“Party On, Dudes!”: A Bill & Ted Comics Retrospective, Part 1

Hello, my friends. We’ve reached a special anniversary that seems to have arrived at a most peculiar point in the space-time continuum. Though this media franchise has kept itself busy within other entertainment outlets (video games, an animated series and a short-lived live-action show), our favorite boys of San Dimas are primed for a silver-screen comeback in 2020. To celebrate this fascinating point, I’ll be giving a look back at the numerous journeys undertaken within the four-wall panels. As such, I welcome you all to..

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The concept’s humble origins date all the way back to its original creators when screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon came up with the characters for a stand-up comedy routine at their improv school as it was originally “Bill, Ted & Bob”, with the third character ultimately getting dropped within translation. There were also some initial ideas for the film that would end up on the cutting room floor, such as different historical figures (Charlemagne, Babe Ruth & even Adolf Hitler, the latter of whom was replaced by Napoleon), Rufus being a 28-year-old and even the featured time machine itself. Originally, it was going to be a 1969 Chevrolet van, but that was dropped since it would have followed a far-too familiar vibe to the DeLorean from “Back To The Future”. Instead, they went with a phone booth (obviously inspired by the Tardis from “Doctor Who”). With all of that out of the way, let’s begin our radical journey through this series.

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Originally released on February 17, 1989, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” went on to gross over $40 million in the U.S. against its $10 million budget and received fairly positive reviews as well. The original movie takes place in San Dimas, California in 1988 where a pair of young aspiring guitarists named William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq. (played by Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (played by Keanu Reeves) are failing their history class. If they receive anything less than an A+ on their final oral report, then they’ll flunk the course and Ted will get shipped off to a military school in Alaska. To the utopian society of 2688, it’s of the utmost importance that they stay together since they form the band Wyld Stallyns and it’s their music that helps bring about harmonal peace to the planet. As such, they’re assisted by Rufus (played by the late George Carlin) who gives them a time machine (shaped like a regular phone booth) so that they can gather several historical figures together in order to give the most epic final presentation ever.

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In 1989 and around the time that the movie came out on home video, DC made their lone contribution to the franchise & published an adaptation. Bob Rozakis handled the writing duties while Angelo Toreres took care of both pencils and inking with Barry Goldberg on colors. As for the changes the company made when translating it into a comic, here’s what I could find in terms of major differences.

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Immediately after the phone booth-sized time machine gets created in 2687 A.D. San Dimas, Rufus immediately embarks on his mission. In the movie however, he gives a quick narration from the year 2688 where Earth has become an absolute utopia before ultimately leading into our main plight. He would then begin his assignment just as our heroes are about to begin their vital studies.

After we meet our titular characters goofing around with their guitars, we get their last history class for the school year. The comic omits the tail end of the session where Bill & Ted give pitiful descriptions to their teacher Mr. Ryan about Napoleon and Joan of Arc respectively, two of several historical figures that were mentioned in that scene in which they would ultimately gather for their final oral presentation. It also omits Bill’s stepmom Missy Preston giving them a ride home, but that’s neither here-nor-there. Before I close on this part of the overall tale, I’d like to add that the moment when Bill & Ted finally make it back to their time period with their historical figures, they arrive in the backyard of the Preston household. It’s at that point in the comic that Missy makes her only appearance.

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Following the introduction of Ted’s father (S.D.P.D. Capt. Jonathan Logan), let’s quickly mention the scene where our boys are over at Bill’s house studying for their final history assignment. I noted two differences within the comic. 1. It did some condensing so that Ted tells Bill that they have to pass, or else he’ll get shipped to an Alaskan military school (Oats Military Academy to be exact) during this scene instead of the movie where he mentions it after getting his books from his house. 2. It’s Bill’s father who lets his son and Ted go on break in order to have some intimate alone time with Missy instead of the comic where Bill decides that they need a break.

