One of the greatest masterpieces of fiction of our time comes in the form of a cartoon called Avatar: The Last Airbender. The three-season television show tells the story of a world where gifted people can “bend” the four elements (water, earth, fire and air). A spiritual leader for these people, the Avatar, is the only person who can bend all four elements. When the Avatar dies, his spirit is reborn into another nation. There are four nations corresponding with each element (the Fire Nation, The Water Tribes, The Earth Kingdom and the Air Nomads) where benders and non-benders live together. The television series tells the story of a 100 year-long war started by the Fire Nation against all of the other nations. The story focuses on a new Avatar – a boy named Aang, the last of the Air Nomads – who must end the war and bring harmony to the four nations by defeating the Fire Lord, ruler of the Fire Nation.
The series is heavily influenced by eastern philosophies, with Air Nomads resembling Tibetan Buddhist Monks. (There are even characters named after the Dalai Lama, who’s birth name was Tenzin Gyatso.) The show has a lighthearted wit and still manages to share deeply meaningful concepts. It has even spawned another wildly popular spiritual successor called The Legend of Korra.
Dark Horse comics is publishing a series of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, called The Promise. Part one picks up immediately after the end of the television series, and tells a story that bridges a bit of the gap leading up to The Legend of Korra. Now that the 10 Years War is over, Avatar Aang has the serious challenge of restoring peace throughout the Four Nations. Working together with the Earth King and his once-enemy-now-ally the new Fire Lord Zuko, Aang forms the Harmony Restoration Movement to remove the Fire Nation colonies placed in the Earth Kingdom during the war. Aang finds, however, that this isn’t as simple a task as it might seem when Fire Lord Zuko changes his mind about uprooting the old Fire Nation colonies.
All of the series staple characters are back in the comic, and the writing reflects perfectly the tone from the show. Characters like Toph, the blind girl who happens to be the most powerful earthbender of all time, are painted with the same humor and voices as if they were lifted directly from the show. It isn’t often that a kid’s television show will crack jokes about a blind kid, a trick which Avatar has always pulled off with grace. Don’t worry – that same sort of humor is sprinkled liberally throughout the pages of The Promise. The comic art is consistent with the simple-yet-beautiful animation from the television series. The Promise will be told in three parts, with parts 1 and 2 already published and the 3rd installment releasing in October. We’ll have a review of the remaining parts.
We’re lifetime fans of the Avatar universe, so it’s understandable that we want all the bending joy to continue in comic book form. Even so, the creators have done a terrific job translating to the medium of comics. The Promise Part 1 feels just like an episode of the series, and even contains the familiar opening segment told in a new way. The subject of the story feels like it fits with the series in a way that doesn’t make it seem like a desperate attempt to wring more money from an exhausted franchise. To the contrary, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise – Part 1 is exactly more of the story fans really want to hear. We are very much looking forward to the conclusion of this storyline, and hope that some of the series enduring questions – like what happened to Zuko’s mother – will be answered along the way.