Avatar The Last Airbender: Shells (Free Comic) Review


So as I am sure you all know today, May 3rd is Free Comic Book Day 2014. There is an Avatar free comic available if you go to your local participating store. I am just back from my store and managed to get the Avatar comic plus a few of the other books available. So here is my review of the Avatar story.



Written By/ Gene Luen Yang

Art By/ Faith Erin Hicks

Colours By/ Cris Peter

Letters By/ Michael Heisler

The obvious comparison for this free comic is last years free comic, “Rebound” which focused on Mai. There are clear similarities in terms of what these 2 stories do. They both focus on characters who have not had a lot of page time in the main comics (Sokka and Suki for this book), they are both 10 or so pages long and they both introduce some interesting world building.

Shells is the title of this year’s story and it is good, I would not say it is mind blowing or anything, but for a free comic it is very solid. I do think that overall Rebound is a better story, just because there is a bit more going on, while Shells is a lot simpler of a story and is very clear straight away about how things are going to turn out. Nothing in shells will really surprise you in terms of the story, but the story it tells is perfectly fine.

That story in short is

“Sokka and Suki walk into a store selling collectible shells, a girl who is really into shells then walks in and gets abuse from the shopkeepers about being a fake collector as he thinks Girls cannot possibly be true collectors. Suki steps in to speak up for the girl and is about to be physically thrown out of the store when she defends herself showing the two sexist store owners that she is tough. Sokka and Suki go to find the girl, named, Giya who has left upset earlier on. They offer to train her a bit so she can defend herself, but she is unsure and shy. Suki then tells her of how the Kyoshi Warriors came into being and the girl eventually agrees to be trained as long as she can do it with some of her friends who are also picked on by jerks like the shopkeepers. The story ends with Suki training the girls and Sokka in her Kyoshi Warrior gear.”

Very predictable, but that is no always a bad thing, this is good continuity for both Sokka and Suki as characters. There are clear references to 104 here. Suki not taking any sexist remarks from anyone and always being willing to stand up for herself or anyone else, and also Sokka here clearly a complete role reversal from 104 to here. In 104 he was the sexist guy not respecting how strong women can be and here he really lets Suki handle herself, he asks is she needs help fighting the men and she just kisses him on the cheek and says “Nope, sweet of you to offer, though.”. He is the one to suggest that Giya be trained by Suki, he wants to see Giya embrace how strong she can be as a woman, which even shocks Suki a bit that he has changed so much from their first meeting.

My favourite and the best part of he book by far is when Suki explains the origin of the Kyoshi Warriors. It is something that is surprising that we are only getting now, but the explanation is interesting. Basically, when Kyoshi Island was still attached to Chin Village a lot of jerks used to disrespect women, Avatar Kyoshi would step in and offer to teach them to defend themselves, she did this with many women and eventually over time they became the Kyoshi Warriors. Their origins are that they were originally just fisherwomen, weavers and homemakers, but were thought how to defend themselves and became an elite fighting force. This origin is the complete opposite of the origin of the other fighting force Kyoshi trained, The Dai Li. They were a solution to an issue in Ba Sing Se and were kind of forced together and eventually the group lost their way and became corrupted, while the Kyoshi Warriors were completely unplanned and just happened over time. It is a simple but very effective origin story that completely works. There is a clear comparison here between the way Kyoshi would step in to help women and the way Suki jumps in to help Giya here. That really works considering Suki is the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors.

Speaking of Suki, she debuts her newly learned Chi Blocking skills here. I believe this is the first time we have seen her use these skills, it was the ATLA finale where Ty Lee joined the Kyoshi Warriors and she said she would teach them Chi Blocking, but I don’t think we have seen Suki use this yet. She uses it to chi block the firebender owner of the seashell shop, in a very nicely done fight scene.

