The next chapter in Dark Horse’s continuation of the Avatar, the Last Airbender storyline was released last week and I finally got around to checking my copy out. As with the first installment, Part Two of “The Promise” was written by Gene Luen Yang, with art by Gurihiru and lettering by Michael Heisler.
For those just tuning in, “The Promise” is a three-part graphic novel series based on Bryan Konietzko’s and Michael Dante DiMartino’s Avatar, the Last Airbender animated series, continuing where Book Three (season three) left off. “The Promise” revolves around the continuing adventures of the classic cast from The Last Airbender whilst dropping bits of history and world-building that help develop the currently running (and currently awesome) sequel series, The Legend of Korra.
If you’re only just now getting into these Avatar comics, then you may want to check out my reviews on The Promise – Part One and The Lost Adventures (which features stories taking place in-between episodes of the cartoon show).
Moving on: This middle segment of the storyline naturally picks up where the first left off. The Harmony Restoration Movement, the unified act of forcibly removing all Fire Nation colonists from the Earth Kingdom, is not going as smoothly as planned. Aang and Katara have begun to question the ethics of evicting families who have lived in the Earth Kingdom for generations, regardless of original nationality, and hope to find a better solution. Hard-headed politics could be a problem, as Earth King Kuwei has decided to more actively and aggressively lead his nation, viewing any resistance to the removal of Fire Nation colonials as an act of war. Fire Lord Zuko, being manipulated by his imprisoned father, may just revert back to type and engage the Earth King in another brutal war over territory.
But while those guys are all talking stuffy politics, a much more exciting adventure is unfolding for Sokka and Toph. Master Kunyo and his disciples have come to claim original ownership of Toph’s school of metalbending; demanding that she and her trio of students vamoose. With the property being wagered on a bending duel between students, Toph and Sokka have to whip the inept metalbenders into shape if they’re to save the joint. Which is easier said than done, as her students kind of suck.
Yang has been doing a wonderful job of capturing the voices of the characters, the flow of the narrative and the feel of the universe. These comics, in a way, tend to come alive as you read them, with the actors effortlessly reprising their roles in your mind’s ear, and you’re left with an experience almost as satisfying as watching an episode of the cartoon. Gurihiru’s art is, again, charming and perfect for the series. The two ladies who make up “Gurihiru” have managed to age the characters by a year without making the mistake of having them look like they’ve aged ten years; their growth is very subtle and natural-looking. The layouts flow smoothly, there’s tremendous depth to each panel and all the humorous visual nuances of the series have been faithfully captured on paper.
While Part One felt a bit all over the place, trying to establish all the new plot threads and get the ball rolling on the story’s conflict, this installment slows things down for something of a more episodic adventure. One of the most enjoyable and inviting things about The Last Airbender animated series was its manner of storytelling; each episode was its own complete story, but the events that transpired constructed a larger book-long story arc. So every episode was accessible to newcomers while long-time fans were rewarded with world and character building as well as narrative callbacks and foreshadowing.
The political intrigue revolving around Zuko, the Earth King, Aang and Katara, while well-represented in this installment, takes something of a back seat to Sokka and Toph’s dilemma. Or, at least, that was the half of the story I found more interesting. Yang brings up a plot device that was somewhat squandered during the last Book of the original series: Toph’s space-metal bracelet. Here, we find how it plays a more significant role in the development of her character and her transition to becoming a teacher. Toph’s students (Ho Tun, Penga and “The Dark One”) all have strong, colorful personalities that really pop as you read them and after only a few pages you’ll find yourself liking them as much as any established supporting characters from the show. Sokka’s antics to help train Toph’s students are his usual shtick and he and Toph really are a natural fit for playing off one-another. There’s even an emotionally charged monologue from Toph that really illuminates how strong Yang’s understanding of the characters is.
The political half of the story moves along steadily and leaves us with an ominous cliffhanger I won’t spoil. There’s some romantic drama in the issue as Mai and Zuko come to verbal blows and Katara begins to show glimpses of jealousy as Aang’s celebrity attracts some fangirls. The Aang/Katara spat felt a bit underdeveloped, given the dueling plots of this installment, but it actually does come into play by the volume’s end, so it was far from “pointless”. Zuko, as I mentioned in my review for the previous volume, somewhat annoys me in how quickly he’s begun to revert back to his “confused villain” status. Various reasons have been provided for this backtracking of characterization, but it never-the-less feels like we’re just treading ground we’ve already been over before. Despite that, all the scenes are written very well, particularly his meetings with Ozai. So while I’m left feeling like we’re kind of going in circles with Zuko, I’m never bored reading about it.
Part Three of “The Promise” is scheduled for a September release, though I hope it won’t mark the end of Dark Horse’s The Last Airbender graphic novels. While I’ve been adoring every minute of “The Legend of Korra”, I’m still not quite ready to say goodbye to the classic cast and these comics have been satisfying me immensely.