Originally published on Set The Tape
Anyone familiar with Back To The Future will remember the alternate timeline from the second movie, the one where Biff Tannen has been given a sports almanac from the future and has built a business and gambling empire. It’s one of the darker moments of the whole Back To The Future trilogy, one that is only explored in brief snippets through pieces of dialogue and displays in the Biff Tannen Museum.
Back To The Future: Biff To The Future explores the events of this timeline, it shows us how Biff went from being an idiot high school bully to an idiot billionaire bully. Thanks to being co-written by Bob Gale, the co-creator and co-writer of the Back To The Future films, this doesn’t feel like some writers version of events, but the actual true events of that timeline from the series creator.
The book is split into several chapters, each one exploring a different aspect of Biff’s history, of his development into the monster that we saw in the film. This structure allows the writer to skip across decades to focus on the important points in Biff’s story, to showcase the highlights that are the most important.
The first chapter actually follows the old Biff from the future, the one who traveled back in time to give his younger self the almanac. The shortest chapter in the book, it’s also one of the wackiest, as we discover that old Biff accidentally traveled back to the Jurassic Period before getting the DeLorean back to 1955. Not a great deal happens, other than a raptor stealing the book and getting promptly hit over the head with a cane by Biff, but it’s a silly little excursion that adds a little extra spice to proceedings.
From here we jump to 1955, where we get to see Biff discovering that the book actually works, and making his first win using it. This chapter gives us a good look into Biff’s home life, and the grandmother that raised him. Anyone hoping that Biff may have just been one bad apple and that his grandmother was a nice old lady are in for a rude awakening as we see that she’s even worse than Biff. With a series of escalating events getting further and further out of the young Biff’s control he ends up with his grandmother dead, killing someone, and learning that he has to be sneakier with the almanac.
This is the start of Biff’s descent into being more than just a high school bully, as he learns that there are worse people in the world than himself, that he is capable of not just murder, but covering up that murder, and most importantly, that you can get away with a lot of things with enough money. The next jump sees Biff having made millions from his gambling and trying his hand at branching out into Hollywood, starting up a film studio with a very, very shady producer/director Bernie Kessoff. Whilst Biff funds the films Bernie spends the money on himself, drawing out the process and using Biff’s stupidity against him in order to get more and more money.
By the end of this chapter Biff has cottoned on to Bernie’s ploy and manipulates into getting the man killed by mobsters after deciding that Hollywood isn’t the place for him. This chapter is actually a lot of fun, and manages to get a load of cameo appearances in, including Charlton Heston, Marilyn Monroe, and even John Wayne (who gets to knock Biff out in one punch). Thanks to the fabulous artwork it’s easy to tell who each of these characters are, especially as not all of the cameos are named.
After leaving Hollywood, the action jumps forward again as Biff returns to Hill Valley. In this chapter we see him begin to make connections in the government, build up a business empire, and take over the town. At first Biff appears to be doing good around the town, but it’s soon clear that his actions have a very ulterior motive, and that he’s willing to throw families out of their homes, burn down a school, and even murder George Mcfly.
This is possibly one of the darkest chapters in the book, not least because it shows the murder of George McFLy, an event mentioned numerous times in the second film. It shows a very cold and calculating side to Biff, one where he slowly lures George in over months, making him believe that he’s going to be meeting with an informant that can help topple Biff. It shows that Biff, whilst an idiot, is not always stupid, and is willing to use his meager intellect to very evil gains.
From here we see Lorraine McFLy finally give in to Biff and agree to marry him in order to help the remaining family that she has. The scene where she gives in to Biff is particularly sad, as we can see a woman who was so strong up to this point finally broken, completely given up with no other way to help her family. This chapter sees Biff begin to make an inroads in Washington, and to make a friendship with President Nixon. When Biff buys the Washington Post in order to screw over a resident of Hill Valley, turning the publication into the Biffington Post, he fires a pair of journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two men responsible for breaking Watergate.
With the scandal no longer coming out to the public, and Biff using his money to help influence and pay off certain politicians, he and Nixon manage to change the 22nd Amendment, allowing Nixon to run for more than two terms. As a thank you Nixon legalises gambling in Hill Valley, letting Biff build the empire that we see in the second film. The small resistance of people in town that want to take down Biff, including Pricipal Strickland and Goldie Wilson, are joined by Doc Brown, who has made a time machine out of an old refrigerator so that they can change history to stop Biff.
This is one of the most fun chapters in the book, watching these characters trying time travel for the first time in an attempt to make things better for themselves. AS to be expected, this doesn’t go well at all, and ends up with Biff in possession of the time machine (though he doesn’t know what it is) and Doc Brown committed to a mental institution.
With events now at the point where the Marty from the original timeline would normally come back, we get to see what would play out in this timeline if he didn’t. With Biff figuring out that Doc Brown has built a time machine, and wanting to use it to help his chances at running for President, he forces Doc Brown to prepare the machine to travel into the future by threatening to kill the McFLy family.
Intending to travel to the future and obtain information on the stock markets, allowing himself to be a ‘legitimate’ businessman, Biff steps into the time machine, but ends up back in 1885 and face to face with his ancestor Mad Dog Tannen, who promptly shoots and kills Biff. With Biff dead, and Lorraine inheriting his empire, the McFly family, Doc Brown, and those who had been working to stop Biff, try to rebuild their town.
Back To The Future: Biff To The Future offers a very interesting look into this alternate timeline, one that answers a lot of questions, fills in a number of gaps, and actually manages to tell a very good alternate history story. I wasn’t expecting the final chapter to include the conclusion of that Biff’s story as if the real timeline’s Marty never appeared, but it was an interesting addition that at least showed that Biff was eventually due to get what was coming to him.
The only drawback for the book is the time in which it’s been made. With an idiot businessman who hates people different from him in a position of power, reading a fictitious story of someone very much like him can kind of bring the mood down a little as you realise reality is almost as ridiculous and depressing (no points for guessing who I’m talking about).
Other than that, the book is great, with top notch writing and great art throughout, telling an intriguing and entertaining story that adds a lot of the mythology of the Back To The Future franchise.
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