Tron: Betrayal

Tron: BetrayalOrder this bookStory: In 1983, after his nearly miraculous experience on the MCP’s game grid in the ENCOM mainframe, Kevin Flynn creates his own experimental computer system on a computer in the basement of his arcade. With ENCOM’s systems secured from further interference by the MCP, Flynn borrows Alan Bradley’s Tron security program to help keep an eye on the new system. But real world concerns – his duties as the new CEO of ENCOM, his marriage and impending fatherhood – prevent Flynn from devoting the time to the digital world that he would like. His answer is to recreate Clu, another program that originated in the MCP’s system, to act as his deputy in the digital world. But Flynn, Clu and Tron are caught off-guard by a new development on the grid: the emergence of isomorphic algorithms, a new digital life form that Flynn neither created nor anticipated. Flynn sees the advanced society of the isos as a source of inspiration for the solutions to problems of the real world, but Clu sees them as the nexus of expanding disorder within “his” system and decides to take action.

Review: Building on a flashback info-dump from the movie Tron Legacy, “Tron: Betrayal” is a neat piece of connecting tissue bridging the new movie and its 1982 inspiration, but frustratingly, this spinoff project suffers from a specific storytelling problem that also stuck out like a sore thumb on film.

The artwork, first off, is so impressive that it takes one a moment to even notice any story issues. There are times when I almost miss old-school coloring, but this is Tron – you practically need the ability to do a diffuse glow around the characters’ digital world body armor circuitry to do it justice and make it looks anything like the filmed source material. The book is dazzlingly colorful, and really, it should be. The artwork hits it out of the park without dead-on likenesses of the main characters. Liberties have to be taken to differentiate Flynn from Clu, and it doesn’t distract me that we’re not getting photorealistic images of Jeff Bridges in the process. (There are enough people arguing that even the movie doesn’t accomplish this perfectly, so I figure the comic gets a free pass.) But even Flynn undergoes a transformation, from cocksure pioneer of a new world to haggard single parent, in the course of the story.

Longtime Tron fans will find much to groove on here: appearances by Alan Bradley and his girlfriend Lora from the first movie, plenty of center-stage action for Tron himself, and even the grid bugs put in an appearance. We also get glipses of Sam Flynn’s early life, his dad’s resignation from ENCOM, and further hints at the fate of Flynn’s wife (known only to be deceased from the “news report” montage at the beginning of Tron Legacy). “Tron: Betrayal” really fills in the blanks in a way that’s consistent with both movies.

Ironically, “Betrayal”‘s Achilles’ heel is the same as Tron Legacy‘s: the isos. Again, what makes these new denizens of the digital world such a big deal, aside from their seemingly spontaneous creation, is left terribly vague. Indeed, the graphic novel’s story handles them in such a way that they’re not entirely sympathetic, with (slightly heavy-handed) mentions of terrorism along the way. That makes the vagueness even more troubling: what benefit was the real world supposed to get from the isos, an what was the price tag going to be for all involved?

What “Betrayal”gets wonderfully right, however, is a theme that was all over the original Tron and was nearly absent in Legacy: the metaphysical/religious angle of users-as-gods, and the uncomfortable position of Clu as being made, more or less, in the image of his creator. Not just the vague “well, the same body outline, anyway” conceit of Christianity, either: Clu is made in the exact image of the creator of the new digital world, presenting him with unique issues which eventually manifest themselves as a dangerous grab for power.

Having hit the stands in two issues prior to the movie, “Betrayal” is a neat spinoff in that it doesn’t spoil Tron Legacy at all. It hints at the movie’s flashback to Clu’s violent takeover from Flynn and Tron, but it doesn’t replay it for the reader, and instead it jumps beyond that flashback to show vague hints of the aftermath – hints that don’t fully become clear until the movie’s been seen. Nice touch.

It’s a gorgeous book, and the same team has done an official comic adaptation of the original Tron; go ahead and sign me up for that one on the strength of “Betrayal.”

Year: 2010
Writer: Jai Nitz
Plot: Starlight Runner Entertainment
Pencils: Andie Tong
Lettering: John J. Hill
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Cover Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D’Armata
Book Design: Jeff Powell
Publisher: Disney Press
Pages: 128