sleeping on his arm, and through his thoughts, explains to us that while they spent the night together, they didn’t have sex.  He is figuring out how to extricate himself from under her to use the washroom when the Golden Age Black Condor shows up in the room, still trying to convince him to work for him.  They fly off, and the Condor mentions that the current Condor is about to be killed.  Ray flies off to help his acquaintance, narrowly missing Joshua and the hippie van as it approaches Ray’s old apartment.  His landlord sends them to Ray’s new place.  Ray arrives at some kind of office that White Eagle had trashed, and GA Condor tells him that the Condor is now at an estate in a well.  Ray finds an old man in a locker, and he explains that the White Eagle destroyed all his files and computers.  The man professes to be innocent of the genetic experimentation that the Eagle alleges, but the man has a monstrous webbed sea creature arm.  Joshua and the hippies arrive at Ray’s new place.  Black Condor has almost freed himself from the Eagle’s telekinetic bonds when Ray arrives.  Condor tells him to leave, but then the White Eagle shows up and attacks him.  They fight, and the Eagle uses his mental powers to take away Ray’s abilities (and his clothes).  The Condor catches Ray as he falls, and explains that he does still have his powers, it’s all a mental trick.  The Condor fights the White Eagle, who explains that the experiments done to him have left him with a deteriorating mental condition, which he hopes to correct by studying the Condor’s brain.  Just then, the sea creature arm guy shows up with some suited goons, and they attack everyone.  As Ray takes those guys out, the Black Condor knocks out White Eagle.  In the aftermath, the Condor says there is no point calling the police, and flies off.  Ray remembers he needs to get back to Jazz (and therefore, I guess, just leaves everyone behind).  She is angry at him for leaving, and Vandal Savage is angry at him for skipping a party he expected him at.  Ray calls to check his messages, but Joshua answers the phone, confusing him.  Just then, Jazz starts talking to Ray again.
  • Death Masque, wearing Happy’s face, is walking around in a daze, looking for his “mother” laptop.  He attacks a cop and trashes a computer store.  One of Death Masque’s agents calls in his weird behaviour to Malovick.  Ray keeps getting paged by Jazz, and worries that he’s in over his head with this new relationship, partly because she’s always calling, and because he hasn’t told her that his life is different now; he’s been staying at his old apartment because of her.  He’s so lost in thought that he doesn’t even recognize that police cars are speeding past him.  When he clues in, he flies off to see if he can help.  His staying in his old place means he hasn’t gone to his new place, where Joshua and the two hippies – Leslie and Brett – are staying.  As the adults worry about the fact that they are squatting in Ray’s apartment, Joshua follows some police helicopters.  Nadine is driving with her friend Sarah, telling her about Ray.  When they get to Nadine’s, they see Happy on the porch.  Nadine decks him for lying about Joshua’s age, and accuses him of using Ray to spy on her.  They are interrupted when Simon Alexander, the King of New Riihad, shows up with Malovick and a ton of soldiers.  Ray arrives at a crime scene in Philly, and is almost arrested.  He decides to forgo cooperating with the police and instead flies blindly into a hostage situation in a grocery.  He zaps the criminals, and then notices that the page he’s been expecting to be from Jazz is from someone with a 719 area code.  Malovick brings Ray’s original laptop to Happy/Death Masque, who is still behaving very strangely.  Nadine’s friend Sarah receives a call they think will be from Ray, since they have been paging him, but it’s her husband.  One of the soldiers crushes the phone.  As Ray leaves the grocery, the police attack him, and then he is blasted by Joshua.  Nadine confronts the King, who explains that he works for Death Masque, and that they are fixing him.  Ray is surrounded by cops again, but instead of trying to talk to them, he grabs Joshua and they fly off.  Joshua identifies himself, but Ray believes he should be in his fifties.  Joshua blasts him again, and they end up in Egypt.  Joshua finds out that Ray is Ray, and as they embrace, Ray figures out that the page he got was from Colorado, and flies off to check on Nadine; Joshua follows.  As Nadine, still a prisoner, tells Sarah about Happy’s backstory, Ray and Joshua show up, firing on the soldiers.  When Ray lands, Nadine punches him in the face and accusing him of lying to her.  At that point, Death Masque emerges and kills the King.  Ray realizes that the New Riihadians must have reset Death Masque’s programming, wiping his memories in the process, so now he’s back to his earlier self, just wanting to kill Ray as part of his training.
  • Issue twenty-three opens with a flashback to when Ray bought and modified a game called Dark Invader to create Death Masque.  In the present, Ray is fighting his creation, hoping to keep him busy long enough for Nadine to get away with Joshua.  Death Masque, which has been rebooted, recognizes that Ray cares for the people in Nadine’s car, and tries to blast them, but Joshua blocks it.  Ray attacks Death Masque, preparing to go all out, and Joshua tries to help him, but their energies all mix, so that Death Masque and Ray combine and form Death Ray.  Ray believes he’s dead, but soon figures out that he’s inside Death Ray, and that it’s like when he merged with the Light Entity before.  He realizes that some of the Light Entity remnant from early in the series stayed attached to him, and ended up inside his computer, giving Death Masque life.  Ray realizes that he can re-write Death Masque’s code to render him harmless again.  While he is doing this from the inside, Joshua is fighting Death Ray in the real world, trashing Nadine’s house along the way.  Just as Death Ray is going to blast Joshua, Nadine, and her friend, Ray finishes his reprogramming, returning Death Masque to an inert form, and freeing himself.  With the danger passed, Joshua asks Ray where his father is, and Ray apologizes, getting ready to explain.
