Comic book events often rely on a narrowly-defined idea of “edgy coolness” to convey a sense of import to the story they’re trying to tell. It isn’t enough that the world is ending — everything’s gotta be gritty and dark. But DC and Boom Studios’ Justice League/Power Rangers crossover is fuelled by something else: The power of friendship and teamwork.
Image: TK TK
For a plot that could easily slip into that all-too-familiar story of pitting heroes against one another to make some sort of point about the failings of the human condition, Justice League/Power Rangers has been a surprisingly upbeat and fun series that keenly understands what makes its oversized cast of characters work. With its sixth and final issue out this week, the series is coming to a close, and as strange as it might sound, Justice League/Power Rangers is going to end up as one of the better comics of 2017.
Over the past couple of months, DC’s flagship team of superheroes has been hopping across dimensions alongside six teenagers with attitude from Angel Grove in a desperate race to save both their worlds from annihilation.
When Zordon’s robot assistant Alpha 5 disappears without a trace, the Power Rangers split up six ways and begin teleporting across the world to search for him. Zach, the Black Ranger, is the first to find a badly-damaged Alpha. He brings him back to the Command Center, where the plucky robot begins to melt in a way that Zordon’s never seen before. Zach quickly realises that the Alpha is a decoy, but not before the impostor robot explodes, bringing down the Command Center’s defences and giving Lord Zedd (who, of course, was waiting outside) the perfect opportunity to finally kill his mortal enemies.
Just as Zedd enters the Command Center to take Zordon out, Zach reasons that even if he can’t take the demon king and his Putty Patrol out on his own, he can stop them from doing any more damage by teleporting away and taking them with him. Unbeknownst to Zach, though, Zedd’s blast left the Command Center’s teleporters malfunctioning — so while he’s able to beam himself and Zedd away, they end up in a strange universe that isn’t their own.
Because Zach lets Zedd go during their trip, he loses the demon somewhere in the teleportation stream, but the teenaged hero gracefully lands in Gotham City, where he’s immediately greeted by another vigilante dressed in a black, animal-themed costume: Batman.
Where Zach’s from, people who look like animals that aren’t also in Power Ranger fashion schemes are almost guaranteed to be some manner of evil cooked up by Zedd and his thugs. So he takes the sensible, Power Ranger-approved course of action and starts to wail on Batman with his Power Axe. Batman, who’s all too accustomed to being attacked by other animal-themed superweirdoes, fights back — but when the rest of Zach’s colour-coded squad rips open a portal in the sky and joins the fray, he immediately calls the rest of the Justice League.
As the Rangers and the Justice League converge on Gotham city, the two teams start taking stock of one another in the only way that superheroes know how — with their fists. The Flash shows up and steals the Rangers’ weapons, Batman tries to blow them up with a Batmobile missile, and Kimberly the Pink Ranger makes the badarse decision to take Batman (and his car) out by summoning her humongous pink pterodactyl Zord and picking them up in its beak. This is all a very long way of saying that the fight is absolutely insane and all kinds of fun.
But as fun as this all is, Justice League/Power Rangers is still a comic book that takes itself seriously (in a good way), and it wastes no time having its heroes use their brains to take a moment to figure out what the hell is going on.
After the Rangers explain that they probably wouldn’t have attacked Batman if he weren’t a terrifying, brooding man in a black cape who never smiles, they fill the League in on who they are, where they’re from, and how they ended up in Gotham. The Rangers know that Zedd’s out there somewhere plotting something evil. Unbeknownst to either the Rangers or the League, though, while they have been fighting each other, Zedd just so happens to have accidentally found an unlikely ally in Braniac, who’s fascinated and impressed by Zedd’s magic.
Zedd wants to control the entire universe and Braniac wants to pluck entire cities out of the ground, shrink them, and then store them in tiny glass cases. Together, the demon king and the crazed technopath realise that they’re better off as partners than adversaries and set out on a doomsday mission plucked right out of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Objectively speaking, Justice League/Power Rangers‘ plot hits every single one of the predictable beats you’d expect from A Very Special hour-long episode of Power Rangers. There are battles between huge monsters and robots and the Rangers lose their powers, but the Justice League brings a different kind of gravity to the story just by being there. What begins as a very familiar “punch the big kaiju until it blows up” story quickly takes on a darker tone when the Rangers’ traditional plan to save the world doesn’t quite work. Brainiac’s style of taking over the world isn’t just about crushing it with monsters, but rather using strategy to use his target’s weaknesses to his advantage.
It’s a style of planned attack that Zedd isn’t at all accustomed to, and one that the Rangers are blindsided by. But the League is more then ready to provide their new teammates with the sort of wisdom that really only comes with age.
There’s an inherent silliness and rhythm to most Power Rangers stories that’s specifically designed to give you a sense of security and familiarity no matter how different the specifics of the plot are. This works to the franchise’s benefit because, well, kids have been watching the Power Rangers and the Japanese Sentai series they’re based on for decades. But it also has the negative side effect of making Power Rangers‘ stakes feel small, because you know exactly how they’re going to win in the end.
In place of the Power Rangers‘ traditional camp, tough, there’s a comfortable solemnity that comes from the Justice League that simultaneously says, “You kids don’t understand just how dangerous a threat Brainiac is,” and, “Don’t worry, we’ve beaten Brainiac before and we’ve got your backs.” By that same token, the twisted friendship that blossoms between Zedd and Brainiac becomes their greatest weapon. Zedd is able to give Brainiac access to a fresh dimension with barely any heroes in it that he can raze and break apart as he desires, while Brainiac is able to help Zedd actually think his way through a plan as opposed to just trying to smash things.
Justice League/Power Ranger brings the fundamental essence of all its characters to the surface in a way that eclipses most of what we’ve seen from either team’s recent live-action cinematic adaptations. The comic understands the thing that makes both the Justice League and the Power Rangers cool isn’t their powers or their weapons, but the way that they all fit together to become greater than the sum of their parts. They’re teams that know their bonds make them stronger, and they aren’t too cool to admit it.