I am very lucky that I have adult friends who are nerds in the same way that I am. A friend of mine recently let me borrow all 5 complete collections of the Avatar graphic novels. This review is of the first one.
Avatar the Last Airbender: The Promise picks immediately following the events of the three seasons of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Avatar Aang and newly crowned Fire Lord Zuko must find away to heal the world of the damage that Fire Lord Ozai inflicted. The most pressing concern is what to do about all the colonies in the Earth Kingdom. On the one hand, the Fire Nation has colonized portions of the Earth Kingdom, and some, like the Earth King, think that the Fire Nation should remove themselves immediately from the Earth Kingdom. Others, including many Earth Kingdom citizens, have learned to live in harmony with the Fire Nation, and, in some cases, have even created families together.
Author Gene Luen Yang does a phenomenal job of explaining both sides of these geo-political issues in a way that is not cartoony or childish. He manages to treat both opinions with dignity and respect and presents the pros and cons of each position in very real ways. Aang and his advisor/girlfriend Katara, Fire Lord Zuko, and the Earth King must find a way to work together to solve this problem lest another war break out. And the threat of war is very real and imminent.
Underscoring all of these geo-political issues, Fire Lord Zuko grapples with his new position, his own sense of self, and his family’s history of violence. Just as we saw in the show, Zuko is troubled and has difficulty parsing through his identity. It is a marvel that the authors and illustrators could still find ways to making Zuko’s path of discovery interesting after we previously saw this in the show. His journey never feels stale.
Toph and Sokka are also there, but their roles are small compared to the other three in the Gaang (Aang gang for those not in the loop). Toph opens a school for metal-bending, the first of its kind, and tries teaching three earth-benders to be the first metal-benders after Toph with Sokka’s help. While their role and story line is not as prominent as the others, it is fun to see their interactions outside of the Gaang.
Overall, this graphic novel lays a lot of groundwork for the world we see in Legend of Korra and expands upon the universe established in the animated series.
BINGO – No money