The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 70 | “Avatar: The Last Airbender–The Promise, Part One” reviewed

Leaving Proof 70 | “Avatar: The Last Airbender–The Promise, Part One” reviewed
Published on Monday, February 6, 2012 by
Avatar: The Last Airbender–The Promise, Part One
  • (Dark Horse Books, 2012; 80 pages)
  • Created by: Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino
  • Script by: Gene Luen Yang
  • Art and Cover by: Gurihiru
  • Lettered by: Michael Heisler
  • List Price: $10.99 (US)
  • Full Disclosure: This is a review of a digital copy of the book provided by the publisher

From the Back Cover: The war is over… but the adventure has just begun! Picking up exactly where Avatar: The Last Airbender left off, The Promise takes Aang to a Fire Nation colony in the heart of the Earth Nation, where tensions between neighbors threaten to shatter the world’s newfound peace—putting the Avatar on a collision course with one of his closest friends, Fire Lord Zuko.

Written by Eisner Award Winner Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) in close collaboration with Avatar creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, this is the story Avatar fans have been waiting for!

What I Liked: Konietzko and DiMartino’s Nickelodeon TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender—about a roving group of youths led by the eponymous Avatar and their quest to free the world from the grip of the war-mongering Fire Lord Ozai—featured some of the best examples of writing in recent American animation. An action-adventure/fantasy production coloured by a blend of Eastern philosophy and contemporary Western social sensibilities, the consistently entertaining show was at once lighthearted and edifying without being overly desultory or moralistic, occasionally provocative but never inflammatory, an expertly accomplished work that could be enjoyed by young and old alike.

In part one of The Promise, a defeated Fire Nation—now under the rule of the reformed Zuko—seeks to make restitution with the neighbouring Earth Nation after a century of violent imperialist expansion. This is to be accomplished according to the guidelines defined by an initiative called The Harmony Restoration Movement, which calls for the Fire Nation to return all occupied territories and for people of Fire Nation ancestry living in the Earth Nation to relocate within the Fire Nation’s borders. What started out as an honest attempt at peacemaking by all concerned soon becomes a political quagmire for Zuko as he struggles to balance the needs of his people and the desire to right the wrongs of his predecessor’s dreams of global conquest. Before long, a Fire Nation colony in the Earth Kingdom becomes the center of a reactionary cause that aims to defeat The Harmony Restoration Movement.

Konietzko and DiMartino frequently incorporated subtle and not-so-subtle references to real-world historical and contemporary events in their writing for the TV series and in that vein, it seems that Gene Luen Yang is setting up the Fire Nation as something of an analogue for post-World War I Weimar Republic Germany, compelled in the wake of its defeat at the hands of the Allies to agree to the near-impossible demands of the Treaty of Versailles even as its people struggled to deal with the economic and social repercussions of waging and losing a war, eventually becoming fertile breeding ground for violently ultra-nationalist and racist sentiment. How far Yang is willing to take that parallel remains to be seen, but already this is bold stuff, even by the standards set by a TV show that earned a 2008 Peabody Award for showcasing “[u]nusually complex characters and healthy respect for the consequences of warfare”.

Despite the grimness of the plot, Yang does an excellent job of replicating the all-ages tone of the dialogue of the TV series. The characterizations of certain members of the cast are altered somewhat from their earlier cartoon counterparts, but this is to be expected considering that the characters are now significantly older than when they were featured in the show and that their attitudes have been duly affected by their experiences in the campaign against Fire Lord Ozai. I like that these characters grow, develop, and change within reason and in response to key plot events.

The Japan-based art team of Gurihiru (illustrator Sasaki and colourist/designer Kawano) do an exemplary job of recreating the animation’s visual aesthetic without aping it exactly. The primary characters are easily recognized based on their television appearances, even if they are now more mature.

What I Didn’t Like: Not a thing. I guess one could complain that the book doesn’t devote a lot of space to the task of introducing Avatar: The Last Airbender to the uninitiated beyond a few pages that mimic the show’s introductory sequence and two panels summarizing the end of the show’s final episode, but that’s a largely irrelevant criticism since it is pretty apparent that this is a book meant for those familiar with the basics of the series.

The Verdict: A must-read for fans of the TV series. A worthy (and reasonably-priced) supplement to one of the best animated shows to grace American television in recent years.

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