Grounded #8: Legacy of Power
25 years. 25 years of a series that spawned from something from a different country. Haim Saban went to Japan on a business trip, and came back having found an idea to bring, what is commonly titled Super Sentai, to the United States in a new product called Power Rangers. And in this 25 years, we have seen amazing stories told with this series. From an evil witch from space fighting teenagers from earth given the power of the dinosaurs, to even most recently an alien game show coming to earth to fight teenagers harnessing the power of an ancient alien ninja star…you can’t lie about this stuff folks.
Legacy of Power might spawn its own series of topics from the Power Rangers series but today we’re going to tackle the big dog in the room. The one that will probably get the most controversial. In the first article? Most definitely. Because it’s been a long time in the making and with the release this week of the Power Rangers: Soul of the Dragon Graphic Novel, it’s time…no need for the morphin pun. So…let’s talk about Tommy Oliver.
Dragon Zord!…Wait…Tiger Zord…Wait…what color is he now?
So for those who don’t know Tommy Oliver was among the original cast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, being the sixth ranger who came later. What made him unique to so many kids back in the day was the fact that not only was he a different color, but also had a unique breastplate shield, and his own giant robot, (commonly known as a Zord), Tommy was originally evil. Being given powers by the villain of the show Rita Repulsa. Using these powers the Evil Green Ranger was sent to destroy the Power Rangers at all cost. Through the power of friendship and goodness, Tommy was freed from Rita’s spell and used the Green Ranger powers to fight against her…but it didn’t stop there.
Power Rangers ran into a problem back in the day. It’s Sentai show counterpart Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger had stopped airing and a follow-up show had already begun. So Saban being the genius he was, decided to use the giant Zord battle stuff from the next show, and pay for new footage to be shot with the Mighty Morphin suits to keep the branding to MMPR as consistent as long as possible…and we know it worked because MMPR seems to be the only season of Power Rangers casual fans remember. However, even with the Zord footage and the insertion of MMPR footage with the next season’s monsters and Zords, there was the issue of Tommy. Tommy’s equivalent in Japan’s Zyuranger actually died in the show. Also, the 6th ranger in the following season wasn’t Green, but White. With this knowledge, producers added the next part of the legacy. The White Ranger. Fully making Tommy a full member of the cast as well as making him be the de facto leader of the team once Jason the Red Ranger left the show and a new Red took his place.
Two seasons later and more plot evolution occurring we have Power Rangers Zeo. Where showrunners took a gamble and finally got rid of the MMPR branding. Introducing new powers, and new bad guys, and now only 5 rangers…and Tommy is still here. With him being the most popular ranger and the only one with actual character development because in the early seasons the Rangers didn’t really have much and were basic story archetypes, Billy the Blue Ranger was regulated to the team’s tech support, while the men of the team swap around colors and Tommy becomes Zeo Ranger 5 Red and retaining leader status. Going into the next season Power Rangers Turbo, Tommy stays on for half a season as the Turbo Red Ranger but leaves after giving his powers to…darn I can’t sing the jingle…aw who cares fellow fans will get it if I include a picture,
because Jason David Frank, Tommy’s actor finally wanted to leave the show. But it doesn’t end there ranger fans! Because years later, after coming back for a reunion episode, Tommy becomes a Doctor of Paleontology and mentors a new group of Rangers in Power Rangers Dino Thunder where later on he became the 4th Ranger of the team in Black….the amount of eye roll done by myself yet praise by others seemed to be at an all-time high. Though thankfully after this point Tommy ended his time as a Ranger…until he showed up…
The Return of The Dragon:
In 2016 the era of MIghty Morphin came once again. In the form of a comic series published by Boom! Studios and up until recently was written by Kyle Higgins wherein the modern age the events of MMPR occur. In the 2 years, Higgins worked on this book he showed great respect not only for MMPR but for the entire franchise. With this series came the birth of Lord Drakkon. A version of Tommy Oliver from another dimension where even after being freed from Rita’s curse, chose to follow her willingly. Having defeated the Power Rangers, taken over the world, and fused the dragon power with the white ranger power, Lord Drakkon ruled all. When a group of rebels called The Coinless to bring the MMPR rangers to their dimension, Drakkon is defeated for a time. When he returns the events of Shattered Grid, the ultimate Power Ranger Crossover Comic, occur…I’m not spoiling it because it is definately worth the read.
