Avatar: Adapt or Die collects the six-part series into a single trade paperback. It was written by Corinna Bechko with art by Agni R. Lobel, coloring by Wes Dzioba, and lettering by Michael Heisler. This canon story takes place before the events of the first film. The story’s position in the timeline means our usual POV character, Jake Sully, is still on Earth. While Neytiri does make a brief appearance, she is still a child at this point, leaving the bulk of the story to the adults in the room.
When Na’vi children begin falling ill after a visit to the human encampment on Pandora, human doctor Grace Augustine and Mo’at of the Omatikaya clan of Na’vi must come together and combine their unique expertise while overcoming both human and Na’vi prejudice to save the kids.
Mo’at identifies the symptoms of the sickness as the same as those caused by the pollen of the syekalin flower and seeks out the advice of the Tawkami clan, Pandora’s master botanists. The trade paperback, which was read for this review, gets no help from being released into a post-The Way of Water world, as meeting the Tawkami is ultimately anticlimactic. We only see two of them, they are awfully similar to the Omatikaya, and all we really learn about them is that flowers are their whole thing. It’s hard not to compare this to the Metkayina clan of The Way of Water and how it spoils the viewer with the impressive scope and depth of the clan’s culture and practices.
As the book continues, it turns out the human mining operation has been contaminating the water of the area, ultimately resulting in the illness developing in the Na’vi children. Communities being poisoned with contaminated water that has an outsized effect on the health of children is a thing that happens in our real world as well. With the environmental racism of the Flint Water Crisis barely in the rearview mirror (arguably still ongoing), this story doesn’t quite make good with the gravity of the themes it chooses to grapple with. Ultimately the problem our characters grapple with was the result of genuine ignorance on the part of the humans and is quickly resolved. The affected Na’vi get better and it’s as if the whole ordeal never happened. While in the real world, lead poisoning isn’t something that can be “scienced” away by one determined person, the people responsible were not acting out of ignorance, and the repercussions will be felt for decades.
One thing the original Avatar film makes clear is that Dr. Grace Augustine is a smoker. To be a highly educated woman of science, in the future, on an alien planet, who still smokes is notable. In this story, however, she does not light up once. This disregard for her human body with a habit that cannot be remotely easy to maintain on a planet millions of lightyears from the earth is an important character detail. In this story, Dr. Augustine is under a great deal of stress but is never seen indulging in her vice of choice. The film digitally added a cigarette into the scene whenever the character would smoke to spare Sigourney Weaver the unpleasantness of the real thing. This must have been an expensive and time-consuming undertaking, so the fact that it happened at all emphasizes how important this trait is to the character. The relatively inexpensive pairing of words and pictures is something that makes comics great and unique. Dr. Augustine lighting up wouldn’t even need to be commented on in the writing and would be magnitudes easier than adding a cgi cigarette to a movie, but it is not present at all. It may seem like a small detail at first glance, but its omission is indicative of the overall quality and superfluousness of the book. This kind of omission, intentional or otherwise, might not be a big deal in other franchises, but bodies and peoples’ relationships to them are a load-bearing tenet of this one. It’s called Avatar, after all.
Confusing character choices, an inconsequential plot, and anticlimactic world-building make this hard to recommend. Incredible character art with lush backgrounds, and dialogue that captures the distinct way the Na’vi speak make this a passable tie-in product but these things alone cannot make up for the story and character issues, making this an inessential piece of the Avatar universe.
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