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Comic Book / Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South

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The fifth comic trilogy in the Avatar franchise and the last trilogy written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Gurihiru.

Sokka and Katara return home for the first time since the war, to a hometown that's not like how they remember it. Their father Hakoda now leads the entire Southern Water Tribe, and works with the Northern Water Tribe to rebuild after the war. But not all Southerners like the changes, and the North's plans may not be as they seem.

Followed by Avatar: The Last Airbender – Imbalance.

North and South provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: The big themes of this trilogy are trust, respect and unity, but taken deeper, you get quite a few:
    • Ethnic and cultural prejudice is silly - every society has its strong points and weak points, and when everyone works together, everyone benefits.
    • Maintaining the status-quo just for the sake of it is just as wrong as breaking it for fun. Examine old traditions in light of the times, and make a conscious decision regarding which are worth retaining.
  • Animal Motifs: All of the Southern Water Tribe Warriors are wearing wolf heads like they did in the cartoon show symbolizing their unity and strength in togetherness.
  • Back for the Finale: Aang and Toph arrive in Part Two, while Zuko and Earth King Kuei do the same in Part Three.
  • Berserk Button: For Gilak, it's mentioning Malina and Maliq in a positive light, or collaborating with foreigners like them. It quickly escalates from wanting hostile foreigners out to a murderous hatred for any foreigners.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Downplayed at first, but Maliq's affability tends to crack when things don't go the way he wants. When Katara and Sokka fail to recover his briefcase or capture the thieves, he gets angry, and condescendingly remarks about how the South's law enforcement is so lax compared to the North, which wouldn't have allowed the criminals to escape. Gilak also suggests that he and Malina have something sinister planned - and he's over half-right. There's a ridiculous amount of oil in the South, and Maliq and Malina want to nationalize it. Malina just changed her mind after meeting Hakoda.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Malina is accepted into Katara and Sokka's family/circle of friends, and none of the main characters die. However, the tensions between the Northern and Southern tribes remain, Gilak dies without any chance to redeem himself unlike so many other villains in the franchise, and it is implied that Katara - while more accepting of the changes happening in the South - is going to continue opposing Hakoda and Malina's modernization plans.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: There are valid concerns from both sides of the North vs South debate, exemplified through the mouthpieces that are Katara and Sokka. The conflict can best be summed up as tradition vs progress:
    • Tradition: Katara feels that the Northern influence is erasing Southern culture, which is shown by all of the alleged "progress" being slanted toward Northern preference. None of the Northern natives are seen to be even civil towards the South, with Gilak rightly pointing out that Southern Tribe suffered much more than the Northern one during the war (the North's Pyrrhic Victory from their last battle notwithstanding) and they're now being disrespected in spite of that. On top of that, Gilak fears change and the erosion of his people's ways.
    • Progress: Sokka is on board with the Northern reforms to the South because there have been benefits for the tribe as a result. He even agrees with Maliq about the disparity between Benders and non-Benders, supporting the use of Southern resources to improve technology in order to bridge the gap. He also makes a valid point when saying that no one alive really knows what the tribe was like before the war started, meaning that Katara (and by extension Gilak and his men) are chasing an idealised image of the Southern Water Tribe.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Gilak once admired his fellow chieftain, Hakoda, and thought he was a good choice to lead the entire South. All that changed when Hakoda started collaborating with foreigners and the North.
    • Sokka's respect for Maliq drops considerably after the latter essentially admits he still wanted to colonize the South. Katara similarly holds a grudge against Malina, even though she had already changed her mind. This is however, less about Malina's plans to change the South and more of a slightly deep-seated fear of her taking Kya's place.
  • Brother–Sister Team:
    • Malina and Maliq are siblings who are leading the North's efforts to rebuild the South.
    • On the opposing side there's the brother and sister who steal Maliq's briefcase and are later revealed to have learned chi blocking.
  • Call-Back:
    • The abandoned Fire Nation ship from the first episode returns, and Gilak uses it as his hideout.
    • There's a strength test game at the festival and Toph plays up her weak appearance.
  • Call-Forward:
    • The oil under the South Pole is said to be enough to provide mechanized power for the whole world, which will come to fruition by the time of The Legend of Korra.
    • Gilak's rhetoric sounds a lot like Amon's at times. The fact that his men know Chi-blocking hints at a greater connection.