As you can probably tell from my story synopsis, the theme/issue covered in this book is sexism and also something well known in the comic fandom people seeing a lot of female comic fans as  “Fake Geek Girls”. Most of us obviously know that no one but yourself can define your own fandom and no one else should determine if you are a true fan or not. But this is dealt with here and it manages to do it well without it bashing you over the head with “GIRL POWER FTW”.  The two shopkeepers are shell collectors and give Sokka no trouble when he walks in knowing very little about shells, while when Giya walks in knowing a lot about them they start calling her a fake collector and saying that girls only come into their store with their boyfriends (clearly aimed at Suki) or just to pretend to be a collector. They then show themselves to be sexist too when they flat out say “Girls don’t know shells”. They are proven wrong by Suki and Sokka which inspires Giya who wishes she could be like Suki, but struggles to just do that because she is shy and has got this kind of abuse before.

Giya is an interesting enough character, but it is clear that she is not given enough time to really show who she is fully as a character, that said they manage to make her interesting and have some development in just 10 pages.

Sokka and Suki’s relationship is never he focus of this comic as they never really discuss it. But throughout you can see that they are a happy couple, having a lot of fun and even how they handle the drama in the store shows the strength of their relationship. Sokka knows Suki can handle herself and that for this fight it is important that Giya see a girl stand up to bullies on her own and so he takes a step back understanding the situation. Suki kisses Sokka on the cheek in the middle of the fight saying it was sweet of him to offer his help. Even moments when they find Giya and Sokka talks about how amazing Suki is to show Giya how strong girls can be are great. It is clear to see that their relationship is great, so any worried SUKKA fans can give a sign of relief, they are still a couple and going strong!

The only other thing I want to talk about is the new artist for this comic, Faith Erin Hicks. Last year we had Ryan Hill on art and I really enjoyed his unique and different style and wished we would be given a chance on another Avatar comic, but unfortunately there remains only 1 creative team on the main ATLA books. Faith also has a unique and different style compared to the Team Gurihiru art we are so used to by now.  Here style works very well in the fight scenes and she manages to get a lot of expression through in the way she does the characters faces, I feel there is a little bit too much inking at times and it makes the art look a little dirty/messy, but that may just be me as I don’t like heavy inking much in any comics. The only other issue I have is that she puts no colour in the characters eyes, it just means that all of the characters have the exact same eyes and they all look a bit odd just because there is no iris colour, especially when she give the characters coloured eyes on the cover. The key thing is that I would love it if she got a chance to showcase her art more on a bigger Avatar comic, I hope she is not just forgotten like Ryan Hill from last year as I feel Avatar comics should expand and give more writers and artists a chance to show what they can do. We are slowly but surely building up a group of good artists for Avatar, but with just 1 3 part story released every year it seems like Free Comic Book Day is the only place for new artists to come onto Avatar comics. I was very pleased with Faith’s work on this comic.

So overall it was really exactly what I expected. A short story that was good without being amazing, mainly aimed at bringing new readers on board and I think this book will bring a lot of young female reader on board with it’s subject matter here. Another fun free comic that shows that Avatar comics work outside of the 3 70 page books format, makes me want to see what Dark Horse could do with a monthly ongoing book.

Make sure to check out the Avatar Online Podcast tomorrow for our review of this book.

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Comments - 3 Posts

  1. Airspeed Prime Said: Comment by Airspeed Prime on May 3, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink


    My video review


    Troy Reply:

    The distant faces were really of. I would agree with the action being very well communicated. I do like the Mai one better because it had more continuity. I would agree that the Dai Li were formed for use by the powerful and the Kyoshi Warriors were formed for use against the powerful. Maybe the new artist each year is just because of other things the artists have going on.


  2. Calvin Said: Comment by Calvin on May 7, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    For the people who haven’t got one: you can still buy one for €0,25/$0,31/£0,20 ! Here is the link: http://www.archonia.com/comicshop/en/article/179104/fcbd+2014+dh+avatar+bitty+hellboy+rexodus++%28limit+one+per+customer%29/



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