I imagine all you fans of Bryan Konietzko’s and Michael Dante DiMartino’s Avatar: The Last Airbender series are anxiously awaiting the sequel, The Legend of Korra (coming later this year to Nickelodeon). With the original series having ended its three-season run in July of 2008, these past four years have been pretty well torturous, with the only material to keep interests afloat besides reruns being that God-awful M. Night Shyamalan movie.
But if you need an emergency infusion of Avatar to keep you on life support until The Legend of Korra, then you’d do well to check out some of Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels. A brand new series has begun publication this week, under the title “The Promise”, and I intend to review that soon-enough.
Prior to that, however, Dark Horse released a trade paperback collection of every miscellaneous Avatar comic they could find, compiling them into a volume dubbed The Lost Adventures and released in July of 2011. This indispensable volume collects comics originally published in Nickelodeon Comics #31, 33, 35, Nickelodeon Magazine #124, 127, 133, 140, 158, Nick Mag Presents #18, 23 AND the exclusive minicomics packaged as bonuses with the DVD box set releases of Book Two and Book Three. Basically, every last odd and end they could scrape together, forging a glossy 226-page graphic novel, complete with its own bonus content and a pleasant MSRP of only $14.99. Not bad. Not bad at all.
The comics collected in this volume were originally published concurrently with the television series; thus they have been branded as The Lost Adventures due to their taking place in-between episodes of the cartoon. As a result, the majority of these comics are what you might call “inconsequential,” as they have to keep from disrupting the narrative of the show, and instead revolve around the cast partaking in one goofy shenanigan after another. But that isn’t to say that ALL the comics featured in this book are “meaningless.” Several stories actually bridge the gap between Books Two and Three of the cartoon, and their events are even referenced in the show-itself (mostly, these are the ones published in Nick Mag Presents #23, which had a special collection of stories purposefully written to take place between the two Books of the cartoon).
The tome is separated into four convenient chapters: Book One – Water (5 stories), Book Two – Earth (9 stories), Book Three – Fire (12 stories) and Bonus Stories (2 “non-canon” stories). The volume ends with a few pages of supplements about the creators and the cartoon, with the latter being more of a promotion for the Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series coffee table art-book.
The majority of the stories collected here are short comedy strips in tune with some of the lighter episodes of the early days of the series. Having all been written separately, by different creators, published across several years and several different publications, there are no overarching plot lines (save for the three stories created to take place between Books Two and Three). As a result, the stories here tend to follow the same set of situations, comedy beats and resolutions. It can get a little monotonous.
For example, “Sokka the Avatar” and “Monster Slayer” are almost exact duplicates of each other: Sokka pretends to be something he isn’t to impress a swooning girl, he gets in way over his head, his friends begrudgingly use their skills to get him out of the jam and everyone laughs at Sokka’s expense by the time things are through. You’ll encounter a lot of repetition in gags and plots, and though they aren’t always particularly bad, if you’re reading the book in one sit-through, you might get a sense of déjà vu at least once or twice.
Though this brings me to perhaps by biggest grievance with The Lost Adventures and the only aspect of the volume I found particularly “annoying.” A vast majority of the stories collected all end exactly the same way: Sokka doing something stupid and everyone laughing at his expense. Sokka wound up being a favorite character from the cartoon for a lot of fans (myself included) because he bucked many of the trends that befall the designated “comedy relief” character. Namely, despite being underpowered and the source of excessive humor, he was never worthless and legitimately contributed to the dynamic of the protagonist team.
You’ll find none of that side of the character in The Lost Adventures, alas, as Sokka is reduced to an annoying “butt monkey” (I believe the TV Trope is called). He cracks all the corny jokes, he causes all the trouble, he never does anything worthwhile and the punchline of a hearty portion of strips revolves around him doing something stupid. “Combustion Man on a Train” is just about the only installment where he pulls his own weight and helps save the day.
While I wouldn’t expect anyone unfamiliar with Avatar: The Last Airbender to buy this volume, if anyone uninitiated did decide to make the awkward purchase, they’d be likely to walk away thinking Sokka was entirely worthless, unfunny and overly irritating. I think this observation stems from the fact that these stories weren’t all written together at the same time and edited accordingly for a graphic novel collection. Being written years apart in 3-piece chunks, the trend of “ending with Sokka doing something stupid” wouldn’t be as noticeable to readers. But line them all up in a row and it can get pretty overbearing.
See what I mean?
See what I mean?
I could go on like this.
But that’s enough about the volume’s drawbacks; it’s better to focus on what makes this trade so worthwhile.
Though the plots of the stories may not offer as much variety as you would think, the artwork is remarkably consistent and on-model, rarely suffering from “Deviant Art-itus.” Artists like Justin Ridge, Johane Matte, Elsa Garagarza, Amy Kim Ganter and Joaquim Dos Santos deserve props for translating the characters from the cartoon to the static page flawlessly, from their character models to their facial expressions and body language. Very authentic.
A few other artists employ their own unique styles that deviate wildly from “show accuracy,” to varying degrees of success. Brian Ralph writes and illustrates a delightful MAD Magazine-style Momo story that suits the character just fine. Corey Lewis has a heavily stylized, almost surreal look that I can’t say I particularly liked. Reagan Lodge has a wonderful, quasi-watercolor style achieved by leaving his pencils un-inked, for the most part. Tom McWeeney does two of the more action-adventure heavy stories and has a style to match (one that deviates completely from the wacky, cartoony style he employed as an indie comic artist in the ‘80s). And finally, Ethan Spaulding pops in a for a “super deformed” bonus comic that’s cute for what it is.
Of course, the stand-out talent and the one most heavily promoted is Gurihiru, a pair of Japanese artists (named Sasaki and Kawano, so far as I can tell) who have hit it big in America working on Marvel’s many “Power Pack” comics and crossovers. Their style is captivating, expressive, adorable, energetic and a perfect fusion of the show’s character models and their own unique touches. Gurihiru would go on to do the ongoing Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series, too (again, I’ll review the first volume soon).
So as you can see, The Lost Adventures boasts a wide variety of artistic styles, with only one really not clicking with me.
As for the best stories in the bunch, the volume hits its stride midway through the Book Two chapter, when it gets to the installments referenced in the cartoon, bridging the seasons of the show together. Book Three features several of the most exciting stories, including a flashback to Aang’s friend Kuzon, a battle with the Combustion Man, Toph taking on King Bumi for title of the World’s Strongest Earthbender and… the tragic death of Wang Fire. Sprinkled about are numerous comedy pieces, and I hope I didn’t give you the wrong idea a few paragraphs ago, as they aren’t all identical or irritating. Many of them are very amusing and, even if the writing pales, the artwork makes up for such failings (particularly those by Gurihiru).
If you’re a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and you haven’t procured a copy of The Lost Adventures yet, I’d highly recommend it. You get a lot of content for your $15 bucks (and it’s probably cheaper on Amazon), the stories are nicely organized to fit the show’s timeline, and while several have repetitive punchlines, the good outweighs the bad by a wide margin.
This’ll definitely help slake your Avatar thirst until The Legend of Korra comes out.