    • Ironically, Maliq also believes that technology is needed to put benders and non-benders on even footing, which is what makes him and Sokka get along at first.
    • One of the big prizes at the carnival is a stuffed polar bear dog.
    • The underlying tension between the North and South will continue to be a problem for years to come eventually reaching a boiling point that leads to a Civil War in Book 2 of Korra.
  • Can't Catch Up: The point of Thod's story about a rat that entertained humans but was driven away when he wanted to be treated like them: No matter how much blood they shed, peace they bring, or natural resources they discover, the rest of the world's empires will never see the Southerners as equals.
  • Category Traitor: Hakoda is considered a traitor to the Southern Water Tribe in the eyes of Gilak and his men.
  • Central Theme: Tradition vs. Progress. How much progress is worth losing what made the culture unique in the first place? What sort of traditions are worth losing to make progress? Questions asked that, as read above in Both Sides Have a Point have no clear cut answer.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Ho-tun, Penga, and the Dark One show up in Part Two, helping Toph Metalbend for Earthen Fire's new set up around the oil reserve. They and Malina turn out to be the key to Sokka's plan in Part Three. Gilak only specifies for Team Avatar to be present and chi-blocked during the hostage exchange. Sokka has them come in at the last minute to turn the tide.
  • Covers Always Lie: Aang appears on the cover of the first volume, but not in the actual first part of the story.
  • Combat Pragmatism: Zuko points out during the hostage situation that going along with their plans is foolish; as Gilak is likely to cut the bridge and take out both Hakoda AND Earth King Kuei. Dives into creepy territory as Aang and Katara call him out on how evil and "cheat-y" it sounds coming from Zuko. Zuko brushes it off by saying that "as a bad guy, I know how bad guys think"...but in all honesty it DID sound like something Azula would have thought of. Perhaps her words in Smoke and Shadow are having a slightly stronger effect on him?
  • Crazy-Prepared: Sokka develops chain-mail to protect his friends from chi-blockers who wished to prevent anyone bending during their 'prisoner exchange', but goes further in that he wears the armour himself even though there was nothing to suggest that he would be attacked as well, which pays off.
  • A Day in the Limelight: For Sokka and especially Katara. Aang and Toph don't appear at all until Part 2.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Gilak kidnaps Earth King Kuei to exchange for Hakoda but intends to kill him anyway at the prisoner exchange, even though this will result in the Earth Kingdom (which is much larger than the Fire Nation if less technologically advanced) bringing its full wrath down upon the Southern Water Tribe. Justified in that his hatred of foreigners eclipses everything else.
  • Dislikes the New Guy: Once Katara looks at Hakoda kissing Malina; she spends most of the remaining trilogy being cynical about her; but it becomes less about her and more of a fear that Hakoda will forget all about Kya. Once Katara comes to see that Malina wouldn't try to do that, Katara visits Kya's grave and tells her about Malina in pride, saying that she'll accept Malina.
  • Disney Villain Death: Gilak dies falling into a ravine while trying to stab Malina.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Apart from the obvious, Gilak's movement and idealized Southern Water Tribe "tradition" is very similar to the romantic portrayal of the Roman and German Empires by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, Maliq and his people are working to bring progress to the Southern Water Tribe, which has just been discovered to have great oil resources. This is rather reminiscent of criticisms of the United States invading countries with oil under the guise of bringing democracy.
  • Evil Counterpart: Maliq to Sokka. They're both highly intelligent but seemingly goofy brothers of a skilled female waterbenders, they're both enthusiastic about modernisation, fascinated by machines and both want to bring non-benders onto equal footing with benders. The difference is Maliq is planning to seize natural resources from their rightful owners to bring his vision of the future to pass.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Lirin, one of Hakoda's most trusted officers, is swayed by Gilak's speech and ends up freeing him and his forces from prison, and joins them in assaulting Hakoda and the heroes.
  • Faceless Goons / In the Hood: Gilak's army wears face-obscuring wolf hoods.
