[Review] Avatar: The High Ground by Sherri L. Smith, Guilherme Balbi, Diego Galindo, George Quadros, and Agustín Padilla

It has been over a decade since the humans were forced to leave Pandora—but now they’re returning—with an armada of heavily-armed starships! After years of peace, Jake Sully has settled down with Neytiri and raised a family, so for him, the stakes are even higher than when he first went to war against the corporate might of the RDA.

During the development process of creating the four Avatar sequels, a lot of new ideas and stories were created and discussed. One such EPIC original story idea that didn’t make it into the sequels was James Cameron’s original story—“The High Ground.” This beautiful library edition collects volumes 1-3 of the graphic novel series written by award-winning author Sherri L. Smith ( The Toymaker’s Apprentice , Orleans ), and illustrated by artists Guilherme Balbi, Diego Galindo, Agustin Padilla, and Miguel Angel Ruiz!

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I started reading this series as an additional source for my currently-written term paper on the second Avatar movie. It apparently goes into more detail about especially Spider’s background and the years between both movies‘ plotlines. With less than 100 pages each, these graphic novels are quickly read an fill in some gaps or even plot holes of the second movie. Therefore, I liked discovering their additional scenes but wouldn’t say that it is necessary to read them for the enjoyment of the movies.


Vol. 1

This obviously is the start of this additional story and it opens in quite a similar way to the second movie. We get to know about the Jake and Neytiri’s children and witness them growing up in a condensed manner. I have to admit, nonetheless, that I would have been quite confused about this presentation. That is, without the family tree being already established in my head. Especially with the many blue figures, I got quite irritated. The illustrations were partly too narrow for me to make out details. I guess that the printed version of the graphic novels are easier to follow.

Plot-wise, I was rather let down. I hoped for a bit more depth. I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the shallow story given this graphic novel’s less than 90 pages. Moreover, I was not really fond of the „high ground“ or „black ground“ training. It put Na’vi into space suits and prepared them for a no-gravity fight. I know that Avatar is Sci-Fi, but this looked a bit ridiculous to me. Maybe I should have stopped this series given my low evaluation of this first volume. Nonetheless, I was intruigued to see what else would come up.


Vol. 2

This second book picks up the story right where we left the characters. It outlines the whole space fight and complex plot to send off the Sky People again. Although the plan was quite interesting and intriguing, I did not really like the whole idea of this story. I mentioned that before and I kept being thrown off by this space setting. The character interactions were the only interesting thing, and unfortunately, we did not get too many of them.

Once more, I experienced a lot of confusion due to the similarity of the characters. In this part, all good people were blue and all bad ones in human form. This part was easy, but to distinguish the Navi, I needed to look really close every time. With the second movie in mind, I moreover felt that the plotline in which Jake and Neytiri’s children get captivated gets overused and annoying. I feel like this graphic novel does not really add anything to the world building. It offers fighting scenes but does not really engage with the characters, which I would have enjoyed to read way more.


Vol. 3

The third volume neither did offer a lot of reading but fighting scenes. Pages were simply filled with shot bodies and jumping and more stunts. Which is a lot of work for the illustrators, but less plot. I also found it confusing to find some technology in this graphic novel that didn’t make it into the movie. Maybe they couldn’t find a way to integrate these mechanic hounds, or the humans found them to be inefficient after their destruction in this fight.

What I liked to some degree was the self-induced liberation of the Sully kids thanks to Spider. Nonetheless, his contribution was not commented on in any way by their parents. I further liked to see a human female pilot help Jake and wondered where she did end up in the movie. The last pages nevertheless gave a clue on that. On them, they were also attacked by a water creature that resembles a shark. This way—plus through Jake’s final remarks about the family as their fortress—the graphic novel connects back to the second movie and foreshadows it.


In conclusion,

I would have preferred to read and see more of the interpersonal development in this graphic novel. Instead, we got a lot of overemphasized fighting scenes in space and on Pandora. We have already enough battles in the movies, and I wished they had put the focus differently. I further can’t remember even one stunning picture from all three volumes but got rather confused by the many similar looking characters.



The author:

Sherri L. Smith is the award-winning author of YA novels LUCY THE GIANT, SPARROW, HOT SOUR SALTY SWEET, FLYGIRL and ORLEANS. In October 2015, she makes her middle grade debut with THE TOYMAKER’S APPRENTICE from G.P. Putnam and Sons for Penguin Random House.
Sherri has worked in film, animation, comic books and construction. Her books have been listed as Amelia Bloomer, American Library Association Best Books for Young People, and Junior Library Guild Selections. FLYGIRL was the 2009 California Book Awards Gold Medalist.
She loves her family, travel, chocolate chip cookies, reading, and and a really good cup of tea.


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