Review: Back to the Future #2

'Back to the Future' shouldn't be scratched too deeply. Like 'Star Wars', the trilogy was fantasy wearing science fiction clothes, a charming 'what if' tale that plays fast and loose with logic and made no effort to conform to realism when it didn't serve the plot. It was also a great closed loop trilogy, exploiting its premise thoroughly, like checking the boxes of what could possibly be done with its specific building blocks. With IDW's new series (which I'd predict will be quick to the chopping block, now that post-'Back to the Future' day has exhausted us of the nostalgic novelty), instead of moving forward in time, with Doc Brown's steampunk family train adventures, we instead get the ultimate unnecessary prequel book, going through the 'Back to the Future' franchise with a fine toothed comb to find unseen moments in the film's timeline to unveil. As in the first issue, our story is framed in 1885, where Doc Brown and family are building train tracks near Hill Valley, presumably foreshadowing for the time travel train. After some sentence soup dialogue, we flash to 1962, where Doc Brown is approached by the government to build a time travel machine as a preemptive strike reaction to the Cold War tensions surrounding the Cuban Missile crisis. For the sake of anyone who actually wants to read this book (which if you are still reading this review, probably not) I won't spoil which unexplained event from the films this story addresses, but the only kind words I can say about it is the writer's bent impressively far over backwards to build an awkward story out of these parts.

BttF_Timelines02_cvrJust the first few pages made me realize how wrong the whole venture of telling these stories was, forcing the writers to make huge leaps and give uncharacteristic traits to preexisting characters to give them things to do. Doc Brown is bizarrely compliant with the government, especially considering how a major part of the first film was fueled by Doc's insistence to never threaten the preexisting timeline. They also decide to go with Doc Brown having participated in the Manhattan Project, a reference to an old Robert Zemeckis musing that never was mentioned in the films. It's a big problem with prequels, retroactive legendification of formerly humbler characters. Boba Fett can't just be some guy who happens to be a pretty good bounty hunter, he's got to be a special clone whose dad was the genetic blueprint for an army that fought an entire galactic war. His reputation with fans demands that he be more than a background character who eventually got killed off by a blind guy and a sand vagina.

I always liked the idea that Doc Brown was just some crazy local failed scientist. At least in the first movie, save for pulling a revolver on Libyan terrorists, Doc Brown comes off like a grown-up with a child's idea of what science and scientists look like. Thanks in part to the sequels and the need to make more content, Doc Brown started to more resemble a time lord, ever a prescient genius, cognizant of the consequences of time travel and capable of dramatic feats of engineering. While it's forgivable in say, 'Back to the Future III', where Brown's 'future man' routine is charming in that context, it seemed more interesting with him as the town science idiot who nearly killed himself and his teenaged experiment partner with a remote controlled car. Here, it just seems to miss the point.

I've already wasted enough time on the first story, so Cliffnotes on the second. Marty comes over to Doc's place, looks at all of his gimmicky (but apparently functional) inventions, and then Doc answers a newspaper ad about buying a DeLorean. Aren't you thrilled you got to see that historic phone call? Be sure to get issue three to see Doc Brown securing inspection stickers and car insurance!

This is a book written for the same people who started applauding during 'Star Trek 09' when Scotty would say “I'm giving it all she's got Captain!”. It's sloppy fanbaiting, made to service a disposable financial need thanks to the Internet's insatiable, if fickle, appetite for novelty. I would argue however, that it is probably the best 'Back to the Future' comic prequel we could hope for. In the original trilogy, Gale and Zemeckis did a pretty complete job at exploiting their premise, never creating a universe that extends beyond its location and window of time, leaving no real room for improvement via expansion. This book is the best there is at what it does, and what it does is entirely pointless.

Score: 2/5

Back To The Future #2 Story: Bob Gale, John Barber Script: John Barber, Erik Burnham Artists: Marcelo Ferreira, Chris Madden Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/11/15 Format: Print/Digital