IN A BLAZE OF CONTROVERSY
the ray

Dogging my run on The Ray were rumors and accusations that I was, somehow, taking credit for Jack C. Harris' brilliant work. This controversy has no doubt caused Jack anguish, and I truly regret that. Jack had no greater advocate up there than me. I fought (and won) for Jack to have creator equity in The Ray, and whenever I'm asked who created The Ray, my reply is simple Jack did.


Ray Terrill wants to buy a refrigerator. Folded into a tiny second-floor walkup over Shahid's Famous Pizza in North Philadelphia, Ray's been keeping his milk and cheese out on the fire escape to keep it cool. But now that spring has arrived, he needs an actual ice box. Problem is, Ray's watched the Home Shopping Club virtually non-stop for six days, and they haven't offered a refrigerator. None of the mail-order catalogs that come to his house display any, either. The chilling realization washes over him: if he wants the refrigerator, he's going to have to go out and get it.

Ray's had lots of bad luck interacting with the real world. Having spent most of his life indoors, Ray's perception of the world at large (and American society in specific) has been shaped almost entirely by mass media. His "light sensitivity" disease ultimately exposed as a lie, Ray, at eighteen years of age, has been thrust into a world that bears little resemblance to the one he's read about.

Ray doesn't know how to drive. Or ride a bike. Ray has never even seen a coin-operated laundry machine. Or a subway turnstile. Ray's never been to the bank. Or church. Ray was startled and impressed to find stand-up urinals in restaurant men's rooms. It earned him a black eye when he remarked, "Wow. Look at that!" as another patron relieved himself. He was a washout as a cashier for a fast-food restaurant because he'd never seen curly fries. Clearly, taking a bus downtown to the nearest K-Mart and buying a refrigerator is, for Ray, a major challenge; one fraught with anxiety.

Of course, Ray can fly.  The reason his "father" kept him away from sunlight all those years was the man knew Ray would develop fantastic, light-based powers were he ever allowed to soak in the sun's rays. On the man's deathbed, he revealed the truth to Ray, setting in motion a sequence of events which would thrust Ray not only into society at large, but society at larger-than-life. Endowed with wondrous super-powers, Ray was suddenly thrust into the company of the world's greatest super-heroes, fighting by their side in defense of humanity.

With the powers, however, came a price. Ray became a magnet for every two-bit nutcase in this end of the solar system. The original, Golden Age Ray materialized, claiming to be Ray's true father, and manipulating Ray into using his powers for the greater good. Villains, like Doctor Polaris, were drawn by news of Ray's adventures in hopes of exploiting Ray for their own ends. Similarly, the Justice League sought Ray out to make further use of his abilities. In fact, it seems each time he does the hero bit, the world beats a path to Ray's door.

That's why he'd rather take the bus.

At the K-Mart, Ray realizes he has no money. He tries to open a charge account to buy the fridge, but is denied credit because he has no credit history. No one will give Ray a credit card until someone else does. Staring incredulously at the blank-eyed clerk, Ray remarks, "But, yesterday I saved the universe..." The clerk suggests Ray move along.

THE RAY is about a boy coming of age under the most impossible conditions. Originally pattered after the Tom Cruise character in Risky Business (and submitted to DC  in 1985 as "Avenger"), THE RAY is a hip, satirical look at young adult life in the 1990's.  Originally a mini-series (and available as a Trade Paperback) by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada, THE RAY ran 28 issues as an ongoing monthly, with Ray also appearing in Justice League Task Force.

Dogging my run on THE RAY were rumors and accusations that I was, somehow, taking credit for Jack C. Harris' brilliant work. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But, in fan circles, the assertion remains, having taken on the status of an urban legend: Priest ripped Jack off and forced Jack out. Which is patently untrue.

This controversy has no doubt caused Jack anguish, and I truly regret that. If you ask anyone who worked at DC in those days, you'll find Jack had no greater advocate up there than me. I fought (and won) for Jack to have creator equity in THE RAY, and whenever I'm asked who created The Ray, my reply is simple- Jack did. He has a contract that says so.  As for why I ended up writing the monthly and Jack didn't,  I am forced to hide behind my newsgroup catchall *Office Wars* (TM). But I will say I fought to get Jack on a RAY ongoing, I worked with Jack on a second RAY mini, and I was unsuccessful at getting approval on these projects.

I have an equal paternal claim to The Ray, which I explained in my never-published intro to THE RAY TPB. The published version, written by DC Manager of Editorial Services Bob Greenberger, glossed over the "Who created the Ray?" issue, which only gave the issue life.  The following is the actual intro I wrote, that may help explain the dual claim of authorship over the character. I doubt it will put every rumor to rest, and those predisposed to make me the villain will have to believe whatever they will. But this is what happened. It's not just "my" version: this is what happened. I know, I was there.


