Review by Ian Keogh
When first introduced in the animated series, Katara and Sokka’s father Hakoda was a tribal leader, a man who generated respect, but only among a small number of people. He’s since become a man of considerable stature, leader of the now united Southern Water Tribes, and with the vision to recognise that progress is necessary, as is greater contact with the other nations. Gilak, his former colleague, sees this as selling out the traditional ways.
It’s a very much a real world problem Gene Luen Yang poses for North and South. Does progress have to mean rejecting tradition or is there a middle ground? Yang gives this question some gravitas by introducing doubts among the main cast, and posing another question in turn: are people holding on to an idealised version of the past that never actually existed? Are the best elements being sentimentalised while the hardships are forgotten? If this seems rather heavy for an all-ages title, Yang never forgets who his primary audience is, and it’s just the background to another cracking adventure. Everything leads to what everyone knows is intended as a fatal trap, but Sokka has a plan…
Yang’s trap is straight from countless period action movies featuring a rope bridge, but the Gurihiru art team draw it perfectly, extending the tension along with the rapidly changing emotional states of almost all the main cast. The result is a fine set piece leading to an equally nicely judged wrap-up. It draws a line under this creative team’s work on Avatar, although the series continues with Imbalance. As has been the case with all previous Yang and Gurihiru stories, North and South is also available as a continuous read in hardcover, and Dark Horse have also started a series based on Avatar’s animated sequel The Legend of Korra.