by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, and Bryan Konietzko
I’ve been a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender ever since my husband (then-boyfriend) first introduced the series to me back in 2010. If you haven’t seen it, the show is fantastic – very smooth animation, complex, multidimensional characters, really entertaining plot – and I highly recommend it. But like many TV shows, the ending of the final episode is ambiguous, and just begs for a fourth season. I was bummed that one wasn’t coming, but it looks like the adventures of Aang, Katara and their friends will continue through this new series, published by Dark Horse.
The background for those unfamiliar with the show, taken from its opening: Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he's ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world. [cue epic music]
At the end of the TV show, Aang had successfully defeated Lord Ozai, leader of the Fire Nation. The new Fire Lord is Prince Zuko, the formerly exiled crown prince. Zuko’s been reformed from his old habit of persecuting the Avatar, but he’s worried that the pressures of ruling his kingdom will make him evil, so he makes Aang promise to kill him if he goes astray. A year passes, and Zuko abruptly backs out of the “Harmony Restoration Movement”, an agreement he made with the ruler of the Earth Kingdom to withdraw Fire Nation colonies from their land. Aang fears that Zuko is following in his father’s footsteps, and that he may be forced to fulfill his vow in order to maintain peace.
This book is quite short – 76 pages – and is the first in a three-volume series. In spite of that, it covers a lot of ground, and it’s clear that the series is going to address a lot of the questions I had when I finished the TV show. For example, I always wondered how successful Zuko could be in the Fire Nation. Are generations of men and women raised to believe that their fire-bending makes them superior to all the other peoples in the world going to embrace a leader who defeated their beloved emperor and seems more interested in restoring other countries than protecting his own people? I think not! In the first few pages of The Promise, it’s revealed that there have been at least five assassination attempts on Zuko in the year since he took the throne. Peace may be restored, but for Zuko the transition hasn’t been easy.
Although it’s tempting to dismiss the book as a children’s story, the characters tackle a lot of difficult themes. As the Avatar, one of Aang’s powers is the ability to speak to his former incarnations. He debates with Roku, the Avatar that preceeded him, on the morality of killing Zuko. Roku reminds him that he spared Zuko’s grandfather because he had been his friend, and the result of his mercy was a hundred year war between the Fire Nation and the other three kingdoms. If Roku had killed his friend, hundreds of lives would have been saved.
For the first time, we meet “mixed” families, in which one parent is a Firebender and one is an Earthbender. The obvious parallels that can be drawn to mixed families and the politics of racial identity today will be quite entertaining, I’m sure.
This definitely isn’t a comic series to jump into if you’re unfamiliar with the story. Although I think that the story will make sense, a new reader will be thrown into an established world that expects you to already know the character’s personalities and the mechanics of bending. But if you were a fan of the TV show, the comic is a perfect continuation, retaining the same humor and storytelling that made the show so compelling.
4.5 out of 5 stars
To read more about The Promise, Part One, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir
2010: The Countess by Rebecca Johns
2009: Powells Turns Fifteen!
2008: Discussion Question: What’s new with school?