Authors: Dave Roman, Alison Wilgus
Artist: Nina Matsumoto
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: May 2010
Synopsis: “When Prince Zuko dared to question authority, his father Fire Lord Ozai, banished him from the Fire Nation. Horribly scarred and stripped of everything he held dear, Zuko has wandered the earth for almost three years in search of his only chance of redemption: the Avatar, a mystical being who once kept the four nations in balance. Everyone he encounters believes that this is an impossible task, as the Avatar disappearance a century ago. But Zuko stubbornly continues the search. He must regain his honor, so his question is all he has left.”
Scarred by his Father and scorned by his people, Prince Zuko embarks on a quest to capture the now near-mythicized Avatar to regain his honour and be once again allowed home. Little here will trend new ground for those well-versed in Nickelodeon’s original animated series but superb writing and classy artwork combine to make this book a short but sweet one-shot that any fan of the series should keep an eye out for. Zuko’s Story takes a huge leap forward from the Avatar movie-verse (from where it garnered its inception) by taking a step back to Zuko’s past and doing so with more reminiscent style.
Zuko’s Story comes from most of the creative team who put together the graphic novel adaptation of The Last Airbender, namely the writers Dame Roman and Alison Wilgus working under the thumb of M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action script. Handed a prequel here however, the duo – who’re no strangers to professional Avatar comics – really get to strut their stuff in this more free-reign assignment. And it shows.
The story focuses predominantly, as one would assume, on Zuko and his personality fits the original to a tee. Reading his lines immediately brings his voice actor to mind and it becomes a more engaging reading experience because of it. This really feels like a story about ‘the’ Zuko, and while some may find it lacks anything feeling new because of this, those dedicated to the tried and true original with love the attention to detail including subtle mannerisms and the less subtle rageful outbursts and boo-hoo me angst that marks him both as a good anti-hero and a believable teenager.
The strength of the writing is just as evident when the words flow from the mouth of Uncle Iroh. Rendered here in his movie design with stand-out dreadlocks and notable height, he still feels no less like the Uncle Iroh viewers of the original show had come to love. Wise, patient and a little cheeky, every line he delivers feels distinctly Iroh-ish. That in itself would make this a worthwhile read before going into the live-action movie to serve as a good transition piece between the two versions.
The story begins with Zuko’s banishment and ends with the sight of the Avatar’s revival. In between readers are delivered a combination of Zuko’s anger, self-loathing and refreshingly sincere move towards self-acceptance as he travels the globe. Also, while the majority of the content is a rehash of what the animated series already showed us, there’s also some overlap of elements that are bound to amuse fans and offer some satisfying cameos from characters otherwise absent in the movie-verse.
Nina Matsumoto’s artwork is also in complimentary top-form – it suits the subject matter so well that it’d be fantastic to see more Airbender work from her in the future. Best known for her anime-style Simpsons picture and Del Rey released original series, Yokaiden, here in Zuko’s Story she feels like she found a style that fits like a glove. Elements from the movie design, most notably the revamped Uncle Iroh and Zuko’s wardrobe, are meshed seamlessly with the art style of the original series itself. Nina Matsumoto’s own unique inking style, utilizing heavy strokes and sparse screen toning, really shines – hopefully she had as much fun drawing it as the finished produce suggests she embraced it. Some panels can look a little rushed with sparse details but all-in-all whether it’s the background elements to set a scene or the blazing fires of an enraged Prince, the art shows just what’s required to tell a good story, and with a solid mix of action and emotion, it does just that.
Released in a very slim, no-muss-no-fuss book format, Zuko’s Story still manages to slip in some extra content. At the end of the book there is about a chapters ‘worth of the original script for the book next to the rough pencil drawings. For those interested in the comics-making process, this offers a neat look at the connection between writer and artist and the interpretations of their material. It’s too bad they couldn’t add in the original outline the writers were given too, just to allow readers a quick peek at the process start to finish. As far as the book itself, the cover artwork used is definitely y eye-catching (in a good way) but the back of the book looks like a cheap last-minute throw-together. Not a big deal, just not a very attractive one either.
Despite having the name splattered on the front, Zuko’s Story is a book that doesn’t require any interest or knowledge of the live-action film – in fact, you could despise the live-action film and still enjoy this faithful rendition of the original series. Though some of the film’s design elements are present, they’re so fluently moulded in (and made quite loveable) with the speech and style of Avatar that it all just works. Kudos to the writers and the artist – it may not blow anyone away but that makes it no less worth having on the bookshelf of any avid Avatar fan.