Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventures
By Evan Dorkin
Published by Amaze Ink; $13.95
Bill and Ted are dead. Well, they were, at least until Evan Dorkin, comics' leading humorist and one of my all-time favorites, sent them spiraling back to earth from the depths of hell. This is the premise of the duo's second film, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, but it is a basic history of the characters as well. After two somewhat fondly remembered films, the aforementioned Bogus Journey and the earlier Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted seemed to have little hope for a further legacy, languishing in an acknowledged yet rarely mentioned drawer of pop culture lore. But recently, Slave Labor Graphics, under the guise of their younger skewing imprint Amaze Ink, have re-released the forgotten comic book adaptation of Bogus Journey, and the subsequent ten issue mini-series, all written and drawn by Eisner award winning cartoonist Evan Dorkin. Do Eisner credentials, time traveling hijinks, and Keanu Reeves make a heavenly comic treat? Not quite.
The first volume of Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventures begins with the initial adaptation of Bogus Journey, and continues with the first four issues of the series. The adaptation is pretty straightforward, sticking strictly to the film. There were a few moments that made me laugh that I don't remember from the film, but not a whole lot of new. But, it's hard to expect big fun and surprises from an adaptation, as it is the nature of these beasts, regardless of the medium, to limit the creativity of the author. The art's good as well, with some truly funny drawings, but lacks compared to the other work Dorkin was doing at the time. I happened to pick up the original printing of this adaptation at a swap meet a few years ago, and the best part about it was seeing Dorkin's art in full color, which is a something of a rarity. Unfortunately, the Amaze Ink reprints are in black and white, with gray tones to show where the colors should have been. Dorkin typically draws in black and white, and his pages are full of thick black lines and tiny little details that assault the eyes, but here his drawings are more open, simpler, and used to be more colorful. This is the first time I've seen his art inked by someone other than himself, done here most notably by Stephen DeStefano and Marie Severin , who trade off duties for the series, but I definitely prefer his solo stuff.
As the adaptation ends and the actual series begins, the stories become more fun and the art improves as well, coming closer to Dorkin's usual standard. Working firmly within the boundaries established by the two films, he has a sort of blank slate to work with, at least with the personalities of the characters and the types of stories he can do. Bill and Ted are two vessels for the same mind; two characters that exist as separate entities only to have humorous back and forths and point out plot elements to each other and the audience. The two slackers, who are destined to change the world through their trite, uninspired rock music, have exciting, silly and poorly researched adventures through time and space. But that's all part of the fun, both of the movies and the comic.
It's not enough fun, however. The book is head and shoulders above what it should be, as a comic book based on a film of dubious merits, but Dorkin doesn't go as absolutely nuts as I would have hoped. There are definitely some great gags, reminiscent of some of the funnier pages from Dork, but a lot of the jokes are better in concept than in execution. While it isn't terribly funny, it isn't terribly unfunny, and the art, even its lesser state, still carries many of the jokes, getting away with things that wouldn't work if attempted by a lesser cartoonist.
Dorkin was given an interesting status quo to work with, as the Bogus Journey adaptation ends with Bill and Ted married and newly fathers, seemingly concluding their adventures. Dorkin takes this premise, which would not seem to be an ideal one for a comic aimed at kids, and successfully ignores any and all possibility of character development for the two protagonists, which is the right thing to do for this type book. The families come and go as needed, as do the other characters, and besides Bill and Ted's almost iconic personalities, there is nothing else resembling a status quo, which gives the stories a kind of anything goes aura; high adventure anchored by the simplistic Bill and Ted. There is even an extremely surreal sub-plot introduced, hopefully developed in the second volume, involving a little parking meter fellow named Time Thumb who is constantly trying to serve the duo a cosmic summons.
One thing that I wonder though, what is the intended audience for this book? Surely there is no nostalgiac (or any other type) demand for Bill and Ted products almost fifteen years after their last film was made. And I assume that kids these dayswould hardly be interested in this duo who parody a vapid cultural era that was before their time. Admittedly, I was interested enough in the book to buy it and even anticipate its release, but I am a huge Evan Dorkin fan, and this is certainly not his strongest work. I guess it serves some type of historical curiosity, and while I'm grateful that I'm finally able to read, I question the logic in bringing it back.
P.S. If you can get past the outrageous swearing, I would recommend Dorkin's Milk and Cheese trade as the perfect book for older kids and pre-teens.
-- Jef Harmatz
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