Unless you’ve been living under a rock, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears (to paraphrase the Simpsons,) it would have been impossible to escape the fact that October 21, 2015, had turned into a pseudo-public holiday that celebrated the 1985 movie Back to the Future. I, like most everyone on the planet, had fond memories of the film. I always listed it in various Top 10 lists, did a movie marathon with it on several occaisons, enjoyed the Saturday morning cartoon spinoff, and even had it as a part of my daily routine for several years — being in the opening crew for the BTTF attraction in Unviersal Studios Hollywood.
Here’s another celebration: IDW’s comicbook Back to the Future, featuring “Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines.”
The comic is split in two, both featuring “origin” stories of a sort. The first, “When Marty Met Emmett” and the other the first part to a serial featuring Doc Brown joining the Manhattan Project. They’re both storied by Bob Gale, the writer for the films, with scripting assistance from John Barber and Erik Burnham, IDW staff writers specializing in licensed comics, and art by Brent Schoonover and Dan Schoening.
One of things I took for granted was the friendship between Marty McFly and Doc Brown. The movie never seemed to question it, so why should the viewer? I was always disappointed when the self-aggrandizing post-modernists tried to deconstruct such a relationship, which always seemed born from the intention to disparage the characters or implicate something inappropriate. The answer can finally be revealed at last, and it’s nothing quite so earth-shattering. In fact, the biggest criticism should be how innocuous the whole thing really is. It’s almost cliché, in that a youth attempts to retrieve something from an old recluse and finds out his preconceptions were misguided.
Actually, the story does allow Marty to show off some creativity and inventiveness that he’s never had the opportunity to show before. And there may be hints at more complexity later. Why, for example, are there some captions to show us specific, seemingly random times? In a time travel story, is this a kind of foreshadowing, or is it truly random and misplaced?
The artwork, unfortunately, isn’t much more than average. In general, the expressions are fine, but too often the anatomy is just a bit too off. The layouts are placed well and easily navigated, with my favorite panel being the Rube Goldberg device that served as Doc Brown’s security. There’s some attempt to change to a dramatic angle every once in a while, but sometimes the figures appear too out of perspective for it, or otherwise disassociated from the scene. When Doc Brown looks over his shoulder at Marty and Einstein, for example. It could be a result of some very heavy-handed inks, which create too bold of a line for such a simple graphic style. The result makes the characters too stiff and unlyrical. The colorist may be overcompensating for such, rendering the stark inks as if there were more depth to the characters that are trying to be more flat.
The second story features much more expressive art and a variety of thin/think lines. The colors in this case are rendered more simply, with large areas of hue to connote shadow, making a more simply and cartoony style that feels more appropriate. The art here is quite expressive, even in the characters’ bodies and attitudes, and the artist has gone for exaggeration to the point of caricature. Perhaps this is to compensate for the relative boring pace of this section’s story.
Here, the story consists of Doc Brown having conversations with various people sitting down. It’s only six pages, but still. That’s not really time to invest with any depth or nuance, nor much foreshadowing except for an ominous mushroom in a Jell-O mold. Do these stories tie together, then? More fleshing out of the BTTF would be necessary, and this looks like a good way to do it, but, to paraphrase the film, “why not do it with style?”
This is more than just a re-hash of familiar BTTF scenes. There’s a real attempt here to build into the world and expand the universe, as it were. I’m happy to see a bit of a road not taken here, as it’s natural to want to just pick up with the series in a kind of Part 4, much in the same way the animated series spin-off did. Instead, we round out some of the story points in straightforward way. I’m not sure if that’s both a strength and a weakness, though, as the revelations are new but the story beats and frameworks aren’t. With familiar characterization and spot-on voices, though, not to mention the original screenwriter involved, it’s quite a nice adaptation and sure to fit any fan’s expectations.