  • Failed a Spot Check: More like Failed a Touch Check; the chi blockers Gilak sends to negate the Gaang prior to the prisoner exchange in Part 3 inexplicably fail to notice their targets are wearing metal armour under their clothes that block their attempts to block their chi. Sokka calls it "chain mail" but it's actually more like lamellar armour. Additionally Gilak and his men completely fail to notice that Malina and Toph's students snuck up behind them on their side of the chasm.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Gilak and the siblings on his side use a lot of these in Part 3 towards the Gaang, showing how much they despise foreigners even if they are from the same lands they were allied with during the war.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: When their true motives are revealed at the festival Malina tries to calm the villagers by owning up to it and claiming she changed her mind; Maliq on the other hand has a bit of a freak out and rants that the Southerners are too primitive while Malina desperately tries to get him to shut up.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Both water tribes have an equal spot on the council in Republic City in The Legend of Korra, so it's clear things will end well for both, but it will take time, and we know it will get even better after the second book of Korra.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: When Zuko points out that Gilak will cut the bridge and kill both Hakoda and Kuei no matter what the Gaang do, Aang and Katara's reactions indicate that they never even considered that.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Gilak stabs Hakoda with a sword in volume 2, but the wound is constantly obscured.
  • Grand Finale: As Gene Luen Yang's and Gurihiru's last run on the books and the only one where Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Zuko are all working together, ending with a 'happy family' scene just like the show did, it can be seen as such.
  • He Knows Too Much: Gilak refuses to let Katara and Sokka leave with the knowledge of what he's planning unless they also commit to supporting him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Malina willingly lets go of Hakoda's hand when Aang can't carry them both on his glider at once, falling to her doom while declaring her love for him. Fortunately she's saved at the last second by Katara.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Somewhat justified in Zuko's case. Even though a lot of people know Zuko betrayed his father and helped the Avatar restore balance to the world; there's still a lot of people angry with the Fire Nation as a whole. Zuko accepts their anger, saying they have a right to be angry yet it won't deter him from trying to make things right.
  • Innocent Bigot: Malina and Maliq are well meaning towards the South. Well, at least Malina. However, at several points it becomes clear that they do not really have a high opinion of most Southerners. Maliq starts outright insulting the Southerners "backwater tribal culture" when Gilak attacks the festival to celebrate their coöperation with Earthen Fire industries, much to his sisters' shock.
    • Earth King Kuei has some shades of this as well, with his implication that the Water Tribe isn't a civilization.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: This may just be Katara's and Sokka's own adventure back at home after the war, but it ends up providing more context behind the South's mistrust in the North during Book 2 of The Legend of Korra.
  • Insistent Terminology: Toph is not a representative, she's an "executive partner".
  • Jerkass Has a Point: As Katara points out, the construction workers may be jerks who use violence against trespassers, even little kids, but they're right that the kids don't belong on a construction site, even if the better solution would be to build a fence. Notably, she completely agrees with them at first, and only changes to reluctant agreement after their Kick the Dog moment.
    • Gilak refuses to hear anything that contradicts his views on the Northern Tribe, which aren't very high to say the least, but raises the very valid point that the South suffered far more than the North and now the tribe is being essentially victimized by their supposed allies. He becomes much less respectable as he remorselessly tries to kill foreign leaders.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The construction workers bending snow at young children who wandered onto a construction site.
    • The same construction workers KO Katara from behind as payback, also believing she's allied with Gilak which causes her to be paralyzed by Thod.
    • Gilak stabbing Hakoda when he calmly tries to fraternize with him and talk him out of his extremism.
    • Gilak trying to stab Malina even as she's one of the few reasons he isn't falling to his death.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Sokka mistakenly assumes that Malina and Maliq are married. They're actually siblings, and Malina seems to be in love with Hakoda.
  • Never My Fault: While the construction workers have a point about kids not belonging on the site, they overlook the fact that they should have put up a fence (and Maliq had been on their case about this from the start).
  • The Paralyzer: Several in Gilak's army such as Thod and the siblings.
  • Parent with New Paramour: On the grandparent side, Hakoda's mother Kanna has married Pakku. Hakoda himself seems to be in love with Malina.

  • Recycled Premise: While the end results will, of course, be very different, the basic premise of this is unusually similar to that of the second season of The Legend of Korra. Both are set in the Southern Water Tribe, and are about the growing tensions between it and the North. In both, these tensions are largely due to cultural differences expounded by changes made to the South by Northern influence. Subverted somewhat in that the main conflict of the trilogy isn't between the North and the South, but rather between two factions in the South (Hakoda and the heroes vs Gilak and his nationalist rebels).
