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Avatar: The High Ground is a three volume graphic novel series from Dark Horse's Avatar comic line. It is set 14 years after the first film and chronologically follows Avatar: The Next Shadow. It is set before Avatar: The Way of Water and follows many of the characters introduced in the film such as Lo'ak, Kiri, Neteyam and Frances Ardmore.

It is based on an 130-page original screenplay by James Cameron which originally was planned to become the second film of the Avatar franchise.[1] Despite this, Joshua Izzo clarified that all three issues of The High Ground are indeed canon, even mentioning, "James Cameron (my boss) says it's canon. So it's canon."[2]

The series is written by Sherri L. Smith. The series has different illustrators, giving the entire comic series a rather inconsistent art style. Volume 1 is illustrated by Guilherme Balbi, Michael Atiyeh and Wes Dzioba. Volume 2 is illustrated by Diego Galindo, George Quadros, Gabriel Guzman and DC Alonso. Volume 3 is illustrated by Agustin Padilla, Miguel Angel Ruiz and Michael Atiyeh. The series has cover art by Doug Wheatley.

Plot[]

Issue 1[]

It has been almost 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.

Jake has mentioned that not a single day has passed without him in grief over the losses and the deaths that happened during the battle over Hometree and the Tree of Souls, and he feels that those tragic times almost feel as if they happened to someone completely different. Jake also now sports much thicker dreadlocks, making his hairstyle resemble Neytiri's more. Jake has always feared that the RDA will return to Pandora because of Earth's dying resources, viewing their temporary absence as only a matter of time. Almost a decade later since the humans were forced to leave Pandora, they have begun to return with an armada of heavily armed starships.

After years of peace, Jake has settled down with Neytiri and raised a family, consisting of Neteyam, Lo'ak and Tuktirey, as well as their adoptive children Miles Socorro and Kiri. Meanwhile, Norm Spellman has become a foster father for a group of Na'vi orphans.

During Lo'ak's ikran training session, Lo'ak falls off a cliff, frightening Jake although Neytiri insists the danger is part of the trial. Neytiri is emotionally shaken and weeps in joy that Lo'ak is alive. Later, Jake and Neytiri have a discussion about their children facing and the dangers of the trial. Though they sympathize with each other's viewpoints, Neytiri mentions Jake has been breaking the Three Laws of Eywa by teaching their hunters to use guns made of metal. Jake insists even though he is not human, he still feels he is a marine and that he is still like the Sky People.

Paz death

A flashback of Paz's death.

The clan celebrates Lo'ak's success. Neytiri does not like that Kiri has invited Spider into the family gathering. Jake still finds it hard to fully enjoy his life because he believes the Sky People will return eventually. Jake tries to talk to Pentyaru about the matter, but Neytiri insists they just enjoy themselves for tonight. Neytiri also tries to convince Jake that their people need hope, although Jake feels as if he is lying to his people. In their conversation, as he tries to defend Spider, Jake also educates Neytiri on what the word "sin" means. Meanwhile, Kiri and Spider head to the RDA's lab where they watch Jake's video logs from when he was a human. Kiri also tries to convince Spider that he truly is a part of their family. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Spider's mother Paz Socorro had died during the assault on Hometree.

After the two put their kids to sleep, Jake and Neytiri go on a night date. As they rest on the ground, Jake looks up and sees a massive light in the sky, making Jake realize the RDA is back. Later, Jake holds a group meeting with the Na'vi where he insists they must fight the Sky People again to drive them away -- but in outer space so they can get the "high ground". For now, Jake insists everyone move to the Hallelujah Mountains which causes controversy. Meanwhile, one member of the RDA is tasked with killing Jake by the new general, Frances Ardmore. Jake and Norm go to Hell's Gate where they discover there are 10 RDA ships. The Na'vi begin training in zero gravity, although Jake refuses to let one of his boys fight in the upcoming battle.

In a council meeting, Jake insists the Na'vi fight and tries to convince Yeyatley to agree, but Yeyatley instead insists the Na'vi offer peace instead. Akwey supports Jake's choice, though before the group can continue debating, it is noticed that Jake's children are gone, with the exception of Neteyam.

Neytiri Spider

Neytiri angered at Spider.

