Avatar: The Last Airbender, North and South‘s third and final installment, written by Gene Luen Yang and published by Dark Horse, concludes the struggle between Southern Water Tribe traditionalists and those who wish to expand the tribe.
Many more characters appear in Part 3, including Toph’s three rather silly metalbender students, along with Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei, the latter two of whom advocate expanding and modernizing the Southern Water Tribe. This brings them, along with Team Avatar and Chief Hakoda, deeper into the fight against Gilak and his Southern rebels.
Part 3‘s plot moves quickly and focuses on the final confrontation between these two sides, using a perilous new setting, the “bridge of no return”, where a risky hostage swap threatens to bring everything crashing down. The writers and illustrators do a fine job bringing this climax to life, with a bottomless chasm under a rickety rope bridge and surprise attacks from both sides. Toph’s three metalbender students, who mainly act as comic relief throughout the Dark Horse Avatar comics, help save the day this time, and series mainstays such as Aang and Zuko are up to their usual heroic standards.
Right after the final showdown, however, the plot wraps up quickly, even abruptly, given how much of the comic is taken up by the main fight. In the last few pages, Katara pays tribute to her late mother and convinces two closet waterbender girls to reveal their gift, and a larger group dinner scene finishes the comic. This last scene underscores the series’ focus on friendship and cooperation, but otherwise feels stock and obligatory more than anything substantial. Other finer plot points, concerning the clash of traditionalists and modernists, are skimmed over.
The art, panel layout, and dialogue are up to the comics’ usual standards. Rich colors, accurately-drawn characters, well-choreographed fight scenes, and more are clearly rendered, making the pages feel busy but never cluttered or confusing. The dialogue is true to the characters, but some banter feels like filler, such as the cheap, gimmicky dialogue of Toph’s three metalbender students. In some other scenes, such as the rebel raid into a meeting of world leaders, the main characters feel oddly under-powered as a way for the non-bender rebels to gain the upper-hand and up the stakes. This serves the plot, but feels somewhat transparent. Given the level of resistance that Team Avatar faces in Part 3, and the battles they fight in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the discrepancy is pretty clear.
One possible explanation is that Team Avatar’s members don’t want to risk harming the rebels, but even then, the rebels’ success hints at being contrived, as is Gilak’s escape from multiple benders when he simply runs off between panels and disappears. It seems unlikely that the lumbering, non-bender Gilak could escape both Aang and Katara (who are both in their element) and even more unlikely that Aang and Katara couldn’t find him again using their combined bending.
As a whole, North and South: Part 3 provides an exciting showdown with an ensemble cast of both familiar faces and comic-only characters, though some oddities in the plot and action hold the three-part story back from the level of the show’s greatest moments.