  • Not wanting to tell Nadine, his mother, that Happy, his father, is dead, Ray flies Death Masque to the sun and tosses him in, all the while thinking about his guilt for Death Masque’s actions.  As he flies back, a coffin-like capsule is shown following in his wake.  As he flies back to Colorado, the capsule drops into a lake, and a woman emerges, asking what year it is.  The police work to clean up the mess left by Death Masque’s army, while the sheriff questions Nadine and her friend.  Ray arrives.  Back at Ray’s condo, where the hippies are still hanging out, the woman from the capsule shows up and tells them that Joshua is with Ray and fine.  The sheriff keeps questioning Ray, because he can tell that his story doesn’t add up.  Ray calls Vandal Savage for help, and Savage calls the Sheriff back.  In Philly, the woman from the future, who we recognize as Gaelon, from back in issue eleven, tells them they can leave.  Ray and his friends are let go by the cops.  Gaelon visits Jazz and tells her that she is with Ray.  In Sarah’s call, Ray calls Vandal Savage, who promptly fires him, much to Ray’s surprise.  We see that this is because Gaelon has a knife to his neck, and it is suggested that she kills him, takes the Schubert Software file, and flies off.  At Sarah’s house, she puts Joshua down for the night, leaving Ray and Nadine alone.  Nadine makes it clear that she knows that Ray is the Ray, and that he and Joshua are both Happy’s children.  Gaelon goes to Ray’s old apartment and goes to sleep in his bed.  Just as Ray is about to tell Nadine that Happy is dead, he gets flashes from Death Masque’s memories, that he accessed last issue, and realizes that perhaps Death Masque kept Happy prisoner in the church where he rescued the King of New Riihad.  He finds Happy waiting for him.
  • Issue twenty-five is double-sized, and quite a departure.  It opens with the Flash narrating as he and Triumph rush into the country of Bhranka, where a civil war threatens civilians.  The two heroes aren’t there to stop the war though, they are there to stop Ray, who we see with long hair (including a streak of white) and a new costume, fighting the soldiers.  Ray uses his powers in new ways, freezing Triumph until Flash can thaw him.  As Ray starts to explain himself, we realize that we are somewhere in the future (2016 to be exact, which is kind of funny), and that Bart Allen is the Flash now.  Ray is there because his company, Terrill, uses silicon chips from the country, and has figured that his interference in the war would be profitable for him.  Bart is angry about this, but Triumph is a business rival of Ray’s.  Later, Ray is conducting business in his office when his girlfriend, Gaelon, who is a police officer with a jetpack, tries to get his attention.  He basically ignores her, and she heads to their place, where she hangs out with Bart, and they talk about how Ray is important to them, but is cold and distant.  Later, Triumph, Bart, and Gaelon watch a basketball game on TV while Ray talks business on the phone.  The game is interrupted by a news bulletin that shows the young Ray and Black Canary sitting on a ledge, and Gaelon rushes off to give Ray the note that she gave him back in issue eleven.  Bart can tell that this is significant, but doesn’t know why.  He gets mad at Ray for always ignoring her, and it becomes obvious that he is in love with her.  Bart suits up and runs off to tell Gaelon how he feels.  We see the scene from issue eleven again, as Gaelon helps Ray figure out how to get back to his own time, and Bart, who is watching from a distance, feels that something very wrong is going on.  Later, future Ray uses his powers to scare a corrupt union boss into supporting one of his company’s acquisitions.  Gaelon talks to him about how much he’s changed from the teenage version she’s just met, and that she’s decided to leave him.  Bart is in her room waiting for her, and she embraces him for comfort, but he misreads the situation and kisses her.  She walks away from him, and angry and embarrassed, Bart coldcocks Ray, knocking him out before leaving.  Just then three armed guys in suits come into Ray’s apartment.  Triumph calls Bart to his place, saying that Gaelon needs his help.  She wants to go back in time to get Ray away from Vandal Savage, who she blames for making him so cold.  Bart refuses at first, but then they get an alert saying something is wrong at Ray’s place.  They get there in time to see him die from a gunshot wound to the head.  Bart feels guilty, and so agrees to help Gaelon.  There is some sort of confusing technical explanation of how Triumph has a capsule that Bart can slingshot into the past, which is what he does, even though Bart immediately regrets it.
