Just when we think we’ve seen the worst of it all, Avatar the Last Airbender‘s North and South seems to top all previous graphic novels in terms of how irritating it can be. To a degree, I wouldn’t even say this comic begins with an interesting premise simply because it begins to cover a topic we’ve already seen presented in this series.
Taking place during and after the events of Smoke and Shadow, North and South follows Sokka and Katara as they finally arrive at the South Pole to visit the beloved Southern Water Tribe. But like everywhere else in the world, the Southern Water Tribe is undergoing fast industrialisation featuring new, large scale buildings in place of the small, familiar igloos. Sokka, of course, embraces this change while Katara is more hesitant. Additionally, the two soon discover that Malina, a member of the Northern Water Tribe who is leading the reconstruction project, is currently dating Hakoda.
This story is bland in every sense of the word. It covers themes that we’ve already seen before and introduces new conflicts that just aren’t interesting. What’s more this comic tries to make the conflict of traditionalism vs. industrialisation feel different through the treatment of the Southern Water Tribe. In short, there’s a lot of similarities between the way the rest of the world views the Southern Water Tribe and the way settlers viewed Native American culture. Characters will go so far as to call the Southern Water Tribe’s “old” ways as uncivilized, which is common jargon schools today implicate Native American cultures.
These similarities would be fine and actually if interesting if it wasn’t for one glaring problem: at the end of the day, the lesson seems to be to allow progress to happen. Characters that at one point alluded to the Southern Water Tribe as being savage continue to use hurtful words and don’t seem to learn any lesson from it. It’s Katara who is forced to change. Now, in the title of this article, I say this is potentially problematic simply because I am not a Native American and I have no idea how Native Americans feel about this portrayal. But as a white person, it’s uncomfortable to see our own flaws being portrayed in characters and those characters getting nothing more than a slap on the wrist. While I don’t believe this was the intention of the comic, it just feels wrong reading especially since there are so many blatant attempts to point out how everyone else sees Katara’s home as being lesser.
While the story does try to show the “nationalists” of the Southern Water Tribe are willing to make equally horrible remarks, thus blurring the lines between the two, that doesn’t change the fact that America has a dark history of forcing Indigenous peoples to assimilate to European culture. And that is exactly what is happening in this comic.
With such a massive story issue, this has by far got to be the worst graphic novel to come out thus far. There’s a great lesson that can be learned in this story but the execution of its themes is not only bland but also miss the mark to such a far degree.
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