Group Review – Back to the Future #1 (IDW Publishing)

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer(s): Bob Gale, John Barber, Erik Burnham
Artwork: Dan Schoening, Brent Schoonover
Release Date: 21st October, 2015

Kieran Says…

Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening’s Ghostbusters is a prime example of how to do a comic book series based on a beloved film franchise right; not only does it tie-in to events of the films, it also expands on them, making them essential reading for fans craving more from the universe. Much like Ghostbusters, the Back to the Future series is a timeless, cultural phenomenon with a rabid fan base hungry for more stories, yet prepared to chomp you to bits if you mess it up. However, with Burnham at the helm – along with John Barber (Transformers) and overseen by Bob Gale (who co-wrote BTTF), fans had every right to have high hopes for this series when it was announced earlier this year. And if the first issue of Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines is anything to go by, the series will prove to be a satisfying companion piece to the films.

Every issue is going to be an anthology, with two different stories set in separate timelines Marty McFly and Doc Brown have lived in. Gale has promised not to deviate from what has already been; instead the series will aim to fill in the blanks and address unanswered questions from the films, like how Doc and Marty met and how Doc’s house burned down, along with many more.

The first story, titled “When Marty Met Emmet’’ is pretty self-explanatory; fans have always wondered how the friendship of this odd pairing came to be in the first place. This story shows us how it happened and it’s as every bit as entertaining and satisfying as it had to be. The second story “Looking For a Few Good Scientists’’ transports us to the year 1943, where Doc is recruited to join a top secret military science organization known as The Manhattan Project. Here, we’re given a brief glimpse into what Doc’s life was like during World War II and a strong need to find out more about this mysterious group he joined.

Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines is off to a great start, answering a couple of questions fans in need of closure had to know, while laying the foundations for a new era of Back to the Future storytelling fans will be eager to explore. Furthermore, for those who haven’t seen the movies (presumably because they were living under a rock all their lives), it’s not so tied into its own mythology that the casual reader won’t be able to follow it. Although watching the movies wouldn’t hurt you either, if that’s the case.

Rating: 5/5.

John Says…

Are we going to go back in time and feel the power of love for this new first issue of Back to the Future or will the DeLorean be on the Night Train back to Mr Sandman quicker than you can say Great Scott?

Well, let’s have a look at its credentials. Bob Gale, writer of all three Back to the Future movies is on board as the story teller, and he intends to fill in the gaps rather than write Back to the Future 4. He’s backed up on the first story “When Marty Met Emmett” by John Barber, the Transformers scribe and Brent Schoonover, who has Batman 66 under his belt.

Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening, who are best known for their work at IDW on Ghostbusters are the scripter and artist helping Bob out on the second story in this issue “Looking for a Few Good Scientists”.

Let’s start at the beginning with “When Marty Met Emmett”. I decided to get a head start on this on the way home on the train, I was that excited. Excited because I was about to go visit with my old friends Marty and Doc. I was ready to pick up where we left off that last time we met watching the movie.

Except, I didn’t recognise them. This might just be my own personal bug bear but when you have characters that everyone knows and love who wear costumes, then the artist has some artistic licence with how their facial features can be a bit different because you will always recognise the character by the costume, right? Well Marty and Doc don’t wear costumes, so extra care should be taken to make my old friends look like my old friends. They don’t. Marty is now “generic kid with a skateboard” and Doc shocking white wig guy. The art is competent, but not instantly recognisable.

I finished the story, put the comic away and decided to read it again in more comfort, in case I was over tired or something. I wasn’t. Moving on from the art, this introductory story feels a little contrived, rushed even. The story could have done with some more space to breathe, to explore. I felt a little let down, and a tad concerned about the second tale in the comic “Looking for a Few Good Scientists”. I needn’t have been.

What struck me straight away about the second tale was the synergy between artist and writer, which is as it should be, considering the number of Ghostbuster comics they have produced together. Also, although we are dealing with a 40 year younger Doc Brown, his mania was instantly recognisable. The story itself is another first meeting, this time between Doc and another eminent atomic scientist of the forties. No spoilers here, but it looks like things could get explosive, and thankfully, I was drawn along by this story and I want to know what happens/happened next. After all isn’t that what first issues are supposed to do?

