Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

On the Lighter Side…

Posted by Don MacPherson on January 20th, 2017

Justice League of America: The Ray – Rebirth #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist/Color: Stephen Byrne
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (regular)/Stephen Byrne (variant)
Editor: Andy Khouri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

A couple of weeks ago, the cover of the Justice League of America: The Atom – Rebirth one-shot caught my eye, and on impulse, I picked it up. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I started to realize Steve Orlando was a writer I needed to follow more closely. While the recent Vixen one-shot didn’t grab me, there was something about the cover on The Ray and its interior art that drew me in. Once again, Orlando delivers a thoughtful, character-driven story. It’s also a well-timed one, given the political and social climate in the United States as of late. Orlando’s story is about inclusion, about differences adding to society’s strengths and about how xenophobia is a lurking danger that’s emerging from the shadows. The story is something of a dichotomy, boasting a dark tone but ultimately a hopeful message as well. And artist Stephen Byrne stands as a new talent who merits more attention as well.

Ray Terrill lived his childhood in isolation, in darkness, his only contact with the outside world being his TV and a mother who ferociously protects him due to his allergy to light. Years of seclusion take their toll, and Ray finally strikes out into the world. He discovers his supposed fatal allergy was no allergy at all, but a manifestation of his superhuman powers. He explores a world forever denied him, and he happens upon the childhood friend he lost years ago. And he finds something else: purpose, when he sees that friend threatened for trying to make positive difference in the world.

Stephen Byrne’s approach to the art here could be described as a cross between the styles of Jamie (The Wicked + The Divine) McKelvie and Mike (Revival) Norton. He boasts clean lines, and his characters boasts a wide-eyed look that makes many of them quite likeable. Most of this issue is bathed in darker colors (also rendered by Byrne), which seems like a poor fit for Byrne’s linework, but it’s definitely in keeping with the nature of the plot and the socio-political elements at the end of the book. The darkness allows the title character’s powers to really pop, though, and it makes for an eye-catching display.

Ray is a thoroughly likeable character. Despite his dark, lonely upbringing, he’s inherently hopeful, and his rebellious side emerges just so he can experience the freedom he needs. His friend’s representation of a need for greater diversity and acceptance in society is heartening as well. Ray’s unseen exploration of the world that had been denied him actually rang true. Wouldn’t everyone invisibly observe and discover people and places around them if he or she had a chance? I have to admit I rather enjoyed Orlando’s adaptation of an obscure militaristic super-hero (Agent Liberty) from the 1990s to create an angry, xenophobic movement to serve as the antagonist in this story.

Now, the coming-out vibe of the book feels a little familiar, but it’s still a theme worth visiting, especially given the potential for pushback against progress made in LGBTQ issues in the U.S. these days. I thought Ray’s mother comes off as a little too harsh, even uncaring, when her fierce devotion to keeping Ray hidden away from the world seems like it could only come from a motherly sense of love and protection. Furthermore, I don’t buy the notion that after Ray inadvertently hurt another kid with his powers that there wouldn’t have been some kind of outside intervention — or at least that his mom would know what became of the friend.

These one-shots are leading up to the new Justice League of America series, and after two strong character introductions, it might be interesting to see what Orlando will do with the team book. But I’ve had absolutely no interest in the new Justice League of America series given Lobo’s presence in the lineup. I really detest the character. Furthermore, I can’t see how the strong focus on characterization on display in the one-shots will persist in what will no doubt be an action-driven team book. But these one-shots have demonstrated the potential for solo titles for the B-list and C-list heroes. 7/10

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