A few months later the 25th anniversary of Power Rangers was set to occur and with that the most current iteration Power Rangers Ninja Steel brought back a group of veteran rangers to team up with the current team against a villain who was creating an army of evil rangers, quite similar to the comic plot in some ways. With this came Tommy gaining access to the master morpher, a morpher being the tool used to turn into a Power Ranger. With this master morpher, Tommy was given the ability to use all of the powers of his past. And over the course of the episode, Tommy is given the most screen time and the most further development than any of the veteran rangers.
With that, the question finally needed to be uttered. Why do we worship Tommy Oliver? The answer is very simple but many make it more than it really is. With the nostalgia Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comes this love of what we felt was the most amazing and badass character. Tommy. The Green Ranger who started out beating the rest and rose to greatness. And canonically that’s true. Tommy has been given the most character development out of the original 10 rangers if we count the starting 5, and the replacement 5 including Tommy that came later. However, over the course of 3 seasons of Mighty Morphin and the course of Zeo and Turbo, the teams of Power Rangers were mostly stock archetypes. Yes, they stood out with certain unique traits #hiphopkido, but they really weren’t meant to have much development and even after the White Ranger story arch, Tommy’s development besides dating stopped until Zeo where he met his long lost brother. After that? Nothing. There was nothing anymore compelling than any other ranger. He fought the good fight. And he was great for it. But due to Tommy’s popularity, it ultimately hurt other characters like Rocky the season 2 Red Ranger who never got to be a leader like Jason. Future Rangers who’d be seen as inferior or in some cases some 6th Rangers who start out evil like Tommy are seen as copying even though ultimately it’s copying the source material Sentai and just story tropes themselves. Tommy was given so much that ultimately the joke has been said by multiple people that it was the “Tommy show featuring the Power Rangers”. So many people say Tommy is the best ranger. It’s even said in Dino Thunder that he’s “Not the oldest, just the best,” by the tech of the team Hayley. But the love of Tommy Oliver has come so far in the 25 years that it even showed in the anniversary episode where he even is the person who saves the day…This shouldn’t be the case…The past two and a half decades have seen some amazing Rangers who have fought to save the world from the worst dark forces imaginable. From demons, and robots to aliens and magical creatures. Each and every season has seen greatness in one form or another. So for many fans who say Tommy is the best, I disagree with you, but I get it.
He has his place:
Power Rangers: Soul of The Dragon comes out this week. Without spoiling it, it’s definitely worth a read for any longtime Power Rangers fan. While reading it I learned something. For a good portion of my life, I hated Tommy. He was this shadow that lurked over the fandom as if no one would be greater than him. From cameos to mentions of him, he his seen as the best even though in my opinion he was never even close.
People like Carter Grayson from Power Rangers RPM who has the guts to run up on two giant monsters with just two blasters and nothing else? Better than Tommy. The entire team of Rangers from Power Rangers RPM who has ongoing plots that were leagues better than Tommy ever had and showed many that Power Rangers wasn’t just for kids. But for all of my feelings and issues with people being devoted to this one character, it all floated away as I read this. I wasn’t bogged down by people who thought he was the greatest. I was annoyed with the master morpher because he really shouldn’t have it and it shouldn’t exist, but that’s not the point.
Soul of the Dragon is the ultimate nostalgia ride not just for MMPR fans but for Power Ranger fans. People who love this franchise and what it stands for of never giving up, never letting darkness win, sticking by the people you love. It gives you all of that while also filling a story full of amazing continuity nods and love. And as I read it, I was transported into the shoes of a kid who always had to live in the shadow of the overglorified hero, who after all this time I understand has a place in this history, no matter how much I dislike some of the choices made along the way to manufacture his popularity, Tommy is apart of the legacy. He saved the world so many times and helped many carry on the call of the morphin grid. Hopefully, some people will read this and see that yes, there are other amazing Rangers besides Tommy. There’s no one all-powerful Ranger or at least there shouldn’t be, there should just be a team of heroes that fight to save the day. Though I will probably be seen as a hater and that’s fine too. Thank you all for taking the time to read this, and may the power protect you. See you next time.