GREAT CEECE'S GHOST

A pair of Hush Puppies went up on the desk. "So, Jim, show me what you got. Make your magic for me." DC Comics Associate Editor Brian Augustyn grunted and shuffled papers at his desk, which abutted at a ninety degree angle that of Editor Robert Greenberger. Lounging back in his chair, gazing absent-mindedly towards the ceiling, a Bic for a cigar, Bobby settled comfortably into our pitch meeting. Imagining the possibilities.  Dreaming the dream.

Brian called him Cecil B. DeGreenberger. Ceece was scrutinizing me, Marvel Boy, Mr. Big Shot Editor. The Spider-Guy. Having spent my entire professional career at Marvel, I was afraid of DC- that labyrinth of too-narrow halls papered in fluorescent yellow populated with strange folk like Cecil B. DeGreenberger. I feared they would kill me. Hide the body somewhere in the maze, behind the tall stacks of Sonic Disrupters returns. The paper shuffler, this man Brian, I had seen only once or twice before. Actually I thought him some ersatz Remfield making notes on my proposals so he and Ceece could yock it up at the P&T on buck-a-burger night.

On Bobby's desk was a book of my new project proposals which had been circulating up at DC for a month or so. Among them was a premise about a sixteen year-old boy who suddenly inherits great power. The boy lets his best pal in on his secret, and the pal- a far more worldly person than our hero- convinces the schlub to create a heroic costumed identity for the sole purpose of impressing chicks.

I called this reluctant teenage super-hero Avenger. Ceece loved it, although he thought there might be legal problems with the name. We sat there, brainstormed issue #6 of Avenger (what a typical episode might read like), shook on the high concept, and went our separate ways.

I never turned in my Avenger proposal. Somewhere along the line, DC Group Editor Denny O'Neil stole me for Green Bunny or something, and I just, well, kinda forgot about it. Ceece waited patiently for a couple of years for Avenger to land on his desk. In fact, I think he's still waiting.

In 1990 I came on board as a new DC editor. Ironically, I was folded into the very same room Bobby had shared with Brian. Although Bobby had, by then, been promoted to Exalted High Druid or something, the spirit of Cecil B. DeGreenberger was alive in that tiny room, thanks mostly to Brian's dead-on mimic. Eager for a new start-up project, I dusted off Avenger and shoved him into the pipeline. To reconcile potential legal problems with the name, I transplanted the concept to a character name that had been floating in oblivion for nearly a decade. A character I'd fallen in love with more than a decade before. With the stroke of a pen, Avenger became The Ray.

The Ray and I first met back in the 70's, in the pages of an issue of Detective Comics. There was a period of time when DC jacked prices of their more popular titles from 15 to a totally outrageous 50. In return for this major price hike, DC formatted these titles at- dig this- 100 pages. Square bound. There was the usual 25 or so pages of new material, and the rest was filled out by classic reprints.

I hated that stuff. "Classic reprints." Major yawn. Hey, I was twelve, and just didn't appreciate the goodie goods when I got 'em. One thing did catch my eye, though. The single appearance of a 1940's super-hero named The Ray.

Man, he was so cool. He moved like a bolt of lightning, fired ray beams, and had a more-phat-than-humans-deserve fin on top of his head. Hell, I'da paid the four bits for the fin alone. Lou Fine, a Will Eisner Studio alumni, was at the peak of a stellar comics career when he gave life to The Ray. Fine gifted The Ray with incredible grace and fluidity. His story telling was dynamic and rather contemporary, which, I guess, accounted for my interest. I wanted to see more. A lot more. I had a long wait.

The next glimpse I had of The Ray was as a fourth-banana in the still-born The Freedom Fighters, a 1970's super-group comprised of the vintage Quality Comics characters. Among their ranks, Doll Man (who had the power to defeat dolls, I guess), the Human Bomb (who could blow himself up) and the ubiquitous Uncle Sam (whose most apparent power was the ability to look silly). The Ray, arguably one of the most powerful characters in the DC (or, for that matter, anybody else's) Universe, was relegated to mugging for group shots and pointing at the occasional big, gloppy monster, screaming, "MY GOD! A BIG, GLOPPY MONSTER!" Well, let's be fair, team books are tough. No matter how talented a writer is, when push comes to deadline, somebody's gotta scream about the gloppy monster. But why did it have to be my favorite character?

I was dying. Thankfully, so was The Freedom Fighters. But, once the FF was 86, the Ray seemed to be completely forgotten.

 

The Ray #16 by Howard Porter



The first thing I did when I got to DC- no kidding, before I took my coat off- was to file a New Character Reserve request for The Ray. My hero. I figured my Avenger idea would give him a neat spin for the 90's. We began listing The Ray on our pipeline (or, "in development") lists, and the book began taking shape. I had the basic concept, and I knew where I wanted to go with it. But the project was missing something. Something I didn't see until I ran into it.