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Over at the Circle K where our protagonists meet Rufus and cross paths with their future selves, there was something I noticed that was in the movie but not in the comic. In both versions of the scene, past Ted would get reminded by the later Ted to wind his watch, especially since Rufus later reminds them that time in their period will keep moving forward regardless of their travels (which the comic decided not to mention). This was actually an interesting rule for this movie’s take on time-travel, since it’s unique to its own mythos and I don’t recall any other time-travel story using this.

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Moving on, we get to Rufus demonstrating the time machine to our young lads. In the movie, he takes them to Austria in 1805 since the French army was in the middle of their invasion (which historically takes place during the tailend of the War of the Third Coalition), but the comic decided to keep making minor detail changes and make it France in 1804. Neither version of the story mentions this historical nod, but it is odd in this adaptation that Napoleon’s army would be fighting in their own country when they were over yonder and nearing the end of a successful war campaign.

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Sticking with the time travel for now, another alteration of details (in which the comic is just enjoying at this point) is when Bill, Ted, Billy the Kid and Socrates arrive in Medieval England. In the movie, they exclaim that it’s the 15th Century. Meanwhile, the comic locks it down to 1381. While that in-and-of itself is utterly bizarre, I guess I could buy it since I did some brief research and discovered that plate armor was used in the late 13th Century and would continue to be used for several centuries afterwards.

While we’re still on the subject of Medieval England, let’s get to our love interests and how Bill & Ted get to their initial meeting. The comic condenses this overall scene which was a major win in comparison with the movie. It has a simple “Shortly” caption and gets right to it, whereas the film has them sneaking around in armor (only to then have a pretend sword fight in the style of Star Wars), a fake-out death for Ted (coupled with a weak explanation & the fact that the movie couldn’t be bothered to show this miraculous escape) and a brief fight for Bill which ends with Ted saving him (less we forget that they actually call each other an unflattering f-word that’s not the familiar F-Bomb just because it’s two guys hugging each other despite the fact that Ted’s not dead). So yeah, absolute victory for the comic in this section. Getting back on track, the film gets to have Ted espouse his “message of love” to Princesses Elizabeth & Joanna while the comic doesn’t even bother to pay that part off. While this next detail is minor, I will mention that the princesses explaining their plight followed by our heroes getting captured stays out in the garden area while the movie placed this moment in an adjacent bedroom. Finally with regards to the escape, the comic has Bill briefly mentioning that he and Ted will return to rescue the princesses following their report. While they don’t mention it during their breakout, the film’s final scene does have a passing line from Ted in that they “looked all over England” for them. It’s two different ways to show that despite their circumstances at that moment, they did have a romantic interest in our princesses and they do end up with them courtesy of Rufus. Either way, it’s a long-winded showing of differences in that aspect.

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Following their eventual escape, let’s get to Bill & Ted arriving in the utopian future. I’m hesitant to bring a lot of blame upon the comic for this (especially due to the difference of mediums), but their encounter with the supreme beings (or as they’re credited: “The Three Most Important People in the World”) doesn’t have quite the same level of positive chills by comparison. Here, it’s an exchange of simple phrases. Meanwhile, the movie has our protagonists sharing those statements of peaceful wisdom to not only the supreme beings, but also a group of civilians after everyone unites in air guitar circle strokes while the Robbie Robb & Stevie Salas song “In Time” helps to bring in the uplifting vibes.

immediately ditching him soon afterwards, only for him to then get hassled by the owner for not paying, resulting in him getting comically thrown out where he would ultimately end up at the Water Loop water park (thus completing his personal experience of “modern day” San Dimas). In the movie, that gets placed after Bill & Ted have rounded up their historical figures before finding out that the time booth’s antenna is damaged (due to a pursuing knight managing to strike it with his mace), thus forcing them to stop over in prehistoric times in order to fix it with bubble gum (while the film saw them use that and some chocolate pudding cans).

