Friday, March 11, 2016

Morphing Into A New Era: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #1

The following is my review of Mighty Morphin power Rangers #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


It seems so long ago that Power Rangers and its annoyingly catchy opening theme song were stuck in the minds of kids and parents alike. It’s easy to forget that there’s an entire generation of kids who structured their afternoons around when Power Rangers came on TV, when they would put on their Power Rangers pajamas, and when they would beg mom and dad for the latest toys. That generation might now base their afternoons on second jobs, yoga classes, and overpriced lattes, but they haven’t forgotten the craze that was Power Rangers.

Kyle Higgins and Boom Studios are now looking to remind this generation of that craze while creating a new generation that will beg their parents for toys, games, apps, and whatever Haim Saban can slap a logo on. This not as easy as it sounds though. This is an era where stories about superheroes, giant robots, and monsters cannot be substituted with reused stock footage from Japanese TV shows. Kids and adults today demand a more refined approach to the superhero/giant robot mythos and, as Michael Bay has proven with Transformers, it’s not enough to build that approach around successive explosions.

In many respects, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #1 is behind the curve because it’s late to the party. It’s arriving long after the Avengers, the X-men, the Justice League, and every other superhero franchise in between has been rebooted, retconned, or re-launched at least once. However, Higgins doesn’t try to put the Power Rangers on a similar path. There’s no Batman Begins type origin or Avengers type build-up. The story begins mid-season in a sense, taking place right after the iconic Green Ranger saga. It’s a story with many unexplored themes and unlike the TV show, it isn’t bound by how many commercials for Happy Meals it can fit in.

Being a comic book in an era where comics aren’t bound by newsstands or the postal service, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #1 has every opportunity to succeed and it seizes on those opportunities with the force of an army of Megazords.

It dares to be a little more mature than a typical episode built around destroying a monster and 90s-era anti-drug messages. It also dares to make the characters more serious now that they’re no longer bound by the heavily-censored scripts of late-afternoon kids shows. Most importantly, it does all of this while retaining the spirit of the Power Rangers. Those hoping for a gritty reboot will be disappointed, but they’ll be the only ones disappointed.


Beyond the daring new dimensions that Higgins explores, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #1 builds a story that feels entirely appropriate within the timeline of the show. The Power Rangers just helped the Green Ranger break free of Rita Repulsa’s control. They’ve willingly accepted him into the team. However, this is not as smooth a transition as a kids show would have anyone believe.

Tommy Oliver just endured being mind-controlled and manipulated by an evil, witch-like woman whose voice sounds like the screech of every vindictive math teacher who ever lived. He also happens to be new to Angel Grove, a town that acts as ground zero for every monster attack and zord battle. Can anyone reasonably expect a teenage boy to just shrug that off? High school is almost as stressful as any monster attack. Such expectations are simply not reasonable.

Higgins doesn’t place those kinds of expectations on Tommy. He allows him to struggle somewhat with the aftermath of this transition. That struggle includes hearing voices and crippling self-doubt, which are already outstanding symptoms for some teenage boys. It doesn’t completely overwhelm him, but he does struggle with it and that struggle helps make the story engaging. Kids might still skip to the parts that involve putty attacks, but there’s plenty to like for all ages.


Tommy isn’t the only one who struggles somewhat with being a Power Ranger in addition to being a teenager. Zach and Jason also take part in another side-plot that. Granted, that plot is vague and lacking in detail, but it’s enough to establish that the plot revolves around more than just Tommy, despite what a sizable segment of Power Rangers fans might prefer. This team has six teenagers in it. There are bound to be more than a few personal issues outside the Zord battles.

These issues don’t necessarily lead to any major Zord battles, but it does give dramatic weight to any future battles that unfold. It’s a weight that can’t often be fit into a half-hour time slot on a Saturday morning. Kyle Higgins does not try to structure this story around the same formula that made Power Rangers a successful TV show. He works within the added flexibility that the medium has given him and makes good use of it. If there was any temptation to go overboard, he managed to resist and for a brand that’s best known for giant monster battles, that’s saying something.

Overall, the most important accomplishment of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #1 is that it establishes the Power Rangers within a modern context. It doesn’t try to create the same world that defined the 90s almost as much as grunge rock and boy bands. It puts the Power Rangers in a world of the internet, podcasts, and social media without feeling forced. It’s not a reboot, nor is it a Star Trek style re-launch. It’s just Power Rangers in a more updated form.

While it might be updated, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #1 does lack detail in certain areas and not just because there aren’t any giant monsters that show up. There are a lot of new dynamics in this story and get a chance to be fleshed out, but the potential is definitely there. For a generation of fans who may have outgrown their Power Rangers costumes, it’s still more than enough to make this issue a satisfying start to a new era. It might mean getting that annoyingly catchy theme song stuck in your head again, but it’s worth it.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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