One of the keys to the success of Avatar is the concept of family. From the moment we meet Aang all the way through the final scene of The Legend of Korra, family — both those characters are born into and the ones they choose — is a central thematic element. The moments where family is the focus are the ones where Avatar truly shines as a series with obvious longevity. North and South tells a story that is, simultaneously, about the core of a family and the legacy that an entire culture leaves for its children.
Writer Gene Luen Yang and artist collective Gurihiru bring complexity to the world of Avatar, guiding the struggles of the Southern Water Tribe as it enters the new world ushered in at the end of the Avatar series. Aang has helped free the world from the grasp of the Fire Nation and cooperation between nations is becoming more and more commonplace. As Katara and Sokka head home, they find their world turned upside down by the machine of the progress they unwittingly began when they found Aang all those years before. Gone are the igloos and simplicity of Katara’s youth, replaced by city buildings, albeit made seemingly of ice. Even transportation has changed with a new port and vehicles not known to the wider world, such as snowmobiles and forklifts. While these are ubiquitous in The Legend of Korra, the world has not yet had time to adjust to the new way of things.
This adjustment period is the key struggle in North and South. How can tradition survive progress? At what point are an indigenous people replaced by the progress they seek? While Katara, introspective as ever, mulls over this battle in her own mind — and Sokka continues to love anyone who feeds him — a rebellious group of Water Tribe warriors fight to restore their perceived way of life by any means necessary. Tying in throwbacks to the original Avatar television series and comics, while stylistically looking forward to the Legend of Korra series and comics is a delicate balance to maintain.
Helpful to understanding the details and the process are not only the sketchbook included at the end of the edition, but the margin notes provided by Yang and Gurihiru that really shape the creation of this bridging series. Set with an extraordinarily difficult task, they have captured the look and feel of not only the art of Avatar and Korra, but also the heart of the series: family. As Katara and Sokka struggle with changes in their own world — including dealing with what it means when a widowed father finds new love and the addition of Aang as a true love interest — we see the evolution of the world of Avatar to the world of Korra. This generational shift foretells the changes yet to come in the world and in their lives.
This story and this book are a wonderful addition to the Avatar canon. I am disappointed that both Yang and Gurihiru will not be continuing with the series, but I hope their successors can live up to the precedent they have set.