Back in Time: The Unauthorized Back to the Future Chronology

A book review article by: Jamil Scalese


Yeah, that's Marty's catchphrase but it's also a description of this book. Exhaustive, though not exhausting, this impressive timeline compiles every single piece of mythology attributed to the Back to the Future franchise and tries to make temporal sense of it.

I love the Back the Future trilogy. I could ramble on about it for paragraphs (in fact, in "another possible timeline" aka a rough draft, I did). I saw the movies in the span of a few days in the 2nd grade and they left an imprint on me that remained through my high school and college years and into today. My first viewings where truly virginal, I had no clue the movies existed, and I've spent years chasing that irreplaceable sensation of a plot opening up in unknown directions. The adventures of a teenager, his genius best friend and a time-hopping DeLorean are dramatic, funny and most of all, astoundingly clever. I think that's what made me a lifelong fan, how all the films demand multiple re-watchings.

That's probably what prompted this endeavor by authors and assemblers Greg Mitchell and Rich Handley. There is more to the story than an aging popcorn flick. Back to the Future inspired a cartoon, a couple of comic book series, a few novels, a bunch of promotional tie-ins, commercials, and a friggin' fantastic video game by Telltale Games that you should play right now. Tab this review out and find a copy.

Mitchell and Handley combed through all of that media to trace the millions, possibly billions, of years traversed by Doc Brown, Marty McFly, Brown's wife or kids, and at least one time, David Spade. They do their best not to speculate too much, but note when they do. At times the reading gets a little confusing, with events winding around each other, sometimes in contradictory ways.

Images by Pat Carbajal help break up the columns of text. The drawings are mainly scenes from the movies, cartoons, etc, although there are attempts to re-imagine the iconic moments from new angles.  Cabajal has a classic style, like a pulp artist from the 50s, and it all fits in very well. The book could use a lot more visual aids to help mix up the reading but it had enough to suffice.

In a lot of ways BttF wrote the handbook on how to utilize time-travel in the most ingenious ways possible. The story is littered with alternate time lines, possible paradoxes and repeated references to the themes and motifs planted in earlier mythology. Back in Time does a great job of noting many of these patterns. One of the most remarkable things about the franchise is that for a story that crushes the boundaries of the fourth dimension, it has a smartly limited scope in regard to the first three. The fictitious Hill Valley receives its own section, as well as genealogies for all the prominent families of the town. The Tannen seed is noticeably impressive.

This guide's companion is A Matter of Time: The Unauthorized Back to the Future Lexicon, which is more of an itemized breakdown of characters, places, events and concepts. I imagine the overlap is large but I'm not at all qualified to say that because I haven't read it.

I found this to be a highly enjoyable read, a trip back to a period where the first sparks of my love for sci-fi and smart plotting erupted.  I would recommend the thorough and fun Back in Time: The Unauthorized Back to the Future Chronology to any hardcore fan.

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.

Community Discussion