The New ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ Graphic Novel Returns To 1993 And It’s Just About Morphenomenal [Review]
I'm going to out on a limb here and say that of all the major comic book news sites, ComicsAlliance is the one that has the most expertise on the subject of the Power Rangers. When the discussion turns to American adaptations of tokusatsu shows where multicolored heroes ride around in giant robots that can do karate, we can speak with an authority that is truly unquestionable. And as a result, we've been pretty interested in the new Mighty Morphin Power Rangers graphic novels from Papercutz ever since they were announced.
Written by Stefan Petrucha with art by PH Marcondes and Laurie E. Smith, the first volume is out now, and while this might sound like faint praise, it's a whole lot better than I was expecting. It might not quite top being Morphenomenal, but it's certainly Morphinabove Average.
The trickiest part of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is figuring out who the intended audience is. Papercutz has had the Power Rangers license for a while now, and with the volumes that Petrucha and Marcondes have produced for the more current shows like Power Rangers Samurai and Megaforce are pretty obviously targeted towards the young fans of the show, but with MMPR, they're pretty obviously banking on the nostalgia angle to get to... well, to people like me, who have been obsessed with this stuff since it first hit the airwaves.
It would've been pretty easy to do a story about the original Power Rangers that was set today, or to set it in its original time frame without drawing too much attention to it, but Petrucha's script goes out of its way to establish that this story is set in 1993. I mean, Trini literally says the words "this is 1993!" on the very first page of the comic.
That's actually my favorite gag in the entire book, because it hits that perfect sweet spot of "no real human would ever say this out loud" comic book dialogue and "that is exactly how they talked on the show" Power Rangers dialogue. It's not alone, either -- there are a few jokes about the Internet and how you could never surf the Information Superhighway with a device as small as a telephone that make it clear that this is Not Happening Today.
And really, that's a sound strategy. As much as I like 'em, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are about as inherently uninteresting as a bunch of teens can be while still fighting against an evil moon witch with both attitude and giant robot dinosaurs. The nostalgia factor is a definite hook, even if it's just there to rope in a secondary audience or give parents something to read along with their kids that'll get a few chuckles based on memory.
If that's all that Petrucha and Marcondes had done, though, this book would've been a failure right out of the gate. Well, unless they'd really committed to it and gone for a full-on 48 page comic that was nothing but the Rangers talking about how bulky TVs were and how convenient it was to have a CD that could hold up to 70 minutes of music, which would've ranked as one of the most bonkers licensed comics of all time. But instead, they made the smart choice to use the nostalgia as a backdrop.
Power Rangers and tokusatsu characters in general have a weird relationship with comics. They're very clearly superheroes, and Shotaro Ishinomori's original Kamen Rider manga is definitely awesome, but over the years, part of the appeal has become that they're live-action heroes. It's one of the things that makes it cool, and adds something to their live appearances that you don't get with your standard comic book heroes, and pulling them back into comics loses a lot. But with this OGN, the creators get around that in the only way that you really can.
They tell a story that you can only really tell in comics.
In addition to giving it a plot that actually feels like a movie-length adventure -- archaeologists unearth an ancient superweapon that goes on a rampage and is destroyed, only to be rebuilt on Rita's Moon Fortress and return leading an army to destroy the Rangers -- Petrucha and Marcondes take advantage of the format to go huge with it. That's the whole thing about comics, right? There's no budget for special effects and no limit to what you can do on the page, and they run with it.
There's plenty of stuff in here that's Power Rangers as it was, from the goofy dialogue to Alpha 5 remaining as tooth-grindingly annoying as ever, but there's plenty more that's Power Rangers as you remember it. There are huge battles that actually capture the scale of what the dudes in suits fighting amongst cardboard buildings of the original series were going for but never managed to get.
As a fan of the series, I especially appreciated that there's an extended sequence of the Rangers fighting in their own Zords, attacking individually and only combining once they've given it a shot. That's something that the show never really did, which is pretty annoying since "robot tiger" is way cooler than "robot left leg." But even those squences go way over-the-top.
There's one sequence that I genuinely loved in this, when Zack is piloting a damaged Mastodon Zord against an actual army of Putties, and is swarmed and buried by them as they clamber over each other to get at him.
It's awesome, and it's even kind of scary, and it's exactly the type of thing that they'd never really be able to do on the show.
It's worth noting that the Red helmet that Zack's sporting above is actually a plot point and not an art mistake, which is one of the most refreshing things about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The worst thing about Papercutz, a publisher with a lot of licenses that I'm really, really interested in, is that the art on their titles tends to be astonishingly inconsistent. It can vary from decent to genuinely awful in the span of a single book -- sometimes a single page -- and it unfortunately makes a lot of what they put out a real chore to get through.
Marcondes and Smith, on the other hand, manage to do a book that's not only consistent, but consistently well done. The characters are recognizable even beyond their signature colors, but it's not to a point that they're obviously, stiffly photo referenced, and the Zords look more dynamic than they ever did on TV.
Overall, it's a solid package and a great first offering. The only real problem is that there just isn't enough of Rita shrieking at her minions like the unholy daughter of Cobra Commander and Marvel Dracula, which is 100% the best thing about that show and franchise. But hey, there's always volume 2.