Avatar: The Last Airbender, Vol.1 – The Promise, part one – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko continue the story right where the TV series left off!

Aang and Katara work tirelessly for peace when an impasse between Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei over Fire Nation colonies within the borders of the Earth Nation threatens to plunge the world back into war.

Written by Eisner winner and National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and drawn by Gurihiru (Thor and the Warriors Four), this is the adventure Avatar fans have been craving.

You can read an excerpt here.

Review:

Being the huge Avatar: The Last Airbender fan that I am, I’m simultaneously the prime audience and the toughest possible critic for this comic. I loved even the idea of spending more time with these characters, but I was ready to eviscerate this book if it didn’t live up to the quality of the show. Happily, The Promise, part one is true to the series in every possible way – even if there is something a little bittersweet about not being able to see it fully realized in motion, it still is an absolutely pleasure to return to this world.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been too worried, given that series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were involved with this project, but you never can tell just how involved the creators actually are with these types of spin-offs, how much time they actually vest in it – especially considering the duo is hard at work on the spin-off series, The Legend of Korra. There was also something reassuring in knowing that Gene Luen Yang was penning it, both as a lauded author and as an established Avatar geek – but still, he’s not the creators. It all came down to one, all important question: would the voices ring true? Happily, they absolutely, positively do – everyone and everything, from Aang and Katara, to Toph, Sokka, and Zuko, from the comic beats to the serious moments, are pitch-perfect, exactly right. It was a joy to hear these characters’ voices again.

This comic is admittedly a bridge between the original series and the coming spin-off, The Legend of Korra – which is, if you’ve seen the trailer…

…a slightly steampunky version of Avatar, with a turn of the century vibe – clearly time has passed and things have changed (and if this clip of Korra training doesn’t get you amped, I don’t know what will.) (Plus I totally misted up at this clip of elderly Katara.) And so this comic tackles the creation of the cities Korra will be exploring, and rightfully brings up the difficulties inherent in trying to force colonies that have existed for up to a 100 years to re-assimilate. It’s a difficult, complicated, juicy problem for Aang, Zuko, and the rest to face, and I very much liked how it brought Zuko’s loyalty to the Fire Nation into conflict with what Aang feels is best for the world.

I will say this volume has a setting the stage kind of feel – the pace of this story is a bit sedate – but there’s enough substance to it to be satisfying, and I love how this story isn’t afraid to cloud the issues. As for dealing with unfinished business from the series, if you’re looking for an answer about Zuko’s mom, it’s touched on but not completely addressed in this volume.

There were a couple of things about this story that felt a little too familiar – seeing Aang struggle with his Avatar state is nothing new, nor is Zuko’s rashness – but I suspect it stemmed from Yuen needing to reestablish the rules of this world. But when you make old issues raw and relevant again, you are, well, readdressing old issues – and so Zuko’s struggle with his father, and Aang’s struggle with his responsibilities, rear their heads once again. But I do very much like how the two are poised to collide – and how tenuous peace is still, even a year after Aang defeated Ozai – so needless to say, I’m very vested in seeing what happens next. As for Sokka and Toph, they didn’t have a ton to do in this story, other than tease Katara and Aang about being a couple, but they’re primed for the next volume.

Still there is something undeniably bittersweet about reading this story in comic form, in that it just can’t match the original series’ Kung Fu. For me, the martial arts were one of the best things about Avatar: The Last Airbender –  they were so brilliantly and authentically rendered – and a comic just can’t do them justice, no matter how many fwoosh and fwooom sound effects they throw in. That’s not a knock against this comic, mind – this volume actually does a lovely job with the fight scenes – but inherent in the transition from animation to comic is the loss of motion, and I missed it tremendously. 

Still, The Promise  is everything we could hope for in an Avatar comic, true to the series in every possible way. Both as a bridge to the sequel, and as a return to a world we Avatar fans know and love, this comic is a joy to read. I absolutely can’t wait for the next volume.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Michael Jones of Blogcritics.org says:

Avatar: The Last Airbender Volume 1 – The Promise Part 1 is an enjoyable read even if you are not well versed in the story’s universe. More than simply a story of this character or that character and whatever magical powers they might or might not possess, the story can be boiled down to the choices one must make as you grow older.

ComicBook Therapy says:

This comic reads, looks and feels just like it came straight from the creative team of the show. The characterizations of the main characters remain intact; from Aang’s optimism to Zuko‘s insecurities are all well written and feel like themselves.

Comics Girl says:

Unlike many other comic continuations or adaptations of TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 is completely satisfying. Gene Luen Yang’s and Gurihiru’s love for the original shows through. I’m already eagerly awaiting part 2.

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