Avatar: The Last Airbender | The Promise (Parts One and Two) created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, script by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru, lettering by Michael Heisler
Reacting to the final page with ‘oh, crud’ is actually a good thing, especially if it’s something like ‘OH, CRUD … I have to wait until SEPTEMBER to see what happens next?!!’ Talk about manga interruptus!
For those of you with kids of a certain age, you’re probably pretty familiar with the Avatar animated series, and know that it’s Asian-influenced at the very least, even though the creators are themselves not of Asian descent. If you know the series, then you probably remember some of the casting hubbub around the 2010 live-action film, The Last Airbender: South Asian American director/screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan (who apparently found out about Avatar when his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween one year; oh, the irony!) cast the main characters with all-white actors, with the exception of young Brit Dev Patel (yes, Slumdog himself) as the main antagonist. Plenty of folks were none too pleased to have Hollywood whitewash (again) an Asian-themed story with non-Asian actors, not to mention the one brown ‘bad’ buy chasing around the pale white ‘good’ guys. I chose not to see the film, but I did send an angry response when the casting company actually emailed me personally about finding “real” Asian actors to populate the film’s backgrounds. Yes, they did!
Anyway, I’m putting that controversy aside (for now), because I’m rather quite gleeful that the latest Avatar incarnation happens to be authored by none other than 2006 National Book Award finalist Gene Luen Yang. [Yang’s American Born Chinese became the first-ever graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award. Making history, however, is never easy: Yang’s nomination set off a virulent chain of detractors and many more supporters slugging it out as to whether graphic novels are NBA-worthy.]
Yang’s brave new world begins in peace. In Part One, the Hundred Year War is finally over. Fire Lord Ozai sits in prison while his son Zuko now leads the Fire Nation. In order to “restore the four nations to harmony,” Zuko agrees to remove the many Fire Nation colonies from King Kuei’s Earth Kingdom, as the Harmony Restoration Movement commences. Fearful of inheriting his father’s evil power, Zuko elicits a difficult promise from Avatar Aang that Aang will “end” Zuko “if you ever see me turning into my father.” In spite of Zuko’s initial commitment to peace, he finds his subjects don’t support his decision (“traitor” and “coward” are favored monikers); the Fire colonies have existed for many generations and the people will not surrender what they are convinced is their hard-won right to remain in the Earth Kingdom.
In Part Two, the rift between the Fire and Earth nations has grown significantly; without a resolution in three days, war will commence. The Fire colonies will not budge; the Earth Kingdom demands the return of their ancestral lands. Meanwhile, metalbending friend Toph has a competition of her own to deal with when Kunyo’s firebending students return to reclaim their school, and Aaang and Katara get distracted by the “Official Avatar Aang Fan Club” (much to Katara’s annoyance) on their way to convince King Kuei to meet with Zuko and find a solution together. Ironically, Zuko has reluctantly been pouring tea for his imprisoned father and listening intently to the former Lord’s less-than-peaceful advice … uh-oh …
The three days are up … now what? This is where “OH, CRUD” comes in, because yes, we’re talking almost four months to find out what happens. Part Three ain’t due out until the end of September. Egads! Manga interruptus strikes again!
Tidbit: Okay, fellow fans … anyone else out there see less-than-subtle similarities with Israel and Palestine? Colonies, settlements, “you can’t have balance if one nation occupies another.” Please do chime in!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult