The Last Airbender Returns in Comic Form

It’s been a good few months for fans of the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which aired on the network from 2005-2008. After the disappointing 2010 live-action remake by M. Night Shyamalan, it seemed like we would pine away forever for Aang and his merry band of friends as they fought to bring justice and order back to the world. But then, in April, the long awaited spin-off series, The Legend of Korra premiered, and hope was restored! The show was awesome, reminding viewers of all the reasons we loved Avatar, plus it starred a kick-ass girl hero, which was totally baller. Still, at least I couldn’t stop wondering whatever happened to Aang, Katara, Sokka, and the others. I mean, LOK takes place seventy years after TLA, and those kids were only like, thirteen when the series ended. Apparently they grew up and had kids and lived lives and stuff.

Spoilers follow!

As if anticipating my every emotion upon watching LOK, Dark Horse handily timed the release of Vol. 1 of The Promise just a few months earlier, with Vol. 2 coming out right around the finale of LOK, and the concluding volume arriving this September. Though not the first Nickelodeon comic to focus on TLA, it is the first to tackle what happens after Aang defeats Fire Lord Ozai. We know from the finale that Zuko is crowned the new Fire Lord and that Aang and Katara totally make out, and that’s pretty much where The Promise picks up. In the opening panels, everything seems to be going smashingly—Zuko and Aang have decided to work together, as Fire Lord and Avatar, to evict Fire Nation colonies from the Earth Kingdom. Sokka, Katara, and Toph are all there too, and everyone seems to think that this will be a positive step towards creating unity among the nations. The project is deemed, “The Harmony Restoration Movement.” During a celebration to honor the commencement of this project, Zuko takes a moment alone with Aang to make the Avatar promise to “end him” if Zuko ever starts to act the way Fire Lord Ozai did. Reluctantly, Aang agrees.

As the Harmony Restoration Project moves along, some members of the gang start to question whether or not these forced evictions are ethical. Many residents of the Fire Nation colonies have lived there for hundreds of years, coming to think of these villages in the Earth Kingdom as their home. As the colonists resist, Zuko questions where is loyalties lie. Everything comes to a head over the fate of Yu Dao, a colony that refuses to be evicted. The sophistication of the politics here impressed me, though shouldn’t have been surprised, considering what I saw on LOK this season. When I picked up The Promise, I really just wanted to know what everyone grew up to be like, and instead found this nuanced and realistic portrait of a society that has just undergone major political upheaval. And that’s awesome!

But the best part about it might be that The Promise doesn’t get lost in its own seriousness—all the humor I loved from TLA is still there, and it shows the characters’ maturation in a subtle and beautiful way. Alongside the major arc, Toph also opens her own school, Katara and Aang are exploring a more adult relationship, Zuko is working out his very complicated relationship with his father, and Sokka…well, maybe Sokka has a little more maturing to do than the rest of them. Really, my point is that the comic immediately took me back to the same feelings I had while watching the show while still allowing the world to progress in a believable way. Occasionally, a comic continuation of a television show doesn’t feel quite on target to me, as if the characters all have the same names but actually act way different than they used to. With The Promise, Sokka is still the goofy, optimistic go-getter, Toph is still way cooler than everyone else, Katara is still feisty, Zuko is still conflicted, and Aang is still silly but sweet. I could hear them speaking as I read, and reading the comic made me feel totally justified in wanting to know what happens to these people.

I’ve just read the last installment, and it doesn’t disappoint. I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it yet, but I’d like to know what you all think of The Promise if you have read it! Were you happy to see the world of the The Last Airbender return in comics? How did you feel about what everyone was up to? Comment below!

  • Caroline

    Thanks for writing this review, Jessica!

    “When I picked up The Promise, I really just wanted to know what everyone grew up to be like, and instead found this nuanced and realistic portrait of a society that has just undergone major political upheaval.”

    I agree with this a hundred percent — , I like “The Promise” quite a bit more than I like “Korra,” to be honest (maybe even more than I like most episodes of the original AtLA show. Is that heresy? The comic couldn’t exist without the show of course, but what Gene Yang has done as a writer in picking up threads from the cartoon is extremely impressive). Also, in the second volume, I literally had to put the book down because I laughing out loud so hard (in a public place, too!) which is something that very rarely happens to me in any written medium.

    I haven’t gotten the final volume yet but I’m glad to hear it doesn’t disappoint!

  • I definitely don’t think it’s heresy! The comic was so much fun to read. And there’s more coming in 2013! 😀
    I really can’t wait. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Matt Lopez

    Where can I read this comic? Can I read it online for free or do I have to pay?

  • Jessica

    Hi Matt! The comic is available through Dark Horse. I’m pretty sure you will have to pay to read it in some form or another, either as an e-comic or a physical one, but you could fish around their website to find out! Good luck!