Go Go Kyle Higgins!
Launched back in 2016, BOOM! Studios’ Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic “remixed” what fans knew about the teenagers with attitude and created a sci-fi/fantasy book without the burden of having to work around footage from preexisting material. Writer Kyle Higgins and artist Hendry Prasetya gave Ranger fans new stories and created new mythology and even new characters that have gone on to take a life of their own.
Newsarama caught up with Higgins at his home as we talked about the first year of the series, how it came to be, the creation and success of Lord Drakkon, and what could have been had Hasbro not have purchased the brand.
Newsarama: Before we get started, Kyle, how are you holding up with everything?
Kyle Higgins: Oh, I’m okay. Like most people, just doing things day by day. Definitely have ups and downs. I had to cut all my hair off because it had gotten too unruly, which is pretty much my only marker of time at this point. [Laughs]
I barely know what day of the week it is. It’s all blending together. Writing and being harassed by my cat are my only two endeavors at the moment.
Nrama: Where are we in hair length: Mighty Morphin Tommy or Turbo Tommy?
Higgins: [Laughs] Oh, neither. I cut it all off and shaved my beard and then immediately remembered why I hadn’t done that in 12 years. It was awful. The beard has fully grown back but now my buzz cut is getting too long again. I figured one good buzz cut would last through all this, but now we’re going on 2.0 here.
Nrama: Especially us people with glasses and comb it back over the ears, yeah I feel this.
Higgins: It’s awful.
Nrama: It’s not great. So before you even started working on it, how much of it did you remember as a kid? Were you a mega fan like myself or something more casual?
Higgins: Yeah, I was a huge fan when I was about eight years old. I don’t know if I saw the first episode but definitely saw “Food Fight” with my sister and we went outside and all of the neighborhood kids had seen it and we all were like “Wow!”
If you think about the state of superhero media at that time, we did have the X-Men animated series and Batman: The Animated Series, and those were my gateways into comic books proper, but besides those two… we didn’t have much else that was current.
We had reruns of The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby, we had 70s Spider-Man with Nicholas Hammond, I had vague memories of a The Flash TV show from a few years earlier, and of course the Tim Burton and Richard Donner films, but there really wasn’t much beyond that. It’s not like it is now. I joke with younger fans sometimes, just saying “man, if we had half of the stuff we have now when I was 12 I would have just been over the moon.”
So Power Rangers to me, was this proxy to the kind of material that I have come to love. It was really influential, not only as a fan but as a beginner creator.
You know, I’ve been making movies since I was about 7. I started with Ninja Turtles, Superman, and graduated to a really big Power Rangers one. We made the costumes, I think out of sweat suits, and the helmets out of brown paper bags from Dominic’s or Omni, which are both defunct Chicagoland grocery chains, and colored them with crayons for whatever Ranger color you were supposed to be. We used sunglasses to make the visors. I had also painted two blue trash cans that I duct taped together to create Zordon and actually drew a face on it. That trash can is still at my parent’s place in their basement. I saw it last time I was there and the face was still there!
Nrama: True art never dies.
Higgins: [Laughs] Exactly! So yeah, obviously a huge fan through that first year of the show.
That said, I was also at the tail-end of the age demographic. When the show went into season 2, it became massively unpopular at school almost overnight. But everyone younger than me was still into it, so I kept an eye on it from afar. I was aware of things that were happening with the show like the Power transfer and definitely saw the movie in 1995. Then I watched or at least felt like I saw some of Zeo and the first episode of Turbo, out of curiosity.
Nrama: That’s when I fell off, too.
Higgins: Yeah, so at that time, I was out.
Nrama: Yeah, I bounced at Turbo, then came back about Time Force or Wild Force. So I never saw In Space or Lost Galaxy, as it aired but went back as I was older to check it out and glad I did.
Anyway, If I remember correctly, you weren’t approached for this, but this was something you wanted to do right?
Higgins: Yeah. It started when I was writing Nightwing for “The New 52” and talking to [BOOM! Studios’ VP of Editorial & Creative Strategy] Bryce Carlson over GChat. We’ve been friends since college and we were just messaging about random stuff and I remember saying, “you know what BOOM! should do? They should get the Power Rangers license.”
