For Kevin Flynn - the heroic hacker played by Jeff Bridge's in Disney's 1982 cult classic film "TRON" - the descent into the virtual world of the Master Control Program started simply as a game, but in the 28 years since that movie's debut, "TRON" has grown into much, much more. With Bridges returning in December's hotly anticipated "TRON Legacy," the products, stories and games that have been growing on the fringes of Disney's media empire over the past few decades have flourished, including (of course) a major comics tie-in.
Created as an original graphic novel, Disney Publishing's "TRON Betrayal" bridges the gap between the original film and the incoming sequel with a story that tells how Flynn went from computer hacker to corporate honcho and what his choices meant for his young family. Written by Jai Nitz and drawn by Andie Tong, the book will ship to book stores with a cover and design work by comics superstar Jock this November 16, but comic fans can see the story first in a two-issue serialization released by Marvel Comics, with covers by Salvador Larocca, starting this Wednesday. Additionally, the entire creative team will be on hand to discuss the book with fans at this week's New York Comic Con.
Nitz spoke with CBR about the creation of the story and how it helps establish the character of Sam Flynn, Kevin's son who's played by Garrett Hedlund. "Sam Flynn is only in 'The Betrayal' as a little kid, and the movie starts off with him as a little kid," the writer said of a crucial early movie scene that helped inspire the comic. "As you can see in the trailers, the last night Kevin Flynn was around his son was this night, so you know that he's going to grow up without a father. That's easy to set up with the characters in the real world and the thing you play against with Kevin in the movies - what it's like to have the jump from the first movie, where everything is fun and games, to the second movie, which is called 'Legacy' for a reason. It's about what you leave behind whether that's this world he created or the company he created or the kid he created. Those are the things we leave behind."
The world that plays a significant role in both film and graphic novel is The Grid - the virtual world which Kevin Flynn programs and then is lost to within the pages of the comic story. "A big element of the 'Legacy' movie is what it means to leave something behind and make a mark on the world, so the graphic novel is about bridging the gap from fun and games to this much bigger idea. The story plays out like, 'You're a dumb kid, then you're not a dumb kid and then you're a responsible adult - and you don't know how you got there!' The graphic novel is the section where Kevin knows he's not a dumb kid anymore, but he hasn't realized he'll soon be an adult. He's creating the Grid and the characters of the Grid, and this company he was making just to make video games becomes a big deal in the world. With his son in the picture, it all dovetails really well together to set up the movie."
Nitz was tapped to help create "Betrayal" after working with Disney editor Nachie Castro over five years ago at DC Comics on the publisher's "The Batman Strikes!" series. Working on "TRON" kids books meant to introduce young readers to the original film's story, the writer became fully aware of Disney's larger "TRON" plans and was able to tap right into the planned story of "Betrayal." "It fell in to place really quickly because I'd already read the [new] script and done my own adaptation of it. I knew it backwards and forwards, and because of that, I'd gone back and rewatched the original movie three or four times to make sure I was in the right frame of thought."
Adnie Tong's art from "TRON: BetrayalThe initial story pitch for "TRON: Betrayal" was conceived by the film's producers and partners at Starlight Runner Media, but Nitz explained that the characters and story were able to grow under his pen. "They had a plot and timeline already done. They said, 'We know what we're shooting for, but we need someone to go in and make this a good graphic novel experience.' So I got to go in and tweak from there. It's just been a blast," he said.
"Once they had said, 'These are the characters and elements we want you to work with,' I was given a lot of leeway to make it sing as a graphic novel. I think they were so happy with [the previous Disney OGN] 'Prince of Perisa,' they said, 'Oh wow! You can actually make a cool comic from this stuff - we want to do that!' So I got brought in to make it a really good comic. They said, 'Don't worry about it being a movie or a screenplay or a kids book. Make it a good comic book.'"
At the heart of the stand-alone story is a turnabout the writer is keeping a secret for now. "This is called 'TRON: The Betrayal' and there is a betrayal in it, o you've got to set the characters up a certain way so that when it all goes wrong, it is a surprise. How they react is logical, but it's not exactly what you expect when you open the book. Getting all those things together was daunting, but that's the fun of story writing. I was as dubious as anybody [about a 'TRON' sequel], thinking, 'Oh boy, what is this thing going to be like? What on earth do these guys think this is going to be?' But this is really good. There's a lot of stuff here, and there's real pathos and character arcs. It's exciting to work on something that you're really happy with right from the beginning."
As for the reverse-engineered serialization that will see Marvel release the graphic novel as two comic books before its book store debut, Nitz was pleasantly surprised by the plan. "The way this was set up to begin with was as two distinct chapters. One event that I won't give away splits the book into two parts, and it was always designed with that as the fulcrum. I didn't even tell anything else about it. But then, when we heard Marvel wanted to do this, I realized it worked really well [as two issues.] I was really happy about that, because when I first took the gig I was told, 'This is a book coming out from Disney Publishing.' What does that mean? It means it'll be in every book store in the world but maybe in no comic stores. Every Barnes & Noble will carry the book, but comic shops might miss it. It's really cool [for Marvel] to do it because they've got these cool covers and they're splitting it. I didn't have time to do anything but react to it, but it's really cool.
"I was pleasantly surprised, because I'm still that guy who goes to the comic shop every Wednesday. I make a big deal out of the fact that that's where I go, and I think it's really cool that my comic will be there so my peers can check it out rather than have to go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It bridges the two worlds."
Nitz is happy to establish himself as a writer who straddles multiple worlds, as his other major gig for 2010 has been "Green Hornet: Parallel Lives" - the official movie prequel to the upcoming Seth Rogan superhero flick. The writer explained that each series has allowed him to promote his work amongst non-comics readers who are anticipating the films from which they sprung. "It's good to have that touchstone with people," he said.
"TRON: Betrayal" #1 of 2 hits comic shops this week from Marvel Comics before the full story is printed as a Disney Publishing graphic novel on November 16.