Toph was my favorite character from Avatar: The Last Airbender. While neither blind nor the world’s greatest Earthbender, I empathized with her greatly, seeing the similarities of a complex family situation. Toph wasn’t what her parents wanted her to be; she couldn’t live that lie. While she may have lost her biological family, she found a new one among her friends. Also, Toph kicked butt. The smallest member of Team Avatar was also one of the most dangerous. How could you not love watching a blind, 12 year old take out adult members of the military without breaking a sweat?
It’s because of Toph that Gene Luen Yang’s The Rift is my favorite of his Last Airbender works (all of which are must reads.) After being part of the B plot of The Promise and left out entirely from The Search, Toph is given her due. It was worth the wait. When Aang takes the Air Acolytes to celebrate the Air Nomad holiday of Yanchen’s Festival, they find a town built on the once-sacred land that is polluting the river and destroying the environment around it. Destruction that is angering one of the local spirits.
The Rift is about many complex themes. It’s a story about the past and the future, tradition and advancement, family and the values we pass on. To Yang’s credit, none of these themes feel forced, and their inclusion in the narrative is seamless. Aang and Toph are such perfect leads to showcase this struggle. While at odds due to their different beliefs, Yang doesn’t forget their friendship or make them outright antagonistic. Aang and Toph’s dynamic between them reminds me of the early days of Toph’s introduction, when she was still getting used to the Gaang.
Aang’s been seen protecting the past and tradition on many occasions, but what’s fascinating about his role in The Rift is the exploration of Avatar Yangchen, the Air Nomad Avatar before him only seen briefly in the run of the series. Yangchen, the Air Nomad who advocated killing, is a fascinating addition to the Avatar legacy, and it’s through her that a new perspective on Air Nomad beliefs is revealed. The other angle is watching Aang having gone from the student to the teacher. Gone is the little, playful boy. Aang has grown up (Wow, is he tall!), and he carries the weight of an entire people on his shoulders.
As you might have guessed, it’s Toph’s story I related more to. Toph favors the future and the budding industry that will eventually transform the world from The Last Airbender into the world of Legend of Korra. It’s rare to see one of the good guys favor industry over the natural world, and yet it’s so fitting for our little metalbender. What’s more key are two interactions. For the first time ever Toph is given a love interest. When I first heard about this, I was nervous. I half expected thinly veiled interest in her crush and a lack of confidence like a certain Twinkletoes was with his crush, but, no. Toph is not Aang; she approaches the possibility of romance with as much force and confidence as we’ve come to expect from her in every avenue of her life. The other key interaction is confronting Toph once again with her family, with all of the baggage that carries.
As always, the art of Gurihiru is perfect. I adore the new outfits, technology, and the spirits they created for The Rift. More than ever, the designs are at that halfway point to The Legend of Korra, and it feels so organic. The Rift has a huge cast of characters that are constantly leaving and entering the scene, but Gurihiru knocks it out of the park on keeping up with each of them (though they confess to this being a challenge in the artist’s commentary).
Speaking of the commentary, that’s something unique to the trade paperback collection of The Rift. Yang and Gurihiru provide their thoughts throughout the book on its creation. Reading about what could have been, the influence behind ideas, and the challenges the writing and art teams faced was the icing on the cake of this wonderful read.
I could gush about The Rift forever, but then you wouldn’t have to pick up the book, and if you’re an Avatar fan or especially a Toph fan, you need to read this comic.
Five Lily Liver Metalbenders out of Five