  • Relative Error: At first Team Avatar thinks that Malina and Maliq are a couple, only to later discover that they are actually siblings.
  • Scheherezade Gambit: Thod, an elderly storyteller with no apparent combat abilities, tells Katara and Sokka a story about a snow rat who lived among the humans but was chased out when he asked to be treated as an equal, in order to buy time while his men break down the ice wall.
  • Second Love: Malina to Hakoda.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Played for Laughs when Sokka claims that Katara was the one who thought Aang was a spy for the Fire Nation. She isn't convinced for a minute, and after a while, he admits that he was the one who thought that.
  • Ship Tease: Toph and Sokka have some, mostly when they are enjoying the festival.
    Sokka: "Captain Boomerang"?!
    Toph: Oh, don't act like you don't love it when I call you that, Captain Boomerang.
  • Slasher Smile: Toph sports a big one after making earthen gauntlets in the Volume 2 battle.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Despite similar cultures and a shared history, the Northern and Southern Water tribes are not one big happy family, and prejudices and other issues exist between the two. (A century of separation and being cut off from each other doesn't help either, as the two tribes have essentially become strangers to each other.) Especially when the South has valuable natural resources that can be exploited and the Northerners feel the South is too ignorant/uncivilized to take advantage of it. The South isn't free of other prejudices against the other nations either, despite being "good guys" in the war, with some southerners bitter and resentful towards the North for staying out of the Hundred Year War until near the end of it.
    • Just because the South united in the war, it doesn't mean there won't be a falling out and divisions about policy regarding what road to take after the war.
    • Katara imagines she'll go back to the South and find nothing has changed, only to find that everything is changing as the tribe tries to adapt to new post-war circumstances. When she is upset about this and says she expected things to go back to normal with the war over, Sokka points out that nobody in the South still remembers a time before the war, so nobody even knows what normal is anymore. A lot of people, including Katara, are trying to go back to a normal that they don't even know, and may have never existed.
    • As part of their reconstruction plans, the North converts several villages in the South into a massive city very similar to the North's capital. This is seen as cultural erasure by certain southerners, namely Gilak and Katara.
    • Pakku is attempting to teach waterbending to two very young sisters, the first souther waterbenders since Katara. Their mother always told them to hide their powers or the Fire Nation would take them away, which was a very real danger since the Fire Nation had a specialist military unit for that exact purpose less than ten years ago. They're too young to really understand that the war is over and the "monsters" aren't coming for them, and they're also away from their family and their incredibly isolated village for the first time ever. Naturally they're terrified and don't want to learn waterbending or understand why their mother suddenly decided to send them away to do the thing she always told them never to do.
    • Gilak kidnaps Earth King Kuei in an attempt to force all foreigners to leave the Southern Water Tribe, which Zuko notes will result in the Earth Kingdom declaring a new war if anything happens to him.
  • Villain Has a Point: After returning to the city, Katara notes that Gilak may be right, and the tribe is becoming like a cheap imitation of the North. Sokka, however, disagrees, seeing it as progress.
    • Doubled up in part 2; the world's largest oil deposit is in the South, which Malina openly advocates the South using to industrialize, and Toph has been summoned on behalf of the Earthen Fire Refinery to speak further. However, their original plans were for the North to decide how the oil is extracted, used and shipped, as they didn't believe the South to be advanced enough to use it properly. Malina changed her mind after meeting Hakoda, but Maliq didn't - Gilak is very justifiably pissed off, especially because evidence for this was all in the briefcase.
      • He ends up taking it too far when he tries to kill anyone not on his side though.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gilak is willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the South's culture, even if it means starting a war.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Coupled with a Wham Line when Sokka finds himself in the middle of a bustling city and says "The map says this is home."
    • The first volume ends with Sokka and Katara walking in on Hakoda kissing Malina.
  • White Man's Burden: The North originally wanted to colonize the South for their oil reserves. Ostensible to help the South recover, because the North believes the South can't handle becoming a worldwide economic power yet. Malina rejected these ideas after falling in love with Hakoda, Maliq didn't.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Noah, Kam and Soonjei respond to kids trespassing on their construction site for the third time by trying to "teach them a lesson" with waterbending.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: When Katara defends him from Gilak's brutes, Maliq says that he knew she "wasn't one of them". Malina tells him to shut up.