When the original Disney movie Tron arrived in theaters in 1982 it was a technological innovation. Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn and Bruce Boxleitner’s Tron, a user and a program, interract in a fully realized alternate universe after Flynn is sucked into his own computer system. Nearly thirty years later the Disney sequel Tron: Legacy revisited the computer world known as the Grid to show us what happened to Flynn and Tron.
But before the film’s release, Disney released a graphic novel in two parts that explains what happened between the two movies. And the result is actually better than what we saw onscreen in the movie sequel.
Tron: Betrayal, written by Jai Nitz, takes us to the world that we wished had made it to the screen. The graphic novel compilation includes a nice prologue to get the reader that missed the original film up to speed on the events of the original Tron film. This was enormously necessary because Disney failed to re-release a DVD version of the film in the months leading up to the release of Tron: Legacy. (A prior edition had been released more than a decade ago, but in classic Disney marketing style it had not been put back into release once it sold out).
Tron: Betrayal begins with Kevin Flynn revisiting the Grid. He works with Tron and begins building a new world, a “perfect world”. Flynn uses the same Tron movie laser technology to transport between realities, and in our world we learn his wife is pregnant with the son we will meet years later in Tron: Legacy. Lori, whose avatar was Yori in the original film, is still with Tron’s user, Alan.
Kevin is addicted to the Grid and subtley Nitz reveals a man who each day becomes more and more obsessed, a man who can hardly pay attention to his life in the real world, his wife, his new son, his business he is supposed to be running.
Flynn needs to be in two places at once. So he creates an avatar of himself to carry out his work on the Grid, called Clu. Clu works with Tron and his loyal assistant Shaddox, who points out that Clu is doing all the work, with little help from Flynn, the creator. And as a new pest called gridbugs infest the world, “life finds a way” (to quote Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park), and new gridpeople are spontaneously formed–isomorphs or “isos”–including a self aware female named Ophelia (in the film Tron: Legacy this would be revisited with the character Quorra). Flynn declares all isos are to be protected by Tron and Clu.
The key conflict becomes clearer, the same conflict that would be revealed in the new film: Clu, just like a computer program would react in the real world, does not know what to do when confronted with ambiguity as Clu is given seemingly inconsistent direction from Flynn. What is a perfect world?
In part 2, Flynn’s real life falls apart. He has a son, but his wife has died and he is left to raise son Sam with his other obligations still pressing in on him. His inlaws are there to help…but nothing works for Flynn. Here Jai Nitz has set up relationships and realities that, despite being a fantasy story about a guy who gets sucked into a video game, reflect modern pressures of life in a believable way.
Beyond the complex story of priorities, faith, and duty, Jeff Matsuda and Andie Tong’s artwork is excellent, all locked into this dark world inside the computer sphere. The cover by Jock is up to his typical cool style. Neon cycles, including Flynn’s superbly crafted white light cycle we barely see in the new film, are a great extension from the perfect cycles of the original film. It is here where the look is better than the final film, even though the final film looks great in its own right. What is certain is that this story would have made a better film, for several reasons.
First, this story includes the title character, Tron, in a key role. Tron: Legacy inexplicably barely used Tron, and when it did, we barely got to see the beloved actor Boxleitner be the Tron we loved in the original film. The movie is called Tron, right? Is Boxleitner’s fee greater than Academy Award winner Bridges? Also, this is the story that happened following the events of the original film and this is the story most fans would want to see. The Flynn of the new the film is washed up. He is past the character most fans would want to dig into. He is the Dude from The Big Lebowski right before he ODs. The new film was subtitled Legacy and it is about Flynn’s son Sam. Yet we as fans care for Kevin and Alan, the original characters that excited us. This story also allows a greater depth of character than we were shown in the movie.
With the graphic novel Tron: Betrayal we get to see what that more ideal film could have been. And that would have made a very cool movie.