Their Power: Transformation. Their Weakness: Change – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #45 Reviewed

by Noah Sharma

Where we last left the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers they were beaten, gasping for air after being saved from an intergalactic assassin who was ready to put them down. In the nick of time, the Omega Rangers appeared and demolished the most powerful enemy Lord Zedd had ever sent after the Rangers. When we last left the Omega Rangers they had decided to storm Zedd’s lunar fortress on their own. So you know this wasn’t going to be a dry issue.

Primary cover by Jamal Campbell

Luckily Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #45 does not disappoint on that count. The assault on the Bandora Palace is just as fun and satisfying as you’d hope it would be. Ryan Parrott‘s always done great things when he prods at the rules of the Power Rangers, all the way from the beginning, when the original Ranger team took their own visit to the palace in his Go Go Power Rangers run. So here we find an excellent mix of the fun and familiar and the novel and seismic. The sequence is brief, certainly not the issue-length set piece that one could imagine it being, but I think it does a tremendous job of hitting all the bases it needed to and getting to what’s important. Perhaps its greatest attribute is the degree to which it allows the reader to expand the events for it, giving such a strong jumping off point that it never feels as though the story is abandoning the audience or neglecting their desire to see more. Instead we get a rapid-fire sense of what the assault must be like before focusing in for the main event of Jason vs. Zedd.

Interior art by Daniele Di Nicuolo and Walter Baiamonte with Katia Ranalli and Igor Monti

Just as the pacing is great at conjuring the action and setting of the battle this issue, Parrott’s Lord Zedd has never been so adept at channeling the original, icy anger and incredulity of the recently departed Robert Axelrod. True to the unusually sinister design and writing that’s led him to be remembered as one of the great Power Ranger villains, Zedd’s mix of arrogance and delight in getting his own hands dirty carries some actual menace with it, but luckily Parrott balances it out with some welcome shots at Zedd and Jason’s posturing, ensuring that the whole affair never becomes too self-serious.

Zedd’s menace and power would vary wildly between episodes and seasons, but the Sentai format and Zordon’s little mentioned but ever followed rule against escalation has generally presented top level villains as unassailable threats who, when cornered, were likely a match for the entire Ranger team. So seeing Zedd take on four Omega Rangers is a great way to build upon the battle with Dayne and establish just how out of their league the regular Rangers are at this stage. However, this very excitement makes it weird when Zordon tries to argue that removing Zedd would somehow escalate the conflict on Earth. The serious showing we get from Zedd this issue not only makes it strange that Zordon has such faith that his Rangers could handle him (technically the Rangers never defeat Zedd, letting other villains run him off of Earth instead) but begs the question of what greater threats Zordon is afraid of. Master Vile, one of the only villains ever portrayed as Zedd’s unambiguous superior, does get a name drop, but there’s no sense that Zedd’s removal would actually attract any alien attention to a galactic backwater.

Interior art by Daniele Di Nicuolo and Walter Baiamonte with Katia Ranalli and Igor Monti

But, of course, this issue gives us a pretty clear look at what that threat might look like. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I am of two minds. On one hand, the actual time we spend establishing the nature of the threat is more than a little familiar and it lacks the creeping cleverness of Parrott’s takes on Goldar, Finster, or Zedd. Power Rangers is a franchise of archetypes and this is another archetype. However, the scene that sets these events in motion is much more effective and what is still unseen at this point is poised to be much more interesting if it can be brought to fruition in later issues. A little more time and some less predictable dialogue might have sold this turn a little better, but it opens a lot of doors that have the potential to correct those small missteps.

With much of the issue devoted to these two huge moments, the siege of the palace at the start and the end of the arc’s first act towards the end, there’s actually a lot of time to be spent on other plot threads. Some might wish there had been a slightly more focused script, but I actually really like the attention paid to other characters. There’s terrific work done with the dramatic irony of Zordon and his rangers not recognizing the Omega Rangers. In the show Tommy’s leadership responsibilities were basically calling out attack names, so he adjusted to the new role very quickly, but here some of the character’s more bashful nature is on display as he beats himself up for not being able to stop Dayne. Compounded by the sudden departure of his commander and closest friend on the team, this crisis of confidence is a perfect backdrop for an unknowing strategy meeting between the two Rangers. We even get a lesser inverse of this dynamic, as Jason gets a one-on-one with Zordon, no longer the frightened child begging for his father’s life but the leader of an advanced Ranger faction and, potentially, the sage’s equal in the fight against evil.