I thought that, without having to use pre-existing footage, you could really build a world around this concept and do some really cool, modern superhero storytelling on a brand that had never really had anything like that. For a slightly older audience. He told me then it’s funny I’d bring Rangers up, because BOOM! Had been talking about it. But then, a few months later, Papercutz announced they had acquired the license, so I kind of just forgot about it all.
Then in the summer of 2015, I was checking my phone and saw Newsarama’s article that BOOM! had acquired Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and accompanying the press release were the Goni Montes covers for issue #0. I took one look at them and went “Ah, they get it!” I saw immediately how to make a contemporary and hip book, keeping the spirit and core of the show but working to reimagine some things. In talking with Goni years later, he talked about how he wanted the Rangers to look like brand-new cars – bright and shiny and new.
So, I sent an email to Bryce asking who I’d have to kill to pitch for a back-up, as I assumed they already had their creative team locked. But it turned out, they didn’t and my name had come back up because of that conversation back in 2012.
I only had a little bit of time before I was going to go off and direct this short film I ended up making, The Shadow Hours, and so spent about a week working up a pitch for what I thought could be the first three arcs of the book. Those actually became the first 16 issues, I think.
Nrama: Thinking back to the original pitch meeting, what did you want out of the series? First and foremost at the top of your list.
Higgins: Well it wasn’t so much a pitch meeting as it was me writing up a couple-page document and at the top was my mission statement, which is usually how I start any pitch or outline for a new series where I talk about what resonates for me and what my approach could give us as far as new opportunities to explore themes that made the show work.
So for me, that mission statement was all about Power Rangers’ focus on the strength of friendship, teamwork, and inclusion. I followed that up by talking about how we could open the series through the lens of Tommy joining the team and what happens when the Rangers are asked to accept a new member. How would they feel about Tommy, and how would he feel about them, considering their recent history of Tommy trying to kill them all. [Laughs]
Nrama: Do you remember any sort of caveats Saban had at the time? Were they hands on?
Higgins: Yeah. Initially, the book was being overseen on the Saban side by Consumer Products, which is pretty standard for this type of project. But when the sales numbers started coming in and they heard the fan reaction, Saban went “whoa.” They were surprised, I think. So, the book started getting more eyes on it. [Power Ranger TV producers] Melissa Flores and Brian Casentini became involved and Melissa in particular, became our primary overseer.
There were no caveats up front. In fact, with rare exception, most everything on the series was a conversation. Often, the note would be something like, “We’re not saying no…but, we need more explanation. Can you walk us through why and how this would work?”
I did two or three rounds on the initial pitch outline and went back and forth with Dafna Pleban on it. At that point, I was still in a bake-off against some other writers who were pitching for the series. After the second or third revision, Saban finally read the document and really liked it. They had some thoughts and feedback, like I said, mostly just wanting clarity on certain things.
I was in between shoot days for The Shadow Hours and I remember Dafna calling me to ask for another revision, and I point blank said “Is it my job or not?” [Laughs]
Even in bake-offs, it’s rare to go three or four rounds of revisions on an initial pitch – none of which you get paid for, keep in mind. She told me that if Saban liked this last revision, then it would be my job.
Nrama: So let’s look at that first year of the book. I think you sort of dubbed that “Green Ranger: Year One” when we talked at New York Comic Con 2015 –
Higgins: Real quick, I remember doing that interview with you.
Higgins: You were the first interview I did and I was on the phone in the rain in Manhattan with you trying to schedule our time together because I had just gotten off the panel and I had just made a quip about the Green Ranger being my favorite because “he’s the best one, obviously.”
I had said it on the panel, totally sarcastic and off the cuff, but then in between leaving the panel and getting on the phone with you, my Twitter mentions exploded with people angry who were angry that I was favoriting the Green Ranger. They weren’t at the panel so the sarcasm didn’t translate well into whatever article they had just read— I was like “Oh, no…” [Laughs]
So, I remember doing that interview with you and just being so careful about what I said and how I said it. I haven’t had a favorite Ranger since. [Laughs]
Nrama: That’s fair! So yeah, back to action! Tommy had just joined the team and it’s still very tense. How did you want to show Tommy here rather than how he was on the show?
