Koh the Face Stealer had only a very brief appearance in the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series but he made an impression that will stay with you well into your nightmares. A spirit with the ability to steal the face of any being who shows emotion to him, this horrific spirit has proven to be a big hit among fans. With his appearance in the Netflix series, voiced by none other than George Takei, we look back on everything we know about Koh from both the animated and Netflix series.

Koh the Face Stealer in Avatar: The Last Airbender (Original Animated Series)

In the season 1 finale of the original series, “The Siege of the North: Part 2” Aang is desperate to find the location of the Moon and Ocean spirits in order to help save the Northern Water Tribe. He contacts the former Avatar, Roku, who informs Aang there’s only one spirit old enough to remember something about such ancient spirits, Koh, the Face Stealer. He explains that Koh is very dangerous and instructs Aang that when he faces Koh, “You must be very careful to show no emotion at all. Not the slightest expression or he will steal your face.”

Koh’s “Face Stealer” title isn’t metaphorical, as Aang sees for himself when he travels to Koh and spots a monkey with its face completely gone. When Aang finally confronts Koh he sees an atrocious centipede-like creature that switches faces at will. The creature, with a bone-chillingly smooth voice, recognizes Aang, “my old friend, the Avatar. It’s been a long time.”

Aang, face neutral the whole time, is told that one of his previous incarnations, Avatar Kuruk, tried to slay Koh because the creature had stolen the face of someone he loved. (This was later confirmed in the season 3 episode “Sozin’s Comet” by Kuruk, who blames himself for it.) Koh claims he doesn’t hold this against Aang, all that was in a past life. He’s much more delighted by the idea of taking Aang’s current face, menacingly revealing that it’s been a long time since, “I added a child’s face to my collection.”

Koh gives Aang the location of the spirits he was searching for, all the while looking for an opening to steal his face, but Aang manages to never show emotion to him. Aang leaves but Koh promises, “we’ll meet again.” 

This never happened on either Avatar: The Last Airbender or its sequel animated series, The Legend of Korra. However in the graphic novel, The Search – Part Three, Aang meets the Mother of Faces, an ancient spirit who “fashions faces with great care and deliberation.” She explains that Koh is her son and that, “he’s been estranged from me since time began. The legends say that he misses me so much, he’s spent all of history stealing faces.”

That’s all we learned about Koh in the original series but Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender has given us another take on the character.

Koh the Face Stealer in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender 

Taking place before the events at the Northern Water Tribe, episode 5, “Spirited Away,” has Aang (Gordon Cormier), Sokka (Ian Ousley), and Katara (Kiawentiio) all travel to the Spirit World to locate a group of lost villagers. While there, Sokka and Katara are confronted with visions of their past and captured by Koh. Aang manages to resist the dark pull of these visions and confronts Koh.

Unlike in the animated series, Aang does not need to hide his emotion. Koh resembles his animated counterpart but, thanks to the updated design and visuals of the new series, looks even more horrific. He informs Aang that, “one of your previous incarnations tried to slay me” which Aang doesn’t understand, and Koh drops the same reveal as before, he stole the face of someone the Avatar loved. Once again this is confirmed by Avatar Kuruk, who Aang contacts in episode 7, ‘The North.’ 

This brief exchange Aang and Kuruk have about Koh in the Netflix series may be confusing if you aren’t watching carefully. When Kuruk explains what happened, he specifically says, “a predatory spirit came to seek vengeance on me.” He pauses and then painfully lets out, “Ummi…” Another pause before he continues, “My beloved… Paid the ultimate price.” If you looked away from the screen or weren’t watching with subtitles, the way this dialogue is paced makes it seem like Koh and Ummi could be the same person/creature, but no, Koh and Ummi are not the same. Ummi, a human, was simply the one Kuruk loved. Her ultimate price was having her face stolen.

Back in episode 5, Koh suspects that Aang is there to return something he’d stolen from him in a previous life. Aang wants Sokka and Katara back but Koh threatens, “why would I let you play with my food?” 

Aang escapes and runs into the spirit of his old mentor, Gyatso (Lim Kay Siu,) who explains how Koh steals faces. He doesn’t wait for you to show emotions like in the animated series, instead using the Fog of Lost Souls as a hunting ground. This location was first introduced in the The Legend of Korra as less of a location and more a spirit that could infect the minds of humans and imprison them in their darkest memories within the Spirit World. In the Netflix series this location is a natural feeding ground for Koh who, as Gyatso explains, “preys on those paralyzed by despair and doubt.” 

Instead of simply stealing faces because he’s an ancient indecipherable spirit, this version of Koh functions more like a face stealing spider. He hunts down people in the Fog of Lost Souls and keeps them trapped until he’s ready to feed. Once that happens, Gyatso warns, “their souls will be lost forever.”

There’s no way to defeat Koh but Aang learns that in the past Roku got the best of the spirit. He contacts the former Avatar who reveals he never defeated Koh. Roku simply managed to take something from him, a totem, a pendant with several faces, eyes covered. Roku explains that it represents something that Koh needs and cannot forget. It belonged to the Mother of Faces, who is described here as, “an ancient spirit who crafted faces for all living beings. It’s because of her that identity came into this world. And she is Koh’s mother. Koh longs for the same thing we all do. Family.” 

Aang wisely recognizes Koh would trade this totem for his friends and the villagers and brings it to the creature. When Aang places it on the ground Koh simply stares down as it disappears in a waft of smoke. Koh retreats away and lets Sokka, Katara, and the other villagers go free. 

While not the same version as Koh in the animated series (the live-action series is a remake and thus not in continuity with the original) it’s still one that will leave many new viewers horrified. However, in comparison to the original series, this version of Koh feels more like an upgraded monster of the week. His complicated method of stealing faces, needing to use the Fog of Lost Souls and keeping people trapped before “feeding” just can’t match the chilling simplicity of the original. But George Takei is god-tier level casting and his performance manages to bring much of the menace the original Koh embodied. 

It’s no wonder Koh captured the imagination of fans in the original series, even if he terrified them in equal measure. The simple yet chilling power of his abilities made him a dark force that, even with just a very short appearance, still lingers on the edges of the world of Avatar. A force that can never be defeated. Only escaped from. He promised Aang they’d meet again. It could be in Aang’s lifetime or in that of a future Avatar. Koh can wait. He’ll always be there.

All eight episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender are now streaming on Netflix.

The post Avatar: The Last Airbender – Who is Koh the Face Stealer? appeared first on Den of Geek.

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