  • Issue twenty-six begins with a recap of Ray’s life, and the earlier events of this series, right through Ray’s alliance with Vandal Savage.  As this narration continues, we realize that it is going to move through to the future of 2016, as Ray’s schism from Savage leads to a superhero war.  The narrator is Captain Atom, who Ray somehow catapulted into the future when he tried to kill him.  At this point, we realize that Captain Atom is talking to Ray’s dying future self, as he bleeds out on his floor.  Atom uses some sort of quantum energy moving thing to bring Ray into the far future, to War World, which was built by Lord Havok, although at this point, different factions are fighting for control.  Ray saves a woman from a collapsing building, but she attacks him, siphoning off his powers.  The woman lets Ray live and runs off when she sees that she is surrounded by guys on floating platforms, who also decide to leave Ray alone after one of them (who looks like the horrible X-Men villain Ahab) tells Ray he owes him.  Ray finds the woman, who was about to be killed over a loaf of bread, and he tells her that he thinks he’s there to help her.  He namedrops Captain Atom, and she introduces herself as Tempest, a sister in the order of St. Dumas, and takes him to a small population of humans who are waiting for a messiah.  As Ray speaks to them, he feels himself turn into his youthful self briefly.  Tempest tells him that he needs to destroy War World, which he rejects.  There’s something about the child of Captain Atom and Maxima, who was supposed to be the messiah, but was killed.  Tempest believes that the quantum field is going to reclaim soon, and he gets young again briefly, before they kiss.  She is shot by some mechanized walking gun thing, and as she dies, she asks Ray to “stop this.”
  • Ray, upset that Tempest was killed, goes around blowing up a lot of things on War World, and wondering if he should destroy the planet.  He hears from Captain Atom again, but catches the Captain by referencing something that didn’t happen.  As they converse, Ray becomes younger, settling on the way he’s usually looked in the series.  Ray finds and starts talking to the guy who had let him go earlier.  His name is Turon, and he explains that Tempest manipulated him, and wasn’t killed last issue.  Instead, she is the daughter of Captain Atom and Maxima, and she is hundreds of years old.  She also needs Ray’s energy to help restore herself.  Turon knows all of this because he is Tempest’s son.  Ray next goes to Tempest, and tells her that she didn’t need to lie to get his help.  They begin to make out, and as they do, Ray begins to relive his life again (remember, he is dying at this moment), although now, when he asks Jenny to marry him, she says yes.  We see their life together.  Turon hits Tempest and begins to fight against her, while Ray stays lost in his fantasy visions.  Turon snaps him out of it, and he joins the fight.  Ray is able to kill Tempest, although he’s not sure if that will save War World.  He flies off, and we see his quantum energy return to his body in 2016, where he dies, and where Gaelon tells Bart and Triumph that she needs to go back in time.  In 1996, Ray stands before Happy, having just found him alive.  Happy flies off, to check on Nadine.  Ray tells him that she is alive, and that Joshua is free.  Happy flies off to find her.  At Nadine’s friend Sarah’s house, the two women talk about Joshua’s fears while he sleeps.  He wakes from a nightmare and blows up the house.
  • Happy rushes towards Sarah’s house just as Joshua blows it up.  When he sees Happy, he blasts him, assuming that he is a fake.  Ray arrives on the scene and blames Happy for the destruction.  Joshua takes off, so Ray goes after him, leaving Happy to help the others.  Nadine climbs out of wreckage and finds that Sarah is dead.  Happy comes to her, and Nadine blames him for this.  Ray chases after Joshua, who is faster than him.  Joshua burns out his powers over water, but is rescued by Gaelon.  Ray, having lost Joshua’s trail, sits and thinks about what to do, and receives a text from Vandal Savage, summoning him to the Crystal Palace.  Ray is surprised to find that he cares so much about why Savage fired him, and rushes off.  At the hospital, Nadine, whose leg is in a crutch, demands that Happy tell her the truth.  He tells her about having met his son in the 40s, and gaining his powers from that meeting, and tells her that this son is Ray.  Ray avoids the defenses at Savage’s palace, and is surprised to find Gaelon there, who tells him to hurry.  Happy keeps talking, telling Nadine about his time with the Freedom Fighters and marrying Gayle.  He explains that he thought Joshua would grow up to be Ray, but when he saw how powerful and impulsive the kid was, he realized this wouldn’t be true.  He let Joshua help him as Spitfire, but Joshua’s powers delayed his maturity.  We learn that Joshua had a freakout and destroyed his home and killed his mother.  Gaelon takes Ray to see where Vandal Savage keeps the bodies of his descendants, so he can transplant their parts as needed to keep himself alive.  She tells him that she slit Savage’s throat, and they watch as his workers repair him.  Happy tells Nadine that he put Joshua in suspended animation.  Nadine walks away from him, but he uses his powers to communicate telepathically with her.  He tells her that when she refused to have an abortion, he lied and told her that her baby, Ray, had died.  Nadine is very angry.  Ray is upset to learn how brutal Savage is, and Gaelon comforts him, but also sets off his “Glenn Close alert”.  Gaelon takes Ray to Joshua, who is sleeping in his nicer apartment.  Happy shows up and tells Ray that Nadine knows the truth.  He goes to her (she’s been put in a straightjacket in a psychiatric rubber room after she was found attacking her car, since no one else could see Happy).  Ray and her talk, and while it’s awkward for them, it’s clear that Nadine accepts Ray as her son.  He flies off, happy.

