Avatar The Last Airbender North and South Part 2
Written By: Gene Luen Yang
Art By: Team Gurihiru
Letters By: Michael Heisler
Published By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: January 25th 2017 in comic stores and February 7th 2017 elsewhere
First of all, major thanks to Dark Horse Comics for supplying me with a review copy of this book so I can get this early review out for you all. This will be a non-spoiler review so I will try to avoid talking about the major plot points and the big moments, but to be able to say anything I will have to talk about some moments and reference character arcs. So I will do my best to balance telling you about the book, without giving everything away. So if you are very strict on spoilers this may be too spoiler-ey for you, you have been warned.
North and South Part 2 is, of course, the middle part of the North and South series, and with that comes certain expectations. So how does this part 2 fare?
My general thoughts on this book are that it was extremely well written, the characters we know very well all feel perfectly in character and the new characters are fleshed out much more than in part 1. I now feel like I know who Malina, Maliq and Gilak really are as characters, because Part 1 really only gave us a taste of them and we were left wondering if there is more than meets the eye to all of them. Malina really is trying to help the south, overall her intentions are good, but the book does a good job at presenting that idea that she changed from when she first came to the south compared to how she feels now, seeing and experiencing the south changed her plans unlike her brother. As expected Maliq is presented as the character who doesn't like how the south doesn't have so many of the things he is used to from the North, he prefers a more civilised culture. With this brother and sister combo I like how the book presents them quite neutrally, that they are neither presented as all good for wanting to help rebuild the south or completely bad for wanting to make use of the South's plentiful natural resources, while I am sure there are reveals about these characters still to come I appreciated both being presented as having similar, but different views on what their goals in the south are. I like that both the characters in the book and us as the audience are asked to really think about the intentions of both Malina and Maliq.
The core of the plot is Gilak using the briefcase he stole from Part 1 to present to everyone the truth about what Malina and Maliq are trying to do in the south. The key moments are how the characters react to this being made public and how opinions are changed because of it.
Gilak is being presented as the main antagonist of the book as the leader of his Southern Loyalists who oppose everything about what Malina and Maliq are trying to do. While I still ultimately feel that him and his group are really not much of a threat ( In the sense that Katara and Sokka escaped from most of their army in Part 1, and the fights don't go any smoother for them here), it is his views on the south and the north that really stand out. I like that you can feel his anger at the situation, for him it was the south alone who fought against the fire nation in the war while the North did nothing but hide behind their ice fields, they fought and eventually won their freedom, but paid a price for the victory and now what they get for succeeding is the northerners coming in, profiting and using the situation the south is in as a way to control them. His point is very understandable which is what makes the conflict interesting, we have never really gotten a great reason for why the North never fought in the war, it is clear to some degree that characters like Maliq do see the Southerners as savages making the story Thod told in Part 1 become very important. Is this just a case of the south being offered a seat at the table, but even though they are sitting down with everyone else the North will be the ones talking for them. He is still presented as having an extreme view on things and the way he is planning on getting the south noticed on a world stage is very difficult to support. He is a fascinating character, especially with how violent and passionate he is, where they go with him in Part 3 will be key as I still feel there is more to be presented about the main plot that may add some new facets to him as a character.
One thing that I know many fans have been speculating about since part 1 is about how this book would handle introducing both Aang and Toph into the story, would they arrive and start changing opinions on what is happening or help Sokka and Katara to see things in a different way? What we get is fun and again in character, but perhaps not as impactful as I would have expected. Toph of course is in the south to deal with Malina and Maliq as a representative for the Earthen Fire Refinery, which is not given a ton of focus, just continuing Toph's basic view on progress as established in The Rift (She is all for progress, the future and advancement). She mainly hangs out with Sokka adding some needed comedic moments throughout as we reference aspects of "The Runaway" as well as being a powerful combatant once the fight scenes happen. There is one particular moment in one of the fights that I thought was hilarious, far and away one of the funniest moments in the comics so far, but I will leave the details of that scene for you guys to see come the release date. In short Toph as ever is very fun to have in the story, but her role so far is not hugely important and I kind of question if there will be more for her to do in Part 3 outside of being involved in the fights. I assume they will address more of the business deal, once the specifics of who will control the use of the south's resources is worked out.
