‘Power Rangers’ #14: A Thrilling Example of Long-form Storytelling

Monkeys Fighting Robots

If you’ve ever watched the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, you will no doubt recognise it as the epitome of standalone, episodic 90s TV series. There may have been lip-service towards a grand over-arching narrative involving Rita or Lord Zedd, but it was just that. Rangers came and Rangers went, but most episodes were done-in-ones with an underlying moral message to keep the parents happy. However, if you grew up watching the series, its episodic and cheesy nature may not have been apparent to you. For us, Power Rangers was nothing short of an epic from its soundtrack to its characters. The classic “Green with Evil” story-line was the pinnacle of dramatic intrigue, in spite of all the dodgy edits. If there is one thing that Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya’s run on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers has succeeded in, beyond the impressive artwork and characterisation, it’s emulating the scope that the series had to us as kids.

This series has taken a bold step in an industry that has largely been motivated by the need to write with the trade paperback in mind. This is particularly problematic for superhero stories that can often feel constrained by editorial mandate. Rather than neatly divide the series into smaller arcs, Boom! Studios have kept one continuous story-line going over the last year or so. What has broadly become known as “Green Ranger: Year One” has evolved from an introspective look at the lingering effects of a loss of agency to multiversal epic. Tommy has had to overcome his own PTSD and prove himself to his team-mates,yet no sooner had he done so before only the Rangers were presented with an alternative universe in which evil triumphed. Trust was already a major issue for all the characters, but this darkest timeline features a version of the Green/White Ranger that gazed too long into the abyss to turn back. For the Rangers, the stakes are even higher, are confronted with the very real consequences of losing the war against Rita, a world without freedom and where many of those close to them have died rebelling against tyranny. As goofy as many of their foes act, the real threat they pose must never be ignored.

People often confuse stylistic grit with maturity of story-telling, a mistake that this series has gladly avoided. Higgins and Prasetya haven’t attempted to give us Power Rangers as seen through the lens of Chistopher Nolan. There are certainly darker elements to this tale, but not to the extent that it changes the spirit of the Power Rangers. Instead, it respects its readership’s intelligence by dealing with adult themes just with lighter trappings than one might normally expect to find when addressing these topics. At the centre of the story is an almost Jungian examination of the self informed by the show’s history. In overcoming the mental blocks of his past wicked actions, Tommy has become ready to face their physical manifestation in the form of Lord Drakkon: the evil White Ranger. Tommy’s Green Ranger persona is forced to face its shadow in the White Ranger leading to an interesting inversion of a story-line from the show’s third season.

The readers were always to going to be drawn to the Green Ranger’s character development, but it is the way that the series has handled two rather underdeveloped heroes: Billy, the Blue Ranger, and Zack, the Black Ranger, who is perhaps the most fascinating. These two are the sole Rangers to receive their own standalone issue devoted to their personal arcs. The former concerns as to his suitability to be a Ranger and live up to the expectations of his team-mates, lead him to spend extended periods of time in his morphed form. As Billy, he was a science buff prone to being bullied, but as his alter-ego, nothing can hurt him. It’s only when he comes to terms with his unique contributions to the team and the futility of attempting to judge yourself by other people’s standards that he truly accepts himself as both Billy and the Blue Ranger. This acceptance and belief in one’s ability to be a hero is exemplified when Billy discovers a shrine to his alternate universe counterpart who died saving the lives of other resistance. It culminates in the positioning of Billy in this issue as the last viable Ranger in the darkest time-line and the only one capable of confronting Lord Drakkon.

Zack had been at odds with Tommy early in the series concerned that his turn to the light was little more than a ploy. Understandable upon surface level analysis, but it becomes all the more intriguing once its revealed that Zack had originally been approached by Rita to be the Green Ranger. Although he rejected the temptation, the Black Ranger made it clear to Zordon that there has to be more to being a hero than simply defeating the bad guys nor could he forever live in the shadow of the Red Ranger. Zack was not content with an ordinary ranger-life. This made sense within the show when his character was written-off by transferring him to a youth peace conference, but it is continued to its logical conclusion here where in the alternate universe, he is the one leading the resistance, aptly named the Coinless, against Lord Drakkon. Neither of these developments would have been possible if Boom! Studios hadn’t the confidence in the creative team to allow them to tell this tale at the pace they wanted.

The series as a whole is an example of why Kyle Higgins is one of the best writers in comics at the moment. His ability to write young characters struggling through life is unparalleled by his contemporaries. He perfectly captures what it is like to struggle with anxiety, depression and not knowing your place in the world. His characterisation of the team, perfectly encapsulates that nagging feeling of never knowing whether you are good enough or if you friends are on your side. The last time someone was able to channel the experiences of young people – as both teenagers and young adults – this well was Marv Wolfman during his run on New Teen Titans. Similarly, there is an energy to Hendry Prasetya’s artwork that elevates the entire affair. Whether its the militaristic design of the Ranger Sentries or the ability to humanise even the most vile of monsters, it’s clear that Prasetya is a talent to be nurtured. Perhaps one of the more satisfying experiences has been watching the evolution and improvement of Prasetya’s art over the last year. Where once the characters were bulky and at times Liefeld-esque, they have become more refined over the course of 15 issues (including the #0). Although, something really needs to be done about Rita’s costume from a “you’ll know it when you see it” perspective. This team shows why the creative partnership of the comic book form is so special as their symbiotic influence on each other is evident on each page.

There is a school of thought that licensed comics are little more than cash-ins, but Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers fundamentally rejects that premise. Much like Batman: the Animated Series, it tells a mature and serious story without losing its own sense of self-awareness. This is Power Rangers after all, but it never talks down to us. It’s no wonder that it won “Best Licensed Comic” of 2016 and that Boom! Studios is seeking to bring the same brand of story-telling to the team’s earliest days in the forthcoming Go Go Power Rangers! series. As dark as the series gets, it brings with it the hope that committing to long-term stories, allowing books time to breath and establish status quos, but changing them utterly. It is a refreshing reprieve from an industry that has become bogged down by events, crossovers, and relaunches. If you had told me a few years back that Power Rangers would be one of the best comics on the racks, I wouldn’t have believed you, but it truly is morphinominal.

A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher.

Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.