Kiri, Lo'ak, Tuk and Spider decide to secretly go exploring because they think the meeting is going to take forever and they won't want to be bored. They visit the remains of the war where they find a human skeleton in a Samson's cockpit. Lo'ak and Spider end up almost accidentally killing Kiri and Tuktirey when the Samson falls. Spider begins to run low on oxygen and the kids try to find their way back home. Meanwhile, Jake and Neytiri form a search party for the children. They eventually find the children. Jake blames Lo'ak, though Spider admits he also deserves some blame. Neytiri agrees that Spider is at fault and orders him to stay away from Kiri, claiming they will never see each other again.

Ardmore threat 2

Ardmore broadcasting her threat to the residents of Hell's Gate.

A widespread message from Frances Ardmore is heard, offering amnesty for those "illegally" occupying Hell's Gate while threatening death if they attempt to resist and fight back. This causes many of the humans to panic and feel defeated. Jake tries to motivate the humans, but Mary tells Jake that they're not guerilla fighters, that they don't have avatar bodies, that it is challenging to expect their children to grow up wearing masks their whole lives, and that re-integrating back into human society is tempting. Jake says those who wish to fight to come with him for now to evacuate.

Issue 2[]

Humans have returned to Pandora with an armada of starships but Jake Sully and the Na'vi are ready for them! Knowing this day would come, Jake has trained his Navi warriors with a plan that should make it too costly for the humans to try again ... if the plan works.
But, any chain of events is only as strong as the weakest link, and in this case the weak link is human nature. As the plan unravels, Jake and Neytiri must race against time to return to Pandora and save their children before the starships land.

Jake and Neytiri talk about their upcoming plan to fight the RDA in space. Neteyam does not wish to remain at High Camp, instead wishing to fight, though Jake again declines the offer. As the Sully family prepares to go their own ways, Kiri can not be found. Although Max Patel insists Spider stay with the McCoskers, Kiri insists he come with them to High Camp. Nash McCosker finds the two and tells Miles to go with him. Although Jake and Neytiri think Spider is best with his foster family, Kiri is upset and flees.

Spider McCosker

Spider captured by Nash McCosker.

Kiri later comes across Mo'at who tells her that change is a part of life and is what someone makes of it. Kiri then meets up with Tuk and Lo'ak, and Kiri goes to pray at the Tree of Souls to beg Eywa for help. Kiri then resolves to go get Spider. Kiri tells Lo'ak to take Tuk to High Camp. When Kiri arrives at Hell's Gate at night, it turns out that Lo'ak and Tuk followed her to help. The siblings go get Spider who hears knocking on his bedroom window. They are soon found by McCosker who says they can be useful, however, he traps Spider and the siblings in separate rooms.

Meanwhile, Jake and Neytiri have previously "purified" their spirits with Mo'at by inflicting pain on themselves because they believe it should be done before they betray Eywa by using steel weapons. They have departed on their space shuttle and Ardmore contacts them via a video message. Jake's team tries to blackmail the RDA by threatening destroy Hell's Gate and several other structures on Pandora that the RDA desire to reclaim. Ardmore's team agrees they will talk physically. As the Na'vi are in their shuttle, Jake and Neytiri are displeased to see that Neteyam has sneaked on board.

Confronting Ardmore

Jake and Neytiri confronting Ardmore.

The Na'vi meet the RDA on their ship, though interactions between the two groups prove tense. Jake and Neytiri meet with Ardmore and Jake reveals that there is 3.2 trillion dollars worth of unobtanium stashed away on a derelict ship in space which is also rigged with explosive. He suggests that the RDA take this material and go, but General Ardmore remains adamant. In response to this, Jake orders his ground team to blow the refinery on Pandora, which they do. The RDA turns hostile but Jake reveals other buildings are still intact. Though Jake briefly attempts a treaty, he then goes onto say that the RDA would just break it again.

Meg dies

Meg is killed by McCosker or Earl.

Back at Hell's Gate, Meg Elkins (a woman who is on Jake's team) is murdered by McCosker or Earl. McCosker appears on a radio message to Ardmore saying the explosives on Pandora are disarmed and the Sully children have been captured. Jake and Neytiri are horrified that their plan seems to have failed by this unexpected turn of events. Jake orders Norm to use an explosion on the RDA ship. The commotion lets Jake and Neytiri separate and, with Josh Winslow, they decide to find the ship's auxiliary weapons to threaten the other RDA ships. It works, but Winslow ends up dying. After a large battle in space, Jake and Neytiri manage to get away, though Ardmore refuses to give up and proceeds to follow.

