Of all the nostalgic 90s children’s properties that one could get their hands on, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers seem like the one that might be least in need of a realistic reboot. The franchise continues to this day, pumping out a new season with each installment of Super Sentai and the original series was brought back to television in 2010 with a “re-version” that met with lukewarm reception. Nevertheless, the Power Rangers have seen not one, but two reboots in the past year and change. The more famous is probably their big screen outing, but it is in comics where they have shined.
Under the creative guidance of Kyle Higgins and Hendry Prasetya, Boom! Studio’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series has been an incredibly fun read. Last year, I passed up the chance to buy the series’ eight-dollar annual on release day and learned to regret it. Can the 2017 Annual capture that rad, 90s-inspired, multicolored lightning in a bottle again?
Kyle Higgins opens the issue with an all-too brief interlude that takes us to an, at first, ambiguous moment between the show and the comic. Tommy is once again in the spotlight here, but Higgins uses familiarity nicely to keep readers off balance and intrigued. This certainly isn’t the Green Ranger that the now twenty-something audience of “Green With Evil” once knew, but that’s very much the point. Is this a continuation of previous evil Tommy stories or merely a look at the history of this version and how close the two were?
Admittedly Tommy is a little more broken here than even the Boom! series suggests and Higgins’ writing, while slick, can’t fully obscure how quickly it has to move the characters around. Higgins’ take on Rita, while no longer entirely fresh, remains enchanting and sinisterly hypnotic however, and Tommy’s exasperation is forcefully conveyed to the reader. Higgins also continues to expand the world of the Power Rangers beyond Angel Grove to great effect. Despite all of this, you won’t mistake this for critical plot or a marquee draw. Solidly constructed as it may be, this seems largely a way to tie this annual into the larger plot and show off Goñi Montes’ artwork.
Montes’ stylized faces might not sit well with some at first, but there’s no denying that his layouts are incredibly dynamic. The colors are stunning and the panels scream out emotions for readers to savor. Faces and features shift with the flow of the scene, impressionistic, if sometimes flat.
It’s hard to say if the intense, human moments or the jazzy, gorgeously saturated ranger action that’s the main draw of Montes’ work, and if one is too stylized or the other’s too simple. Luckily, I suspect that if one of those rings true for you, the other seems woefully unfair.
The next story is “Trini’s Vacation” by Tom Taylor and Dan Mora. Perhaps even more than Zach, with whom she shares in the initial line up’s most obnoxious yet valid criticism, Trini is the ranger that I didn’t appreciate as a kid but do now. Shamed as I am to highlight the two non-white rangers that way, I can’t help but feel like it wasn’t just me or any of the other four year olds who felt the same’s fault. Trini was different. Smart, but not as smart as Billy. Feminine, but not as fashion conscious as Kimberly. Dedicated to martial arts, but not as loud about it as Jason. Trini lacked the one note characterization that defined the show and, as such, it’s nice to see a story striving to highlight her personality apart from the other rangers.
In this, the story is really nice. Trini’s quiet, focused energy survives the translation to the page and she becomes quickly relatable through the serene monologues that Taylor writes for her. No, there isn’t some incredible moment that redefines the character, but she feels right throughout and the story provides some nice opportunities to show, not tell, what makes her a ranger. And, silly as it may be, when it hits her that “I’m not getting to stay in bed”, I feel it like a punch in the gut. We’ve all been there.
The story’s macguffin serves its purpose well, but it seems underutilized in this twelve-page script. The opening exposition is some of Taylor’s clunkiest and least natural but it sets up the babelstone as a weapon worthy of Rita – let’s be honest, of Lord Zedd – and that significance, does not pay off. By far the coolest bit of this little intro is the idea that the babelstone can corrupt spoken language, an idea that seems poised for great things, especially in a medium like comics, but it never comes into play. I mean, this was a good enough to justify an episode of Power Rangers, it just seems like a bit of a waste to only use it to justify keeping Trini solo.
Charming as Taylor’s contribution may be, like Higgins before him, he is overshadowed a bit by his artist. Dan Mora’s art is just stunning here. Strong compositions, striking lines, and a great sense of motion all realized through a sturdy yet subdued color palette, make for some incredible visuals even before Goldar enters the story. And then he does. And it’s glorious.
Mora’s range skills as an artist are on particular display in his representation of Goldar. He’s never quite the same from panel to panel, but he looks fantastic every time. With cartoonish glee in one panel, rich and realistic shading in another, and sinister glee in all of them, Goldar’s depiction is easily one of the most memorable in the issue.
Little details like Rita’s vexation, familiar Power Ranger poses, or the sinister smile of a putty patroller prove that Mora doesn’t need Goldar to shine and make me very excited to realize that we’ll get plenty more MMPR art from him when Go Go Power Rangers launches next month.
As Trini takes a well deserved vacation, the book turns to another underappreciated ranger(s) in “Forever Mighty Morphin Black”. A seeming play on “Forever Red”, Jamal Campbell’s story channels the freshness of Higgins’ early issues on this series, when the stakes were low enough to appreciate the simple fact that there was weight and continuity between adventures.
The story is too short to really get to play with the concept, but Campbell does an admirable job of cramming big moments of character into quick lines. It also does a lot for Zach’s character to see him getting worn down, something we actually did see a bit in the original season, if through coincidence as much as intention. Zach’s love life and passion for dance took up most of his spotlight episodes, but Campbell’s version of the character feels real and grounded enough in what came before to easily hear it in Walter Jones’ classic delivery.
