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GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift Library Edition HC

avatar the rift
avatar the rift
avatar the rift


Story by: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and Gene Luen Yang
Art by: Gurihiru
4.5/ 5

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1 total rating


To sum it all up..

FUSING PAST and PRESENT Better late than never, as what the cliché says it best. What I mean is I recently acquired Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift Library Edition HC for my favorite godchild because this has virtually anything what a good graphic novel should be—excellent storytelling, accessible in many ways possible, terrific English-construction, […]

Posted September 18, 2015 by


avatar the rift


Better late than never, as what the cliché says it best. What I mean is I recently acquired Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift Library Edition HC for my favorite godchild because this has virtually anything what a good graphic novel should be—excellent storytelling, accessible in many ways possible, terrific English-construction, entertaining, superb character-building and developments, humorously serious, and most importantly, it teaches readers valuable life lessons necessary in the real world. Ok, first and foremost, this gorgeous hardcover edition contains the entire The Rift storyline (#1-#3), clocks 230 pages, and features a sketchbook with annotations by the series frequent illustrative team Gurihiru. Similar to all Avatar deluxe hardcover editions, this one has insightful and concise notes at the side of the pages done by the creative team, most particularly its series’ resident comic scribe and recently crowned Best Writer in the 2015 Eisner’s Awards, Gene Luen Yang. The latter description is a big addition because it provides information regarding the historical-cultural references behind the illustrations and some of the inspirations and insights surrounding the characters and the events transpired in this Dark Horse Comics opus.

Basically, The Rift is the third volume of the previous Avatar: The Last Airbender post-television series in comic book adaptation, The Promise and then, The Search. New readers are highly suggested to either read or buy the abovementioned visual literature to gain knowledge and familiarization on anything Avatar and its magnificent world-building/universe. However, if one just opts to buy and read this gorgeous book for enjoyment’s sake, go ahead because The Rift actually tells an autonomous story on its own without missing out the something along the way. The reading experience is virtually top-notch for the book’s spine is sewn, though not at par with Marvel’s omnibuses. Nonetheless, the pages fall into place upon turning these without the violent jerking similar to the DC/Vertigo deluxe and omnibus hardcover versions.

Upon inspecting, reading and scrutinized this fine work of graphic literature, I finally comprehended well why Gene Luen Yang is a force to be reckoned with in the comic writing department, defeating the rest of the nominees in the of likes of Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughan and Jason Aaron. The Chinese-American writes infuses large dosages of humor while sprinkling some serious philosophical, cultural, ideological, historical and political matters and references without being way too serious altogether. The plot of The Rift circles around the defilement of Avatar Aang’s former ancestral and sacred grounds. Yet, serious and critical-minded types see direct and subtle messages of capitalism, feudalism, conservatism, progressivism, individualism, Confucianism, Industrialization and mechanizations, Karl Marx and Adam Smith’s dialectical clash of economic views, environmental and utilitarian issues, optimism and idealism as opposed to cynicism and realism, and the most significant of all, the maxim of CHANGE and CONTINUITY. Seriously, these are heavy and thought-provoking intellectual discourses tackled in this fun-filled, family-valued, and adventurous all-age comic book adaptation hardcover deluxe edition. To inferior writers; and/or those who embrace the so-called sophisticated writing approaches/techniques, Avatar: The Last Airbender may end up similar to that dark, cynical, and rubbish movie adaptation at all. But Gene, similar to the two previous Avatar story arcs, shows otherwise, crafting easy-to-read but highly intelligent tale of finding the “balance” and most significantly, focusing further on Toph Beifong’s road to familial reconciliation and her “softer” side as well.  In hindsight, why it is so unsurprisingly shocking why Gene won the Best Writer at all? His Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift answers that question.

Gurihiru is the team truly fits in the Avatar universe. It illustrates the characters with the utmost care and respect as much as possible as ever. The manga illustrations are highly detailed, scrutinized up to the last minute details, most particularly the clothing and its apparels, and the backgrounds that define the Avatar series. Aang’s monkish attire up the various cultural-social groups’ dresses is well-drawn, if not highly referenced. The ambiance and atmospheric surroundings are exquisitely stunning even so. Despite the gloominess of the former but defiled sacred grounds, the Japanese-based artistic team knows how to transfer that kind of negative feel to something positive and optimistic, most particularly when involving the characters in the panels. Moreover, the artistic tandem virtually nails down every artistic vision the writer wants to visualize, even to the point of outperforming the team’s own artistic paradigm and expectations as well. This is so significantly obvious on its illustrative outtakes on the re-interpretations of the mythical deities (or “spirits” as what the Avatar series call them); Naturally inspired by both Chinese and Japanese folklores and religions, the gigantic “spirits” are indeed some of the team’s best artistic creations yet. In correlation to that illustrative perspective, it demonstrates over and over its continuing improvement, if not the level of mastery, of artistic sequential paneling from the first page up to the final panel. As Gene writes, Gurihiru’s fun-filled, quirky and smooth-sailing illustrations undeniably synchronize so perfectly, even the numerous onomatopoeia or sound effects and other angular perspectives in many battle or action scenes expertly flows without being ended up bored or irritated at all. Another significant fact in the art development is the team’s excellent facial portrayals that truly defined and characterized each of every cast involved, most especially Toph’s interactions with her friends and ultimately, her father (but still, The Search packs the most emotional wallop among the Avatar comic book series!). The emotional draw which the tandem executes so well contributes the greater narrative impact to the readers that they can relate with their preferred or favorite characters, again with the “greatest earthbender of all”. Lastly, GURIHIRU delivers on either recapturing the artistic humorous executions which the series is very known and loved, and the homage which are clearly noticeable. Best examples are the antics Sokka committed in the backgrounds, in saluting the great Don Rosa, and the nods to the superhero movie, The Avengers, and the mega-comic book superhero event the original Secret Wars (specifically the #4 cover issue), most particularly Toph’s herculean or hulking moments. If there are flaws in this excellent volume, there are virtually nada at all, with the exception of the appearance bandaged finger of a hired mercenary and then in the following panels, the glaring injured pointy disappeared at all.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift is the definitive proof alone why Gene Luen Yang stands out as 2015’s Best Writer.  It also illuminates further why positive, humorous and fun-filled storytelling is never ever out of style in comics. Gurihiru matches every Yang’s vision to visualize a near perfect tale of confronting crucial CROSSROADS and maintaining a sense of BALANCE along the way, and the team transcends in the visualization and sequential storytelling to greater heights. The Rift is heartwarming, a bit polarizing if taken the injecting subliminal conflict theories sprinkled around, but positively optimistic and excellent read. This is a true gem!


Paul Ramos



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