“Avatar: The Promise”: A Good Read, A Great Story

avatar_the_last_airbenderIf you’re eagerly awaiting Book 2 (the second half of season one) of the Nickelodeon cartoon series The Legend of Korra, there’s a good chance you were first a fan of its predecessor series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. In a three-part story closely resembling Joseph Campbell’s heroic journey arc — and, consequently, the Star Wars original trilogy — it told the story of Avatar Aang and his friends as they sought to prevent Fire Lord Ozai from taking over the world.

Though most plot points were tied off by the series finale, some viewers might have felt frustrated that the Fire Lord lived. Aang’s plan to defeat him without taking his life succeeded, sending a strong message to kids. However, we last saw Ozai in prison, receiving a visit from his reformed son and new Fire Lord, Zuko, who demanded to know the fate of his mother. The words “The End” showed up on screen before this mystery was ever solved, and because The Legend of Korra takes place 17 years after Aang’s death, viewers’ questions remained unanswered.

Until recently, that is …

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Gene Luen Yang, multiple Eisner award-winning author of graphic novels like American Born Chinese, is the script-writer behind a series of Dark Horse books that addresses these questions. The first of these is The Promise, Part One, which is such an immediate follow-up to the show that readers get to see Sokka’s reaction to Aang and Katara’s big romantic kiss that ended it. His and Toph’s mockery of that romance is appropriately irreverent, and a good example of how true Yang is to the characters. It’s clear that he worked in close collaboration with creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino (who originally conceived this story as a TV movie). Gurihiru’s artwork helps maintain that consistency.

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Here the real focus is on Zuko, whose new responsibilities are weighing on him more than expected, and, as viewers might have feared, is still susceptible to his father’s manipulations. He makes Aang promise to destroy him should he ever turn evil, which, by the end of Part 1, seems like a distinct possibility. The book is short, and your kids will be clamoring for Part 2, so do yourself a favor and order all of them at once. If you thought it was fun watching Avatar as a family, wait until you read it together!

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