Avatar – The Lost Adventures

Reader comments:

Ok, I finally finished the series, and this looks like the last Avatar-related post in your blog, so I’m just gonna post my thoughts here.

Well you were WRONG! (about that part at least, further replies will be below)

Why?  What has brought me back to the good Avatar?  Because Dark Horse comics has released a trade paperback (TPB) of A:tLA comics called “the lost adventures”.  From the back:

This book collects all the Airbender comics previously published in Nickelodeon Comics, Nickelodeon Magazine, Nick Mag Presents, and the Airbender DVDs, plus over seventy brand-new comics pages.

Which is a great deal for those of us who jumped on the bandwagon late and need to catch up.  So how does this TPB rank over all?

When I become a fan of something, I generally also enjoy its supplemental material (as you can guess by all the SPN stuff I’ve reviewed/owned).  However, I do have a rule: the supplemental material should enrich the experience of the source, not be a requirement for it.  (A big fault I had with the Cameron’s Avatar and it seems to be an increasing problem with World of Warcraft.)  This TPB hits that “sweet spot” in that while it does reveal some things about the show we didn’t get to see, none of them are required to grasp or follow the plot of the show.  (Except perhaps for one story but we’ll come to that.)

Like the show, the book is divided: water, earth and fire – to give you a good sense of where everything takes place in the Avatar timeline.  The stories themselves even follow the general trend of the seasons: #1 – Good start, but goofy and has some missteps.  #2 – Tight, near narrative perfection.  #3 – Best individual moments of the show… and some of the worst.

Most from the “water” book are short, silly little tales, though I did quite enjoy the one titled “Relics”.  While I am gland they didn’t make the show about “Aangst – the emo bender” (leaving that job up to Zuko), there were times I wanted just a bit more examination about an entire people being wiped out.  And not just about how it related to Aang (which I think they dealt with pretty thoroughly) but the world in general.  With what we’re shown of the world, the loss of the air nomads seems like it would have a huge impact on the other tribes on multiple levels.  Here, we at least got a hint about it.

The “earth” book is about as awesome as you’d expect something involving Toph to be.  A few silly, brief stories start us off before it goes into longer tales – with the mixture of humor and drama we all love about the show.  The final three stories of this section are the “big” ones of the book and the ones that almost break my rule about supplements.  They examine the king of Ba Sing Se choosing to go explore the world, Zuko and Mai reconnecting, and the protagonists securing the fire nation ship they use for disguise at the start of season 3.  While all three play fairly major roles, only Zuko’s is heavily necessary for the plot – mostly for his character growth as here we see the resolution between his love triangle between Mai and the earth-kingdom girl.  Readers of this blog (both of you) know that I generally consider Mai/Zuko to have come about rather suddenly and that I kind of preferred him with the EK girl.  This comic aided my acceptance of the relationship change a great deal as we see Zuko make a choice between the two girls and why he does (it’s not entirely for love, but I’ll say no more less I spoil it).  So to sum up: not necessary for the show, but said show would have been much improved had it been included.

The “fire” book has the long awaited grudge-match between Bumi & Toph.  Need I say more?  Ok, it also has a sword-fighting match between Zuko & Sokka.  Of course, like I said, season 3 was almost a bit schizophrenic in how it would oscillate between good & bad moments and in this comic collection we have a “fire-nation arcade” (kind of entertaining but really leads to some ‘WTH?’ questions) and a hide-and-seek game with the Gaang.

All in all I give this collection…

Hardcore fans (that don’t already have all of these) will want to get themselves a copy while casual fans will probably be content with borrowing the collection to catch up on the important and awesome stories.

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Now onto the reply!

So Miles said:

But two things really bug me. First: the lion-turtle. Now, the existence of the creature itself isnt a problem. The island-on-a-turtle’s-back is something I had actually been expecting to see somewhere in this universe, so I had pretty called it since the previous episode, and I liked the way it was animated as well. Also, the Avatarverse doesn’t contain any ‘normal’ animals, so of course it has to be a lion-turtle and not just a turtle. But…if this thing doesn’t qualify as a deus ex machina, than I don’t know what does. Not only does it show up out of butt-f**k-nowhere, telepathically bring Aang to it (somehow…), give him all the answers he needs (even after the previous avatar spirits couldn’t!), on top of all that, he then drops Aang off EXACTLY where he needs to be to wait for Ozai. Somehow.

