Justice League/Power Rangers Bodes Well for the Future of Madcap Crossovers

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<i>Justice League/Power Rangers</i> Bodes Well for the Future of Madcap Crossovers

We live in a tricky era for crossovers.

Encounters between fictional universes only fulfill a “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” fandom fantasy as long as they’re unlikely to play out in any canonical capacity. To some degree, Hollywood’s drained the oomph from Big Crossovers, particularly for superheroes. Time travelers stopping by comic shops circa 2007 to tell anyone about the honest-to-gosh Avengers: Infinity War and Batman v Superman blockbusters-to-be would be received with disbelief. Today, when I talk about my theory of an inevitable Avengers v X-Men movie, people accuse me of whimsical thinking, but nobody calls me insane.

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 Main Cover Art by Karl Kerschl

Even if we disqualify the deluge of instantly available fan-fiction, surprisingly slick production values in fair-use web shows like Super Power Beat Down undercut whatever built-in magic lingers around a concept like Justice League/Power Rangers. Circumstances nail writer Tom Taylor (All-New Wolverine, Injustice: Gods Among Us) with the unenviable task of juggling a whooole bunch of set pieces from two entirely different continuities for an audience that’ll be far less permissive than they would’ve been in 1994. Back then, its mere existence would’ve blown minds. In 2017, JL/PR isn’t even unexpected, considering last year’s smash-hit Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a current follow-up mini-series of the same make.

The cynically inclined can easily criticize the first Batman/TMNT tale by James Tynion IV and Freddie E. Williams II for its perfectly functional, safe, boilerplate alternate-dimension premise and tendency to lean on the readers’ preexisting affection for both franchises. But there was also loads to genuinely like about the joint venture between publishers DC and IDW. A poignant, if heavy-handed, sequence refutes Raphael’s initial dismissal of The World’s Greatest Detective as a bored rich guy (and indirectly throws shade at Zack Snyder’s interpretation of who and why Batman is). Michelangelo walks his delicate line between goofball and irritant throughout. Williams II and colorist Jeremy Colwell present a Gotham that’s the improbably conceived child of what TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird might have drawn alongside Silver Age Batman icon Neal Adams.

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 Interior Art by Stephen Byrne

But the whole thing felt too easy, and of course it did—the creators needed only meld the mythos of an urban martial artist who battles a splashy ensemble of baddies with the saga of four urban martial artists who do the same thing. By comparison, Angel Grove’s spunky, dino-powered teens don’t make quite as quasi-logical companions for DCU’s pantheon of intellectual properties.

Taylor and artist Stephen Byrne promise a consequential yarn at the onset of JL/PR. Smack dab on the first page, they reveal a catastrophe with severe long-term ramifications for the multi-hued rangers. It could always wind up retconned away as a dream or illusion, or undone via time travel, or any one of those sorts of things, but it nonetheless establishes an aura of high stakes. The gravitas dissipates a tad when [spoiler alert] Taylor kills a major Power Rangers cast member, then indicates that a robot duplicate—not the genuine article—was the casualty. Like any other franchise geared toward younger consumers, Power Rangers doesn’t need to, and probably shouldn’t, play fast and loose with mortality. But blowing up one of its most venerable figures only to backpedal so quickly was a curious decision.

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 Interior Art by Stephen Byrne

Virtually no time is devoted to introductions or exposition, nor is any necessary. This iteration of the Justice League matches the costumes of the current DCU versions, and nobody needs a lesson on Batman’s or Superman’s origins. BOOM! Studio’s Power Rangers timeline only recently ventured beyond the first Mighty Morphin season of the TV series. Lord Zedd is bonkin’ around causing mischief, but Trini, Jason and Zack haven’t all mysteriously disappeared to Switzerland yet, and Tommy still has his Green Ranger powers, which means any reader familiar with the original premise should recognize where the team stands here.

In want of an artist to re-realize Fox Kids’ space fighters, DC and BOOM! chose wisely with Byrne. The teaser for a non-existent animated Firefly show he put out back in August will, for a certain segment of fandom, overshadow anything else he might possibly accomplish with his life, but his work on JL/PR deserves a sterling mention on his CV. Actors Walter Emanuel Jones, Amy Jo Johnson and David Yost had all entered 20-somethingdom before the Mighty Morphin casting director tapped them to play high schoolers. While that’s a common practice for TV, Byrne renders Zack, Kimberly, Billy and the others as convincingly below drinking age, so in that respect, his drawings look more realistic than the live action source material.

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 Interior Art by Stephen Byrne

JL/PR #1 is packed to its gills in colorful action. It’s not quite so dependent on kicky/punchy bits that plot development suffers, but it’s nonetheless a notably kicky/punchy/explodey 20 pages. And just like the aforementioned Batman/TMNT romp, the book predictably hinges on a Big Bad from the Power Rangers’ Earth falling assbackwards through a trans-dimensional wormhole and landing in Batman’s hometown. But perhaps crossovers of this scope require an unchallenging, even bland, foundation to keep from collapsing under their madcappery? At one point, the Flash delivers an early candidate for the greatest sentence published in 2017, informing Cyborg, “Batman’s been taken by a flying pink dinosaur robot.”

I’m interested to see where JL/PR goes, but I’m almost more curious to see what’s in store if it matches Batman/TMNT’s sales numbers and nostalgia properties continue dabbling into the DCU. Maybe if franchise crossovers cease to be special, they’ll eventually become the norm? When that happens, does Batman come upon a case that requires the assistance of paranormal investigators Fox Mulder and Dana Scully? Will Wonder Woman’s invisible jet crash land on a mystical island, just in time to help the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815? Isn’t it weird how there hasn’t already been an officially licensed Buffy Summers/Superman joint adventure of some kind? Do we dare dream that Darkseid take out a sublease at a Fuller House to slaughter everyone in sight?

I’m cautiously optimistic.

Justice League/Power Rangers #1 Variant Cover Art by Chris Sprouse