Kyle Higgins (Writer), Hendry Prasetya (Illustrator), Matt Herms (Colourist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer) for BOOM!
January 13, 2016
I’m going to make something very clear first and foremost: I love Power Rangers. Maybe a little too much. I’ve been a fan since the very beginning—Saban’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers—as a fresh-faced chubby kindergartener, and I’ve also recently become a bigger fan of the original tokusatsu series it’s based off and adapts from, Toei’s Super Sentai. I say this because while I love the series, I do recognise a lot of what it did wrong and sometimes still does wrong, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes. It’s a show with a lot of warts—from racial stereotypes, to homophobia from early producers, and the usual cliches and tropes that plague children’s programming. That being said, I’ve always adored what the show stood for. It’s a show about teamwork, friendship, and love, and I’m always a sucker for that. Despite some of the stereotypes it’s entertained, the franchise has had a diverse cast from the very beginning, specifically in terms of having two girls minimum on a team of five in each series, and with various races always represented. We’ve had Rangers who were black, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Latino, as well as Samoan. While not an excuse for any of the missteps portrayed, that meant a lot to me as a kid, especially as they refined the main cast of characters in later seasons and iterations. It’s what made me so curious about this new comic with its update to modern day rather than staying in the early 90s, a reboot of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers specifically, and how it would further flesh out that team beyond the two-dimensional characters they tended to be in the original first few seasons and translate the visual aesthetics and themes of that period to 2016.
The team in the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show was flat. Flat might even be a bit generous to the writing, frankly. You had Red Ranger Jason, the tough guy and leader, with his flannel shirts that always had the sleeves ripped off to show his biceps; then there was Pink Ranger Kimberly, the gymnast and Valley Girl of the bunch. Yellow Ranger Trini was the environmentalist, and the most soft-spoken of the team and your standard Asian-character-who-knows-kung-fu. The Black Ranger Zack was an all-round cool guy, dancer, as well as sleight-of-hand artist but also skirted some unfortunate stereotypes occasionally, and Blue Ranger Billy the nerd and techie, spouting jargon faster than you can say “Morphenomenal!” Having rewatched a lot of the first season, these characters never really progress beyond those descriptions. Even then, a lot of what I’ve said is barely skin-deep, with the writers finding more and more convoluted ways to portray a those specific characteristics and hobbies. I blame a lot of this on the writing and the demands of the producers; mostly because while the actors themselves were also flat, any time they were given material that let them stretch out beyond their usual limits they became good, cheesy entertainment.
Of course, I can’t forget the final member of the team—undoubtedly one of the most popular characters throughout the entirety of Power Rangers. Tommy.
Tommy, the wild-card Sixth Green Ranger, who started evil due to mind control but joined the group after battling them in a five-episode arc.
Honestly, that arc was two episodes too long. Maybe three, if you really want to trim the fat and push character development. However to a kid, the Green With Evil saga was an epic confrontation. A true example of Good vs. Evil, and Good being victorious, even persuading an evil foe to join their ranks once his mind was cleared of any outside influence. Unfortunately they never really did much with Tommy afterwards. There’s no consequence, at first, to all of this, no immediate backlash that lets the full brunt of what happened settle in. The original Green Ranger didn’t appear to be much after his first appearance, and this was due to the original Super Sentai footage that the show uses which resulted in the show not having much of the Green Ranger to portray in his suit. Later this was chalked up to a curse that threatened Tommy’s life whenever he transformed, again using Super Sentai footage, but early on the reasons for him not entering battle became so contrived and downright silly. He’d either be at Karate practice or he wouldn’t have access to his communicator or he’d be tied up by evil goons, etc. Frankly, be it due to the writers scrounging for ideas, the acting, the editing, or a mix of everything, it just seemed like Tommy was an asocial loner who didn’t fit in. And that’s what Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #0 really sinks its teeth into.
The comic itself starts with a nightmare sequence. The Green Ranger standing over the defeated Power Rangers with the villainess of the series, Rita Repulsa, congratulating him as her champion. It then cuts to Tommy being roused from his thoughts by Jason, who’s driving him to school, with Tommy brushing off his absent-mindedness as nervous jitters with it being his first day at school as a superhero. However it’s obviously more, not just due to his brief dream, but the fact that a spectral Rita is haunting Tommy and taunting him (in true evil fashion). From there we meet the rest of the team, with Billy chastising the group for not checking his push notifications about an upcoming test, Trini chiding him for sending them notifications from his server all the time, and Zack slyly teasing Kimberly for playing it safe on the road and losing their parking spot to Jason.
It’s only a few pages, but this whole introduction captured me. Higgins nailed the characters perfectly, as I could hear everything they said in the original cast members’ voices. He takes what made them unique from one another in the original show and adapted those traits to fit a contemporary setting. The comic pushes them further, more identifiable as teens than as adults playing teens, and yet retains the essence of them. Prasetya and Herms should also receive a massive amount of praise as well with the visual updates they made to each character. They look like actual near-adult teenagers, with their more modern clothing and styles achieving what Higgins’ writing does: keeps the essence of each character, but remoulding them in a way that’s more accessible to both an old and new audience. The book retains their unique individual traits, attitudes, and colours in some slick ways, to boot. This is definitely quite the feat to pull off since the original cast has remained in the eye of pop culture history to this very day, forever recognisable even outside of their costumes, and the team for this comic has been able to pull their likenesses off shockingly well. The original Power Rangers team is an icon of the 90s and of children’s television, and the updated comic cast’s look doesn’t disrupt that. To anybody who’s been a fan of the franchise, or who knows enough about the original Mighty Morphin’ series, it’s hard to not recognise the team in this comic.
