It is that time again, the build up to a new Avatar comic coming out. This time we are talking about North and South Part 3, the final part of the North and South Trilogy. The official release dates for this book are April 26th in comic stores and May 9th for mass market release.
Once again Dark Horse Comics have been kind enough to supply me with a review copy of the book to present an early review for everyone.
North and South Part 3
Written By: Gene Luen Yang
Art By: Gurihiru
Letters By: Michael Heisler
Published By: Dark Horse Comics
Once more we reach the end of an Avatar comic trilogy and once again the same questions come up: "Was it a good final part?", "Was everything resolved effectively?" and so on. With the conclusion to North and South my answer to both of these questions is "Kind of". As ever I loved reading through these 72 pages of new Avatar content, the art combined with Gene Yang's great portrayal of these characters always makes the comics a joy to read, but the thing is that I always love new Avatar content, how does this stack up against the other comics and as a quality story overall. This is where some of the flaws with NAS P3 come in, I don't think this is an amazing ending to this series, it is solid, but for me failed to truly impress like it could have. Most of the resolution felt very much by the numbers, that everything was simplified from where we were after part 1 and 2, it felt like they just took the easiest route to conclude the book and while there is nothing wrong as such, I don't feel there is anything that stands out either.
Like Part 2 I feel this will be a book remembers primarily for 2 or 3 character focused scenes rather than the main plot it contains. Most of this is down to the fact that come part 3 I don't really feel the book is about the Northern Water Tribe at all really, the focus is more on issues within the opposing camps within the south and how they feel about foreigners full stop, not just northerners. I think come the end of this book the most confusing thing is why we have a meeting of world leaders where the only NOT included world leader is the leader of the Northern Water Tribe. I assume Arnook is still in charge, so why does he have zero involvement in the issues with their sister tribe, why is the North basically represented almost in full by Malina (because Maliq is not in this book AT ALL, his name comes up once with no real impact), because Pakku doesn't ever speak up to present a northern viewpoint on things nor do any of the Northerners who now live in the south. We end this series with really only Katara having a change of mind on things, there is nothing that happens to really show the other southern protesters why they should now support what is happening. It is very unfortunate, but the main North and South plot ends in a very anticlimactic way, I don't feel we are that much closer to where things are in Korra or that we know a great deal more about the relationship between the two tribes.
The strength of this comic definitely comes from the character writing, simply getting to see these characters we know so well interact and play off each other. This time with the addition of Zuko, Kuei, Bosco and even Toph's metalbending students into the story. To a degree you can see that there are a few too many characters in play to give time for a lot of really notable and meaningful interactions, but it is all fun and well written for the most part.
Sokka gets a few nice moments to shine in this book, again it is unfortunate that he never got a huge focus even in this series focused on his home, but Part 3 is probably his best showing of the series as we get to see the return of Sokka the plan guy as he puts together a nice plan ahead of the big character confrontation towards the end of the book. And on a more important note he does say some very thoughtful things to his sister about their home that do in the end help her to come to terms with how she feels about what is happening to her home. It was one of those moments where he said the key line and I thought to myself "Sokka, you are completely correct" and like he got Katara thinking about what he said, he got me thinking.
Toph like in part 2 feels somewhat unnecessary, they roughly keep her reason for being in the south present in the story, but for the most part she is there as a huge bending threat when a fight breaks out and of course gets a notable scene to show how tough and awesome she is. I feel there was a chance to use her as she was in The Rift more in this story, she really went at Aang in that story for his views on the past, yet never really offered her opinion for the most part on the issues in the south.
Similar story for Aang, primarily used for his bending prowess, but also to have the default leader of the Air Nomads and Avatar present among the other world leaders. He gets a few nice moments, but I definitely expected him and Katara to have a big talk about what was happening in the south and for him to be able to help her in the same way that she helped him in The Promise.
Zuko as a big part of the preview description for Part 3 and as expected turns up with Kuei to discuss plans with Hakoda to help the South become more connected to the other nations. Zuko comes across very well here as the Fire Nation leader eager to help a nation that is in this situation because of decisions made by the fire lords before him. Beyond this he is primarily used as a fighter and also to have a fire nation person present to highlight again the idea of the nations coming together and wanting to work together more in this new era.
