Writers: M. Night Shyamalan/Dave Roman/Alison Wilgus
Artist: Joon Choi
Publisher: Del Rey
Rating: Teen (10+)
Release Date: June 2010
Synopsis: “Waging a devastating war, the Fire Nation destroyed the harmonious balance among the four nations. The Air Nation isNomads are no more, and the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom are on the verge of collapse. In such dire times, the Avatar, master of the all four elements, is expected to return bring balance to the world. But the Avatar has been missing for a hundred years. When teenagers Katara and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe rescue a young boy frozen in an iceberg sphere, their lives—and his—are changed forever.”
Word is out and it isn’t pretty – M. Night Shyamalan’s live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is a big whopping flop. A rushed plot, inaccurate details and beyond lacklustre acting has left both fans of the show and lovers of movies leaving the theatre in disarray. While the movie may’ve been a spirited stinker, it did at least inspire a few graphic novel adaptations that could yet make a little good of the enterprise. This book, The Last Airbender, is a direct take on the film’s version of the story and cast. Despite being bound by the screenplay of the film, could there yet be hope for this 128 page spin of the fan-favourite series? Eh… not so much.
The book follows a very familiar timeline for those who’ve watched the original animated series. Young water tribe siblings, Sokka and Katara are fishing up in their icy homeland when they come across a huge glowing orb. Realizing someone is trapped inside, they smash it open to release the child within. Swiftly they find their entire village under assault from the Fire Nation, an empire who has moved to take over the world in the absence of the world’s uniting force of balance, the Avatar. The young boy, Aang, is promptly kidnapped by the Fire Nation’s young Prince out to regain his honour, easily deduced to be the Avatar and thusly prompting Sokka and Katara to drop everything to fly off and save the world with him.
The whole story takes a very tell-but-don’t attitude about everything, which is extremely disengaging, making it hard to care at all about what’s happening. From start to finish Katara speaks out the story via first-person narrative in boxes across every page. It does successfully manage to give the story a more personal feeling but also leaves everyone else feeling very disconnected from what’s happening. Most jarring however is the amount of events that take place ‘off-page’ only to be divulged in light detail later, switching the role of the speaker to someone else without any real transition or visual note. How would Katara know all that if she wasn’t – oh wait, Aang is in control of the thought boxes now. And what’s this? Aang disappears! But he’s back and tells us how he was kidnapped. Aang disappears again! But returns to tell us how he was captured… again. And oh no, he’s gone again! Wait, he was just thinking about stuff somewhere but he’s back now. Meanwhile other people were doing other apparently important stuff. It’s painful watching the same formula repeated.
Throughout this short book there are a few other relevant characters introduced and the story attempts to make some relationships happen in this short framework of time. Sokka in particular has not one but two love interests, both of whom he’s seen on page with maybe a handful of times. That boy gets attached really fast. There are several scenes that by concept should be emotionally moving but in execution are just another notch in the book’s ‘stuff’s-happened’ belt – including Aang’s discovery of the death of his people and a Princess’s sacrifice to save the world.
Joon Choi isn’t a name most will recognize coming into this work and there doesn’t seem to be any other books out under her name. Still, she illustrates the book with a fairly evident level of previous illustrative experience. Her art style favours the movie’s visual design more-so than the original material, notably including the white-washed actors on the book’s still-predominantly attractive front cover, and characters are easily recognizable from their live onscreen-counterparts. With delicate featured eyes and rounded features, the female characters are drawn with more consistency and appeal than the males who sometimes suffer from some extra lines on the face that make them suddenly age 40 years and hair that doesn’t know where’s it going, most notably Prince Zuko’s. It is a generally complimenting art style though and one that’s able to tell the story with a combination of action and drama. The amount of detail does waiver throughout the book however when randomly the inking becomes thicker and details more sparsely utilized, making the art look uneven from start to finish plus some pages seem to confuse the reading order of the panels. When it’s good it’s good, when it’s not, well, you turn the pages faster and hope you’ll get back to the good stuff.
Choppy and dull, what proves the most disappointing about this book is that the talent of the creators behind it remains evident, save perhaps the man responsible for the screenplay it was based on. The writers, Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus, are no strangers to creating solid product and the artist shows off some good skill. However all three individuals are strangled irrefutably by the source-material – rushed, monotonous and with so much off-screen ‘oh yeah here’s what I did and-‘ that you can’t help but feel like Shyamalan threw it together before bed one night like a last minute school report. D-, Shyamalan.
Those who liked the movie version of The Last Airbender may in turn enjoy this adaptation of the adaptation but for anyone else, this book sadly isn’t worth the short time it takes to read it.