This series ended very abruptly and strangely.  It’s obvious that the book was given a cancellation deadline, and that Priest had to scramble to finish up everything he was looking to accomplish, but I don’t understand why he spent three issues in the far future of 2016.  Issue twenty-five was important, as it explained why Gaelon came to the past, but the two issues given over to Future Ray fighting Tempest in the far far future were a weird way to spend time in a book that’s on life support.

Still, this was an impressive and enjoyable series.  Priest more or less told one story over more than two years, and during that time he took Ray from a novice hero to a slightly less novice hero who has developed serious trust issues, but at least finally has a mother.

Ray spent his whole life being lied to by the man he thought was his father, then Happy, then Vandal Savage and Death Masque, and even by Gaelon, yet he maintains his positive outlook and desires to help people.

Priest uses a lot of the narrative devices that he is known for, sending Ray into the past to meet his father and become responsible for his becoming a hero in the first place.  From there he ends up in the future and meets someone who is going to come back to his time to make changes to reality.  This reminds me of the recent Deathstroke/Teen Titans crossover, and of the issues of Black Panther that have a different version of T’Challa running around (Happy Pants Panther) alongside the more sober T’Challa who starred in the book.  Clearly this is a theme that Priest likes returning to, and it works because he does it well.  

Similarly, he often constructs single issues with complicated nesting narratives, where the narrator of the issue might not be revealed until the end of the book, but within that issue, there might be multiple flashbacks, sometimes narrated by someone else.  You really have to pay attention when reading a Priest comic.

I wonder if there are some ways in which his plans for the book were stymied, as I think it’s odd that so much time and space were spent building up Death Masque’s position in the nation of New Riihad, to only have it wiped out with a computer reboot (which, when I think of it, is a metaphor for the last thirty years of DC comics).  Likewise, I would have liked to see more of Death Masque’s struggle with Vandal Savage.  His repeated insistence that Savage loves Ray is interesting, and Savage’s real reasons for being so supportive and caring towards Ray is never examined.  The quick ending just kind of negates that, which is the most interesting part of the book for me.

Artwise, this book goes through some pretty big shifts and changes.  Howard Porter’s early work, before he moved over to JLA with Grant Morrison, is pretty rough in places.  He’s a dynamic and exciting artist here, but sometimes his storytelling is very confused, and he often falls prey to the excesses of the 90s.  I prefer Jason Armstrong’s work on the book, which while a little more cartoonish than I’d like for a book like this, is also very consistent and focused on the emotions of the characters.

Aside from the fact that Ray was also in the Justice League Task Force at the same time (more on that later), I feel like he really disappeared as a character after this series ended.  Yes, he was frequently shown in large superhero meetings, but I don’t think we ever saw Joshua, or maybe even Happy, again.  We definitely never saw Happy in his uglier uniform again.  We also never learn the nature of the threat that the original Black Condor wanted to recruit Ray to fight.  Of course, now Ray’s been retconned away, although the new Ray Terrill who is in the Justice League of America is very much modeled on this this Ray, minus the legacy status and the hero father.

There are places where I felt that this book tied in a little too closely with Justice League Task Force, as Priest more or less assumed that anyone reading that book was reading this one as well.  For the most part, this stood okay on its own, but around the time that Ray hooked up with Savage, things got confusing.  I was going to dive into that title for my next column, but after seeing how Priest and his editor Brian Augustyn took the opportunity here to address some dangling plotlines from the Black Condor title, it made me want to read that too.  JLTF will have to wait, but not too long, as the Condor’s book was pretty short lived.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

It looks like The Ray hasn’t been collected, but it can be bought digitally in its entirety:
The Ray (1994-1996) (Issues) (29 Book Series)

 

 

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