Take your non-dominant hand and place it in the center of your chest. Now take your dominant hand and hold it up and away from you at about head-height. Now smile, half-close your eyes and say with youthful optimism and no plan for the future “Be excellent to each other.” If this is something you’ve never done before, then I sincerely apologize for the wrong turn your life has taken, but don’t fret. Simply visit a DVD store (if they still exist) or go to a download site or ebay, search for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and its sequel Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and set your life straight by watching them that evening.
Hailed as one of cinema’s best cult classics, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released in 1989, and was the debut of the characters Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves respectively. The movie was followed by Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey in 1991, with the actors reprising their roles. The movies are so popular, that numerous comics, TV shows and video games have been released, effectively turning Bill and Ted into its own expanded universe. Bill and Ted’s Most Triumphant Return was a series of comics released in late 2015, which followed on directly from the second film Bogus Journey. With continuation being a key selling point in comics, BOOM! Studios have sought out the extension of the Bill and Ted franchise, in the form of a new 4-part mini-series, Bill and Ted go to Hell.
The comic opens in Death’s domain. As the Reaper himself plays a 1-man game of connect four and finally discovers the secret to winning (a gag which long-time fans of the franchise will appreciate), Death is suddenly ambushed and kidnapped. While rehearsing in Bill’s father’s garage, the Bill, Ted and their wives are attacked by “Hell-Dude Colonel Oates” and upon realizing that the Reaper is late for practice, decide that they have to rescue their pale friend.
Sporting good, simple art which is easy to read and follow, Bill and Ted go to Hell #1 is a joy to read. The art blends well with the fantastical characteristics that Bill and Ted stories are known for, and matches the simplistic personalities of the titular characters. It’s well drawn, and the colors are solid, making the comic flow together seamlessly.
Aside from a slightly weak opening the writing is spot-on. For anyone who doesn’t know, Death was portrayed with a Russian accent in Bogus Journey, but was fluent in english and never made a grammatical error. The opening where Death wins against himself and raises his arms claiming to have made “the Connection Four” feels a little like the writer (Brian Jones) was forcing Death’s foreign accent on the reader a bit, making Death’s dialogue feel un-natural, especially to an old fan of the franchise like me. However, this is basically where the complaints end. Aside from few other instances like this where characters seem to speak ever so slightly out of character, the writing is excellent, and replicates the Bill and Ted ambiance near perfectly.
The story itself is great. What stops spin-offs becoming successful is that they so often lack original thinking, and merely treat fans like sheep to the feeding trough. However Bill and Ted go to Hell makes the best of the old “Kidnap and Rescue” story, by blending the characters’ universe with the afterlife as written in Bogus Journey and with the time travel of Excellent Adventure. And while the plot archetype may have been seen before, it’s treatment within this story is so immersive it’s easy to forget any other you might have seen before it. Not only that, but the story pays homage to the two movies in the Bill and Ted franchise, without directly stealing from them. It doesn’t feel recycled, so much as referenced, which gives the comic a lot of credibility.
The jokes are funny, really funny. Bill and Ted fans will appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the old films, and newcomers will enjoy Jones’ comedic tone and phrasing. Bill and Ted are known for the wacky and out-there, and the jokes that frequently come include puns, one-liners, references to the films, and a particularly enjoyable joke that makes use of a Dragonforce song title that helps Bill describe Hell as “Metal”.
And through all this praise, Bill and Ted go to Hell isn’t perfect. Like I said there are a few times where characters appear to speak out of character, which can occasionally disrupt continuity. However there are two plot holes which, to a fan, are a slight annoyance. Firstly, while in Death’s home Bill and Ted are attacked by the hellish incarnation of their high-school principal who claims they failed history, but the entire plot of the first film was that Bill and Ted didn’t fail history, and could thus start their band Wyld Stallyns. The second plot-hole occurs when Ted is about to call the duo’s old friend Rufus, only for him to appear at the door claiming “at some point in the future you call me asking me to meet you at this time and location.”, however he doesn’t know what for, while in the movies Rufus has known exactly what will happen in the boys’ futures. However these mild complaints are the nit-picking of an old fan, and otherwise Bill and Ted go to Hell is a masterpiece of a spin-off which has the unique ability to allow fans to read the comic in the voices of the characters, and these small issues will be nothing to newcomers.
I’ve been a fan of Bill and Ted since I was young, and knowing that there’s comics of the franchise (and possibly a third movie on the way) made me jump for joy, especially when I was tasked with reviewing the new mini-series from one of my favorite publishers. A magnificent comic, that builds on the original world and doesn’t talk down to newcomers to the Bill and Ted mythos. 3.5 out of 5 stars.