It’s time to conclude our look at IDW’s main Back to the Future (BTTF) comic book run, at least as far as their initial “Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines” is concerned. You might recall this involves a set of nine short stories, created with the help of Bob Gale (co-writer of the original trilogy), which were spread across five issues. A couple prior columns have looked at seven of those stories, so let’s finish with the last two, in issues four and five.
EMMETT BROWN VISITS THE FUTURE
A tale with art by Erik Evensen. We open with Doc recording an audio log, to tell of his first visit to the year 2015 (after leaving Marty at the end of the first movie). He arrives on August 8, 2015, and finding Hill Valley’s 1980s Car Expo, decides to enter his DeLorean. Doc wins first prize (despite his modifications), which is ten percent off a hover conversion. He wonders, where can he get the rest of the money?
Doc had brought along some silver dollars, but he is only offered $6300 for them. After what happened in 1962 (see “The Doc Who Never Was”) Doc isn’t going to sell the secret of time travel for cash, so he looks into material goods instead. In the process, he discovers the internet, and realizes the item which would be “the single greatest investment in the history of man”.
Still having plenty of plutonium, Doc travels back to April 18, 1938. He uses a silver dollar to make a purchase, before returning to the future. We now see a businessman laughing over having made “the deal of the century … a near mint ‘Action Comics #1’ ” for only 2.5 million dollars. (That’s the comic where Superman first appears.) Cut to Doc at the DeLorean, where he has another half dozen of said comic. Cut to Doc in his now hover-converted DeLorean, outfitted with a Mr. Fusion, ending the issue. Personally, I found this rather clever, promoting the value of comics in a comic.
A tale with art by Marcelo Ferreira. This final short story takes up the entirety of issue five, which you may recall is an extension of the four issue run that had been originally planned. We open with our framing device of being in the 1800s – except it’s no longer a framing device. It’s June 12, 1893, and Doc’s time train is complete.
Clara wonders if their fifty yards of track is enough (again, recall “The Doc Who Never Was” for laying track), and Doc counters that he’s refined the Presto Logs. He adds that this short track is aligned with a railway that exists in 1985. They start to blast away, and there are some narration boxes – from Clara. She feels that to understand her feelings here, it’s time we saw her side of the story.
Clara was born October 25th, 1855, in New Jersey, to Martha and Daniel Clayton. She took after her mother, a frontierswoman, which she suspects convinced her parents one child was more than enough to handle. At eleven, when she contracted diphtheria, her father bought her a telescope. With outer space being “a frontier uncrossed”, she looked more into the cosmos, discovering Jules Verne.
Clara was never keen on relationships, feeling they had a foundation in half truths, and her unmarried lifestyle leant itself to the profession of schoolteacher. Her father died in 1879, her mother in 1884, and so Clara decided to head west, hearing of a teaching job in Hill Valley, California. That’s where she met Emmett Brown, a kindred soul, who understood her feelings of being born to the wrong time.
After the events of the third movie, Clara wondered, what if she had been born in Emmett’s era? Would her interests have been encouraged by society? An unspecified time after Marty’s departure from 1885, we see Clara ask Emmett whether he misses exploring the universe. He counters that it wasn’t all fun and adventure, finally telling her the story of his trip with Marty to 2015. And how time travel was used without his knowledge, by Biff, and what 1985 looked like when they came back. But there’s more.
DOC’S TEMPORAL TALE
Still within Clara’s story, Emmett tells her that after he broke into the library to raid the newspaper archive, and learned he’d been committed to an asylum, he went to visit his other self. (Unconventional, but I suppose by then we know Jennifer had seen herself without unravelling all of space and time.) Emmett told the orderly his name was Von Braun, offered a bunch of money, and got five minutes with alt-Doc. At first, we only see this other version in shadow, or from the back.
Emmett reasons aloud that being committed before completing a fully functional version of the time machine initiates a paradox. Because this world couldn’t exist without there being time travel. And now when things try to correct themselves, the DeLorean could disappear. Hoping for insight, Emmett reaches out for alt-Doc – and now we see this alt-Doc has been lobotomized. (Which I’ll point out is a difference from the “Biff to the Future” comic. Alternate timelines.)
Horrified, Doc heads out to find Marty. He hopes that they can correct things before the bubble of protection they’re in, owing to the timeline they had come from, bursts. Which (as we know from the second movie) they were successful in doing. Emmett concludes his story by saying that being with Clara is, for him, perfection. She responds that she is now with child.
After the birth of their sons, Clara loved being part of a family, but she also longed to see other places and other times. She tried to hide it, knowing Emmett’s concerns. But, when Doc suggested taking her back to the future for a visit, she was ecstatic. And now, as per the start of the comic, they are departing… except the train crashes. No time travel. Emmett doesn’t understand what went wrong.
Emmett briefly considers that he could stay in the old west happily forever. But Clara now says that she could not. Her dream is to see the future. Emmett decides that’s “our dream”, with their sons agreeing too, after all the stories they had been told. Meaning all that’s left is for Emmett to figure out how to do it – and seeing a man on a “serpollet steam tricycle” (imported from France) gives the scientist some food for thought. Which ends the fifth issue with the usual “To Be Continued”.
Adding Clara’s backstory to this set of issues was an excellent idea. After all, in the third movie, she is as much of a main character as Doc and Marty. So if we’re going to see how Marty and Doc met in this run of comics, why not more about Clara? The conclusion also makes me wonder, if the series hadn’t been picked up, would the train simply have vanished into the future, ending the run?
Other tidbits covered above include Doc somehow having enough money in 2015 for his hover conversion, face lift, and the briefcase full of money from other time periods (seen in the second movie). So much for compound interest – it was comic books. I’m less sure of the tale of Doc visiting himself, partly due to the horror factor (which felt out of place) and partly due to Doc’s usual insistence that they not interact with their other selves. All I can think is Clara would need a reason that dire to set aside her interest in time travel for a while.
But what did you think of these “Untold Tales”? Either the ones here specifically, or from anywhere in the first five issues. Do you have an opinion as to how Clara’s history unfolded? Did they miss anything about time travel that you’d hoped to see? Do you have any expectations about what comes after this, in the extended story arcs? (Assuming you don’t already know.) Thanks for reading, and please do let me know, if you have the time.