As the title suggests, the story is set before the movie or series started, showing some of the trials and travels of Zuko after his banishment, on his quest to find the Avatar.
The book is linked to the movie world: firebenders need a source of fire to firebend, some of the characters and armours are movie, not animated series, inspired.
The authors and artists have done a very good juggling job of meshing the animated series with the movie elements.
I must admit being hit by nostalgia, seeing some familiar animated series character making an appearance and thinking either they're not in the movie or that's not what they are going to look like (hey, Zhao makes a cameo appearance, sideburns and all! Looking better in the book than the movie!).
The choice of Nina as the artist was excellent: her own style merges the two worlds (animated and movie) together very nicely. She draws all the characters lovingly. I smiled at all the panels where she drew a wonderful Azula. She may have also totally made me accept movie!Iroh's look in these few pages. There's a nice attention to details, and her slightly scratchy ink work gives it a rough energy that I enjoy. I also really liked that she relied almost exclusively on B&W with very little gray tones. She's also a very good storyteller, with good page layouts and compositions.
Story wise, I know Dave and Alison were under a whole lot of pressure and very little time to turn around a story that made sense, and overall they have done it. All the story elements mesh together and lead to the next scene logically.
Strangely enough, the one sequence that I liked a little bit less (can't quite put my finger on it) was the Blue Spirit one. A sort of genesis-inspiration of the character and his appearance. It needs to be in the book, for it is perhaps the one element that will tie in very well with the movie and the appearance of Zuko in his alter ego disguise.
It's just a case of personal taste, but there was something about the other part of the books that felt more... I don't know...natural. More flowing, less "we need to put that scene in there" moment.
Personal taste, you know.
That being said, I would not have cut the Blue Spirit scene out, and I really don't think I would have come up with a better scenario. They've made it work. But for some reason, it's just not my favorite bit. I still like it, just not as much as the rest.
There are moments in the story where the characters really felt true. Be it when Zuko demands to be taught certain firebending techniques, or when he chases someone out of a temple who he thinks is the Avatar (I swear I laugh every time I see those two panels). That was pure first season Zuko. Uncle has also some very Iroh moment, and I'm not talking just about tea.
I will basically repeat three points I told to Dave:
The book is too short! I want more Zuko travelling the world stories. Come on, book! You could have been 50 pages heavier! (sorry to the creative crew, that would have meant more work in the same insane short amount of production time...)
Once again. big wave of nostalgia seeing familiar faces from the animated series, dreaming how awesome it would have been to have had more books like this when the animated series was being made. Poor animated series never had as much love.
The book also has an extra sections, showing some script pages with rough pencils. It's great that we got that, but I almost wished they'd put in some "deleted scenes" in there instead. I know some existed at some point.
I only have two small crits: a moment of confusion about who a character was- Commander Kanku is not properly introduced by name first time we see him, plus a small typo noticed in re-reading ("peopole").
If you're hesitating getting the prequel because it is too close to the movie, rest assured: this prequel would fit extremely well standing before the animated series.
You just need to get used to Iroh's looks, and Nina's art and the story may just make you want to adopt him as you favorite uncle, right beside short and round Iroh we're used to.
We can have two Irohs, right?
Well, I rarely write reviews but that was my thoughts, first impression, etc.
That being said OMG THE ART OF THE ANIMATED SERIES IS OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And I never use OMG.
Comic book stores got an early shipment. Next week is the general bookstores. It is as gorgeous to look at as the previews made it seem. Beautiful hardcover, more art that you've ever seen.
I would have liked some pictures to have been bigger, as all the art in this series deserves more page space, but in terms of sheer quantity of material, prepare yourselves.
It's got a lot.
A whole friggin' lot.
If you're an Avatar fan, this book will cause fits of fangasm.
A little extra note: did you know the Blue Spirit was almost the red spirit in the animated series? It's a little detail that actually links to the Zuko prequel, ha ha!