6/23/2012

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2


Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Art: Gurihiru

Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

When part one of The Promise was published, Legend of Korra had yet to premiere on Nickelodeon. But by now, it's pretty clear where the comic's narrative is heading, in so far as the bigger picture is concerned. Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko's friendship will survive. And the burgeoning conflict between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation colonies will be resolved by those two, leading to the founding of the United Republic of Nations. This isn't really a spoiler. It's the principal setting for Korra. With the TV series about to conclude its first season, the comic is starting to feel a little bit extraneous. Not that it would have made a dent on the legions of avatards who lined up to buy the book. But ideally, its release could have been better timed.

And The Promise: Part Two doesn't contain a whole lot in the way of major revelations. Nor does it significantly move the plot forward. Aang and Katara take their sweet time informing Earth King Kuei about the troubling events from the first volume. There's even an interlude where they hang out with the local chapter of Aang's official fan club. As its members all happen to be girls, Katara gets to squirm in discomfort as they fawn all over her beau. And then there's Zuko soliciting advice from his father, former Fire Lord Ozai, as was suggested at the end of the last book. He knows, or should know, what Ozai will say on the matter. So Zuko seeking his council seems to indicate a continued pathological need to earn his father's love and approval. The only person who undergoes a sudden change is Kuei. An ineffectual ruler and comic-relief from the TV series, he uncharacteristically decides it's time to go preemptive in order to be taken more seriously by his subjects and his enemies. Now that sounds vaguely familiar.

It's official. Kataang wins!

However, the volume's most prominent section is an extended detour from geopolitics in the form of Sokka's visit to Toph's metalbending academy. It's actually a rather charming side story that focuses on her maturation into the role of wise mentor figure, although it does manage to touch on the concerns of main plot. It's the comic's best character-based exploration of the ATLA universe. The backstory it references will unfortunately be opaque to non-fans. If this were still the TV series, it would be fitting material for one of the filler episodes. But given the relative brevity of this comic, it takes up a disproportionate amount of the narrative. And given the number of plot threads weaving in and out of each other without much actually happening, the comic feels like it's mostly biding its time until it can deliver on the big payoff in the third act.

But unless they belong to the faction wishing that Zuko would just get past his daddy issues, most fans will be pleased with The Promise. Gene Luen Yang pretty much gets what made the cast so popular, and his portrayals of them are pitch-perfect. He even manages to tease the shipper contingent by throwing in a few underutilized romantic pairings. And even the original character he introduces to give voice to the issues of racial identity and post colonialism dovetails nicely into the multiculturalism of Korra. Yang genuinely loves these characters, and his story is in many ways the highest form of fan fiction - one were he ends up actually getting paid to write it by the Powers That Be.

Toph defines her new responsibilities