In the three seasons of Michael Dante Di Martino and Bryan Konietzko’s popular Nickelodeon animated television series, “Avatar The Last Airbender,” we met the people of the Earth, Fire and Wind nations, where each character had the special ability to bend, control the element of their nation’s namesake. We met Water benders in the sibling duo of Katara and her brother Sokka, the Earth bender Toph, the cast off Fire bender Prince Zuko, and of course the optimistic free spirit bald-headed comical hero, Aang, the Avatar with the ability to bend all elements.
From it’s debut in 2005, the three seasons–Book 1: Water, Book Two: Earth, and Book 3: Fire–took Nickelodeon viewers on a journey that ended with the finale “Sozin’s Comet: The Final Battle,” where the Avatar and Zuko defeats Fire Lord Sozin to restore peace to the world. Since then, the series has been on hiatus, but now Martino and Konietzko return with the next chapters in “Avatar: The Last Airbender–The Promise,” a new comic series from the partnership between Nickelodeon and Dark Horse Comics. The comic is the direct continuation of the television show as it picks up right after Fire lord Sozin is defeated.
Usually when a series that had such a large theme of duality, good-versus-evil, explored as “Avatar The Last Airbender” had, it’s safe bet that the series will restart with a new threat. But that’s not the case here as “The Promise” instead explores the different sociological implications of the new-found peace. In lieu of a new villain, scriptwriter Gene Luen Yang finds “The Promise” to be the perfect opportunity to explore cultural heterogeneity in a series that has largely been built on the dogma that peace is achieved only through cultural homogeneity.
After a few pages to celebrate the defeat of the Fire nation, restoration of peace, Yang fast-forwards one year to reveal the new Fire Lord Zuko amidst an identity crisis.
For the entire lot of his adventure in the series, Zuko had been on a mission to take down his father. But now after he has imprisoned his father, then agrees to return conquered lands to their aboriginal freeholder, Zuko is seen as the cowardly traitor by the very people he is now responsible for.
While Avatar Aang enjoys the peace and prosperity with Katara, his girlfriend—it’s cute and weird to see them kiss, call each other ‘sweetie’ during battle—Zuko meets Kori, whose father is of Fire while her mother is of the Earth nation, and learns that the world isn’t as homogeneous as the gang had believed.
The artwork, done by Gurihiru Studios, seamlessly brings the television show to the pages of this book. Every frame is clean, consistent and engages your attention from start to finish. The few pages of action, where Zuko and Aang battle it out like afterschool teenagers, except these guys are shooting fire at one another, not as if that doesn’t happen enough in the real world, are kinetic with interesting points of views that makes the story jump out more than the television show had ever done.
“The Promise” deserves a great deal of praise as it averts the easy option to plug-in a new villain. Instead the series is determined to continue to delicately explore cultural and societal issues with the cleverly layered plots that seem small but play a larger role than one would imagine. It’s a pleasure to find this popular adolescent comic book explore more mature, current issues in society today inside such a kiddy-funny-cartoon that educates as much as it entertains.