Higgins: Well a couple of things: that character has the strongest illusion of an arc, at least on Mighty Morphin. Billy has some really interesting changes that he goes through but Tommy starts as a weapon of the enemy and becomes a force for good, then loses his powers, then gets new ones and becomes a leader. There’s a lot of narrative moves that the character goes through, but very little that actually defines him.
So, coming onto the book, I was able to kind of look at those narrative moves from a little more of a 10,000 foot view. I saw a character who had a ton of potential and talent but who might have self-doubt over what recently happened to him. Especially because, all of a sudden the brainwashing spell has been broken and he’s being welcomed onto the very team he was trying to kill. I thought there was the potential for quite a bit of guilt and self doubt as to whether or not he’d be up to this task. That, to me, was something really relatable that I latched onto.
Nrama: You can definitely see that come through in the first issue.
Higgins: Yeah. Again, none of that is really in the show. When the spell is broken, he’s a fully capable member of the Ranger team. It’s just a different style of storytelling, and it’s for a different era and different age range.
Nrama: Do you feel like you balanced every Ranger’s growth in that first year or did you feel like you wish you had more time to explore a certain character?
Higgins: That’s a really good question. I didn’t do as much with Zack as I wanted to.
When I was pitching, I had this whole storyline in mind about Zack going off and using his powers as something akin to a secret vigilante. We alluded to it in the zero issue when Zack falls asleep in class and Jason asks him what’s up? Well, in my mind, Zack was going out and dealing with street crime. He can teleport and go anywhere, but that story point got nixed because something similar was in an early draft of what became the 2017 movie.
But yeah, I got to do some stuff with Zack being Rita’s first choice, but there was more stuff I would have liked to do with him. I don’t think I did a lot with Kimberly or Jason in that first year, either, but Jason became the focus in year two. That’s where Grace Sterling came in and was sort of a reflection of Jason.
Nrama: In the first year, issue #9 to be specific, you introduced Lord Drakkon, who has sort of become his own thing, he has toys, he’s in video games. Were you caught off guard about his reaction or was it something you were secretly hoping for?
Higgins: No, I was pretty caught off guard. He was a bit of an accident, really. Initially, the reveal of who was pulling the strings on the Black Dragon was going to be an evil version of the White Ranger. I love the “what the hell?” potential of that moment. I love to subvert iconography and expectations and the idea that there was an evil White Ranger was something I thought was pretty neat.
The seeds for that idea really started during an early call with certain people from BOOM!, when they were reaching out to let me know how good the initial sales numbers were for issues #0 and #1. They filled me in on some things that Saban was excited by and open to. Some of the stuff they floated, just conceptually, were alternate timelines and an eventual big summer event that I could run. All of which was really intriguing to me.
I had never run an event before, but I’d definitely been part of a few when I was at DC in the Bat office. I learned a lot by watching Scott Snyder construct these things, so the possibility of running one myself was really intriguing.
Anyway, all of that was in the back of my mind when thinking about potential alternate timelines. That gelled really nicely with the story direction I was building out for Tommy. By the end of the third arc I wanted him to be a full-fledged Ranger and be comfortable with it all. In order for him to do that, I felt he needed to face his greatest fear. With an alternate timeline, I had a way to personify that - a version of himself that never turned good. With that could come an alternate timeline built around that premise.
Pretty late in the game, when we were working on issue #9, I was traveling around Europe after a break-up and I was sitting in this cafe in Paris and because of the time change emails started showing up from Los Angeles. There were these notes from Saban about how they wanted to make this version of the White Ranger new and original and “ownable.” So I built out the backstory for the alternate world – the White Light was being transferred to Jason, but the Evil Tommy of that world interrupted the process and now has the White Light plus the original Green Ranger power. That started to influence the design that Jamal Campbell was working on.