Issue 3[]

Jake Sully’s fears have come crashing to Pandora, gun’s blazing. The Sky People are planet-side, and taking Hell’s Gate by storm. Jake and Neytiri’s children are still on base, surrounded and outgunned. He will have to improvise and risk it all to protect his family, his people, and their home. The battle is underway and every Na’vi is in danger.

The ship carrying Jake, Neytiri and Neteyam descends back to Earth, with RDA ships chasing after them. Jake and Neytiri fly to Hell's Gate on their banshees to rescue the children with Neteyam following after them. At Hell's Gate, the RDA interrogates the residents and holds them in custody. Spider manages to escape his cell using a fire extinguisher to bash the windows, and he rescues the Sully children.

Spider running

Spider trying to keep up.

The children flee into the forest with the RDA following them. Jake and Neytiri catch up and the whole family reunites. Jake sends a radio message to Wu Mingxia for backup. As the family becomes involved in another chase, Spider briefly struggles to catch up due to being a human. After the slaughter of some RDA members, the Sully family makes it to a beanstalk where a Samson corners them. Ming arrives in a shuttle to fight off the Samson and opens a hatch for the family to jump into. The Samson fires missiles at the shuttle while they are over the ocean, causing its engines to fail and everyone prepares for a rough landing.

Their shuttle must land somewhere, making the ocean the safest place. Water then begins to fill their room, leaving the family to flee outside. The group uses a beacon and Norm rescues them in a Samson.

Development[]

Avatar: The High Ground was originally planned to become the sequel to the 2009 film Avatar. James Cameron was working with a team of writers on ideas for the sequels. However, he was never quite content with the outcome for The High Ground: "We had a lot of ideas. We kept trying to corral it into a box, and it never quite fit." Eventually, he wrote a 130-page script to see if it works as a movie, but Cameron felt that it was missing a critical element for a sequel: "It didn’t go enough into the unexpected. It also didn’t play enough by Avatar rules, which is to connect us to the dream world, that which has a spiritual component that we can’t even quite quantify in words. It ticked every other box, but it didn’t tick that one."[1]

Eventually, Cameron decided to not turn the script into a movie. Instead, some elements of it were restructured into the first two sequels. It was decided to relaunch the Avatar: The High Ground script in the form of a graphic novel that tells the story of the Na'vi between Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water.[1]

The script was handed to the actors of Avatar: The Way of Water in preparation for their respective roles in order to give them a better understanding of the backstory of their characters. This version of the script was termed Avatar 1.5 by media commentators, but it was in fact the High Ground script.[3]

Versions and delays[]

The first volume, Advent to War was listed on Amazon in late 2019 with a release date of January 23rd, 2020, and no announcement. Publishing metadata was released around this time as well. The item was taken down shortly afterward without wide release. The item listing offered a little background information including that it was based on an early screenplay for Avatar: The Way of Water that was not used, and that it would be released in three volumes.[4]

With some publishing metadata such as an ISBN remaining in place, the status of the book remained unknown. Dark Horse's next release in the franchise was Avatar: The Next Shadow on January 6th, 2021, a year after the supposed release date of The High Ground.

In 2022, the series resurfaced on book distribution sites and were scheduled to release on November 2, November 30, and December 7, respectively, and were available for pre-order, though the pre-order period was not publicized. Later, it was claimed they would release on December 6, December 13, and December 20.

The first volume was released on November 2 as intended but only at certain retailers since December 6 was the release date for other sites such as Amazon. Volumes 2 and 3 were delayed a bit, with Dark Horse set to publish them on December 14, allowing some readers to finish the series before The Way of Water, with other retailers pushing them back to January 10, 2023.

A paperback library version combining all three volume was released on June 13, 2023.

Reception[]

Tuktirey comic

Tuktirey in the comic.

The comic received generally positive reviews, mainly for the story. However, the comic's art has been somewhat criticized because of its constantly changing art styles, leading to some thinking the art was rushed. Some of the characters have strange/goofy expressions or do not resemble like their film counterparts very much. For example, Lo'ak has a haircut resembling Neteyam's and he is drawn as if he were a muscular young adult instead of a lanky 14-year-old boy. Tuktirey, who is supposed to be a 7 year old girl, does not have her hairstyle and she is drawn very boyishly, even having a chest which appears to have some pecs. It has also been joked about that Spider's face looks like an old man in some panels. In one of the panels in the first volume, Neteyam has five fingers when he is supposed to have four.[citation needed]

Trivia[]

  • The comic reveals the Na'vi refer to outer space as "the black world" in their language.

References[]

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