There’s not a lot of plot to speak of but it’s incredibly fun to see all the different Black Rangers that Campbell can come up with, with the stated use of rangers from different space and time allowing for familiar concepts, delightful what-ifs, and blendings of the two.
The art is pretty slick in this one too, with strong body language and lovely lighting and color gradients. The rangers even look similar to their actors, though they’re reimagined a little. Artistically, this probably could have benefitted from an extra page or two, as things can get a little cramped at times, but it rarely, if ever, confuses the action.
On a personal note, I adore that Campbell gave Adam Park a place of honor in this story. I always loved Adam and writing a story that celebrates Zack’s role as the original Black Ranger without putting he and Adam in competition is just lovely.
Last year, Trey Moore wrote one of my favorite stories in the 2016 MMPR Annual, penning the origin of Goldar. It seems that he wasn’t done with Rita’s crew. “Perfect” turns his eye on one of the strangest and least explored characters on Power Rangers, Finster.
Taking a healthy dose of inspiration from Zyuranger, acknowledged cheekily in the name of Finster’s love-starved wife, Moore imagines Rita’s monster maker as a desperate artist unable to reconcile with his demons or imagine himself as anything less than the star of his own story. It’s a shockingly specific portrait, even if it makes liberal use of archetypes to pack it all into its eight-page runtime. It may be the first time a comic writer breaks your heart with the word “Pleps”.
Between art and story, the biggest problem is that it can be a bit unclear, but, my goodness, there are emotions in this little eight-pager. With horrific reality in his words, Moore makes Finster equally relatable and monstrous, at once Rita’s pawn and her superior in the world of real evil. I doubt very much that you will be expecting to find a story like this in a Power Ranger comic, but, as long as you can emotionally handle it, you won’t walk away disappointed. This is easily one of the highlights of these annuals.
Of course it’s not just Moore who makes this a sure thing. Having the sheer power of Fraiser Irving’s art at his back makes Moore’s success a forgone conclusion. Though it doesn’t always read clearly, Irving’s whispy shadows make this an incredible sight. Though his art is sometimes a little flat for my taste, probably intentionally, here that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The stark, high-contrast lighting and omnipresent shadows give the whole story the emotion of a Black Forest fairy tale that no amount of Disney magic could make palatable for kids.
Panels can be repetitive, but the emotion rings true. I love how magical just the slightest dash of color can be when Finster is finally introduced to the true medium for his art.
I also adore how Irving represents Rita. Silly as she may have been in practice, Rita’s iconography is strong and the comic series has pushed hard to redefine her as a serious threat, a snake whispering sweet, fascist nothings into the ears of those who doubt. Irving’s Rita probably wouldn’t work on a long term basis, but, for this story, it’s perfect and wonderfully creepy.
The final story follows this series habit of ending with madcap adventures with two unlikely heroes, but this time it’s Goldar and Scorpina. Their shared aesthetic can make it ambiguous who’s narrating at first, but it’s fun to see the famously mysterious final member of Rita’s gang given some personality. Here Caitlin Kittredge seems to put forth that the reason we see so little of Scorpina is that she’s not really all that into Rita’s mission. Sure she loves doing evil as much as the next scorpion/lamia/whatever she is creature, but she’s not really a team player. Seeing her work her pragmatic charms on a follower like Goldar is great fun and Kittredge nails the voice for this version of Sco-Sabrina.
There’s also Goldar, who has just the right balance of proud warrior for villainy and lovable doof to entertain without losing his intimidating airs. There’s just something about “tiny Goldar” that tugs at the heartstrings, you know?
Unfortunately, as fun as the character writing is and as welcoming as the dialogue can be, the plot lacks punch. Beginning in media res doesn’t do half as much as it ought to for this story and causes some jumpiness between scenes.
Dajung Lee seems a strong fit for this story, bringing a specific but nondistracting look that recalls Danielle di Nicuolo’s work on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Pink, and not only because Sarah Stern colored both. Casual Goldar and Sabrina look great, even if she seems to be rocking the Elisa Maza from Gargoyles. Sabrina gets a range of emotions in this story that is kind of rare and, while Lee doesn’t boast about it in their art, it gives instant direction to the piece. The subtle guidance of Scorpina’s mood helps give this story a narrative spine and a visual identity.
This one’s fun and in touch with emotion in a way that I wish more comics were, but it’s also awkwardly plotted and not all that meaningful. You’ll be glad it’s in there, but it’s not what you’re buying the issue for.
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers 2017 Annual is not an essential purchase. And honestly, thats one of its strengths. Though completionists will find some new ideas that continue the plot of the series in “Search Party”, this is largely an opportunity to see some talented creators take their shot at the Power Rangers franchise. The stories are fun and the art is amazing. It’s easy to write off Power Rangers - many of us have either been doing it or have had it done to us since we turned six and someone wanted to act grown up - but this issue is packed to the gills with gorgeous art from creators you may not know or may not have expected to see. It doesn’t necessarily do a lot as an annual issue for the Boom! series, but if this were a fan anthology you’d happily throw down $8 for this, and, by all appearances, it kind of is.Don’t buy this because you have to. Buy this one because you want to, and, if you’re a fan of Power Rangers or even just an art lover who things Zyuranger’s aesthetic was sweet, you will want to.