By Jonathan Edwards
Something happened after I read this book. I was comparing it to the previous two JLA Rebirth one-shots, and something occurred to me. The thing I liked most about Justice League of America: The Atom Rebirth #1 was the structure, as it served as a microcosm of Ryan Choi's experiences with Ray Palmer and The Atom. For Justice League of America: Vixen Rebirth #1, it was the color and how it was used to distinguish, but also link, her past and present. And then, there's this one: Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1. As far as I know, this marks Ray Terrill's first appearance in the main DC continuity since 2011. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti did write a four-issue limited series titled The Ray a few months after The New 52 began. However, that introduced a new character, Lucien Gates, taking up the mantle. Although, it doesn't look like anything was really done with The Ray after that. Lucien apparently showed up as a supporting character a few times, but that's about it. That is, until now. The reemergence of Ray as The Ray seems to coincide with the announced Freedom Fighters: The Ray animated series, set to appear on CW Seed later this year. Because, like the version of the character starring in that series, Ray Terrill is now gay.
I wouldn't be surprised if some people called Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1 the most "political", or even "controversial", of the one-shots, at least of those released so far. Now, I'm not referring to those who I'm sure will be upset that a character, who at one time dated Black Canary, is gay. In fact, I don't intend to talk about that perceived change, as I feel there's a lot to unpack there, and it technically didn't even start with this book. What I am talking about is how Steve Orlando took Ray's origin, from "Night Boy" to becoming The Ray, and made it also work as an analogy for LGBTQ acceptance and representation. Anyone who has any hang-ups about those themes are more than likely going to bitch about "politics in their comic books". Of course, as one of the owners of my LCS pointed out, comics have pretty much always been political. People only complain when they don't agree.
Jumping back to the beginning of the review, realizing what Orlando has done with The Ray is what made that aforementioned "something" occur to me. The one-shots leading up to the main Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 are not just introducing/reintroducing us to some of the characters that will make up the JLA. They're establishing who these characters are in the post-Rebirth universe, and the way in which each book is constructed is entirely relative to them. It's something I somewhat picked up on with The Atom's book ("microcosm" was not an accidental choice of descriptions for the structure). And even though I wrote it in my review, I didn't fully realize the significance of "heritage linked by color" to Vixen until I reflected on her book while thinking about The Ray's.
To potentially give you whiplash from switching topics so quickly, this book's art is solid. To my surprise, the artist in question is Stephen Byrne, who also worked on Justice League/Power Rangers. I reviewed that book last week, and I did not like it. One thing in particular that I criticized was the frequently bland backgrounds. It was like seeing recognizable characters walking around in a handful of differently colored voids, sometimes with nebulous details. The lighting also made everything feel way too homogeneous and uninteresting at times, which is something I forgot to mention. Here, all of those problems are gone. I mean, there's no extreme level of detail going on or anything, but it actually looks like everyone's in defined locations. Plus, the color, while done similar in theory, is executed much more effectively. The blues used to depict Ray's light-free house work really well.
I'll be honest, I'm sold on Orlando's JLA one-shots. Are they the type of comic that'll change your life? No, I don't think so. However, the way in which they've been rooted so firmly in their title characters is something I respect. It'll be interesting to see if Orlando applies that same idea to the main book. And if he does, how will he adapt it to fit a team of seven? At this point, I really do see these less as one-shots and more as a series, so I think my previous recommendations stand for all of them now. Should you pick it up? If you're a fan of DC or the characters, go for it, especially if you intended to read Justice League of America.
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Stephen Byrne
Publisher: DC Comics