When one looks at the Power Rangers franchise without rose tinted nostalgia glasses on you very quickly realize what an absolute bizarre success story that it is. From a completely objective point of view the series has never been what one would call “technically good”. The acting isn’t great, the monster designs are very cheap looking and the plot very rarely amounted to much more then the Rangers fighting the monster of the week and whatever lesson the writers felt keen to teach the children that particular episode. It becomes even more cringe worthy when you realize that the whole series was put together by a businessman as a means to sell toys with footage from an unrelated Japanese show cut together with American actors that was also made primarily as a means to sell toys to children. But somehow it worked. In the 90s, kids absolutely loved this stuff and I was right there with them. I was absolutely in love with Power Rangers for years and even though I no longer consider the show to be “technically good” I still have a lot of nostalgic attachment to the show and respect the fact that a lot of the people involved were clearly trying to make a genuinely entertaining television show for children. Unfortunately what we have seen of the new film seems to indicate that the creative team has lost that kind of drive.
We’ve all seen the trailers and by the time this article released I am sure a lot of us will have already seen the film. We all know how angsty, joyless, washed out and cheap this whole production looks and reeks of some middle-aged business man’s idea of what the kids are looking for in a reboot because this kind of thing worked for Batman and James Bond ten years ago. Yet for some reason they ignore the fact that this approach was an utter failure for more recent films like The Amazing Spider-Man films, Fan4stic, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman and that the joyful, unironic approach to these kind of nostalgia franchises has worked again and again. Now don’t get me wrong. I do not have a problem with creative teams updating a franchise for a modern audience and in truth it’s the only way that a franchise can survive over the decades. It is, however, important for a franchise to remember just what it was that made it so appealing in the first place and it’s very clear that this new film doesn’t understand this. But if you’re interested in a Power Rangers story that has changed with the times but manages to stay true to its source material then you need look no further than Boom! Studios’ Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series.
With the first issue debuting in March of 2016, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is an ongoing series under writer Kyle Higgins, best known for his work on the New 52’s Nightwing series with artwork primarily done by Hendry Prasetya. It takes place in a contemporary Angle Grove and picks up not long after the original five rangers free Tommy the Green Ranger from Rita Repulsa’s control. Unfortunately, Tommy is still dealing with the guilt over what he did while under her control as his fellow rangers question his place on the team while dealing with their own personal shortcomings. At the same time, Rita begins to hatch a plan to bring an ally known as The Black Dragon from another realm with The Green Ranger’s Green Chaos Energy who promises to destroy the Power Rangers for her once and for all.
The first thing that the book gets right are the aesthetics. Everything about the artwork is distinctly Power Rangers but it takes enough creative liberties for it to be its own distinct thing. The main characters, for example, are clearly recognizable as those from the show but are not portraits of the actors who played them, ultimately giving the reader a subconscious feeling that while the characters are the same they are a different version of them and can expect different things from them. Everything else, however, more or less stays true to the source material. The Zords, for example, have the same kind of ridged looks to them that they had in the show and it’s a design choice that a fan of the original series can appreciate. Rita and her henchmen also retain their traditional looks but considering how distinct and iconic those looks are, this was probably for the best and it’s very clear that the creative team has a lot respect for the looks of the original series.
Where the book really manages to distinguish itself from its source material, however, is in the writing, particularly with the characters. As mentioned earlier, the characters are clearly those from the original show in terms of looks and personality. As you read the book, however, it becomes clear that the writers are trying and, in my opinion, succeeding in making the characters more relatable and ultimately more human. Tommy is, by in large, the main character of the series and most of the plot centers around his attempts to integrate with the team and the resistances he encounters in both his fellow rangers and himself. As the book goes on it becomes clear that Rita still has some connection to him as an incorporeal vision that is constantly hovering around him, feeding his insecurities regarding his role as both a ranger and a hero and ends up arguing with his fellow rangers a lot as a result. In particular, these insecurities lead to several arguments with Jason the Red Ranger who, as the defacto leader of the rangers, gives Tommy orders that he can’t help but contradict in order to prove Rita wrong. Additionally, this draws the ire of Zack who still distrusts Tommy for, as it turns out, a pretty good reason that I won’t spoil here.
Additionally we see that, in this universe at least, Billy has some reservations about being a nerd in a group that is primarily populated by jocks. We also get info on Trini’s backstory and what she wants to do in the future, giving her some much needed depth. The only one who doesn’t really get additional depth, sadly, is Kimberly. For the most part she’s stuck in the role of the stereotypical overachieving, overly charismatic girl next door and ends up being a bit boring as a result. Perhaps later issues will improve on this but for now she remains the weak length in a series that is full of otherwise well rounded protagonists.
The antagonists are sadly something of a weak point in the book. What few original monsters they do create lack the personality and silly creativity of the monsters of the show. It’s also a little difficult to make Rita into an interesting or entertaining antagonist without the silly, over the top voice dub of the actresses of the original show. Because of this missing feature, she ends up coming off as an overdesigned, stereotypical villain who wants to take over the world because reasons. However they do make up for it with Goldar and Rita’s new ally, The Black Dragon. In the show, Goldar was little more than a buffoon with a cool design much like Rita’s other henchmen. This book, however, gives the character more depth and does so with relatively little page time. We don’t see a lot of him throughout the series but what we do see indicates that he has a fierce, unshakable loyalty to Rita to the point where he is willing to lock himself in his own pocket dimension until she forgives him of his failures. It’s the kind of dedicated loyalty you rarely see in a henchman and I’m very interested in seeing where the series takes his character from here.
The character who really steals the show though is The Black Dragon. While his design leaves something to be desired he more than makes up for it through his actions. Right from the start he proves to be too much for the Power Rangers to handle and frequently knocks them on their backs. Every time they try to counterattack he finds a way to outwit them. Every time they try to run from him he finds a way to beat them down from a distance. It also helps that the character has a genuine mystique to him that pays off in a satisfying, if predictable way and I’m curious to see where the creative team takes this character in the future.
The only major criticism that I have of the comic is the narrative structure. As mentioned earlier, the writer of the book is Kyle Higgins, best known for his work on The New 52 Nightwing series and some of the problems that he had on it ended up spilling into this series as well. In particular, as anyone who has read any of the New 52 knows, storylines had a tendency to go on for FAR too long with some storylines going on for years before they finally ended. This is, unfortunately, what happened in this series and it doesn’t fit the franchise particularly well. Most of the show focused on the Power Rangers battling the monster of the week while gradually building up to the imposing force that the rangers would have to battle later on. It’s a tried and true formula that has worked for not only the various Power Rangershows but also many other comic franchises and other television shows as well and allows for a new audience to easily access the material as well as rewarding longtime for their loyalty. Boom! Studios’ version of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, however, opts to skip out on all the buildup and focus the entire plot on the mysterious big bad, the traditional villains’ attempts to summon him, what he does when he arrives and the consequences everyone suffers for beating him. It’s not poorly written by any means and the big twist at the end of Issue #9 is well earned but it’s the one area that the book fails to really feel like a Power Rangers story. It’s not a deal breaker by any means but it is a noticeable distraction.
All in all, this comic is great. While I do have some issues with the way the plot is structured and the fact that Kimberly doesn’t get much development within the series, it’s still an all-around solid read. The story is fascinating, the artwork is fantastic, and the creative team managed to succeed in making these characters feel real and relatable in ways that the show was never able to do. The new live action Power Rangers film may not look particularly good but if you want to see a modernized but uncompromised take on the original characters, check this one out. You will not regret it.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.