2017 has truly been the Year of the Ranger, hasn’t it? Not only did we get our first theatrically-released feature film in years, and a plethora of new and exciting merchandise, but the television series is still trucking along, in its 24th season. To say that it’s been a banner year for parent company Saban Brands may be a bit of an understatement. Which is why the less-than-stellar reception to the current TV incarnation feels like such bad timing. While there’s a big-budget movie playing, and all eyes are back on the Power Rangers franchise after lingering in relative obscurity, year after year, casual fans having assumed the show was cancelled ages ago, people were suddenly turning their attention back toward our friendly heroes in multi-colored spandex. And then they see… that.
To be fair, every season has its devoted fans, and we’re not here to judge what people enjoy (much). But, by and large, Power Rangers Ninja Steel isn’t what one might expect to see airing when Ranger Madness (or something) was about to reach its highest peak in years. With quite possibly one of the least thrilling, most unimpressive showings the title has had in some time, what is a newcomer just getting into this wacky universe supposed to think? Is this the best Power Rangers has to offer outside of the big screen?
Interestingly enough, the Ranger series that is truly capturing imaginations, and impressing both hardcore believers and fair-weather fans alike, is not the show currently airing on Nickelodeon. It’s in the pages of the Boom! Studios comics.
When it was first announced that comic publisher Boom! was going to produce Ranger comics, my response was one of cautious optimism. Power Rangers had already gone through multiple publishers in the past, to decidedly mixed, sometimes downright painful results. Like the current TV season, I felt they were a motley assortment of weird character motivations, confused continuity, and ultimately just uninteresting, disconnected stories designed for an audience that didn’t seem to exist anymore. At least not in the number that it would have made sense to pursue. Who was this stuff meant to be for anyway? Luckily, Boom! was carrying the remedy for my woes.
Famed Batman writer Kyle Higgins was tapped to write the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers ongoing comic series, a continuing storyline that saw a basic reinterpretation of the original cast and their early adventures shortly after recruiting the Green Ranger Tommy into their ranks. Together with artist Hendry Prasetya, they set about the task of delivering an action-packed adventure with strong character development, solid dialogue, and an expansive mythology that is just plain cool. In other words, it’s everything the show is not right now.
I promise this whole piece is not about dragging Ninja Steel, but our continued references to it should only demonstrate the stark difference between these two Power Ranger products. One has style, flare, creativity, fun, arresting battle sequences, gripping emotions, and a magnetic vibe that keeps you wanting to come back for more, while the other is basically just there, languishing in its own apparent security, as if simply waiting out the years so we can move on to the inevitable, biennial rebrand. Must be nice.
Meanwhile, the Ranger comics have got their hussle on, slinging books like it’s going out of style (and, considering the state of affairs in the print industry, that’s not entirely inaccurate), kicking the crap out of a lot of competition as they go. These books are hungry, and they’re ready to compete for your favor with great stories and interesting art. None more so than the publisher’s yearly special issues.
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Annuals feature a cornucopia of varied art styles from a whole slew of creators, many of whom have been known for some pretty impressive stuff. Personal favorites include a surprising backstory for the villain Goldar. A slice of life for Red Ranger Jason, masterfully rendered by artist Rod Reis. A truly haunting origin for one of the oft-forgotten baddies among Rita Repulsa’s inner circle, the likes of which we might never have gotten in any other medium.
But what must be understood here is that it’s not about whether or not the comics are more “shocking” or “mature” than their TV counterparts. Ultimately, it’s not about how family-friendly, or not, you can be. The comics are not really what I’d call super-duper-adult fare, but even if they were targeted at an even younger audience, there’s the sense that this wouldn’t diminish much of its creative energy. These things tell real stories that are fun to read. The ongoing series is consistent unto itself, building upon its own plot little by little until arriving at big crescendos you can’t pay off without doing all the necessary work beforehand. This thing is well-crafted, and its strength is not in that it’s going after one age group or another- it’s that it simply rocks!
If we had to be more critical of this endeavor, we might say that it’s looking a little green in here. The comic very smartly launched with a big Green Ranger story. We get it, he’s the fan-favorite, the money-maker, the dude a lot of people expect to be the biggest draw, especially for old school fans whose only memory of this franchise was of the original team and maybe one or two other random faces they’ve long since forgotten the names they came with. Not a problem. Though it might be nice to diversify the line now that we know this thing is a success. People like these books and want more. The proof is in the second ongoing comic Boom! recently launched, Go Go Power Rangers. A book that, truth be told, is actually pretty great in its own right. But one wonders what could have been done with something that expanded beyond the confines of those three opening seasons the show had in the early 90s. There’s so much more to explore from this universe, and yet we’re still putting a microscope up to this one particular corner.
Isolated adventures like Forever Mighty Morphin Black give us just the slightest taste of what awaits us on the other side of that veil, where a nearly unlimited well of potential stories can be drawn from. And this fan is hella thirsty, y’all. The business-savvy choice is to go where the most obvious money is. But, now that we’ve been here for a while, practically swimming in it, shouldn’t it be time to start getting a little more experimental? And I don’t just mean with separate mini-series like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink which, despite the praiseworthy character-focus on a female lead, was still yet another MMPR title and not exactly a memorable story. Let’s see what the Zeo Rangers are up to. Set controls to Space! What’s RPM Ranger Ziggy doing these days? Gimme some Time Force and leap from one interesting Power Ranger season’s setting to another. It’s a big universe. It’d be a crime never to use it.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to support Higgins and Prasetya’s joyously fun stories, the best series Power Rangers has to offer today.