As for Aang, the build up to and the scene of him arriving is exceptionally well done (The Kataang reunion scene was lovely), but outside of that his involvement here feels similar to Toph's. Outside of being part of Team Avatar and being in the fights, he has yet to really make a mark in the story, he has not given his own thoughts on what the North is doing to the south or how he feels about Malina or Maliq, nor have we yet to see him and Katara talk about how Katara feels about what is happening. Part of this is that the action kicks in just before Aang can be fully caught up, but it is leaving it for Part 3 to do a lot of things. One final note on Aang, I love the way he is drawn in this book, him in his cloak and how tall he now is makes him seem very impressive as the Avatar, kind of a weird point, but he really does feel like a fully realised avatar at this point, it really stood out how much older and more mature he looks compared to the end of ATLA now.
I don't want to spoil how they handle Sokka and Katara reacting to the Malina and Hakoda relationship, all I will say is that I personally enjoyed the way they approached it, the reaction was not overly extreme nor was it just accepted. They explored the emotion and feelings behind what this new relationship means for the characters and while we still have 1 book to go in this series I think they are on track to resolving things very well on this side of the story.
As for where they go with Katara and Sokka overall as characters here. Katara remains the focus, and Sokka still more to the side as comedy, but they balance it better here with a couple of very nicely done more serious scenes, though they again are stopping short of really placing Sokka and Katara on opposite sides of the issue, they do disagree, but they have not committed to it truly being a line in the sand between them. Part of this I think is because Katara feels like a much more important character in this story than Sokka, as unfortunate as that is, he just has not been given an arc as such here. They do highlight him also believing in progress and machinery and how he agrees with Toph on this advancement, and he gets some good moments in the fights, but the core emotional arc more focuses on Katara. With Katara they do continue to explore her opinions on Malina and Maliq and what the North is doing to the south and in my opinion they explore it well with her being understanding and reasonable, but also expressing her own views and disagreements, she ultimately does not like what she sees the North doing, but not to the point where she wants to side with Gilak. It puts her in an interesting position, her home and more is changing around her and turning into something she is not recognising as home, we know deep down Katara is accepting of change and where the world is going, but her experiencing it so up close and personal to her own life is challenging her. It is why I still want a big Aang and Katara talk where she tells Aang how she feels about the situation and he gives his perspective given that he is dealing with trying to keep the air nomad culture alive in these more modern times, she helped Aang to see what was happening with the nations coming together in The Promise I think it is Aang's turn to help Katara now. I don't think he needs to give her the answer, but I feel his perspective should help to push her towards how she really feels about everything and potentially a solution.
One more minor point, but one I want to bring up is that I feel this series at some point needs to give us a clear backstory on the formation of the Southern Water Tribe, they have alluded to it a bit and we know the broad details, but North vs South is such a big issue here I feel they do need to examine why the South split from the North in the first place. Like how we got the Kemurikage and some Early Fire Nation backstory in Smoke and Shadow, I feel it could help to bring everything together with this series as well as giving lore fans like myself some history to fit into the timeline.
So overall another excellent Avatar comic from Dark Horse, it, of course, is not perfect, but you can really tell how well Gene Yang knows these characters and how good he is at writing Avatar after all of the experience from the previous series. Team Gurihiru continue to impress, from the backgrounds to the expressions and the way they draw the bending, it is so impressive. As someone who reads a decent amount of comics and manga, their art always stands out to me, it just suits Avatar perfectly. The flaws are just the under-use of some of our important characters and that I still feel like part 3 has to INTRODUCE some aspects of the story as well as resolving it, they could be leaving themselves far to much to do in part 3, though I will say that I end up saying this every time after a part 2 so I have faith that part 3 will bring North and South together fully as a series.
Again thanks to Dark Horse for supplying me with a review copy so I could write this early review.
The book is out January 25th 2017 in comic stores and February 7th 2017 elsewhere.
Check out my non spoiler video review if you prefer watching and listening to discussion over reading.
Video Review - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA8BqttpdfE
Also keep an eye out on the site on January 25th when I will be posting a full spoiler written review as well as hopefully our big North and South Part 2 Review podcast.