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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

6 Reasons to Read Avatar: The Lost Adventures

            Thus far, I have been fully enjoying the Avatar comics continuing Aang and co.’s post-comet escapades just as much as I enjoyed the show (still my favorite show of all time, and sure to be the subject of a number of posts here before I either lose interest in this site, or transform it into something else).  I love seeing and appreciating how the new medium has allowed them to dive into certain aspects of the world a bit more than they were able to before.  Special mention goes to The Promise, which uses the thorny issue of the leftover Fire Nation colonies to reflect on some very, very similar conflicts in our world today, and about how such incredibly sensitive issues can be dealt with peacefully and bloodlessly.  Anyone who dismisses this franchise as “just more kid’s stuff” has clearly never bothered to watch even a single episode of the series or read a single chapter of the comics. 

            A great many of my friends have been reading along as well, and we are all eagerly anticipating the next chapter of the third series, The Rift, set to be released in July later this year.  However, while the main comic series have generated a lot of buzz, I have heard very little discussion concerning a side comic they’ve released as well, titled The Lost Adventures.  This series is not a set story like the other stuff they’ve come out with so far.  Rather, it’s a collection of 28 short tales taking place in between the episodes of the original show, many of them taking up no more than a few pages.  One imagines that a lot of the shorts there were ideas they never had the time or the space to bring into an actual episode of the series, and that they were initially shelved until putting them into comic form became an option. 

            Because it doesn’t tell a definitive story meant to be permanent part of franchise canon, I can understand why people may have overlooked this particular installment in the comic series, especially since most of the tales center around brief, silly little gags.  However, hidden amongst the whimsy of most of the Lost Adventures are some incredibly beautiful, sad, or poignant moments that make the book just as worth your time as the main comics.  And to convince you, dear readers, to do so, I present to you my Top 6 Reasons to Read The Lost Adventures.  Enjoy! 

6. The return of Jin

            A minor, more personal reason to start off the list.  Anyone else remember the brief scene in Tales of Ba Sing Se where Zuko goes on a date with Jin, a regular Earth Kingdom girl?  I sure do.  It’s such a brief scene, and is easily overshadowed by the gut punch of Iroh’s song later on, but I find myself endlessly fascinated by it whenever I revisit that particular episode.  It’s a brief (and obviously futile) attempt by Zuko to approach some sense of normalcy in his life, and on top of that, it’s really the only time we see him interact one-on-one with a female character who lacks fierce bending or fighting prowess, and the obvious uncomfortableness and awkwardness that comes from that dichotomy has a lot of resonance for anyone who ever feels constrained when trying to deal with a “normal” situation they simply have no experience with.  So, for me, it was nice to see a small token of closure, after a fashion, for their brief moments together. 

5. Seeing the world and characters rendered in an impressive variety of art styles

            Even with the changes in animation studios during Korra, the look of the shows has changed very, very little since the show’s inception, so I especially liked seeing such a wide variety of artists with their own styles take a stab at depicting these characters, sometimes looking exactly like the show, and sometimes looking like something that dropped out of an alternate dimension.   In addition to Mike and Brian themselves, a total of 26 different writers and artists contributed their talents to the making of this particular series, and it’s a lot of fun noting the differences in style and picking out your favorite ones. 

4. Sokka tries to become a Fire Nation soldier…..and it is hilarious

            Out of all the bits in this comic, with the possible exception of my #1 pick on the list, this is the part I sincerely wish had become its own episode in the series.  While journeying through the Fire Nation in Book Three, Sokka gets a crazy idea (again) to join the Fire Nation army to get a sense for their organization and tactics.  And that right there should be enough for you to know what you’re getting from this story.  It is funny in all the right ways, plus it features the return of my beloved fake-beard-and-stache. 









3. We finally (briefly) get a face-off between Toph and Bumi

            Admit it, every one of you reading this always wondered what would happen if Toph and Bumi squared off against each other.  I know it, and you all know it too.  And believe it or not, it is within the pages of The Lost Adventures that we finally get an idea of what the two of them going at it might look like, and how freaking dangerous it would be for all concerned.  No, it doesn’t go on as long as I might have wished, but still, fanboy service delivered is fanboy service delivered. 








2. This look exchanged between Aang and Sokka (Combustion Man Story)

            The entire story in which this moment takes place is itself one of the better ones of the book- Aang and Sokka decide to hop onto a Fire Nation train for a brief joy ride during one of their traveling breaks.  Sadly, they soon find out they aren’t alone, as Combustion Man appears, again out of nowhere, in another effort to kill Aang. 

            This would be on the list anyway purely as a result of Combustion Man being in this one, since his handful of scenes were among my favorites in all of Book Three (what can I say, I love me some surly, silent villains).  The best part of the whole story, though, is the above look that Aang Sokka share for a brief moment after the magnitude of the danger to themselves and the innocent people with them becomes painfully clear- not only is Combustion Man clearly willing to kill anyone and everyone on the train if it means getting the Avatar, he has also wrought so much damage to the train that the brakes no longer work, and they then see that the train is heading for a massive gorge. 

            I think what makes this image so effective is how perfectly it captures every possible emotion they are feeling at that precise instant.  Worry for both themselves and the poor people caught in the middle of their fight.  Frustration and sadness that even the pleasure of a simple joyride, as long as the war lasts, is and will continue to be denied them.  Exhaustion at once again having to fight a battle neither of them asked for or even wanted.  And finally, most importantly, a steely determination to do the right thing and stop both Combustion Man and the train, even though the easier path would be for them to just cut and run.  It brilliantly sums up all of their experience and growth over the course of the story up to that point.  It’s just a great piece of artwork. 

1. The “Relics” Story


           Easily the darkest and most serious chapter in the book, rivaling anything seen in the show.  Aang comes across a trader in a small town selling what he realizes are genuine airbender artifacts.  After being told where he found them, he tracks down the location and sees promising signs that he may have discovered a genuine airbender hideout, where some of his people may still be alive. 

            To his painful dismay, however, he finds out it was just another trick of Zhou’s.  He used the trader and the artifacts he’d assembled at the hideout to draw the attention of the Avatar, knowing he could never resist the opportunity to find out if any of his people survived.  The really tragic part, though, is when Zhou reveals that this tactic was actually used a LOT in the early years of the war, and hints that a very large number of airbenders who initially escaped the assault on the temples were thus captured, and likely killed. 

            Aang uses his cleverness to escape, obviously, and he safely makes his way back to Katara and Sokka, but even then, the chapter ends on a somber and sad note, with Aang wondering how many of his people feel prey to such a gruesome trick.  It’s another example of the show’s writers refusing to shy away from many of the darker, more complex, and more difficult themes raised by the story, and it is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why anyone who considers themselves a fan of the show needs to check out The Lost Adventures

           

            And that is my list!  Next up will hopefully be a film review, followed by my personal ranking of all the Avengers movies that have been released thus far, because why not jump on that particular bandwagon?  Until next time, dear readers. 


-Noah Franc 

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