Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines is not, as you might expect, a new adventure of Doc Brown and Marty McFly careening through time aboard a DeLorean and/or train. Instead, it’s an anthology of stories to fill in some of the cracks left by the movies themselves. The first – and most obviously necessary – story tells how Marty first met Doc Brown, as they are inexplicably close friends by the beginning of the first movie, and the series goes on from there.
Aside from the desire for more Back to the Future, the real attraction here is the involvement of Bob Gale, co-writer and co-producer of the three films. He’s credited with the story for each tale as well as the script in some cases (though often with a co-writer from the IDW stable). This lends the stories a certain amount of credibility for fans of the series that some other Back to the Future spin-offs over the years have lacked. Many of the stories feel like they could have been taken from the cutting room floor, so to speak, scenes written but ultimately judged not quite important enough to actually put in the movie.
The collection is overwhelmingly Doc-focused, as many of the stories are framed by his work on the time train he eventually uses to take his 1880s family to 1985 at the end of the trilogy, and though several are enlightening, some of the later ones feel a little frivolous, created solely to fill pages. And that’s maybe the hardest part of this book to like: it all feels genuine, but much of it feels relatively pointless. I would call the films some of my favorites of all time and am predisposed to revel in nerdy details, but even so many of the vignettes in this volume left me wishing for something a little more…uniquely Back to the Future.
The collected stories are good and the characters feel true to their film counterparts, and Back to the Future fans will no doubt find the details they add interesting at the least, but with no story of its own to speak of, it’s difficult to recommend to anyone but those staunchest of fans. Even then, it is hard not to want just a little more adventure, a few more near-paradoxes, probably another Tannen or two. Fans will find that this series has some nice moments, especially for Doc Brown, but it never quite achieves the flavor that has made Back to the Future such an enduring classic.