When BOOM! Studios announced an ongoing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic series last year, fans responded with either enthusiasm or a dismissal of what seemed like a cash-in on nostalgia. “When we talk about enduring TV icons, we’re usually not talking about Power Rangers,” some said about the comic. “[A]nd for some insane reason, it worked.”
The Power Rangers were a raging cultural phenomenon … until they weren’t. When the craze waned, Angel Grove’s teens were suddenly turned into science fiction’s unwanted stepchildren. But in its 20th anniversary, Saban’s franchise tapped into generational nostalgia, selling adult millennials fashionable couture, vinyl LPs, and retro-style arcade games. But among the Macy’s balloons and a big-budget movie in March, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic written by Kyle Higgins is the finest interpretation of the Power Rangers ever, and that’s precisely because it doesn’t care about nostalgia.
On the surface, Higgins’s Power Rangers takes after the original series: Five hip teens from Angel Grove are recruited by the wizard Zordon to defend the Earth from the evil Rita Repulsa. Soon, they encounter Tommy, the Green Ranger, a soldier for Rita controlled under a spell. When they break the spell, Tommy joins the Rangers in the ongoing fight against evil.
And that’s where Higgins’s Power Rangers stops being the TV show. Just look how the comic begins in the very first page in the prologue issue #0. Imagine somebody — maybe you! — who hasn’t followed Power Rangers in decades picking it up thinking, “Gee whiz, can’t wait to revisit my childhoo—“
Besides its modern 2016 setting, where the teens text emojis and use cloud drives for homework, the comic realistically knows there would be resentment in an outsider joining their elite team. In the series, Tommy was immediately everyone’s best friend that it was almost comical how soon they forgot the brutal ways the Green Ranger whomped their asses. In the five-part “Green With Evil” saga, Tommy:
- Left their headquarters a mess
- Gave their lovable robot assistant Alpha 5 a virus and cut off Zordon’s communication with the team
- Single-handedly defeated them in hand-to-hand combat
- Kidnapped Jason, the Red Ranger, and left him to fight Rita’s general Goldar in a gladitorial cage match
- Attacked them with his own war machine, the Dragonzord
Hell of a way to make friends! Though the TV teens let bygones be bygones so quickly, that’s not so in the comic. Not only do some of the Rangers, notably Zack, strongly distrusts Tommy, but Tommy is also cursed with guilt being with them. In Tommy’s post-traumatic stress, he hallucinates Rita as she feeds him doubt over his inadequacy of being a superhero. Tommy overworks himself to exhaustion, leaving not just the Power Rangers vulnerable but also Earth defenseless right when it needs heroes the most.
Besides a believable story about trust and teamwork, Higgins has succeeded in expanding the Power Rangers universe, and that doesn’t just mean new planets and aliens (of which the Power Rangers mythology is hardly lacking). In issue #5, which diverts from the main story, Higgins presents a prequel wherein Rita tries an “evil Power Ranger” plot for the first time by kidnapping Zack, the Black Ranger, and teasing him power and fame as her Green Ranger.
That’s an idea not even fan-fiction writers have thought of, and Higgins uses it to fuel his A-Plot: Zack doesn’t distrust Tommy for being an outsider. Zack could have been the Green Ranger himself and chose not to. To Zack, it says a lot that Tommy accepted Rita’s offer, leading him to question Tommy’s true purpose for being a Power Ranger.
Right now the Power Rangers are fighting Rita’s newest ace, Black Dragon. Spoilers: In the recent issue #9, a reveal that made geek blog headlines was the opening of a multiverse. Though Black Dragon’s real identity is unknown, it’s heavily implied he is Tommy Oliver of an alternate reality, his two Green and White Ranger powers fused, and kept fighting on behalf of Rita to conquer Earth. (He might also be Lord Zedd, but since it’s the current mystery no one really knows, besides Higgins.)
Everything done to the Power Rangers by Kyle Higgins — a veteran writer who finished a run on DC’s Nightwing and his creator-owned C.O.W.L. prior to Power Rangers — is both an intelligent fanfic and nothing anyone expects from anything having to do with Power Rangers. There were a lot of great comics this year: Marjorie Liu’s Monstress is the best original comic in years, Mark Waid’s Champions, Black Widow, and Tom King’s Vision have been Marvel’s finest, and a handful of DC’s Rebirth like Green Arrow kick ass. But who wudda thunk that the Power Rangers, who didn’t have a real comic for decades, would steal 2016 with sharp art (shout out to Hendry Prasetya) and a story actually worth investing in?
While the show’s low budget made it Godzilla-grade hokey, 1993’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers dominated when it sold toys, pajamas, and VHS cassettes by the truckload. But the franchise never really grew up with its audience over 20 years. The Power Ranger comics are still all-ages — it’s Power Rangers and comics, of course it isn’t offensive or Rob Liefeld levels of “mature” — but Higgins masterfully evolved one of sci-fi’s most oddball teams into a real force to reckon with. And it did so by forgetting there was ever a kid’s show.