For fans of the television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Promise, Part 1 is likely to be considered mandatory reading as it promises to bridge the gap between the original series and the upcoming Legend of Korra. These readers will be treated to a familiar and enjoyable comic. Readers who aren’t familiar with the show (such as those who may be drawn by author Gene Luen Yang) will be acutely aware that they’re missing background information, but may enjoy themselves nonetheless.
In a nice touch, the book begins with an adaptation of the show’s opening, “Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago the four nations lived together in harmony . . . ,” but with a slight tweak to the ending: “I believed Aang would save the world. And you know what? I was right.” It’s a great touch, returning the reader to the series and picked up right where the last episode ended. With the war behind them Earth King Kuei, Fire Lord Zuko, and Aang hatch an idealistic plan to maintain peace by clearing all the Fire Nation colonist from Earth Kingdom land. Sokka, who’s always good for a name, dubs this the Harmony Restoration Movement. It doesn’t take long for their lofty ideals to run aground. Zuko sees that the Movement may be bad for Fire Nation interests and drops his support without talking to the rest of the gang. Before you know it, Aang’s dodging fireballs just like old times.
Plot specifics aside, this would fit right in as an episode somewhere in the second season. Aang is strong and confident but somewhat short-sighted. Zuko is rash and self-centered. Sokka, Toph, Momo, and Appa all get a gag or two in. The fights are well done and we even get some cameos from more obscure characters.
All this familiarity has a downside. By the end of the series’ last episode we’d seen some momentous events and a lot of growth in all the characters, but not much of that can be seen here, which is frustrating. Much of the conflict in the book could have been avoided if Zuko had simply talked to someone before taking action, a lesson I thought he’d learned in the series. There are some brief flashes of a new and interesting story of what happens to a ragtag bunch of young adventurers once they’ve bested their foe and suddenly find themselves facing problems that can’t be solved with kung-fu and bending, but that plot gets sidelined in favor of something fun, comfortable, and slightly regressive.
I’ve not mentioned the art because there simply isn’t a lot to say. It’s very good and relentlessly on-model. Every panel looks like it could have been pulled out of an episode of the television show (which makes sense as the book was drawn by an animation studio rather than by one artist). The art here shows the same dynamic fight scenes and emotionally expressive characters that made the show so popular. I can’t point to a single panel that disappointed me, but I can’t point to a single panel that surprised me, either.
That’s more or less how I felt about the whole comic. It’s good. I was really happy to read it and I’ll eagerly seek out the second part. If this story is going to set the stage for the next generation’s adventures in the Avatar universe then I have to assume the second book will include some interesting growth and change for the characters. Hopefully Yang manages to add these features without losing the fun adventure he fostered in the first book.