The latest Dueling Review showed what a really well-done Power Rangers comic adaptation can be. But life hasn’t always been this good for comics and Ranger fans… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Power Rangers Zeo #1 awaits!
Writer: Tom & Mary Bierbaum
Penciler: Todd Nauck
Inker: Norm Rapmund
Colorist: Laura Penton
Letterer: Quantum Color FX
Editor: Matt Hawkins
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.50
Previously in Power Rangers Zeo: Faced with the threat of the Machine Empire, the Mighty Morphin’ Rangers were horrified when their Power Coins were destroyed, leaving them powerless. Fortunately, they were able to harness the power of the Zeo Crystal, giving them cool new powers with interesting shaped helmets and sent off to fight the new villains with their cool new uniforms and abilities…
Power Rangers Zeo #1 opens in mid-battle, with the five Zeo Rangers engaged in some literally impossible high-flying fighty-fighty… against the United States military? Fortunately, this isn’t a “heroes gone bad” story, but another plot by the wicked King Mondo, head of the Machine Empire. The story makes no attempt to explain what any of that means, nor what a Cognito is, instead working from the assumption that anyone who picked up a Power Rangers comic circa 1996 would now what it was all about. In the space of two pages, we see the team mop up the villains, transition to a ceremony honoring them for their valor and even squeeze Bulk, Skull and Billy Cranston, the former Mighty Morphin’ Blue Ranger, now powerless. There’s some romance and inter-team tension (mostly between Red Ranger Tommy and Pink Ranger Kat), but things really get strange when Zordon receives a communique… from Rita’s headquarters!
It seems that Master Vile, Rita’s father, is upset that Mondo has been attacking his planet, showing off the clusterschmozz that is the villain situation in the first six seasons of Power Rangers. Zedd eclipsed Rita with actual menace, while Vile took over from him, sidelining Zedd and Rita to comic relief. Mondo arrived soon after to eclipse all three, while eventually Dark Specter will join the wall of villains before all of them are finally conquered in season six, ‘Power Rangers In Space.’ What I’m saying is, this issue has a lot of name-dropping and ‘Hey, it’s that guy!’ moments, but that’s pretty much the norm for a Bierbaum comic. Billy and Zordon gather the Rangers to explain that they’re about to go help the guy who tried to kill them a million times, and we get a pretty cool Todd Nauck morphing sequence…
That is a pretty neat page, I’ll admit, but Nauck’s flowy, cartoony style seems like a very odd fit for a Power Rangers comic to me. For reference, the actual Chouriki Sentai Ohranger uniforms (seen here) are very precise and angular, since they’re partially inspired by the pyramids left behind by ancient civilizations, something that doesn’t come through in Power Rangers Zeo #1. Billy and the Zeo Rangers set off for deep space (with a quick moment of exposition explaining that Billy had outfitted the Zeo Megazord to do so, a deeply unsatisfying hand-wave) and immediately getting into a fight. Tommy and Kat take a moment during the heat of battle to apologize and resolve their earlier quasi-romantic tension, while Billy flies the Zeo Megazord all alone (!!) and suddenly the team has fighter jets for some reason? While Mondo’s henchman steals the Mighty Morphin’ power coin energies from Zedd, the Rangers have to face the “Make my monster grow!” moment that happens in nearly every Power Rangers episode.
Once again, I’m struck by how exuberant and full of life Nauck’s layouts are, and how much I like them even though they’re entirely and completely wrong for this group of characters. With the villain vanquished, the Zeo Rangers confront Zedd, Rita and Master Vile, demanding their power coin energies back… but it’s not that simple anymore.
(Due to illness, the part of Billy Cranston is played by Donald Sutherland in his mid-40s, wearing his ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ turtleneck.) Though the majority of this issue’s plot is a muddled mess that wants to ape a 24-minute episode of Zeo, with multiple characters, odd secondary plots (at this juncture, Reto Revolto and Goldar have amnesia and are living with Bulk and Skull as their butlers, an explanation of which takes up one full story page, for some reason) and general nonsense, this is a pretty solid cliff-hanger ending. Sadly, it’s a cliff from which readers will hang forever, as, for reasons unknown, this book was cancelled after the first issue with the adaptation rights switching over to Valiant in 1997. Power Rangers Zeo #1 is just a small part of the Rangers’ checkered comic book history before BOOM!, even including a run at Marvel Comics, but it’s a really convoluted, hard-to-follow issue whose art is fun, but doesn’t fit with either the tone of the story of the Power Rangers conceit, earning 2 out of 5 stars overall. At least the Power Rangers/Youngblood crossover comics advertised (threatened?) in this issue never came to pass, because losing that many brain cells in my mid-20s could have been hazardous to my health.