In my humble opinion, Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest stories of the early 21st century. The cartoon aired on Nickelodeon (in the US) and probably had a bigger adult audience than any other nick show. Once I started watching the show, I was hooked.
Then came that fateful day when the show ended. It wasn’t canceled; the story, like an awesome book, ended. It was bittersweet watching the last episode. And though the ending was fulfilling, questions still remained. More story could easily come about!
That’s where the graphic novels come in. Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise is a graphic novel written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru with lettering done by Michael Heisler. The story is told in three parts, each encompassing a book (and each playing out like an episode of the series). You can also purchase the library edition, which has all three parts in one book. The graphic novels look and feel like the show and pick up right where the animated series left off. If you have not watched the show, then the graphic novels probably won’t make any sense to you. If you watched the show, you’ll more than likely love the continuing story.
The Promise is a study in post-colonialism. At the end of the animated series, Aang, the Avatar, along with the help of his friends Kitara, Sokka, Toph, and Zuko, has brought piece to the four nations. Problems arise, however, in how to actually implement the peace. King Kuei, ruler of the Earth Kingdom, proposes a plan called “The Harmony restoration Movement” which involves removal of all Fire Nation citizens from their Earth Kingdom colonies—which sounds like a simple plan in theory. However, many of those Fire Nation colonies have existed for over a century. The people have integrated and many of the colonists consider the Earth Kingdom home. Families of both nations have comingled. This key issue is embodied in the character of Kori, who, through her father’s bloodline, is a citizen of the Fire Nation, but whose mother is a member of the Earth Kingdom. Kori herself is an Earth Bender. As a Fire Nation Citizen, she is ordered to return to the Fire Nation, but as an Earth bender, she feels the Earth Kingdom is her home.
Aang is torn. The simple plan of removing all Fire Nation citizens isn’t so simple after all. He must fight all sides at the same time battling himself over his feelings. Not every moment is completely serious. The graphic novels are also full of light-heartedness, tender moments, and jokes (including the quintessential fart joke that pleases the 9-year-old in all of us). Even though the target audience is children, Avatar as a whole is a wonderfully complex story and The Promise continues this tradition.