We’re back for a brand new year with a brand new comics series! Following on the successful heels of their Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels Dark Horse Comics introduces the official Legend of Korra continuation series. The first story arc is called “Turf Wars” and it’s written by original series co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino with art by Irene Koh. To go along with all the new we here at The Avatar Returns are trying a slightly new format in that we’ll be reviewing these books as they are initially released rather than waiting for the hardcover Library Edition collections. So in this episode we tackle Part One (of Three), and I confess that we struggle just a little bit. Picking up immediately where the animated series left off we follow Korra and Asami on their getaway into the spirit world, and while it’s wonderful to see these characters again the return isn’t quite as smooth as we may have hoped. Paul and Arlo are worried about a seeming return to Book One hotheaded impetuous Korra; Koh’s art is a significant change from Gurihiru in the ATLA books; there’s talk of the Dumbledoring of Kya; and Eric will not condone a course of action that will lead us to Turf War. (That’s a joke, he actually loves this book.)
We’re baaaaack. But there’s no cause for celebration as we’re forced to bid a sad farewell to our beloved comics creative team. One last time writer Gene Luen Yang and art duo Gurihiru spin a tale of Team Avatar for the official tie-in graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics. Vol. 5: North and South sees Sokka and Katara return home to the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since setting off with Aang to end the Hundred Years War. But what they find may not be the quaint, egalitarian village they remember. As each volume before it, North and South explores issues of modernization, nationalism, societal and technological development. But for the first time our hosts don’t all necessarily agree on the quality of the story and/or art. One of them may or may not spend much of the podcast talking about loving the book while consistently nitpicking practically everything about it. Which one of them is being an Arlo? Press play and find out!
Also, there’s talk of “therapybending,” David Lynch’s inevitable contribution to the World of Avatar, spoilers for Lion King(?!?), and Tattoo Watch is officially over as someone earns their ink.
Next: there’s a change coming as the boys talk about how to continue the podcast in light of the glacial pace of new comics being released. There’s quite a bit of discussion at the end of the episode about what to do about that, but I’ll go ahead and spoil some of it for you now and let you know the next thing we’ll be discussing will be the first individual volume of the Legend of Korra graphic novel series Turf War. Date TBD.
The first two volumes of Dark Horse Comics’ Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series both dealt with the difficulty of change, the cost and confusion that comes with transition. Volume 3: The Rift is no different as Aang continues to struggle with letting go of the past and learning to live in the present. The young Avatar slept through an entire lifetime while frozen in that iceberg, and in this time of peace following the end of the Hundred Years War he wants nothing more than to recapture the traditions of his culture now a century gone, but the world has moved on. And speaking of moving on, Toph must come face to face with her own past as she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, and both must come to terms with what, if anything, has changed between them. Writer Gene Luen Yang and art duo Gurihiru continue to impress with their masterful translation of these characters and themes from screen to page.
And is there anything more fun than podcasting with one third of the crew under the influence? (Rhetorical question. There are lots of things more fun.)
Next: The Avatar Returns takes another brief hiatus, this time to allow one of the hosts to go on a walkabout or something. (A booze-about is more likely.) But we’ll be back late-September to kick off our run through The Legend of Korra Book Three: Change.
Descents into madness on the hellish streets of New York City. The tragic inevitability of violence. Bitter, brutal punchlines. This is the world of Matt Wagner’s Grendel, which Paul and Arlo continue to explore in this year’s Four-Color Flashback series. This time, the boys dip into Grendel Omnibus: Vol. 2 – The Legacy, pp. 377-549, for “The Devil Inside,” wherein happy-go-lucky San Franciscan Brian Li-Sung has become corrupted by NYC and possibly some other forces; and “Devil Tales,” in which an elderly Wiggins spins two yarns of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose. Paul and Arlo discuss the change of pace from the twelve-issue Christine Spar epic to smaller, self-contained stories; the indie comix stylings of Bernie Mireault; and how Wagner continues to push the boundaries of comic book storytelling. Plus, Arlo is allergic to podcasts!
Next: the boys take the week off to get all patriotic for July 4th, then return with another Geek Challenge. The tables will turn, with Arlo challenging Paul to a ludicrously awful ’80s movie, Miami Connection; and Paul challenging Arlo to a genuine classic, Forbidden Planet.
This week The Avatar Returns returns to the Avatar. We continue our discussion of Dark Horse Comics’ ongoing Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series with Volume 2 – The Search. We talk about how the shift from the larger, more epic story told in Volume 1 – The Promise to this much smaller, more intimate tale works for us, and more importantly for the characters. Whereas the previous book explored issues we didn’t even know we wanted to explore, such as colonialism and cultural appropriation, this book focuses on the bonds of family, born and found, particularly the relationship between brothers and sisters. It also addresses ideas of identity, be they physical, societal, or emotional. We praise writer Gene Luen Yang’s astounding gift for continuing and building on this world and these characters we’ve come to love so much. And we wax embarrassingly rhapsodic about the work of art duo Gurihiru, which just keeps getting better with every volume, every chapter, every page.
There’s also banter this week. We say just a few words (for now) about the first season of DreamWorks’ Voltron: Legendary Defender, and we say way too many words about “adult” coloring books. Seriously, no one cares as much about these things as at least one of our hosts apparently does.
Next: we take a week off in a desperate attempt to prepare ourselves for the following week’s watch of director M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 “masterpiece,” The Last Airbender. (We promise, The Legend of Korra Book Two is coming. Assuming we survive this.)
Times are tough in Matt Wagner’s nightmarish neon near-future New York as Paul and Arlo continue their year-long Four-Color Flashback trip through Grendel. This time, the boys finish out “Devil’s Legacy” with chapters 8-12 of Grendel Omnibus: Vol. 2 (that’s pp. 247-370, if you need to know). What exactly is the devil’s legacy? How do Hunter Rose’s actions reverberate through the generations, as his “step-granddaughter” Christine Spar once more puts on the mask and picks up the fork? Paul and Arlo search for an answer while drawing a through-line between Grendel and fellow class of ’86-ers Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, poring over the myriad bizarre details of the Pander Brothers’ artwork, and lauding the achievements of one McGruff the Crime Dog. Plus, a brief, spoiler-free discussion of the pilot episode of AMC’s Preacher adaptation.
Next: strap on your aprons and grab your spatulas! The Deli Counter of Justice authors man their own deli counters, each cooking two burgers apiece from The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book.
The show may have come to an end, but the Aang Gang lives on as we take this opportunity to discuss “The Promise,” the first collected volume in Dark Horse Comics’ official graphic novel series continuing the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Written by Eisner and Harvey Award winner Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese; Boxers & Saints), with art by Japanese duo Gurihiru, “The Promise” picks up right where the animated series left off, but quickly demonstrates that the happily ever afters we saw in “Sozin’s Comet” may be a lot more nuanced and complicated than we thought. We talk about the book’s exploration of colonialism and cultural appropriation; how Aang’s true role as the Avatar, maintaining balance between four autonomous nations, may prove a greater challenge than defeating a single clearly-defined enemy; how well the author captures the voices of the characters, and how it all transitions from fluid animation to the static art form of comics.
Oh, and we add another title to the growing list of spin-off series we want to see: That’s So Toph!
Next: time marches on. 70 years to be exact. And with the passing of an age comes the birth of a new Avatar, with new friends, new enemies…it’s a whole new world! Join us as we discuss The Legend of Korra chapters 101, “Welcome to Republic City,” and 102, “A Leaf in the Wind.”