In the next sequence we get Rita in her palace on the Moon meeting with her monster-maker Finster, in a scene that evokes the sinister nature of these villains that a lot of us as kids remember imagining, compared to the more slapstick characters they actually were. It’s a nice contrast to the general ridiculousness of the situation at hand, especially when paired with the bleed into the next scene of the team getting a history lesson about the Cold War, with talk of unconventional weapons and spies leading to fear and tension in every scenario. While a mere tease of what’s most likely to come, I really enjoy this taste of maturity in an otherwise farcical concept. The franchise has dealt with more heavy concepts of police brutality, death, and conflict despite being a show about heroes in tightly-coloured-spandex. A lot of attempts to inject a more mature tone with the idea of the original Mighty Morphin’ team fighting Rita as a war always felt too ham-fisted, even for the likes of me. Even with just these few panels it feels like Higgins has the patience to ramp up to something bigger, and something that won’t jeopardise the innate colourful, fantastic nature of the series’ concept. It’s also nice to see a hint of the Tommy and Kimberly romance that was in the original show, with Kimberly successfully chipping away at the Green Ranger’s exterior, which you can almost feel hardening with every ensuing panel—especially since he’s listening to a lecture about historical turncoats and traitors.
Then comes the big monster attack. It’s a staple in tokusatsu action shows, and Power Rangers has helped popularised it in the West. We get the air raid siren, the school evacuating, the team slipping away and morphing amidst the chaos, even a decent quip from Billy about the situation, and the team’s Megazords defending what might as well be the Golden Gate Bridge from a mutant bull-like creature. Despite having the advantage in numbers, due to miscommunication, a spectral-Rita taunting Tommy, and possible robot control malfunction, the team scrap the monster but also scrap a good chunk of the bridge with Tommy’s Dragonzord’s tail. Handedly saving the day in a swift aerial maneuver, Kimberly in her Pterodactyl Zord saves some civilians in their cars who skid off the structure and the day is saved, collateral damage aside. It’s a well-illustrated action sequence that really does pop off the pages with the colour and dynamic poses as well as clarity in panel layout, and there’s a sincere quality if you dig just a bit deeper.
In the show itself, there was never any real interaction with the civilians, the city’s destruction, and the consequences of each monster attack. Once again, this is due to Super Sentai footage, as the first season couldn’t really use scenes of pseudo-Tokyo being rampaged aside from buildings and other parts of infrastructure being laid to waste without sacrificing its mock-American setting. Thanks to this, the city of Angel Grove felt lifeless on that macro scale, with there being no reflection on the cost of life or immense destruction of public and private property. Of course as a kids show, one could argue there’s no room for that, but I feel that’s selling short the imagination and intelligence of most children. Kids knew that Angel Grove being destroyed by monsters was bad, but it was always so perfunctory that it felt so small and effortless for the town to keep on thriving. In the comic, the bridge being carved in two due to Tommy causing civilians to come into harm’s way, and Kimberly saving them, at least illustrates that this story will go to the natural lengths of what effect these titans and heroes have on such a locale.
This is further expounded with the next scene of the team debriefing with Zordon, their interdimensional giant-floating-head-in-a-tube of a mentor. Tommy and Jason clash over whose fault the bridge was, with Tommy explaining that he doesn’t know the team’s tactics or plays, while Jason thinking Tommy was reckless and stubborn. Zordon chastises them both, not necessarily saying that either of them is wrong, but reminding them that communication and trust supersedes all and can fix these issues. With that tension we get one more tease piling on, with one of Rita’s lieutenants, Scorpina, salvaging a crystal from the harbour where the battle took place, and bringing it back to her leader as Zordan mentions her revenge.
I’d like to give special mentions to the mini-stories that are included in this issue: The Ongoing Adventures of Bulk and Skull by Steve Orlando (Writer), Corin Howell (Illustrator), Jeremy Lawson (Colourist), Jim Campbell (Letterer), and What Time Is It?! by Mairghread Scott (Writer), Daniel Bayliss (Illustrator), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer). Everything I’ve said about the main issue’s store can be echoed with these lovely little vignettes, as they feel just as sincere and revitalised in such a condensed and concentrated manner. With The Ongoing Adventures of Bulk and Skull I could actually hear the bumbling duo’s theme song in my head as I read their delightful antics, complemented by Howell and Lawson’s art which feels like it’s bouncing along to the music. Also of note is the attention to detail with Principle Caplan’s toupee, which was notoriously awful in the original show. As for What Time Is It?!, I couldn’t get enough of the simplistic, clean art by Bayliss that simply popped off the page, along with Scott showcasing some really excellent pacing as she captured perfectly how I saw every fight scene in my head as a child. I can’t say much more without saying through a giant grin, “It just feels like Power Rangers!” I emphasise this with maybe clenching hands, or a fist pump.
All in all I’m rather shocked at how much I enjoyed this introduction to the series. I had concerns early on when I first heard of it. I was worried it would be a rose-tinted nostalgia dive with no real attempts at depth, something meant to placate people who still swear the first season was the best ever. I was scared of a stale product with zero sincerity in regards to the characters, especially with the treatment of Trini and Zack and the unfortunate stumble with race in their placement as the Yellow and Black Rangers respectively. However, the cast feels fresh but familiar: they feel like actual people now, and that’s saying a lot when you go back and watch the source material. I’m even loving the fact that every costume, villain, and robot design has been retained because they were always such wonderful, outlandish pieces which really made the show unique, and they help reinforce the visual style of the comic, highlighting how timeless they are with the update to everything else. I can see this really appealing to fans of the old series, kids who never grew up watching it but are fans of the current season, and a new audience who just never got into the show as a whole. This feels like I true love letter to Power Rangers and what it meant, and still means, to a lot of folks, and I can’t wait to receive another devoted proclamation if it keeps this standard of quality up.