When I came back to the United States a week or so later, I spent a morning trying to come up with a name. I knew I wanted it to be Lord something, because of Zedd. So I spent a few hours trying to find some sort of iteration off the word dragon. Draco. Drago. Draconian. Drakon… then we added an extra “k” so that it felt more specific to Power Rangers.
So, when he debuted in issue #9 – and then served as the main villain of issues #11 through #16 - his popularity really started to take off. But, during those issues, he’s just this evil authoritarian version of Tommy. I was always fascinated by the talk surrounding him because – in my mind – there wasn’t really anything to latch onto yet.
Now, I knew I was going to use him in “Shattered Grid” and I also knew that, across the multiverse, he was going to be the only Tommy that never turned good, and he knew that. That, to me, was the most interesting angle and aspect of the character – the massive inferiority complex that developed for him as a result. But of course, none of that was revealed when he first appeared.
Nrama: Introducing Drakkon outside of comics, were you on board with any of that?
Higgins: Yeah, obviously we had our live-action short that I wrote and directed, with Jason David Frank. Which I’m really proud of.
There was an email at one point about what kind of fighter I thought Drakkon would be in the Legacy Wars mobile game and I think it was supposed to be a conference call, but it never happened. I did send over a quick email about the way I saw the character. I kind of leaned into the fact that he was older so he wouldn’t be as fast, but he could be stronger and a bit more of a mauler. Then, I saw him in the game for the first time when everybody else did at San Diego Comic-Con during a panel. They revealed him sitting on his throne which was like his reveal in #9 that Hendry did and then they showed some of the battle footage. I was blown away by what they were able to do on a mobile platform.
And then, years later, I wrote and voice directed the Battle for the Grid game. Which was a total blast. But, I think that’s probably the end of my association with the character and the brand. Actually, I just saw that BOOM! Is doing a new Drakkon mini series that Anthony Burch is writing. I wish him all the best. I know Anthony a little bit but I have no idea what they’re doing.
Nrama: What was it like being embraced by the stars of past shows? I remember talking to you at Emerald City Comic Con a few years back and Jason Faunt and Steve Cardenas were just hanging out.
Higgins: Oh yeah. [Laughs]
The funny thing is, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the actors, just from doing conventions and what not, and I’d consider a number of them friends at this point. But most of them, I don’t even associate with Rangers. I associate them with the time we’ve spent together.
That said, I did have a really, really weird experience when I was writing “Shattered Grid.” I was at a Lexington convention and there was a big Power Ranger presence there. I was in the midst of writing the event and was late with one of the issues and racing to finish it. It was the issue that really dove into the battle of Corinth. The opening of that issue is Jen Scotts and Kimberly Hart talking in the cockpit of the Pterodactyl Zord and I had stayed up all night and was stuck on this script. So 6:30 in the morning, I head downstairs to get some breakfast and some coffee and work on the script. I was feeling pretty out of it, having not slept, and as I was writing… I started to hear the voices of the characters. I really thought I was losing my mind but then realized it was like, 8am and all the actors sitting in the same area, also getting breakfast. [Laughs]
So then, Amy Jo Johnson came over and she and I kinda just sat and talked for a minute. I don’t think I ever told her, but while we were talking, the scene I was writing was the one between Kim and Jen in the cockpit. So, in my sleep deprived state, I had this moment I can only describe as a very strange, Charlie Kaufman-esque experience where I had the thought “wait, if I type it… will she say it?” [Laughs]
But yeah. She’s a super talented filmmaker, so most of the time we just talk about movies and directing.
Nrama: You also sort of had a hand in reimagining the White Light, especially in issue #12, what do you remember about that script and issue?
Higgins: I remember writing it because I wrote the issue only a handful of days after the 2016 Presidential election and was really interested in the kind of normalization of extreme rhetoric and behavior that had started happening.
Without getting too political, I thought that would be an interesting thing to portray in the story through the lens of the alternate world and how the people there normalized Rita’s rule. That’s really the only thing I remember about that. Oh, actually, there was one other thing – we had this double-page spread outside of the Command Center, depicting the Rangers’ Last Stand.
