The Avatar Comics (2012-) by Gene Luen Yang, Johane Matte, Joshua Hamilton

The avatar comics are not what I expected. Often when a story is continued through a different medium, there is an inevitable incoherence in quality and tone. The authors have changed, the format is different and the need to appeal to fans is often higher. This if of course not always the case, but it is what I feared. I was pleasantly and promptly proven wrong.

The comic book series carries on with the adventures of Team Avatar as they deal with the aftermath of the fall of the fire nation.

There are a few issues that actually are set during the events of the show but they are mostly fun side adventures. The meat of the series functions as a sequel and so I shall focus on that.

The stand out aspect about the series is that it is able to utilize its format, free of the restriction of having a tight 20minute episode, to explore the depth of the world’s setting.

For example, in one of the stories, the characters are confronted by a fire nation family that moved to one of the colonies established by the fire lord in earth kingdom territory. The family believes their home in the colony to be their true home and as such is opposed to the idea of all fire nation people having to leave earth kingdom territory. This is a nuanced issue about colonization, decolonization, ownership and the trauma felt by civilians on both sides of the conflict. The fact that the comics tackle it, and do so with care and nuance is already great, but it is particularly fitting as the writers could not have tackled these issues in the show which needed to be far more action packed and episodic.

You see, as comics are read, their pace can be set by the reader. This is unlike film where the pace is set by the editor. Here, because the viewers lack the agency to control the pacing, producers often feel its safer to make the cut fast and to the point. This way they are unlikely to lose the audience’s attention. I imagine this was also the case for ATLA where the target audience was supposed to be kids who are even more predisposed to short attention spans. But as this not a concern when it comes to comics, there is greater freedom to explore slower, character driven narratives and the writers do just that.

Depth of topic and use of format aside, the art style is true to the show and a delight to page through. Many great characters make a return and a variety of new ones are introduced, all of whom are a joy to read through. The story arcs range from large socio-political shifts to more character specific adventures. All of which are generally entertaining and well packaged. The comics also setup a lot of issues that are later explored in the sequel animated series, The Legend of Korra.

Speaking off, there are comics for that series too and they match up in the same manner.

All in all, the Avatar series, animated show and comics alike, is a standout example of great world building, nuanced characters, and excellent fantasy storytelling. A joy to read that all fans should indulge in.

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