Dec 17, 2013

[Comics] Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise

Despite that fact that I'm way more into reading books than my partner Tobie is, I have come to accept that he has an uncanny skill for finding rather interesting gems during our trips to various book stores and such.

Case in point, he managed to find this lovely collected edition of Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, which collects all three issues of the original comic book mini-series. We're quite big fans of the original cartoon given the quality of the writing behind it and the very fulfilling narrative experience that was the story that drove the show. It's also what we continue to hope for when we watch The Legend of Korra, although the show has failed to meet expectations across two full seasons thus far.

But like many genre shows that are no longer on the air, it's interesting to note how Avatar: The Last Airbender has managed to find a bit of a new world of its own in comic book form that is working out decently well. They offer a glimpse into the life of the Avatar after the events of the TV series - something that is not clearly addressed in the new Korra cartoon.

Synopsis: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise is a 3-part comic book mini-series written by Gene Yang with input from Avatar creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Art was handled by Studio Gurihiru and the series was released by Dark Horse Comics.

The bulk of the story takes place about a year after the events of the series finale. Everyone is still trying to recover at the events of the 100 Year War and now the Earth Kingdom hopes to remove all reminders of the Fire Nation's occupation of their land. Thus it is decided between the Earth King Kuei and the new Fire Lord Zuko to have all Fire Nation colonists return to the Fire Nation. They call this the Harmony Restoration Movement and it's a plan that everyone seems to agree to including Aang, the Avatar.

However things get complicated as older Fire Nation colonies do not want to leave. Zuko is torn between being the Fire Lord, loyal to his people and to be a new type of leader, one not fated to follow in the footsteps of his father. As Zuko decides to side with his people, Aang is now forced to determine a way to have all sides meet eye to eye. And things are further complicated by the fact that Zuko had sworn Aang to a promise that should he ever appear to be following the path of his father, that Aang should end him before he falls too far.

The collected edition of the series is pretty massive as a hardbound edition, but this is because it's more than just the original comic. The larger format was selected in order to create additional space around the original pages that is used for creator commentary throughout the comic. Thus this large format version is sort of like a movie with a bonus commentary track that is there to provide more insight into the creative process behind it.

The comic's greatest success is how well it managed to capture the original cartoon within static comic panels. You'd think that the dynamic world of elemental bending wouldn't be as interesting when not animated, but the folks involved in this comic made sure to present things in a manner that remained very true to the spirit of the show. And thus it was quite the joy to read.

Like the cartoon before it, the comic made sure to have a complex moral problem for the characters to face. There were no absolutes in terms of right and wrong and you have primarily Aang and Zuko both struggling to find a way forward that is true to their ideals and yet still the best thing for everyone concerned. And with Zuko still getting used to being responsible for the entire Fire Nation while Aang tries to find a path that is fair to all nations, there's certainly a lot for both of them to puzzle through.

Many of the characters from the show have their moments in the comic series as well ranging from the Kyoshi Warriors taking on an interesting assignment to Toph's new metalbending school that has a long way to go before it makes any real progress. And all of these other stories remain tied to the central conflict between the Fire Nation colonies and the Earth Kingdom.

While the story isn't quite the best possible Avatar story to be ever told, it's one that remains genuine to its roots and thus is pretty powerful all the same. In many ways, this comic is still more fulfilling that the first two seasons of The Legend of Korra. But maybe I'm just too much of a fan of the original team Avatar - especially Toph. But to be fair, the comic does seem to try and set up the beginnings of what will become the status quo that we've seen in Korra, which speaks of a lot of coordination with the show's creators.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise is a must-read for any fans of the original cartoon. The collected edition is a major gem because of the creator's commentary, even if shelving the massive hardbound tome may be a little challenging. Thus the series as a whole deserves a full 5 moments when Aang enters the Avatar state with greater ease out of a possible 5.

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