A lot of young boys come to our store looking for comic books. Hindered by the way that my brain works, recoiling from the explosive quality of traditional American comic book illustration style and finding it difficult to digest together the text and illustrations of comic books in such styles, I have read very few well-known comics, though I have tried to read several.
As such, I don’t know what is kid-friendly and what is not, other than being very positive that no elementary or middle school student ought to be reading Sandman. Heck, I hardly follow Sandman sometimes, and I don’t think that the illustrations would help me much there.
I always ask such customers if they happen to be fans of the Nickelodeon TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The creators of Avatar have written two companion storylines published in comic book form, the second of which, The Promise, takes place just after the conclusion of the television and helps to bridge the dramatic cultural changes between Avatar: The Last Airbender and the sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra.
These comics use a style nearer to manga than most American productions—or nearer to the modern and evolving graphic novel—or is it a storyboard format?
I have great respect for the creators of Avatar. They created a complex world with complex yet logical magic, researched Eastern cultures in order to found their world. They have created complex characters with complicated backstories and complicated psyches and a bestiary’s worth of surprisingly plausibly constructed composite creatures. They do not shy from throwing all this complexity into a children’s television series.
They don’t shy from throwing it all into their comics either.
I actually expected more from the comics and was a tad disappointed. I’d hoped for another season, though, and recognize that my disappointment stems from this. The comics read more like the final three episodes of a series than a complete story arc. Neither shenanigans nor dialogue lived up to the ridiculousness of the TV series. This is what I missed most in The Promise.
Quickly the era of peace that was ushered in by the replacement of Fire Lord Ozai with Fire Lord Zuko dissolved into war. I think that there were probably some several months of nights of poor sleep and growing suspicion for Zuko that the comics skip over. Those same months were probably filled with wonderfully ridiculous escapades by Team Avatar, the blossoming relationship of Aang and Katara, and Toph’s departure from the team in order to create the first metalbending school.
The plot is heavy. It begins with Zuko extracting a promise from Aang to kill him if (and I think he might believe “when”) he begins to act like his father. Though defending his people, Zuko’s actions look even to him to be like those of his father, and Aang struggles with whether to kill his friend and is told by trusted advisors that he must.
This particular version of The Promise, the library binding, is particularly nice for the marginal notes from the creators, who discuss their love of the characters, some of the ideas for the scenes, and notes about the characters’ stories.
The Search will fill a few more gaps.
Yang, Gene Luen, Michael Dante DiMartino, and Bryan Konietzko. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise. Ed. Dave Marshall. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2013.
This review is not endorsed by any of the authors or creators of Avatar, Gene Yuen Yang, Dave Marshall, Nickelodeon, or Dark Horse Comics. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.