Monday, December 5, 2011

GN Review -- Avatar the Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures / Various writers and artists

If you enjoyed the Nickelodeon cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender a few years ago as much as you loathed that live-action movie it inspired, then you truly must check out this collection of stories that take place "between" the television episodes. The Lost Adventures features the off-screen adventures of Aang and the gang as they continue their quest to beat the Fire Nation and end the century-long war afflicting their world. The strips were originally featured in Nickelodeon magazines, and are written and drawn by a number of writers and artists, some of whom worked on the show.

Like the show, some of the stories are remarkably poignant, and appeal well beyond its target demographic of young boys. One story in particular, "Relics," depicts how Aang nearly falls into a Fire Nation trap that plays on the desires of any remaining Airbender's longing to see artifacts or environments reminding them of their old homes in the mountains. Though Aang escapes unharmed, he muses at the end of the story that, probably, several Airbenders probably were lured into their trap as he almost was. It's a sad and humbling realization for a boy who's lost his people, and brings home the idea that, while this show was ostensibly about the kids and their adventures, there are themes in it that can resonate with anyone.

As with the cartoon, the best stories are the ones that give its characters a chance to shine. Other noteworthy stories included "Going Home Again," depicting Azula at her scheming best as she manipulates her brother Prince Zuko into returning with her to the Fire Nation. It also sets up the rekindling romance between Zuko and Mai, who are simply an item at the start of the show's final season. "Swordbending" is a highly amusing romp showing Sokka in his element as the comic relief and clever out-thinker of the group as he challenges Zuko to a swordfighting duel he's destined to lose... somewhat. Finally, there is "Dirty Is Only Skin Deep," which features Katara and Toph arguing and engaging in a brief earthbending-waterbending duel. It's always fun to watch those two clash, in both senses.

Art-wise, with a couple of exceptions, this collection is almost completely like seeing the cartoon directly transcribed into comic book format. Given the number of contributors that worked on the stories, that's pretty remarkable. Even the ones that strayed the furthest visually were still recognizably consistent with the show, you just noticed that they weren't quite on target. For some people, this might be an issue, but for me it's really not; different artists have different styles, and to expect everyone to do the same would be ridiculous.

The Lost Adventures is a good read, but it's definitely intended as a treat for the fans, who long to see more about their heroes that the show didn't have time to depict. It might not resonate as strongly with anyone unfamiliar with the TV show, though I believe some stories will hold up just fine on their own. Overall, I highly recommend for fans of the show, and give a solid recommendation for non-fans looking for a collection of short graphic stories to read.

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