The Last Airbender

0345518551.01.LZZZZZZZSo I’ll admit that I was apprehensive about reviewing this. One the one hand, it’s a graphic novel adaptation of the movie adaptation of the television program, Avatar: The Last Airbender. And that movie was possibly the worst adaptation of any adaptation in the history of time. On the other hand, the original show was wonderful and the other manga based on the movie (Zuko’s Story) takes the tone and characterization of the original show, making an excellent read. So I had a faint glimmer of hope. Sadly, that got snuffed out pretty quickly.

To be fair, the graphic novel is not as bad as the movie. Part of that is because it’s a faster read, so at least it’s not an hour and a half of badness. Also, the authors were able to add back details from the show that the movie cut, like the Kyoshi Warriors. That said, it’s still pretty bad. All the characters are detached and one-dimensional, save for Zuko (our primary antagonist), and even he falls pretty flat. The soundtrack and good martial arts scenes that made the movie barely tolerable are absent due to the limitations of the medium. The dialogue is mostly preachy exposition, with plot points popping up only randomly with no foreshadowing, making the whole thing feel like it was slapped together at the last minute. There’s a joyless sense of detachment about the whole thing.

The art is basically just black and white stills from the movie. That’s not terrible; the movie had good designs. Also the fact that it’s in black and white means that all the racial implications of making the characters from the Water Tribe, Air Nomads, and Earth Kingdom white while those of the Fire Nation were black aren’t present. So that’s a plus.

Like the movie and the show before it, the adaptation is suitable for older children. Some violent themes (war and brief mention of genocide) are present, but handled fairly well.

In the end, I see this as a missed opportunity. The writers could have made an adaptation faithful to the TV show, which would have been a joy to read. Instead they carefully adapted a movie, and a mediocre movie at best. Watch the original show instead.

The Last Airbender
by Dave Roman and Alison Wilgus
Art by Joon Choi
ISBN: 978-034551855
Del Rey, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: 10

  • Alison W

    Yeah, man, that was a pretty difficult assignment! You wouldn’t believe the notes we got from Paramount, and from MNS’s office — we had to fight for every change we made to the original script, and we lost most of those battles.

    I’m very heartened to hear that you enjoyed “Zuko’s Story,” however — that GN was our baby, and despite the less-than-ideal circumstances we wrote it under, we’re still proud of what we managed to do.

  • Michael

    First off, I’m honored that you took the time to read and respond to my review.
    It’s pretty clear in the reading of it that you’re all doing your best to adapt a very bad adaptation. I’d love to see you do more Avatar stuff with less executive meddling. Given what a hidden gem “Zuko’s Story” is, I’m sure it’d be great. Any chance of that happening?