If you have not seen the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series, these books might not be something you want to start with. However, I recommend watching it even though I know it was aimed at kids. There are sophisticated themes that at the time were coming to light, and we’re still dealing with today, that will engage the adult viewer. I admit I was a skeptic at first, but the humor and depth of the story pulled me in. And seriously who wouldn’t fall in love with turtle-ducks, kola-sheep and moose-lions?
I give Avatar: The Last Airbender The Promise omnibus a five not because it was the most amazing book ever, but because it honors the series that we knew and loved. This book picks up where the series ends. There is a quick recap of the battle between The Avatar and The Fire Lord where the series basically ended. And this collection of three individual comics, is a new story that starts about a year after Zuko has become Fire Lord. Now he and the Avatar (along with Team Avatar) are trying to bring peace to the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. While there is the signature humor, the theme is sophisticated and thoughtful. I do wish that one joke was not continued, but overall seeing “old friends” was delightful.
As many of those who worked on the series worked on this, the feel of the show is alive and well. I could almost hear the voice actors coming off the page. The characters are true to their past, personalities and an understanding of what the future will be. Plenty of jokes, gross Toph moments and battles. Sadly, there were no turtle-ducks (probably my favorite animal in the series), but we did get a few Appa moments. (To know these characters, watch the show!) It also sets up much of what we will see in the second television series, The Legend of Kora.
And since I started this series for the answer to a burning question that is touched on at the end of the Avatar tv series, “What happened to Zuko’s mother?”, I had to read Avatar: The Last Airbender The Search. Again, it stays true to the show, but would have been one of the episodes I would not have liked as much. While we focus on Zuko (insert inappropriate comment about a cartoon character being hot…. Sorry! They never should have used that voice actor….), something was missing. This time there is only a trek to the town where his mother was from, in hopes of finding answers. There is the theme of brother and sister relationships and in the end a spiritual encounter that really gets the fur flying and blood boiling. But none of the battles that the show tended to be known for. I’m not saying I disliked it but was not the book I had hoped it to be.
Do read The Promise first, as the ending plays a role in the beginning of this one and shows why Zuko might treat a character the way he does. Yet, it is a standalone story. Die-hard fans will love finding the answer to the question: What happened to Zuko and Azula’s mother? Though there is The Rift which is currently out in three installments or you can wait until February 2021 for the omnibus, so maybe all questions are not answered.
I did not include the author or illustrator above. I waited until the end as the author may or may not turn you off to the books. Personally, Gene Luen Yang could write a phone book and I’d read it. And Gurihiru’s illustrations mirror the television style and comic coloring, art and design. These are the main two contributors, but there are so many different people who are involved in creating these books. As mentioned above, people from the show itself have collaborated allowing the books to be an extension of the original. Scrapbooks at the end show some of the creative processes everyone took to get to the end. Mostly it is commentary of how a character came to look the way they do, but there are other goodies as well.
And technically while all ages could read, the best audience would be 10 to 14 and adults. Younger (ages 8 and 9) audiences could read but due to some fantasy elements and violence (there is an assassination attempt and war in book one and in book two there is a character who (SPOLER) has lost his face and Azula’s madness and what she does that might not sit well with younger audiences) the sensitive reader might not be the right audience.