Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tron: Betrayal Might Set Up Tron: Legacy, But It's Not Great Reading!

The Good: Story development, Moments of character, Coloring
The Bad: Basic art, Light on character development, Repetitive, Development art section.
The Basics: With mediocre-at-best artwork, Tron: Betrayal is a cashgrab that might fill-in-the-blanks, but it does little else.

With Tron rapidly becoming a franchise – the original film has blossomed out into a popular and successful video game and a new sequel film – it is little surprise to those of us who follow the Industry that Tron would have a graphic novel prequel to the new film. So, before one goes to see Tron: Legacy, viewers are encouraged to pick up and read Tron: Betrayal. Tron: Betrayal is a brief graphic novel – with only a prologue, two chapters and an epilogue “novel” is a generous label for the short comic book anthology that Tron: Betrayal is. Tron: Betrayal follows in the footsteps of virtually every other major franchise with a film where a comic book collection is used to lead into the actual film.

Tron: Betrayal was written by Jai Nitz and features artwork by Jeff Matsuda and Andie Toug. I suspect none of them are claiming this is their magnum opus. Tron: Betrayal, put out by Disney, seems particularly exploitative of the reader/viewer base and even as I prepare to go out to the theater to take in Tron: Legacy (click here for that review!), I have serious doubts that the book presented anything that is indispensable to the film that will not be adequately presented in the new movie. In fact, the graphic novel is fine even for those who have not seen Tron (reviewed here!) as the prologue is essentially a retelling of the first movie.

After Dumont from Tron recounts the critical plot points of Tron, Chapter 1 continues the story. Having left the virtual world of the Encom computers, in 1983, Flynn learns how to jack himself in and out of the virtual world of the video games. As the new CEO of Encom, Flynn is incredibly successful and the business is growing, despite some technological wrinkles Encom is having dealing with some foreign countries. Flynn falls in love with Jordan Canas and he gets her pregnant. Flynn’s virtual self, Clu, works with Tron inside the system on security. And while Flynn juggles the business pressures of the job with innovating new technologies and his relationship with Jordan, Clu becomes far more powerful than expected inside the grid.

Following Jordan’s death, though, Flynn becomes despondent. While Flynn tries to raise his son Sam, Clu becomes more aggressive with trying to change the system from the inside. Isolated programs, ones not created by Flynn, become hunted by Clu and while Flynn – when he jacks in – recognizes that Clu has become more vicious, he is unwilling to force Clu to change. With Flynn becoming less attentive to Sam and the virtual world, Clu and Tron square off and Tron fights to protect the ISOs from derezzing. And Clu sets out to make the perfect system within the Encom grid.

Tron: Betrayal, like Tron itself, would probably seem a lot more audacious were it now for The Matrix as those films popularized a whole genre. Cyberpunk philosophies were no longer completely alien concepts to the mass public. So the idea of Flynn moving in and out of the Encom matrix is not a radical idea. Moreover, the idea that his avatar, Clu, might develop independently of his own wishes is hardly a radical idea.

What the book does fairly well is that it makes at least a passing attempt to develop the characters. While the moment Jordan’s pregnancy comes up, I was easily able to figure that Flynn’s character arc would be her death and the struggle of raising Sam alone, the idea that such a powerful distraction was what allowed Clu to come to power makes some sense and is enjoyable.

Similarly, the progression of Clu works for the most part. Clu starts out as a virtual Flynn and the ultimate good within the system, working with Tron – the “Spartacus” of the first film – to stop the malignant programs of Master Control. But as Flynn becomes lost, Clu becomes ambitious from his original programming and a caste system develops. So when his attempts to stop ISOs leads to gladitorial games where the punishment is derezzing – destruction of the computer code and “death” of the program – Tron tries to reason with Clu. But the conflicts that come up then seem very predictable and the Encom system is basically a metaphor for virtually every totalitarian regime and it is less audacious than one might hope.

Tron: Betrayal is further hampered by awkward artwork. There are panels where Tron looks nothing like Bruce Boxleitner and others where Clu looks nothing like Jeff Bridges. On some of the close ups, Clu and Flynn look good, but during many of the action shots, Clu and Tron are virtually interchangeable. The book is capped off by a disappointing and underwhelming development art section which features only one or two sketches of Tron and Flynn as well as technological constructs within the grid, like the sentinel vehicles.

Ultimately, the story is good enough to read once, but Tron: Betrayal is hardly worth buying, even for those who want to go into Tron: Legacy fully prepared. While the progression of Flynn and Clu might be lacking from the new film, the book at least makes a passing attempt to connect the original movie with the new one. Unfortunately, the style brings the book down some and the predictability also makes it tough to want to invest in.

For other graphic novel reviews tied in to popular movies, please check out:
Star Trek: Spock – Reflections
The A-Team: War Stories
Heroes – Volume 2


For other graphic novel and book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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