After a brush with chores (which was condensed to a single panel), picking up Napoleon from the water park and the historical figures going on their own naive rampages throughout San Dimas Mall (also condensed to a single panel), we get back to another notable difference, considering how Bill & Ted find out about the majority of their historical figures getting arrested. While the comic shows Capt. Jonathan Logan partaking in the arrest while our protagonists look from afar before heading out to get them free, the film shows the figures getting arrested by mall security as Ted makes a passing comment on his dad arresting the noted figures. I would also like to note that during these moments, Bill & Ted are escorted by Missy and they leave her with Napoleon while they attempt to break the historical figures out, while the comic has the famed French leader over within the off-panel sidelines while our protagonists are running around on their feet. Seems like keeping Bill’s stepmom for this moment in the comic would have been less exhausting for them.

Following a condensed version of our heroes breaking their historical figures out of jail, let’s get to the main event: the Final History Report.  Sadly, this is where the truncating hurts the comic the most.  Here, the majority of the historical figures are simply introduced with the exception of Abraham Lincoln who gets to conclude the presentation with his famous “Party On, Dudes!” speech.  Meanwhile, the movie goes all out as Billy the Kid has to fire a shot at a stage light in order to get the crowd’s attention and introduce our heroes.  From there, the rest of the historical figures get to demonstrate their skills while historical facts and comedic reminders of their present day escapades are delivered.  During the presentation, Sigmund Freud’s own psychoanalysis on Ted gives some insight on Capt. Logan’s disapproval of his eldest son.  In the film (and not the comic), he explains that because of his own “fear of failure”, he ended up seeing Ted as a mass collection of his “deepest anxieties”, thus using his eldest son as the outlet for his “aggression transference”.  While it would have been nice for us to have seen some of those examples beyond an angered tone and generic fatherly platitudes, it does set up for some redemptive potential for Jonathan by the time we get to the sequel (which I’ll bring back up when we get there).

And now, the final scene where Bill & Ted are back at the Preston garage in Wyld Stallyns mode.  In the movie, it’s Ted that mentions that they got an A+ on their final presentation and that they need to actually start learning how to play their guitars.  Meanwhile, the comic had Mr. Ryan announce to our protagonists that they got an A+ upon their conclusion and even has Bill & Ted retreading some earlier dialogue from their introductory scene.  Maybe that was the comic’s way of interpreting Ted’s line about nothing really changing despite their grand venture.  When Rufus arrives with Elizabeth and Joanna, the comic doesn’t have the same detail from the film where there’s a mention of him rescuing the princesses and introducing them to our heroes’ time period.  Other than the minor moments where Rufus has all four of them sign an album they’ll eventually create, giving Bill & Ted new guitars for them to work with and even showing off a bit of his shredding guitar skills (all of which are exclusive to the movie and not shared with the comic, though they’re ultimately minor), that’s pretty much it for this inaugural entry.

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Overall, DC’s lone attempt at translating this Stephen Herek-directed sci-fi comedy may not have had the same impact as the film, but this was still a joy to read.  While the truncation of some scenes may have hurt it somewhat (with the obvious exception of Medieval England) and some details were left out or hindered, it still mostly follows the movie’s plot and has decent art work to boot.  If you’re a fan of the franchise or of its respective genres (or if it peaks your interest), then give this a read.  It’s a nice 32-page romp that has enough familiar moments to satisfy you and helps to bring some nice feelings from its source material.  Either way, it’s somewhat flawed but fun.

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Despite all of the twists and turns that our bodacious dudes have gone through in this lone entry, their venture is far from done.  Come back next time when the big red ‘M’ takes over and sends the San Dimas duo into a journey that’ll vary between heinous and non-heinous.  From there, they’ll get to experience many more travels across time & space with their own comic series.  Until then, may you always “Be Excellent To Each Other”.

Bill & Ted (created by Bill Matheson & Ed Solomon) is owned by Nelson Films and is distributed by MGM & Orion Pictures.

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