The Avatar the Last Airbender comics are back with North and South Part 1! This review will not contain spoilers, so feel free to read on if you haven’t yet had chance to pick it up.
With the new Legend of Korra comics being pushed back to 2017, many fans will be filling the void as they wait with the Avatar comics. This is not going to be difficult as North and South is already shaping up to be an intriguing and complex installment that fans can pour over for months.
While Avatar Aang deals with the problems in the Fire Nation, as explored in Smoke and Shadow, Katara and Sokka head home to the South Pole to see how the Water Tribes are getting along. They are met with some surprises as their home is no longer quite how they remember it, and their father has a new position of authority. But these changes do not go unchallenged, and cultural clashes are already brewing, foreshadowing much of what we saw in Legend of Korra book 2.
The artwork has taken a massive step forward over the last few volumes, and this installment is no exception. The Gurihiru artists have outdone themselves once again, managing to realise what might have, in less adept hands, have been a very bland landscape into something dazzling, filled with depth and detail. The setting being in the South Pole leaves the colour pallet very blue and white heavy, and the characters clothing having the same scheme means that there isn’t a lot for them to work with. But they manage to make it work and produce some truly memorable scenes and settings, showcasing the kind of artistic skills that have made the Avatar franchise so rightly famous.
Gene Luen Yang’s scripts have been improving over the course of the comics series and here he seems to have finally got a solid grasp on Sokka. A criticism I’ve had for a while with the comics has been Sokka’s characterisation and speech mannerisms which have felt slightly off, especially in The Promise and The Search. North and South has Sokka being much more the Sokka I remember from the show. Perhaps being in his element (no pun intended, he’s a non-bender after all) has lent him more to being his old self again and put Yang more at ease writing him. I can just hear Jack De Senna’s voice coming right off the page at last!
Katara, similarly, feels a little closer to how she was written in the TV series, though she has been a tad more consistent in the comics. Being separated from Aang seems to have brought this out in her and there are less awkward ‘sweetie’ scenes, which, though hilarious at times, did get a bit repetitive. Katara has always been at her best when she’s been defending the weak and fighting for something she believes in. I am really looking forward to seeing how she develops over this story as I can foresee her coming up against a lot of challenges to her beliefs and her core identity. There also could be tensions growing between her and Sokka which will no doubt be fertile ground for much conflict and potentially a falling out.
The other characters also feel very much in the traditionally Avatar world. Business types, revolutionaries, and comedy siblings. There’s even some old faces reappearing.
The subject matter of the comics has been a lot more political than that of Avatar, thus it is leaning much more towards the tone of The Legend of Korra. There are less ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’ and these conflicts often come down to a battle of ideas and a struggle to understand what each side wants and why. The internal conflicts of the Water Tribes are, we know from Korra, deep rooted cultural differences. These will no doubt be the seeds of what will come to pass, and to see them being planted will certainly make for interesting reading.
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