As a part of that, we had also worked in the Ninja Rangers alongside the regular Mighty Morphin team. But we got a note that it didn’t make sense as we couldn’t have the Ninja Rangers and the Mighty Morphin team at the same time, because they’re the same powers. Personally, I thought that was interesting. But, it wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.
I’m sure I researched the White Light and I was careful in my explanation so that we didn’t invalidate what the show had done. That was always the really delicate walk we tried to do, and one of the things that – at times – really drove me crazy. Trying to contort my stories so that while I was introducing something new; I wasn’t epically breaking what the show had done.
Nrama: Do you think you accomplished that?
Higgins: I do, by and large. But, I’m also of the opinion that continuity across mediums like this is a little bit overrated. We had already set this series in 2016, 2017, 2018… the kids have cell phones, I modeled Angel Grove after Berkeley, we’re already outside of the continuity of the show.
At one point, at the start of year two – when I was presenting my plans for what would become “Shattered Grid” in year three – things came to a head during a meeting, where I came to really understand how important it was to Saban that the book be “in continuity” of the show. Their position was that, despite updating the era to 2016, they didn’t want to invalidate what fans and readers knew and remembered. Up to that point, we’d dealt with notes and found ways to more or less make everything fit together. But, what I was proposing for “Shattered Grid” would – or at least, could – fundamentally break things. My argument was that I came onto this book in order to do something new. I had zero interest in writing stories that took place in between episodes of the TV show, or were designed to answer questions from 25 years earlier. That, to me, is the wrong way to build a narrative.
Also I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be bound by narrative choices from 25 years ago on a show that was working with a lot of budget and footage limitations and could barely keep track of its own continuity. I say this with no disrespect to the show or the show’s writers, but this wasn’t mythology designed to hold up, much less to then be built on for two generations. So why are we locking ourselves into this?
I understood where Saban was coming from – and still do – but this also became the reason why, if you look at my storylines, I was very loose with time. The book starts just after “Green With Evil”… but I never really touch on any of the future milestones. In a weird way, you could say that my entire run takes place in between two episodes of the show. [Laughs]
I had no interest in locking myself in and needing to commit to further show continuity milestones.
Nrama: Right because eventually they graduate and you’ll have to get to Zeo if you keep doing this linear parallel.
Higgins: Right, exactly. That said, while the initial plans for “Shattered Grid” were approved in that meeting… that approval came with the caveat that I had to put the toys back in the toy box at the end of the event. To Saban’s credit though, as year two built momentum… they came to trust me more and more, and really came around on some of the wild things I was proposing. Ultimately, if you squint… everything in my run more or less fits. During interviews, the term I started throwing around – which Saban really liked – was that the book isn’t a reboot. It’s a remix.
So, while I respected their continuity position, I also developed some ideas that I felt could give the illusion of really big change as a result of “Shattered Grid,” without completely nuking the rest of the franchise’s history
Nrama: Can you give some examples?
Higgins: Well, the setup for “Beyond the Grid” as well as the issue #40 status quo change – the Omega Rangers were something I was really, really excited by and I’m thrilled Ryan’s been able to make them happen, even better than I ever imagined.
Nrama: Lastly, looking back on everything was there anything you wish you could have done had there been more time?
Higgins: The only big regret I have, and it was totally out of my control, was that we came close to putting together a live action prestige series that I also would have directed, which would have been set in the Coinless timeline. It all came about as a result of the promo film I did with Jason David Frank on “Shattered Grid,” which demonstrated to Saban that we could make something longer and meatier, with high production value, if they were game. Which, considering their investment and excitement about Drakkon, “Shattered Grid” and the Coinless, they definitely were.
My thinking was that – not to say we would have been able to get every actor we wanted back – but every actor was the right age for where their characters would be in the Coinless timeline, and we had a business model that could have been really attractive to the people we were thinking about. Jason was really excited about it and was on board to play Drakkon, so I worked up a series pitch and outline with a few other writers I trust and wanted to build this with. To this day, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve worked on.
Unfortunately though, with Hasbro buying the brand, the project was shut down. Before that though, we definitely had some pretty serious conversations about financing models and distribution partners. But yeah. Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be.