Story: Gene Luen Yang
Lettering: Michael Heisler
What They Say:
Return to the Southern Water Tribe!
1Writer Gene Luen Yang and artists Gurihiru, the team behind bestsellers The Promise, The Search, The Rift, and Smoke and Shadow, are back again! Developed in close collaboration with Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, this is the definitive continuation of the beloved TV series!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The creative tag-team of Gene Luen Yang and the collective artist duo known as Gurihiru have done an absolutely solid job of continuing the Avatar: The Last Airbender world through their comics, working in elements from the original series with their own creative sensibilities. Now entering their fifth ATLA comic arc, this trend only continues, Yang’s writing blending the fantastic with very real social commentaries, while Gurihiru’s fantastic art marries both the dynamic and cartoonish sensibilities found in the original TV series.
Like the previous ATLA comics they’ve worked on, Yang and Gurihiru begin with a very natural setup, as Katara and Sokka return to their home at the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since the start of the original show. With just the two of them as the main characters this volume, you’d think the lack of the entire Team Avatar assembly would come off as distracting, but the emphasis on the two siblings works incredibly well. Not only does the story feel more focused with the two local heroes returning to their home, but it never meanders either, with Katara and Sokka’s constant snippy sibling back-and-forths keeping the plot light on its toes, both during dialogue and action-heavy scenes.
As the two step foot onto their old village for the first time, numerous call-backs to the old series provide a feeling of familiarity and nostalgia, both for our heroes and the readers. Child-like mischief in the way of snowball fights, and penguin-sledding bring home this aspect, pairing well with a flashback Katara has of her own childhood. But as welcoming as these first few pages are, the story immediately shifts from a “hero’s welcome” vibe to a “can never go home again” one, as the two soon find that their village has transformed into a bustling city—lavish buildings replacing the more earthy huts of the past.
Yang brings in elements of gentrification to drive the real core of the story, as Katara and Sokka are split on seeing their home so vastly different from when they left it. Yes, it’s clear that progress is being made, but it’s at the expense of culture and outsiders making the change on behalf of the villagers in the first place. The dinner scene with the Northern Water Kingdom representatives works as an especially subtle scene that gets this theme across, Northerners Malina and Maliq never having cruel intentions with their plans to progress the village, but never stopping to observe the valuable culture that will be lost in the process of this change either.
Such is later brought up in a more underlining manner when Sokka and Katara meet radicalist Gilak. While he is painted more as a villain from the get-go, Katara is more empathetic to his goals as the plot begins to unfurl. Like previous arcs of the comic, there’s no straight answer and every party involved has an opinion of worth. Malina and Maliq also being siblings serves as an additional parallel to Katara and Sokka only further muddling things, tensions slowly give way to an inevitable conflict.
North and South, part 1 continues the trend of ATLA comic sequels that effectively expand the series lore while also working in some biting social commentary that never seems too forced. Even without Aang’s presence in this first part, Katara and Sokka prove to be solid main characters to follow, with a strong sibling dynamic that I’m sure will only be further challenged come later installments.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Age Rating: All Ages
Released By: Dark Horse
Release Date: September 14th, 2016