The Power Rangers brand is having something of a silent renaissance of late. While the television series has gone on for years, almost invisible to most adults yet never off the airwaves with new episodes for more than a single year since the franchise’s start in the early 90s, the Rangers have branched out considerably to other entertainment mediums, often with strong results.
The Teenagers With Attitude, and the many young adults that launched from their footsteps in the years after Angel Grove was a mere glimmer in their visors’ display panel, dominated the attention of many curious watchers this year, whether it be on our phones with games like Power Rangers Legacy Wars, or on the big screen with the franchise’s first feature-length movie in decades. There’s also Power Rangers HyperForce, the tabletop role-playing game series on Twitch, the toyline that never quits from Bandai, and last but nowhere near least, we have the Boom! Studios comic books, which have rocked many a world in the last couple years. And they promise to do a hell of a lot more in the coming months, as they gear up for their most ambitious effort yet.
But honestly, more than just the excitement of a new story in the comics, or the thrill of seeing my heroes in a film theater again, the one thing I kept asking myself while observing this multi-colored, poly-faceted franchise over the recent past was: Why, with the wealth of effort, energy, creativity, and downright awesome fun provided to us by the other forms of Power Rangers available right now, is the supposed main wing of it, which started off this whole enterprise – the TV show – so criminally unimpressive nowadays?
Every season has its fans, and I’m not here to argue with those who enjoy the current season, Power Rangers Ninja Steel, but speaking as one fan who has loved this franchise since robotic assistant Alpha 5 first clumsily plucked five teens from their after-school hangout and hurled them at the likes of Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd to save the world from one wacky scheme after another in 1993 and on, I couldn’t help but watch 2017’s episodes with a big sigh of disappointment. The show had previously evolved a great deal since those simpler times, and so has the world right along with it. Yet the current series felt like it had devolved back to a pre-fetal point where logic and coherence were even less a priority than before. So too were characters and interesting stories seemingly put on the backburner in favor of plots that literally make no sense, and even if they did, they wouldn’t appeal to me as an adult or as a child. And we’re speaking about a franchise where the somewhat intentional silliness of the brand was always part of its charm. How do you make a show, with this in mind, that is still practically charmless, even to those who are ready-made to accept all the goofy nonsense one can muster? Their ability to annoy the almost un-annoyable superfan is truly morphenomenal!
Elsewhere in Rangerland, the show is getting smoked left and right by efforts that would seem like secondary concerns to some but Big Damn Deals to others such as myself, looking for a little creativity and fun to remedy that sinking feeling brought on by the other thing. Enter Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Go Go Power Rangers, the two ongoing works from Boom! Studios, to save the day with Megazord-sized excitement. Suddenly, I recognized my show again. Not in any of the obvious ways where the books dealt with many of the old school characters. Frankly, I’m not that interested in the old characters, and anyone behind the scenes who thinks I need such a thing to keep my attention should divert their Viewing Globe in another direction. But it’s in the stories. It’s in the attention afforded to the characters – any characters – within its pages.
Epic adventure combines with relatable, human-scale drama, a dash of levity, and lots of ongoing threats for our spandex-clad do-gooders to tackle in lavish form. It might be easy to suggest that the comic is better simply because it doesn’t work from the same playbook as the show, constrained by the foreign-language action footage from the Super Sentai franchise that must be inserted into its running time, whereas the book goes wherever it pleases and never concerns itself with pesky things like budget or talent casting. Except what makes the comics so immersive is something much simpler than all of that extra stuff. It’s called heart.
Listen, I’m not here to rain on the Ninja Steel parade or accuse anyone’s favorite show of failing to care, but there are times when it feels as if it almost intentionally failed to connect to the viewer with any kind of emotion, positive or negative, beyond “look, there’s a toy!” And even that used to be a thing I could sit through all day erry day, because even that (believe it or not) was handled with some degree of weight behind it. I cared about the people involved in this silly merchandise-shilling lightshow. I grew to love these heroes and the strengthening bond between them, and their continuing adventures meant a great deal to me. I’m talking about seasons like Power Rangers Dino Thunder, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Power Rangers Time Force, Power Rangers in Space, Power Rangers RPM, and others.
Notice I didn’t say “Mighty Morphin”, which was fun for its time, and I clearly connect with it since the comics have morphin on the brain 24/7. But the new show seems intent on duplicating the success of a property that has little vitality left in it to wring out of the swiftly drying rag they’ve been clinching for decades, and there’s a really weird smell coming out of the xerox machine. This stuff is old, dude. I don’t just mean the number of years, I mean the whole feel of storytelling. Even the comics that plaster every page with Dino Zord Power seem to understand this, and have modernized both the setting and the way the stories operate. Because that’s just smart business and canny storytelling. It’s what you do when you want to show you care. It’s what happens when you have the ability to prove it well, and are given the chance to do so.
Now, we come to Power Rangers: Shattered Grid, the comic event celebrating the 25th anniversary of this illustrious empire, at last unlocking the X-Vault on the whole of the Ranger franchise, where everybody and their mentor may be showing up to the party before the last page is flipped. An event involving both the first and second of Boom’s ongoing books, as well as some special, one-shot issues just because they’re nice like that.
The TV side of things has given lipservice to a similarly nostalgic attempt coming in 2018, and “excited” is the last word that comes to mind. It’s not that I wouldn’t be happy to see a few familiar faces from seasons past, or hear of developments rippling from all those awesome adventures into the future of the live-action franchise. I just don’t want it to be handled with the same grace (or lack thereof) that the current show has. Who but the most ardent Ninja Steel defenders would, if given a choice?
In Shattered Grid, the villainous Lord Drakkon (an even Evil-er Green Ranger than our Original Recipe Tommy Oliver ever was) reassembles his dark army to march against the Rangers in a vengeful assault that threatens to break the fragile peace the story’s heroes have managed to keep since the start of this astonishing narrative. No Ranger is safe, as the tagline ominously reads.
The event will last throughout the year and is sure to find its key characters challenged by high stakes with visuals to dazzle the reader, but even more importantly, a sweeping adventure that we can expect to be touched by, drawing us closer to the heroes many of us already hold near to our hearts while inviting others along for the ride. My body couldn’t be more ready if you hooked it up to the Radbug with jumper cables and launched her into the stratosphere.
Whether the Power Rangers on TV continue in the creative funk they’ve languished in for a while now or they somehow find a way to stop the seesaw from teetering between frying pan and fire, I am always hoping for the best for this enduring franchise that I’ve loved since its first episode. Because, at the end of the day, it’s the show that made me a fan. It’s the show that first gave me a sense of wonder about life and the universe, and made me appreciate the value of friendship and understanding between people of all walks of life, and did so while entertaining the pants off me, from the 90s to the 2000s to today. It would be a shame if the show lurched on in this diminished state, like a giant alien Frankenstein monster made of space clay, charmingly unaware of the giant dragon-tail drill headed right for it.
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