What was to be the final issue of a miniseries is now the latest installment in an ongoing, as — like time itself — the “Back to the Future” comic moves ever forward. John Barber, Bob Gale and Erik Burnham’s “Back to the Future” #5 features the origin of Clara, the schoolteacher Doc Emmett Brown settled down with in the late 19th century. The writers establish both some welcome and not-so-welcome revelations about Emmett and Clara, while artist Marcelo Ferreira draws the couple, their two boys and Old West Hill Valley with a kind of whimsical flair that fits the era and the good-natured personas of the characters.
As drawn by Ferreira, the Brown clan is wide-eyed with wonder and smiling with excitement about the possibilities of the future, the perfect mood for a time period and a set of characters who look to the future with anticipation. Ferreira and colorist Diego Rodriguez capture the period nicely, right down to the fashions as well as Emmett’s Jules Verne-inspired gadgetry within his Old West-era time machine. As the family seeks to make its journey a century into the future, Barber and Burnham hand the story off to Clara, providing a first-person account of her upbringing and interests. Her dialogue is faithful to the widely perceived sound of the era, only adding to the period feel already established.
The writers put forth Clara’s fascination with science and science fiction, and — in doing so — provide a perfectly logical and satisfying explanation for her fondness for Emmett. The developing romance shown in the third film was believable enough on its own, but the writing team’s exploration only further solidifies that believability, also establishing a reason why Clara became a schoolteacher. Her fascination with the possibilities of science presents a curious dichotomy with Emmett, a scientist who’s all too content to forego adventure and live a quiet live in a simpler time. The conflict is a natural extension of their relationship and is compellingly explored. It is also brought to a satisfying resolution and provides an explanation as to why Emmett would ever bring his time-displaced family to the present in the first place.
Like Emmett’s first attempt to get back to the present, the writers derail their own story with a distracting flashback-within-a-flashback, where Emmett relates to Clara his distressing experiences shown in “Back to the Future Part II” as well as a newly-revealed encounter with a familiar yet disturbingly changed character. The first part of Emmett’s flashback is an unnecessary recap of his role in that film, but the new revelation puts an even darker spin on that already dark film and stands as an unwelcome contrast to the previous and much more lighthearted part of the story. Ferreira’s art doesn’t work so well here, either, as it’s much better acclimated to the optimistic vibe of the late 19th century than the altered Biff Tannen version of 1985.
The above flashback manufactures a sense of discontent in Emmett that wasn’t evident in the films or even in this series and isn’t necessary in establishing his unwillingness to return to the 20th century. This plot point only establishes questions and contradictions where there were none, at least not without some degree of thought, and then the answers to these questions are glossed over. This is just as well, as further examination would only have further brought down the story and mired it in the headache-inducing notion of time paradoxes that the films so succinctly danced around.
The writers somewhat right the ship before wrapping up the story, and even provide a bit of a surprise to its resolution. Despite a long divergence from what otherwise works fine as Clara’s story, “Back to the Future” #5 is still a fun entry in the series as well as a fun extension of the films.