In today’s column, we’ll continue our look at IDW’s main Back to the Future (BTTF) comic book. As mentioned last time, their initial five comic set, “Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines”, was a set of nine short stories, created with the help of Bob Gale (co-writer of the original trilogy). The prior column already looked at the first three stories, so let’s continue with another four. The sub-headers act as story titles.
A tale with art by Chris Madden. It’s September 1984, and Marty is hoping something in Doc’s lab could be used for his science project (it’s due the next day). Doc says Marty’s welcome to borrow anything, so Marty explores. It’s not until Einstein jumps on Doc, who then drops wire he was coiling, which falls onto the battery for Doc’s electric hoe, that Marty has something worthwhile – an electromagnet. No sooner has Marty headed out with those materials, then Doc gets a call. Someone was looking to sell a DeLorean in August for $4800, and Doc is interested.
This being the second story in issue two, it’s shorter, but part of the fun here is the details in the background (when drawn). For instance, you can see the yellow radiation suit and the plutonium case that turn up in the movie. Then there’s a large Neptune figure, calling back to the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, and Doc’s boxes are labelled “NOT radioactive” and “Probably Misc”. Doc also enters carrying a book by Jules Verne.
IN SEARCH OF CALVIN MARTY KLEIN
A tale with art by Corin Howell. Issue three opens with our 1800s framing device, Clara expressing annoyance that Emmett didn’t hear her calling out to him. Their sons are the same way, prompting Emmett to reflect back on a couple of other kids with issues. Namely George McFly and Lorraine Baines.
Cut to November 22, 1958. George arrives at Doc’s house, wanting to see Calvin Marty Klein. Doc claims his nephew (Marty) and his parents moved away after the dance, and he wonders why George isn’t off at college. George says that, despite him and Lorraine having a wedding set for 1960, he fears she’s lost interest in him. He came back for more of Marty’s advice. Doc tells George to wait in the house.
Doc heads to his garage, finding his device for reading thoughts, wondering if it could be used on Lorraine. This turns out not to be necessary when Lorraine arrives, also looking for Marty. She’s upset that George has been ignoring her, as he seems more interested in his science fiction stories and his growing ego, and so she was hoping to get advice too. Doc tells Lorraine to wait at the garage, and returns to the house.
There is a brief flashback scene between Doc and Marty, with Marty commenting on how his Dad let himself get pushed around. Doc thinks that George McFly has overcorrected, going beyond assertive towards being a self-important jerk. He suggests to George that they use a radio receiver so that he can feed George some lines when he’s talking to Lorraine – only to spot Lorraine at the window.
Doc chases Lorraine back to the garage, but George follows and barges in on them. He then falls into Doc’s “Static-o-matic Electric Hair Chair”. And once George’s hair is looking absurd, Lorraine sees that George can still laugh at himself, and he sees that she still cares about him. Doc ends up pleased that he didn’t prevent nature from taking it’s rightful course, and back in the 1800s, Clara has fixed what Doc was working on while he was telling this story.
A tale with art by Alan Robinson. We open here with some narrative captions reminding us of old Biff’s plans in 2015 (from the second movie), trailing off as Biff steals the DeLorean. He grumbles about not knowing how the time circuits work and punches at them with the fist on his cane. The time displacement activates, and the DeLorean ends up flying over the ocean. Worse, the Mr. Fusion chamber is showing that it needs power.
Biff sets the car down on the closest shore, but finds no low hanging branches to obtain organic fuel. There is a raptor though! Biff keeps his distance, cursing at it, getting upset when it reaches into the open DeLorean door and snatches the Sports Almanac, still inside it’s packaging. Biff chases the raptor in the flying DeLorean, whacking the dinosaur on the head with his cane, knocking it out.
With the Almanac retrieved, Biff sticks part of the raptor into the Mr. Fusion chamber for fuel, learns how to enter a date into the time circuits properly, and heads off to November 12, 1955. Making this another fun short story, with some actual time travel involved. (You simply need to suspend your disbelief, unless you believe Old Biff really is badass enough to knock out a raptor.)
A tale with art by Ryan Browne. Issue four again contains our framing device, as Doc of the 1800s is nearly finished with the time train, though he’s been keeping that fact hidden from Clara. Which reminds Doc of a time he kept something from Marty, bringing us to November 26th, 1984.
Marty has bumped into Jennifer in the school parking lot, when Needles interrupts them in his truck. Despite Jennifer turning down Needles’ offer of a ride, Marty feels like he’s not confident enough to be noticed by her, mentioning it to Doc that afternoon. Doc says not to worry about what other people think. (Here we see the thing Doc was keeping from Marty was the DeLorean, normally kept in his “secret workshop”, but which was in his garage lab that day.)
The next day, Marty again meets Jennifer, while playing “Wild Gunman”. Again, Needles interrupts, commenting how Marty sucks because he doesn’t have a car. Remembering some vehicle under a sheet in Doc’s lab, Marty returns there that night, only to have Needles and his gang show up, having followed Marty.
Marty prevents them from getting into Doc’s stuff, receiving a punch in the face for his efforts but ultimately subduing Needles with a Rube Goldberg device that dumps out a vat of red paint. When Doc shows up, the others go, Needles’ girlfriend referring to him as “Dougie”. Marty apologizes to Doc, Doc says Marty should just ask Jennifer out already, and we cut to Jennifer and Marty on a date at a Clint Eastwood movie.
As Doc finishes his story in the 1800s, Clara enters, remarking that it’s cute that Emmett thought he was keeping secrets. She knows the time train is almost ready, and wonders when they’ll be going back to the future.
Personally, I was more fond of the earlier tales, but there’s a lot to like in this set too. We get to see an “explanation” for where Marty disappeared to in 1955, a possible reason for why the time circuits started acting up more in the second movie (Biff punching the controls), and more of Marty’s life before 1985. There’s also more information about secondary characters, in particular Doc’s kids, while Needles gets a first name.
Doc’s second lab is an especially interesting detail. I remember reading an interview with Bob Gale, where he explained how it came about. They thought that if Doc built the DeLorean in the garage where Marty would visit, he would already know about it. Since he didn’t know, that implied a secondary workspace, a detail no one had asked about in the thirty years since the movie. And its existence becomes relevant as the comic continues its run beyond issue five.
Before we get there though, we’ll have another column concluding this run of short stories. So do you have a favourite out of this set? Either in terms of the plot or the different art styles? What do you think of adding elements such as these to the “Back to the Future” universe? Please do let me know, if you have the time.