It needed Jack C. Harris. A veteran DC editor and writer, Jack kept busy writing scientific pieces for educational magazines and authoring novelizations and children's books. I knew of Jack, but hadn't met him personally until I edited a piece he'd written for one of DC's sword and sorcery mags, a story with a lot of trolls in it. Jack's piece was so weird, so off the wall, so funny, so good, it influenced my thinking about The Ray. It suddenly hit me, The Ray should no only be hip and cool- it should be weird. It should be just balls-out nuts. Twisted. Just like Jack's trolls.

Meanwhile, there was this kid named Joe Quesannadanna or something  whom Veteran Big Deal Inker Joe Rubinstein sic'ed on me. This kid brought over some pretty stiff samples, but showed enough promise and tenacity that-

No, that's not it. What really happened was a penciller quit one of my sword and sorcery books, leaving me high and dry with an approaching deadline. I was absolutely furious. I stormed out to DC reception and pointed at the first penciller I saw- that Quesarasara guy- and told him if he finished the next issue inside of three weeks, he had a regular gig.

Joe developed so quickly and so tremendously that, well, I just had to take credit for it. I spoke to him about this Ray deal. Joe signed on immediately. I suspect the looming cancellation of the book he was working on influenced his decision somewhat.

I still didn't have a writer. Jack came in to deliver script pages for another project, and the spirit of Cecil B. DeGreenberger welled up inside me. I handed Jack a list of DC characters available for development and asked him what he thought he might like to do.

Jack picked out The Ray. He thought that might be fun.

It was just meant to be. I told Jack the high concept. I told him it had to be hip. It had to be weird. And that he was stuck with that Joe Queball guy. Jack just grinned and took a ream of notes.

A while later, Jack came back with Night Boy, Caldwell and the Nuns. It was more than weird. It was sick. It was perfect.

Hopefully, you know the rest. The Ray was an instant sellout, and became one of DC's most critically acclaimed miniseries. Joe Quesada (his real name) became one of the most popular artists working in the field today.

So, you may ask, why did it take us so long to start up a new series? Well, the truth- the absolute, no kidding truth- it's my fault.

As one of my projects, The Ray was being produced out of DC's Development Group, at the time DC's R&D arm. As Dick Giordano's retirement approached, a reorganization of DC's editorial department was imminent. The Development Group was reorganized out of existence and its resources were reassigned to other editorial groups. I had already begun trying to get a new Ray up and going in a variety of configurations and with a variety of creative teams, but nobody was pushing Development Group paper as we were all very likely about to become homeless editors wandering the labyrinth alongside Ceece's ghost.

Ultimately I released The Ray from my editorial control, which put the project into limbo while DC reorganized itself and negotiations with various potential Ray creators wound down. Finally, in the summer of '93, I left staff to develop new properties for DC, leaving The Ray behind as well.

Or, so I thought.

Any second now, a truck's gonna roll up to your favorite comic shop with The Ray #1. Edited by the eponymous paper shuffler Augustyn, DC has decided not to clone the original. The oddball chemistry of Jack and myself, Steve Haynie (letterer), John Cebollero (colorist), and the whistling dueling art kids Quesada and Art Nichols (inker) was a volatile, quirky, unpredictable mix held together by the across-the-board hatred of me. With most of the team committed to other projects, Brian opted to move forward.

First, he needed a really creative, gifted writer. One who could appreciate the quirky innocence of the first series while putting a new spin on things. Since no one like that was apparently available, Brian gave me a call.

It's scary and intimidating to follow a big success. On the one hand, you're flattered because the powers-that-be have obvious faith in your talent. On the other, would you want to write It's Still A Wonderful Life? The Elephant Man II? Thelma & Louise Have Risen From The Grave? I mean, name me one sequel that's been half as good as the original. Okay, Wrath of Khan and Godfather II were cool, but we all know lots of sequels that bit and bit big.

Lucky for everyone, The Ray has Howard Porter. Howard is young and geeky and scared of his own shadow. Howard looks to be about thirteen years old. He drops in to the office for lunch whenever his dad lets him borrow the car. Howard doesn't shave. Howard can't dance. Howard uses expressions like "phat" and "cool." Howard watches MTV. Howard knows who Biff Henderson is. Howard dresses worse than I do. Ray's apartment is based exactly on Howard's first place.

In other words, Howard is The Ray. He can also pencil his buns off in that I HAVE NO LIFE line-obsessed contemporary style the kiddies seem to dig these days. Howard is happening, and someday he'll be happening quite large. Bag 'em while you got 'em, kids.


Christopher Priest
December 1993

 

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