What a better way to jumpstart a new year than with a fresh new story to one of my favorite things in the entire world. With a brand new series rumored to begin by the year’s end, Dark Horse Comics provides us all a means to pad out that time with some good-natured Post War intrigue. Is this tale of restoration and political pressures a faithful and worthy addition to the series it sought to continue? Here’s my review of Avatar the Last Airbender The Promise Part 1.
The Promise opens with a vignette of events that occur either during or immediately after the show’s finale. We see Aang and Zuko meet with the Earth King to establish new means of restoring the world to balance among the nations. There’s some fun moments with the Gaang celebrating, including Sokka walking in on Aang and Katara’s intimate moment from the ending clip of the show, forever plaguing him with a case of the “Oogies” as he calls it. Also, we finally find out what was said in the second half of Zuko’s conversation with his imprisoned father. Of course, we’d be fools to believe Ozai was actually going to say anything helpful, let alone give Zuko a strait answer.
Afterwards, we quickly find out what “the promise” in the title is alluding to. Contrary to my belief that it was the promise Zuko made to his uncle during the show to restore the honor of the Fire Nation, it is actually a whole new promise between Zuko and Aang. In attempt to not spoil anything for those of you out there yet to read it, this promise does become the biggest emotional pull of the story, and will most likely be brought up again in Part 2.
With that, the story enters a time skip. One year passes and we find that the Harmony Restoration Movement (the plan Aang, Zuko, and the Earth King agreed on to peacefully reinstitute Fire Nation colonials back into their homeland) thus far has been moving along quite smoothly, at least for the Avatar. For the Fire Lord, not so much. While Aang has little trouble convincing the newer colonies to return to their life in the Fire Nation, the older colonies chew out Zuko like no other. On a daily basis, he deals with insults calling him a coward and a traitor, plus assassination attempts, and everything in between.
As political pressures and national anxiety grow, Zuko begins to question his support of the Harmony Restoration Movement. From there, it’s up to Team Avatar to Yip Yip into high gear and settle the dispute before the world enters another war.
And that is the basic rundown of the comic’s plot. The Promise is written by new and upcoming writing talent Gene Luen Yang, who here is attempting the very daring route of tackling the political and racial complexities of the Avatar World in a Post War Era. I say this is daring, because with a series as prestigious and diverse in its fan base as this, there is a fine line you have to tread between being serious and accurate enough so that the mature audience doesn’t question your intelligence in this subject matter, and at the same time maintaining enough of the show’s whimsical spirit so that the younger audience doesn’t feel too detached from the show they’ve come to love. For the most part, Yang does tread this balance very well. For one, he does physically show that interracial families between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom do in fact exist in this world, and that simply breaking them apart is not as cut and dry as it may have seemed when Aang and Zuko put the plan together. There is a very large focus on Zuko and him dealing with these questions with no right answers. While his scenes do get a tad bit on the moody side, they don’t overstay their welcome, and there are still a handful of wonderful scenes with the Gaang that keep hold of the shows light hearted nature, including implementing Aang and Katara’s now official relationship, as well as Sokka and Toph’s grief of now being regularly subjected to it. At points reading it, I truly felt like this was a brand new episode of the show.
That’s not to say everything’s perfect. While I am into the overall story and plot that is presented to us in The Promise, Yang’s actual dialogue can stand to use some work. Most of the humor scenes with Sokka and Toph are fine, but many of the more serious Zuko and Aang moments tend to get a bit cringe worthy. They repeat themselves too often, there are plenty of clichés tossed back and forth, and the overall cleverness from the show is a bit lacking. Keep in mind as I say this, it’s by no means as bad as say… the dialogue in the movie or anything (in fact, Yang proudly confessed to never seeing the movie). Rather, it just feels more down the lines of Teen Titans, where the dialogue is only good half the time.
The Artwork is done by Gurihiru. While I was personally excited when I heard who was doing the artwork (he was my favorite of the many artists that appeared in The Lost Adventures book I reviewed last year), other fans were skeptical that the very soft, Disney-like style wouldn’t translate well to a very serious canon addition to the series. After reading it through myself, I honestly could not be happier with how the art turned out. It looks wonderful. Truth be told, the few shorts Gurihiru drew in The Lost Adventures are actually very misleading to how sharp and authentic [to the show]the compositions turned out in The Promise. I’m especially proud of the little details the art was able to present that really helped tell this story.
For instance, after the one-year time skip, while many of the characters don’t change that much, it is pretty clear that Aang has had a bit of a growth spurt since the war ended. Any shots with him and Katara standing beside one another depict them as being roughly the same height now. Another aspect I felt was done really well was showing Zuko’s anguish in the later portions of the story. The subtle look in his eyes of exhaustion and sleep deprivation really nails home the rising tension of this world. Tension that he feels he’s at the dead center of.
Lengthwise, it is a very quick read. It’s roughly 75 pages, but it feels a lot shorter. You could probably read through it faster than it takes to watch two whole episodes of the show.
It’s also worth mentioning that, toward the end, it very much feels like the first half of a two parter, which we technically knew from the start. Very few of the conflicts are resolved, and the last panel in particular puts the term “cliffhanger” to shame. How do I put this without giving anything away? Remember how you felt at the end of the Season 2 Finale? Yup. It’s that rough buddy.
While I’m sure many fans would have been plenty happy with (and maybe even preferred) a simple adventure tale about Zuko searching for his mother, or Azula escaping captivity, or tying up loose ends involving the Dai Li and what not, I do take my hat off to Mr. Yang for attempting to take the more realistic Post War route in his continuation of the story. That was not a simple task, and save for a few dialogue missteps, he has started something very intriguing. Gurihiru’s artwork looks excellent and I have nothing but positives to say about it. All in all, The Promise Part 1 is very much worth the pre-order price of purchase, and I am very optimistic about where Part 2 will take us.
Until then, stay tuned. And stay flamen’.