Set years before Jake Sully’s arrival on Pandora, Avatar: Adapt or Die focuses on Dr. Grace Augustine and Mo’at (the mother of Neytiri) as they try to strengthen human/Na’vi relations. Initially, the series centers on Grace’s attempts to build a school for the Na’vi children where they can learn English and the basics of human culture. It seems as though the comic is going to explore a plotline described in the Extended Edition of the first film, in which several Na’vi children (including Neytiri’s sister, Slywanin) are killed by human soldiers in the schoolhouse, which explains the hostility between the two species. However, Adapt or Die goes in a different direction, promising that this story will be explored somewhere else some other time.
Instead, the conflict comes from a mysterious disease that the Na’vi children contract after visiting a human base, which later manifests in the avatars as well. Both Grace and Mo’at want to help each other find a cure, but Grace is consistently held back by RDA head administrator Parker Selfridge, who sees the Na’vi dying off as a convenient way to get them out of the way of the company’s mining operations. Meanwhile, Mo’at’s mate, Eytukan, tries to prevent her from collaborating with Grace because he suspects that humans are the cause of the illness, and anything they do will make things worse.
The comic is about as low-stakes as it sounds. Prequels can work even if we, the audience, know that certain characters will survive, but there’s a certain element of suspense that feels missing in Avatar: Adapt or Die. The only obstacle both main characters face is people telling them that they can’t do something, and it always ends with them defiantly doing it anyways. There’s also not much happening in terms of action, as the closest thing we get is two brief run-ins with carnivorous wildlife.
That said, while Adapt or Die isn’t an exciting comic, it’s not necessarily a bad one either. Writer Corinna Bechko really understands the two main characters and is particularly great at capturing the voice of Grace. Grace perfectly matches the performance given by Sigourney Weaver in the first film: she’s always the smartest person in the room, but she’s a bit impatient with other people because they can’t immediately keep up with her. She’s compassionate but also just a little prickly. Mo’at is also really clearly defined here. She’s more willing to try new things than the other adults of the Omatikaya clan, but at the same time, she’s not entirely ready to let go of tradition. It’s her care for the children of the clan that encourages her to be more open towards the humans, and it’s a bit tragic because we know that trust indirectly leads to the death of one of her daughters.
Beni R. Lobel’s art is very impressive on a technical level, as an Avatar comic is inherently demanding. The characters and creatures are all immediately recognizable while also being dynamic. This is worth noting because, a lot of the time, with comics based on live-action properties, the artist goes overboard with using the source material as references. As a result, the characters appear to be stiff and frozen in easily recognizable frames. Fortunately, Lobel doesn’t have this issue, as his figures are consistent but fluid. The jungles of Pandora don’t have quite the same exoticism and vibrancy that they do in the films, but that can be forgiven seeing how well the vegetation turned out despite Lobel and colorist Wes Dzioba having to create a grueling amount of flora for this comic.
This comic is less for casual fans and more for die-hard Avatar fans who want to see the characters and world further fleshed out. Avatar: Adapt or Die includes the reintroduction of the Tawkami clan, a wise group of Navi who was first introduced in the (now non-canon) Nintendo DS version of Avatar: The Video Game and restored to canon in the Avatar Cirque du Soleil show Toruk- The First Flight. If a wild continuity pull like that excites you, then you should pick this comic up. If not, then it’s probably not for you.
Oh, also, there’s a scene where Grace plays basketball using her Avatar. If I had a dime for every time a character portrayed by Sigourney Weaver played basketball in a sci-fi franchise, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice, right?