Avatar: Tsu’Tey’s Path #1
Writer: Sherri L. Smith
Penciller: Jan Duursema
Inker: Dan Parson
Colorist: Wes Dzioba
Cover Artist: Doug Wheatley
Publisher: Dark Horse
Review by Christoph Staffl
The story of Avatar: Tsu’Tey’s Path takes place during the movie Avatar (which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year) and follows the title-giving hero. Because of its close connection to the movie, I first want to talk about the feature film, before continuing with the review of the comic itself. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.
As I watched the movie for the first time in December of 2009, I was immediately captivated by its magnificent, magical world: it looked so different from everything I had seen before. It reminded me a bit of Star Wars as it combines elements of the genres fantasy and sci-fi in a unique way. Though it takes place on just one planet, it had the potential to be just as epic. At the time the movie came out, one critique I often heard was that the story was too simple, too basic and such: the military vs. indigenous people; we vs. them.
I did and still don’t understand this point because you have to start somewhere. Maybe the reason for such a critique was that it was too close to earth’s history. It was not very pleasant to watch the tree fall at the climax of the story, leaving behind a landscape covered with death and ash. The setting, music, design, and overall composition of the movie made it something special and worth watching.
James Cameron talked early on about a whole array of movies to come. In 2021 we (hopefully) get the first sequel (of four that are already filming and/or in post-production). I can’t wait to buy my ticket. Until then he promised us books and other things to cherish and spend our time with. Unfortunately, nothing has come out so far.
So to see the comic Avatar: Tsu’Tey’s Path #1 in the Dark Horse solicits for this week was very exciting because it meant we finally get some new material from a universe I’ve loved for ten years. Even though it takes place during the movie and its protagonist is a familiar character, I hope Avatar: Tsu’Tey’s Path #1 is just the first story of many to come.
That being said, I didn’t watch the movie for a very long time, which may be necessary to better understand the things happening in the first issue. Early on writer Sherri L. Smith uses words, phrases, and deep lore of the Omatikaya clan. As necessary as that may be, it took me two reads to understand what was going on. The first time I tried to understand what the words they use meant, which was distracting from the story. The second time I could focus on the story, so everything made sense at the end.
At first, it was a bit frustrating to have to figure out the meaning of the words again and dig deep in my memory for things I knew from the movie. The more time I spent with the story, though, the more fun it was. Characters we know already (e.g., Tsu’Tey, Neytiri, Eytkan, and Mo’at) look very much like their motion picture counterparts. It was more like coming back to old friends, which is always nice.
The story focuses entirely on Tsu’Tey and his perspective on the things that happened during the movie — as suggested by the title. He is an interesting character, and I am eager to find out more about him as the story develops. The fact that we know Tsu’tey’s fate from the movie does not harm the comic at all. There are enough new characters for some conflict, and just finding out more about the Na’vi would be enough of a reward — at least for me.
Artwise the comic does a lot of justice to the characters and their surroundings. As I said before, the characters we already know look a lot like their movie counterparts, which helps to anchor the story and serve as a kind of guide. The new characters also have distinctive features, so even though everyone is large, blue, slim, and basically naked, you can tell them apart very quickly.
The best scenes involve either them climbing trees (there is one magnificent and detailed splash page of the title hero you do not want to miss) or them interacting with Eywa, their kind of god and mystical figure. The panels seem filled with the essence and spiritual energy of Eywa.
I have one critique regarding the artwork: Tsu’Tey is a hunting teacher and has five students to train. Two of them get a specific task, which takes place overnight. There is not much dialogue during this scene, which means the artwork has all the pressure. Unfortunately, it is not always entirely clear what they are trying to do or how long everything takes. Without knowing the movie and how the Omatikaya clan lives, I would have been wholly lost (in those two to three pages, that is). The part of the story I am talking about would have benefited from a page or two more — giving the artwork space to breathe.
The Verdict: Buy it.
After the first read, which confused me and was not really satisfying, I wanted to give this issue a “Wait and See” or even a “Skip it!” But the comic invites you to spend time with it, with the lore it presents and the way the characters talk to each other. I would recommend watching the movie, before coming back to the comic, just so that everything is fresh in your mind.