North and South Part 3 Spoiler Review
Before I get into my usual spoiler review style of going through the key characters and plot points I want to give some thoughts on the book overall. Thanks again to Dark Horse for supplying me with a review copy of this book.
As I have said previously this is, as ever, an enjoyable Avatar comic, the character writing for the most part continues to be on point from Gene Yang, but for me the writing on the plot/character arc side of things is where this book falls short. I think the ultimate issue for me is what North and South Part 3 considers its main plot to be and thus what it actually resolves vs what it leaves open or drops as a plot point is a big issue. For me the key middle point of North and South as a series is the big speech interruption by Gilak and him getting the truth of the plan from Malina and Maliq, the reveal of the Oil refinery and the issue of who agrees vs who disagrees with the plan for the south, this plus Katara's arc as the main character are the main points presented from Part 1 and 2. My issue with Part 3 is that really outside of Katara's arc most of the other key points are not given much attention.
Maliq gets one mention and no explanation for where he is, we are just expected to assume he went back to the north based on a single line from Part 2, but the comic doesn't say or show where he has gone and so we get no advancement of the Malina/Maliq relationship. Malina oddly doesn't have much of a speaking role in this book and for me this hinders the book in trying to explore the issue between the North and South as well as the more personal issues that Katara has with Malina, she is really our main northern character and her role being diminished really takes away a lot from this book.
The main plot of the book instead focuses on Hakoda inviting Zuko and Kuei, the leaders of the fire nation and earth kingdom, to the south to connect the south to the rest of the world. I like this scene and what it ultimately ends up accomplishing for the South, but it feels like they sidestepped the main issues already presented in the first 2 parts. Those being the issues that a lot of people in the south have with what is happening to their tribe and properly addressing what is happening with the oil refinery, these plots seem to just get resolved off panel with Sokka saying that his father convinced most of the south to support the project and that the remaining protesters will change their minds once they see the pluses of what the plan will accomplish. This plus Katara's final speech in the book basically saying that they have still not dealt with the protesters or the oil refinery basically for me come across as the book saying "we had no time for this plot point". It is a lot of little things like this in the book that frustrate me, starting the book with Toph and her metalbending students building onto the oil refinery despite her saying that if she had know what Malina and Maliq's plan was she would have never agreed a deal are so confusing. Is this Toph saying that her opinion doesn't matter and she is just going ahead with her father's business decision or did something happen off panel to get Toph on board with the oil refinery idea, you really have to ask the question what was Toph's role in this story?
Gilak for me is a very frustrating character in this final part. He is basically a madman for the entire book. He breaks out, attacks the big meeting of leaders with the intent of capturing/killing Hakoda, but ends up kidnapping Kuei instead and later forcing a trade of the king for Hakoda which is the big action set piece of the book. The scene is dramatic and the art for the location is beautiful, but again it is with the intent of just showing Gilak as a lunatic now solely out to kill Hakoda. I felt like they really had an interesting villain based on Part 1 and 2, someone who while always extreme was getting his message through to the people and this is where again I feel like the book misses the mark. The protests are for the most part against Gilak's imprisonment, but part 3 gives basically no importance or threat to the fact that Gilak's words have captured the thoughts of many people in the south. As I mentioned above Sokka basically dismisses the protesters. And given that Gilak dies in his attempt to kill Hakoda when the bridge is cut he is just taken out as a villain, there is no real attempt to show something more to his goals it really just presents Gilak and his forces as lunatic extremists. I feel there was an opportunity to do something more with the past friendship of Gilak and Hakoda and end Gilak on a more interesting note, but even Thod's "Snow Rat" story which has been somewhat of a theme in North and South is not referenced.
Outside of their meeting with Hakoda, Kuei and Zuko don't have a lot to do in Part 3. Kuei of course is kidnapped and since he brought Bosco you get some very fun little Bosco moments and Zuko gets to showcase himself as a very mature leader in the meeting, but after that like Aang and Toph he is primarily here for his bending skills saving Kuei from the bridge cut. I think there was a big missed opportunity with not having Zuko really reference his previous visit to the south, I think him and Gran Gran could have had a fun little scene together.
