THE RAYMedium: Comic Books
Published by: Quality Comics
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: Will Eisner (writer) and Lou Fine (artist)
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When superheroes started proliferating in American comic books, just on the cusp between the 1930s and the '40s, a prolific source of new ones was the Eisner/Iger studio, which, in fact, had fielded Wonder Man, the very first Superman
knock-off. Many of that studio's creations — and the vast majority of the ones that are still remembered to any great extent — were done for Quality Comics, publisher of The Clock, Candy, Marmaduke Mouse and a host of others (to name only a few that did not come from Eisner/Iger). The Ray was an early one — he debuted in Smash Comics #14 (September, 1940), about the time superheroes were becoming a recognizable sub-genre of fantasy fiction.
The Ray was a reporter named "Happy" Terrill, who, as the series opened, covered a science and technology beat for The New York Star. An assignment placed him in the high-flying "strato-balloon", exploring the upper atmosphere with the vehicle's inventor, Professor Styne. When an electrical storm struck, he left the cabin to close the outer airlock door, and thus got the full brunt of it. The storm's energy, combined with the unfiltered sunlight ambient in his surroundings — either of which would probably kill anybody outside of comic books — gave him super powers. He was able to absorb energy from his surroundings and emit it from his body, in any form he chose. He could even use the energy to propel himself through the air.
His story was written by Will Eisner, co-owner of the studio, himself. Eisner's other creations, as writer, include Blackhawk and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. As both writer and artist, he created The Spirit, protagonist of one of the most enduring bodies of work in comic book history, comparable to Carl Barks's Uncle Scrooge or EC Comics' horror line, the bulk of which are usually in print at any given time. Eisner's artistic collaborator, this time, was Lou Fine, who drew many memorable covers for Quality, Fiction House and Fox Feature Syndicate, as well as co-creating The Flame for Fox.
The Ray started out buried in the back pages, but the following issue, he appeared on the cover. For the next year, he alternated in that position with Bozo the Robot, until both were supplanted by Midnight. In the back pages, handled by several different writers and artists, he ran until #40 (February, 1943), then dropped off the map. When DC Comics acquired Quality characters in 1956, he was among the dozens left in limbo.
By the 1970s, DC was scouring its past for gimmicks to liven up the annual meeting between The Justice League of America and its '40s counterpart, The Justice Society. In '73, its gimmick was to create a parallel world in which the Nazis conquered America, and it was a bunch of surviving Quality Comics heroes who formed the most high-profile resistance. Their insurgency was led by Uncle Sam, and included Doll Man, The Human Bomb, The Black Condor, Phantom Lady and, of course, The Ray.
A couple of years later, at loose ends following the long-awaited defeat of their Nazis, these Freedom Fighters moved to the JLA's world, and got their own comic book. It lasted 15 issues. The Ray also appeared in an occasional adventure with The All-Star Squadron, as did practically every other DC-owned character set during World War II.
In 1992, just as it had revived heroes as major as The Flash and as minor as The Red Tornado, DC launched a new character called The Ray. The original Ray was never a superstar among superheroes, and so far, this one hasn't proved to be one either.