Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South from Dark Horse Comics give us a pretty good look at a clash of cultures in the Southern Water Tribe. Both metaphorical and literal.

"Avatar: The Last Airbender - North and South" omnibus cover art.
The Gaang is back in town! And right where the whole adventure started to boot.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South is the 5th graphic novel trilogy of the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic book series, which are a direct continuation of the animated Nickelodeon show of the same name by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. In fact, DiMartino and Konietzko are the writers of North and South alongside Gene Luen Yang (Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Boxers, and Saints, Level Up). The Japanese duo comprising Gurihiru (Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, The Unstoppable Wasp, The Unbelievable Gwenpool) are the artists and colorists. They even did the cover art. Lastly, Dark Horse Comics is the publisher of this graphic novel.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South will go on sale on March 16, 2022. You can preorder both digital and physical copies directly on Dark Horse Comics.

Warning: spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South. If you want to read about this clash of cultures for yourself, stop here, and come back once you’ve had some seal jerky. Oh, and bring some for me too!

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South ~ Plot Summary

"Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South Part 1" preview page 1.
Can’t have a South Pole adventure without otter penguins.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South start us off with a melancholic dream Katara is having about her mother. That sets up the plot for the whole story when it’s revealed that Katara and Sokka have returned home to the Southern Water Tribe. Only, things seemed to have changed while they were gone. Where there was once a sleepy village of igloos, there is now a bustling town of ice buildings. Styled after Northern Water Tribe buildings, no less.

As it turns out, a Northern Water Tribe construction company led by brother and sister Maliq and Malina is busy developing the Southern Water Tribe into a thriving nation, complete with infrastructure and burgeoning petroleum industry. They’ve even negotiated a deal with Toph’s company (Earthen Fire) to help them out with construction and funding, so it seems to be on the up and up. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this modernization effort. Katara is on the low end of the scale, due to her missing her old village and mother.

On the high end of the scale though is Gilak, who believes all foreign influence is evil. Especially influenced by the Northern Water Tribe, who he believes is out to conquer/oppress the Southern Water Tribe. In fact, he’s so angry about what’s happening with the Southern Water Tribe that he was willing to steal the plans for the development of the oil industry from the construction company.

Sudden Appearance of Modern Geopolitics!

"Avatar: The Last Airbender - North and South" preview page 1.
Mundane utility for magic/superpowers is always hilarious.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, Maliq actually does plan to exploit the Southern Water Tribe’s oil reserves. The plans in that briefcase detail a plan to steal the oil rights from the Southern Water Tribe, and hand them over to the Northern Water Tribe. In fact, the plans detail what is practically an outright conquest of the South by the North. Maliq’s rationale is apparently that Southerners are too stupid to know what to do with their oil, so the North should take it from them. Maliq’s sister disagreed with those plans (due in part to falling in love with Chief Hakoda), but then that’s why he hid it from her.

Regardless, those plans cause Gilak to gain a lot of supporters. Enough supporters to launch an attack on the Northerners at a festival. The attack fails (mostly due to Aang showing up unannounced) and Gilak is arrested, but the plans cause the South to expel the Northern company. All except for Malina, who Sokka gives to okay to continue the oil mining. This further enrages Gilak’s supporters, who spring him from jail. Gilak makes one last attack on the whole effort during a meeting with Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei. They manage to take Kuei prisoner and try a fake exchange with Hakoda to kill both of them. Sokka, the man with the plan, actually comes up with a way to fool Gilak’s soldiers, and foil the assassination attempts. Gilak dies during the fighting, ending the most violent of the anti-modernization movement.

Everyone is safe, and Katara even accepts Malina as her new mother-in-law since Malina nearly sacrificed herself to save Hakoda. All is well again as the new family and guests share a relaxing dinner together. So ends Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South ~ The Good

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It’s amazing how well geopolitics and Avatar: The Last Airbender go together.

The story of Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South are one of the best parts of it. Fitting really, since 2 of the writers are the creators of the original Nickelodeon TV show themselves. The story is one of Katara finally accepting her and Sokka’s mother’s death. It’s also a story of a small nation discovering that they have a very valuable natural resource, and trying to profit off of that resource to better their own situation while keeping their larger neighbors from stealing it. This intertwined tale of family and geopolitics feels very fitting for canon. You know, given all the politics in the canon show.

All of the canon Avatar: The Last Airbender characters feel very much in-character, which is a huge plus for me. Again, all thanks to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko for writing for the comic book. If they can’t get their own characters right, something must’ve gone horribly wrong.

Gurihiru’s artwork is another big plus for me. I’m a huge fan of their artwork from the previous Avatar: The Last Airbender comic books. Unfortunately, it’s also the last comic book where we see their artwork. Peter Wartman does all the artwork from here on out. His artwork isn’t bad, to be fair. I just feel it’s inferior to Gurihiru’s. Your mileage may vary here.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South ~ The Bad

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Bad situation in-story, but great drama out-story.

One of my 2 complaints about Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South is the lack of Appa as a meaningful character. He makes an appearance for only 2 panels, and he gets zero roles in the story. His only purpose is as a transport for Aang. Heck, even Momo gets more screen time than Appa does. Yes, I’m aware that’s Appa’s primary role in the original show, but at least he appeared in virtually every episode. So yeah, Appa fan here disappointed at the lack of Appa. Your mileage may vary.

My only other complaint about Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South has to do with the anti-modernization rebel group using modern equipment like snowmobiles and powered drills. Basically: they’re using the very modernization they despise to fight it. I’m a bit disappointed that there is no attempt to explore the irony behind that. Not from the main characters, or even from the rebels themselves. I think that was a missed opportunity there, but your mileage may vary.

Source: Dark Horse Comics