Reed Crandall and The Ray
In August of 1939, Quality began publishing Smash Comics, a ten-year series featuring an assortment of crime fighters, including the first mechanical battler called Bozo the Robot (no relation to the later Bozo the Clown). In issue 14 a character known as The Ray debuted.
The first stories are by the great Lou Fine with Reed Crandall coming in with issue 24 and then alternating with Fine to produce eight episodes (he also did four covers of the Spirit like character Midnight).
Crandall was born in 1917 in Indiana and attended The Cleveland School of Art before heading to New York in 1940. He immediately found work at the Eisner/Iger shop which produced comics for several publishers. Crandall’s crisp, detailed linework highlights a variety of assignments, especially for Quality. Among his jobs was Blackhawk. Created in 1941 the Blackhawks are a team of mercenary pilots dedicated to fighting the Nazis. Crandall’s contributions, with their swooping dogfights and swarming brawls, quickly became a reader favorite.
Crandall is also noted for his work with EC, and later for Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella magazines. An EC story from Haunt of Fear 27 concerns a drooling cannibal living (if you can call it that) in an old shack in the middle of a swamp. The art is imbued with a fetid atmosphere that almost wafts off the page.
The Ray zooms into action
In the first Ray story, a reporter named Happy Terrill accompanies a scientist in an experimental high altitude balloon. A ‘cosmic storm’ approaches and Terrill attempts to fix an outside problem. Terrill is struck by the full fury of the storm, and, instead of becoming toast, he transforms into The Ray and obtains the ability to move through the air on a beam of light and discharge magnetic rays from his hands. The Ray wears a skintight yellow costume that materializes when Terrill goes into action. Darkness cancels his powers until he can find a source of natural or artificial light. Crandall’s stories are wonderfully drawn with supple art featuring great character portraits and action scenes.
In issue 21 Terrill acquires a sidekick in the person of a young boy he meets on a clipper flight to Asia. The plane is forced down off the coast of a remote island ruled by a madman with a private air force who’s intent on ruling the world (aren’t they all). With an assist from the boy (and the United States Air Force) Terrill defeats the villain and, on returning to the US, adopts the youngster (not a word is said about his parents). Oddly the boy, who’s called Jackie in this episode, has his name changed to Bud in the next issue.
A spectacular Crandall battle scene.
The high point of Crandall’s run is a story in issue 29 that takes Bud and Happy to the Texas-Mexican border where they investigate sabotage against a US Army base. Seems a foreign power is employing Mexican bandits to do the dirty work and this fast-moving and spectacularly drawn tale culminates in a pitched battle between the two forces with The Ray lending a hand.
The Khan is happy to see Happy.
A later story (issue 35), printed in 1943 when Russia was our ally, has The Ray journeying to the Soviet Union where he battles a Mongol invasion. On their way home from an assignment Terrill and Bud are kidnapped by the Mongol leader Khan, a mystic who has powers only the Ray can oppose (These powers are what revealed Terrill’s secret identity). Khan intends to keep The Ray in darkness while he carries out his plans of conquest, so he imprisons him in the cellar of a mountain cabin. The Ray escapes when a guard carries a candle across the floor above and light shines through a chink in the floor boards. While the Horde attacks Moscow, Terrill engages Khan in a fight to the death.
The series ends in issue 40 with a story by Rudy Palais. (Warning: bad puns ahead). The Ray then fades into the sunset until he dawns again in Justice League of America 107.