What struck me most about both of the stories, is how different the writing is. To me it feels as if Bob Gale has given a broad brush story line to both scripters and left them to get on with their interpretation, Erik Burnham more successfully than John Barber.

So, in all honesty I can only give “When Marty Met Emmett” a 2.5/5, the flux capacitor really didn’t get anywhere near the 1.21 gigawatts required to put some fire in the tyres.

Looking for a Few Good Scientists” is a different kettle of fish, being second in the book would point to it being a backup story, but this one really was the stand out for me. 4/5 and were almost at 88 miles an hour.

There is room for improvement and now that the awkward first date is out of the way, I have my fingers crossed that we can go on to better things.

Overall, I will round this opening effort out at a 3.5/5.

Rating: 3.5/5.

William Says…

Great Scott! This is a fantastic comic!

I’m sure everyone is familiar with Back to the Future, right? You know…Robert Zemeckis’ masterpiece from the 80’s which tells the story of a time travelling car, a teenager, a wacky scientist and his dog?  Well if you aren’t, then it doesn’t really matter. This story starts before the trilogy even took place, it’s sort of a Doc Brown prequel. This is probably the best place you could have started issue 1 due to the fact some people may not have seen the trilogy.

The story starts in the 1800’s when the Doc is telling his son that he has to get back to the future, but by doing this he gets into the main story of this issue through his narration. This tells me that this is most definitely a Doc Brown comic, which, with the films being so focused on Marty McFly is quite refreshing. Any Back to the Future fan should love this. It’s basically the origin story of how the Doc and our beloved Hero Marty met for the first time.

As a side note, when I’m reading the Doc I can’t help but hear it in the great Christopher Lloyd’s voice, it’s tantalising!

Okay, now I’ve finally geeked out, time to get to the formalities of things. Bob Gale, one of the creators of the trilogy is actually helping co-write the series alongside main writers; John Barber (Transformers) and Erik Burnham (Ghostbusters). Gale has strongly spoken out about him never wanting more BTTF movies whilst he’s alive, so we should be grateful we’re getting to return to this beloved universe in some other form.

The art by Brent Schoonover and Dan Schoening is a breath of fresh air.  With it being really colourful, every detail grabbed my attention. I also feel like the art team has left a couple of Easter eggs from the original trilogy, and there’s nothing better than an art team who wants to communicate with the reader.

Overall, this is a fantastic piece. Both stories about the Doc from different times in his life… yes, we see a young Doc Brown. I’m really excited to pick up #2 of this already. With a strong storytelling team and a writer from the original trilogy I feel like I’m jumping into the Delorean with the Doc himself and embarking on a time travelling adventure.

Rating: 5/5.

Andrew S Says…

This new Back to the Future comic series could have easily been a mini-series recounting the events of the films, but IDW are taking this timely opportunity to explore events which occur outside of the established canon or in entirely alternate timelines. Ever wanted to know how Marty and Doc actually met? Well now you can find out!

The first story, concerning how Marty and the Doc met, is a cute tale with basic but colourful and appropriate art, and its framing as a story Doc tells his sons as he builds a new flux capacitor highlights the respect he has for Marty. The story also highlights more of the problems Marty has with bullies, which are less apparent in the films, showing just how lonely Marty may have grown up if not for meeting the Doc.

The second story uses a much more exaggerated art-style, reminiscent of its IDW stablemate Ghostbusters. The art in this story perfectly captures the eccentric characterisation of Doc Brown, and the colour work helps to place in story firmly in a 40s timeframe. The first part in an ongoing series, “Looking for a few good scientists” is the stronger of the two stories, showing a young Doc Brown meeting his heroes and becoming a part of one of history’s greatest, and most infamous, scientific achievements. I suspect that this story will show us exactly how Dr Emmet L. Brown became the man we know from 1985.

Back to the Future #1 dodges the pitfalls of rote, uninspired tie-ins and delivers new, interesting canon to diehard Back to the Future fans.

Rating: 4/5.

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