Kuei is a bit different in that they use him to highlight again the way some of the world views the south, that he is willing to help the south.... to become more civilised, but cannot do as much to help because of issues in his own nation. Katara of course is annoyed by this and is prepared to rip into Kuei about the quality of civilisation in the outer ring of Ba Sing Se, before Gilak's breakout interrupts her. His involvement is a bit more focused on the plot so I won't spoil what they do with Kuei.
Surprisingly Bosco ends up being a very fun addition to the book as we get a small, but nice idea of just how close Kuei and his regular bear are. They are more than just man and pet, they are actually close friends. It is a small aspect of the book, but one that really highlights that Gene Yang really gets the intricacies of nearly every character he has written from ATLA.
Another disappointment with the book is that Malina who was a huge focus in Part 1 and 2, only gets a small role in part 3. Some of her scenes are very important, but especially with how Part 2 ended I expected her to be much more present and focused on in this part. The key issue is of course Katara going into this book doesn't trust Malina anymore and while this topic is addressed and they do it reasonably well I am sure many other fans like myself expected a bit more interaction between Katara and Malina.
On the other hand Hakoda goes from strength to strength, he is one of the most consistently well written characters in this entire series. Showing how good of a leader he is trying to do the best for the tribe and the people despite the protests and issues that come up. In this book specifically I love how he explains why he has doubled down on the unification plans and has extended them to involve connections with the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom (Hence the meeting with Zuko and Kuei).
Gilak unfortunately isn't so well written here. Without going into specifics, let's just say they more or less turn him into a madman and remove any potential solid point he has as opposition to Hakoda's ideas. I feel that there was a lot of opportunity with him as a villain, by the end I sadly didn't really care about him all that much. Massive missed potential, but if you like your villains to be very villainous and dangerous the stuff he does towards the end of this book does make for some dramatic moments.
Last but not least for the characters we have Katara. Our main character with no one coming close to matching he importance to the story. Overall I am happy with her development over the course of this series there are some disappointments as I mentioned already with me wishing she had had a big scene to talk to Aang or better resolution with Malina, but in terms of the main issue of her being against how things have changed in her home from how they were before that is well done. Scenes she has with Sokka, her father and even Sura and Siku help her to come to her conclusion and accept what is happening. When you really break down North and South as a series this is the main take away, Katara's character arc of returning home to a very different place than she remembers and learning to accept it. It is just unfortunate that a lot of the surrounding plot fell a bit short when her core character arc was very nicely done in her first series as THE main character. I think one of the most talked about scenes in this book will be the second last scene of this book where Katara brings her arc full circle at a very emotional place for her and realises her place in her changed home tribe.
So overall a solid if somewhat unsatisfying conclusion to North and South. It feels a lot like how Smoke and Shadow ended, where certain plot points are just left open and because we don't know if we will ever return to these plots it feels like a very disappointing ending to a plot you wanted to know about. As it is now we still have no idea if Azula's story will be continued from Smoke and Shadow, where on earth Kei Lo went at the end of that same series, have Mai and Zuko got back together?, what is happening with the oil refinery that is planned for the south, what about the protests and the normal southern people who are against the change, where did Maliq go and most importantly Where is Suki?
This may have come across somewhat negative towards the comic, but as always I love any new Avatar story content and I had a great time reading this comic as like I said above Gene Yang does have a great grasp on writing these characters in character, the issues I have are more about how this part 3 didn't quite bring all of the pieces from all 3 parts of North and South together in a perfectly satisfying way. This is an enjoyable and fun comic, this is just my initial take on it.
Last but not least, as of right now this is the last announced Avatar comic. We have Korra comics starting in a few months, but no idea about what is next for ATLA comics. I am excited for sure about Korra comics, but I hope they are not coming out at the expense of ATLA comics. The ATLA comics are what created the success of this franchise in the comics medium, they are the comics with the open plot points and the established fanbase, I hope we get some clarification about what is happening with the future of ATLA comics soon.
Definitely keep an eye on this site come April 26th, the release day for this book where we will be releasing a spoiler review for Part 3 in addition to our usual Podcast comic review/readthrough.
Also check out my non-spoiler video review here
How excited are you for North and South Part 3?