AVATAR’s Transmedia Life (2017–2022)

I’ve been trying to follow the emergence of James Cameron’s Avatar as a transmedia property for a few years now. I posted about the narrative importance of DisneyWorld’s Valley of Mo’ara attraction in 2017. It was the first sequel we had to the 2009 film in any entertainment medium. The events we experience in the attraction are set a generation after the film.

Since that time, Cameron and his team have relied primarily on comics to spread the continuity across media. The writer behind many of these stories is Sherri L. Smith. (Here is an interview about her work on the franchise.)

What follows is an overview of the comic titles (all published by Dark Horse) and the stories they tell. Perhaps some of this will figure into the sequel film Avatar: The Way of Water:

  • in Brothers (2017), which is a sidequel, Smith retells the events of Jake Sully’s bond with his banshee, and flashes back to his relationship with his dead twin brother.
  • in the six-book arc called Tsu’Tey’s Path (2019), also a sidequel to the first film, Smith fills in the events leading up to the Tsu’Tey’s death there. Tsu’Tey, you’ll recall, is Neytiri’s brother, by ritual, not blood.

Comics writer Jeremy Barlow then came up with the first sequel in comics:

  • the four-book arc entitled The Next Shadow (2021) depicts Jake Sully’s struggles to lead the clan in the immediate aftermath of the film, with Tsu’Tey’s family making an attempt on his life.

Writer Corinna Bechko followed this up with the first prequel in comics form:

  • 2022’s six-book arc Adapt or Die shows Grace’s attempt to make contact and peace with the clan. Grace is played by Sigourney Weaver in the 2009 film. (I should mention that video games were the first medium to explore storyworld events prior to the 2009 film. Avatar: The Game (2014) is set two years before the original feature.)

Lastly, Sherri L. Smith has written the first of a three-part graphic novel adapted from a script Cameron elected not to produce. The title of this first novel is The High Ground: Volume One (2022). In it, we get a glimpse of a different story than the first film–a very intimate one.

High Ground takes place 14 years after the 2009 movie, and in that time, Jake Sully and Neytiri have raised their own clan–a family of flesh-and-blood offspring and adopted orphans who were left without parents as a result of the events of the first film.

Three intriguing premises are introduced into the Avatar storyworld. The first is that Sully’s and Neytiri’s daughter Kiri appears to have a very special bond with the banshee (or ikran, those dragon-like creatures the Na’vi bond with) (figure 1). This is, as yet, an undeveloped premise in the graphic novel, but it may be taken up in the upcoming sequel film.

Figure 1.

Second, Sully’s and Neytiri’s children are mixed-species, and grapple with this reality. They have five fingers, which at times they view as a disability (figure 2).

Figure 2.

Third, the comic introduces us to another child, a human child left behind. His name is Spider (figure 3). He is cared for by Sully, but treated as a troublesome outcast by the Na’vi.

Figure 3.

As volume one of the graphic novel unfolds, we learn his secret. He was the first human born on the planet of Pandora, the son of a solider named Paz Socorro (figure 4).

Figure 4.

As the captions above suggest, Sully blames himself for the death of Spider’s mother.

In The High Ground, the Avatar world is one of trauma–of bodies and tech left over from the last war and a new generation of characters negotiating identity and history. But it’s also one of dread. Humanity has returned to Pandora with one goal in mind: reconquer the planet. To protect what they have, Jake Sully has the Na’vi on a war footing (figure 5).

Figure 5.