Interior art by Daniele Di Nicuolo and Walter Baiamonte with Katia Ranalli and Igor Monti

There’s also more of Parrott’s excellent Goldar and Finster, all pride and addiction respectively, and check ins with Bulk and Skull and the Stone Canyon Rangers. The Bulk and Skull scene is brief, but it feels oddly real and (especially if I were living in town like Angel Grove) I would totally go to see that exhibit! But the other two lack in one small way, which is that only so much gets added to the story by them. Yes, Goldar has plans, and yes, the new Rangers consider what the purpose of being a Ranger is, but we’ve seen this before. I would argue that these scenes are equal or better than previous expressions of the same themes, but there’s only so many times we can be reminded of these plot points. I’m aching to hear more from Adam, who’s barely had a chance to speak in this series, or see how Aisha plans to address her concerns besides complaining to Rocky and Tommy. The writing of this issue proves highly effective, but, with all the extra time we had, I wish some of the narrative’s lingering desires could have been answered better. But still, as I find myself considering my problems with Mighty Morphin #45, I can’t help but notice that pretty much all of my complaints are about what we could have gotten more of, not that anything was itself bad or absent.

Daniele Di Nicuolo continues a strong run on this series, and gets to show off many of his best attributes this month. The sense of motion he brings to his work is second to none, from flying kicks to the teleport effects. There’s force in the panels that really communicates the speed and precision of a Ranger fight as well as the extreme level that the Omega Rangers take that to. Clearly conveying this kind of frenetic energy is easy for Di Nicuolo, but it’s impressive that the same skill set serves him just as well in moments of rest. The body language and framing of each panel is very specific and it gives the characters that much more personality. It’s hard to find a panel that doesn’t say something clearly and effectively.

Interior art by Daniele Di Nicuolo and Walter Baiamonte with Katia Ranalli and Igor Monti

And, at its most basic, the Rangers look good. Di Nicuolo gets the sentai aesthetic and, just as Kyle Higgins spoke about writing the Rangers not as they were but as he experienced them as a child, Di Nicuolo draws them, and Zedd, as such. The only problem here is that a couple of the Rangers, notably the empowered and shielded Tommy, look a little too lithe a times (with Zedd equally and oppositely built in a panel or two), but Ranger fans are blessed to have such stylish and emotive takes on the costumes they’ve loved.

As ever, I find Di Nicuolo’s de-morphed rangers a little weaker. They’re all effective character designs, but more than one don’t really look like the characters they depict. While its unreasonable to expect perfect likenesses from an artist who’s clearly not trying to do that and a number of Rangers do feel like stylized versions of the actors, Rocky and Zach are decidedly loose translations and Adam and Jason actually look like completely different people. In Jason’s case, it’s pretty amazing that our lead character for this arc and one of the most familiar faces of the franchise looks so alien, down to the wrong hair color.

Interior art by Daniele Di Nicuolo and Walter Baiamonte with Katia Ranalli and Igor Monti

Minor as it is, there’s also a couple of panels of Zedd’s throne that just look off. It’s not nearly as slick or detailed as the rest of the scene and it adds a cartoonish quality to one of the issue’s most exciting pages. Luckily, this is one of the only weaknesses surrounding the ‘evil space aliens’. We’ve already mentioned that Zedd looks fantastic, but the castle, the half-formed monsters, and especially his followers are also standouts. The more extreme designs of Zedd’s minions allow Di Nicuolo to really show off some of his range, from straight-ahead depictions of their strange designs to broader comedic reactions to some really eerie takes on Goldar and Finster. There’s even one panel of Goldar that joins some of Dan Mora’s work with the character as one of my personal favorites.

The color credit is a little complicated this month, listed as “Walter Baiamonte with color assistance by Katia Ranalli & Igor Monti“, but however it breaks down, the colorists are deserving of some serious praise. Power Rangers is obviously a series preoccupied with color, but this issue, even more so than its predecessors, does some fantastic things with color. Building on the Omega Ranger palette of crimson red and vibrant turquoise with black and gold accents, the resulting look holds on to the electric energy of the franchise’s primary brightness but splits the difference between integrating it naturally into the scene and hammering home the 80s retro-futurist excess. Careful and often subtle lighting and shadow effects keep things feeling believable and the way that those brilliant colors bleed back into their surroundings — or largely don’t in a few cases — create a potent tone for the book. The colors never feel invasive or distracting from the story, but they also never settle, not leaving a page without some clever trick or potent contrast.

Interior art by Daniele Di Nicuolo and Walter Baiamonte with Katia Ranalli and Igor Monti

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #45 is a visually spectacular climax to the first act of “Necessary Evil.” Ryan Parrott gives us a taste of what to expect from the story going forward and, while some of the twists are a little familiar, he knows just how to use the characters and source material to greatest effect. There are things in this issue that fans have dreamed about since the 90s, and they look every bit as vivid and crazy as our most sugar-filled childhood imaginings! Together with some really effective quiet moments and stunning color and motion, the issue hits on all fronts.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #45 is currently available in comic shops from Boom! Studios.

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