Katara's arc is definitely the best aspect of this book. For sure there could have been a bit more of a focus, but overall it is the most consistent part of the North and South series from part 1 to part 3. The key scenes are Sokka almost casually mentioning to Katara that perhaps the home they thought they would return home to doesn't exist, because neither of them or even Gran Gran have ever lived in a water tribe not impacted by the war. It is a really thought provoking line for both the audience and Katara, Katara expected as we saw at the start of part 1 a slightly bigger version of the tribe she grew up in, but the tribe she grew up in was always a tribe that was the result of what happened in the war, she didn't account for how much change would happen with the war over, that she grew up in an isolated SWT and now there is no need for that isolation in an era of peace. I love how in the end she realises that Sokka is correct that she could never return home to the place she wanted and expected, because that place is impossible to return to, since for Katara it included Kya still alive. In the end she has hope for the future that she will be involved in the change happening in the south, but she will be present trying to keep traditions like Southern Waterbending alive. I like the ending of her arc, but it stops just short of being a brilliant character arc as we don't really address the issues that Katara does have, like Sokka dismissing the protesters earlier they sidestep addressing Katara's thoughts on the future by just saying that those plots will be covered later basically. It is a weird one where Katara's arc is definitely the overall throughline throughout North and South, but it is also a quite subtle character arc, and with a lot of the other plot points not getting much focus it does kind of make it feel like not a lot actually happens over the course of North and South the series. In that prior to Katara and Sokka arriving the issues in the south with what Malina and Maliq were doing already existed, come the end those issues are still present. The main changes are that Katara is a bit more accepting of changes in the south, Gilak is now dead and the south is now making connections with the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom. Hence why I kind of have the opinion that the main plot of North and South was unresolved, I don't really think the relationship between the North and South tribe has changed at all since the northern characters were just not a focus of Part 3. I wish that Arnook had been included or at least mentioned at some stage in this comic, with so many characters included for very small roles why not one more that fits the "North and South" name.
Don't get me wrong even with all of these criticisms I still very much enjoy North and South Part 3, but it absolutely is the Avatar comic that in my opinion has the most flaws. If you want a number score I would rate this book a 7/10 while the majority of the other Avatar comics range from 8-9.5 with perhaps only The Promise Part 2 standing out as a weaker book. With this book there are no/very few scenes that you can honestly say were just plain bad, on first reading I feel most people will really enjoy this book, it is when you start to look at this book as the conclusion to the North and South Trilogy and then compare this book to the other comic series that the flaws begin to become very clear.
For me the moment it really hit me that this book didn't quite hit the mark was when I went back and reread all of the previous trilogies, they all really stand out and have an identity and clear ideas/plots.
The Promise is about 3 inexperienced world leaders as they struggle with the complex issues in the aftermath of war, you have memorable scenes like Zuko asking Aang to make The Promise, the group walking through Yu Dao and the realisation of how the world is changing, Aang severing ties with Roku and the strong ending with Aang and Zuko discussing their flaws and the Azula reveal.
The Search speaks for itself it is the search for Ursa, Zuko's mother, but it also features a full backstory for Ursa, the return of Azula and the start of her arc plus some interesting spirit focused reveals. There are big moments like finally understanding how Azulon was killed, why Ursa was banished, the mother of faces reveal and the realisation that Noren and Noriko are Ikem and Ursa and so on.
The Rift covers Toph's relationship with her father, the issue of tradition vs progress with Aang vs Toph, YangChen backstory and some fascinating spirit reveals/story. You remember scenes like Toph holding a whole cave up with her bending as her father finally accepts who she truly is, Aang defending Toph and having to kill Old Iron and especially Lady Tienhai revealing the full story to Aang at the end.
Smoke and Shadow is the return of Zuko to the Fire Nation with his mother a big focus on Mai as a character as well as her Father Ukano. Dealing with the fact that not everyone is as accepting of Zuko as Fire Lord. A real challenge for Zuko as a leader when the Kemurikage kidnapping plot takes place. You end this book and remember notable scenes like Ursa and Iroh's talk, Kiyi firebending and especially Azula and Zuko's talk in the crypt.
With North and South it is easy to give a basic idea of what the book is about. It is Sokka and Katara returning to the south for the first time since the war and their reaction to the changes. After that it is a lot harder to present a clear plot because part 1 and 2 lead you down one road and then part 3 takes it in a different direction and even focusing in on Katara's arc doesn't really paint a full picture of the book because her arc while well written is a subtle change, a well done subtle change brought on by some well done scenes, but subtle nonetheless. There is so much that happens in North and South, but also so much that is just presented and left there. It feels like the identity of the book was lost to a degree in part 3 and makes you look back on part 1 and 2 and question what was being presented given the direction in part 3.
So to wrap things up this book has strong elements like Katara's arc, Hakoda continuing to be a well written character, Bosco is well used as an animal character, art as ever is super consistent and beautiful, Sokka getting a bit more of a chance to shine compared to part 1 and 2 and just the fact that the south is making connections with the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom. It just lacks a clarity of plot and has you questioning a lot of decisions about what was focused on, what was not focused on, why certain scenes got loads of pages while other plots are given offscreen advancement. It is a tough one because for me this is an anomaly with Avatar comics, this is the 15th book adding together the parts from all 5 series and it has taken this long to get to a book that for me missed the mark, that speaks to the overall quality of the Avatar comics, but also means that the streak of solid/great books ending is very disappointing. It looks like Avatar comics will be taking a break for now, no new series has been announced so it looks like what is happening is that we will get Turf Wars and potentially get a new Avatar comic after Turf Wars, this is disappointing given that Smoke and Shadow and North and South both have set up plots to be resolved in the future and it feels like an odd time to put Avatar comics on hiatus.
North and South Part 3 is out today April 26th in comic stores. May 9th is the release date elsewhere.
Check out my Spoiler Video Review of this book.