Quite right yet half right.  On the one hand, the lion-turtle itself was a bit of a checkov’s gun.  Per the wiki, it appeared multiple times in the series beforehand so I can’t fault it for my own failure to notice it.  However, the failure to mention spirit-bending, or even that the lion-turtle would know such thing, is pretty much a textbook definition of deus ex machina.

I’m sorry, but that’s just weak. Maybe if this creature had done only one of these things, like if it had provided the transportation for Aang while he had his discoveries in the spirit realm, or maybe if it had shown up to help Aang get the answers but then left Aang to figure out what to do next on his own, this wouldn’t be so bad. Or maybe if we had been given at least a hint somewhere in the series about this ancient art of spirit-bending or the creatures that taught humans how to do it, then it wouldn’t be so farfetched. But as it is, this thing’s appearance is just way too sudden and convenient, and left a bad taste in my mouth.

And that – I think – is probably one of the biggest flaws of season 3.  1 & 2 each had a clear, defined goal that the characters were working towards.  In season 3, it was more of a “run out the clock” situation.  If they had established much earlier Aang’s reluctance to kill and then had him spent much of the season “on a quest” for a third option, it would have been much better.  It’s a bit of a shame that, after season 1, much of Avatar’s “spirits” aspect were dropped and barely (if ever) mentioned or utilized.  This season could have Aang consulting the spirit realm for an answer and learning “find the lion-turtle” then going on a detective quest for it.  Then the spirit-bending revelation would have been better tolerated.

The second thing is Aang’s return to the avatar-state. So Aang gets poked in the back at just the right spot, and that’s all it takes? So, what, was the pain of getting stabbed at the same point as his scar enough to awaken it? Did it somehow unlock his last chakra (even though that’s supposed to be impossible for him at this point)? If that’s the case, doesn’t that mean he loses his feelings for Katara? Or was all that stuff about having to let go of romantic relationships in order to reach enlightenment just a bunch of bull? Man, that episode where Aang went through that whole big process sure seems silly now; all he needed to do was fall on a rock!

Well that I can excuse because I have some passing (not much, but some) familiarity with Hindu/Buddhist traditions.  You have to think of his energy like a river (their favorite metaphor) – though don’t think about it’s origin or terminus.  (I think it’s an infinite loop type deal.)  Azula’s attack was kind of like “collapsing” both banks of a river/stream – it caused the water to stop flowing/back up.  Getting hit in battle dislodged the obstruction so that the “water” (Ki) could flow like it was supposed to.

Though one does kind of want to make jokes that maybe if Katara had studied more medicine, maybe she would have learned how to fix it on her own.

As for the rest?  I’ll have to defer to those more knowledgeable about eatern religious traditions than I.

Why did the writers even need to give Aang the avatar-state back in the first place? I actually liked the idea that Aang would have to defeat Ozai without the avatar-state, and spirit-bending was actually a great tool for him to do that, despite how sloppily it was introduced into the story. But no, we need a fight scene, so let’s make up some really convenient excuse to give Aang his glow back so he can whup up on Ozai before NOT killing him…again…even though we could have used that screentime to show Zuko finding his mother, or Toph returning home, or Sokka and Katara seeing their grandma again, or any of the other dozen things that would have been more meaningful…let’s just have Aang go super saiyan one last time, just for kicks.

Largely agree.  I was also disappointed we didn’t get to see the heroes gang up (no pun intended) on Ozai.  I like the nakama coming together to defeat the evil.

But I don’t want to end on a bad note, so I’ll just say that this was probably the most enjoyable American animated show since Gargoyles, and despite my complaints about the series, I really liked it.

Hmm…. it’s an awesome show, but since Gargoyles we’ve had Justice League, Megas XLR and Samurai Jack.  So in recent years… we animation aficionados have had it pretty good.

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3 thoughts on “Avatar – The Lost Adventures

  1. “Hmm…. it’s an awesome show, but since Gargoyles we’ve had Justice League, Megas XLR and Samurai Jack. So in recent years… we animation aficionados have had it pretty good.”

    Oh, I won’t argue with that. I’m just saying that this is my favorite show -since- Gargoyles. I don’t include Samurai Jack because it was never finished.

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