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The Last Airbender: The Promise Part One:

If you haven't heard of it yet, Dark Horse comics has teamed up with Bryke and company to make an interquel that bridges the gap between Avatar: The Last Airbender and the upcoming Avatar Legend Of Korra.

I recently purchased part one of Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, and thought I'd do a little review and prompt a discussion on the story so far. Be aware that I do include some spoilers ahead!

The first thing I noticed when I opened the package was just how small the volume was. Now, I understand that "traditional" western comics tend to be small volumes, but consider the target audience here. You have kids who liked the cartoon, and you have adults, usually anime nerds, who liked the cartoon. Those are your potential customers.

Well, anime nerds are not familiar with the whole "pay ten bucks for twenty pages of glossy"; they expect entire chapters (each with the usual conflict - resolution cycle) because that is what manga does. When I drop ten dollars on a comic book, I expect it to take at least an hour to get through - not ten minutes.

Now you can say that it is unrealistic to expect an American company to follow the standards set by manga, but that is exactly what the previous Avatar: The Last Airbender, comic, also published by Dark Horse, did - it is actually kind of something Dark Horse is known for. "The Lost Chapters" contains several one-off short stories, and is a thick volume, so why did they opt to break the story of "The Promise" into three unnecessarily tiny volumes? Obviously they are motivated by money here, but hell, I would have been happy to shell out thirty bucks for a single volume that covers the entire story than thirty bucks for multiple volumes which I have to wait several weeks in between each publishing date to read.

Let's put aside the annoying publishing methods now and get to the meat of the issue: the story. The book opens with the opening narration of Avatar: The Last Airbender that we all know and love, but the problem is it is kind of ineffective for the medium of a comic book. You can't have the cool music in the background nor see the sweet martial arts going on, so instead of fulfilling the role of getting you excited about the upcoming story it comes across as pointless filler. I'm not saying paying homage to the cartoon is a bad thing, but they could have done it in a better way, without wasting the first five pages of the comic book.

Then there's the Katara <3 Aang mushiness that gets shoved in our faces and crowds the story. Sure, it does give us a few good one liners, like "Stop! Trying! To! Set! My! Boyfriend! On! Fire!", but the whole love angle in The Last Airbender was only fun when it was a source of tension and drama. Now that Aang and Katara are together, they are really suffering from True Love Is Boring. It's no longer a story because the conflict is resolved, so why are they putting so much emphasis on it? I know that Bryke understands how to write a good couple - just look at Sokka and Suki, they work just fine as an Official Couple and provide the audience with some witty banter, but Aang and Katara are more like this mushie source of bad dialogue half the time. With such awful lines as "trying to see what we mean to each other" and Katara constantly acting like a total bitch to her brother just because he keeps stumbling in on their makeout sessions (which Sokka can't really help since all of them are public displays of affection). Not only is it out of character, it doesn't provide anything useful to the story, so why include it at all? My only guess is that Mike and Bryan really want to spite the Zutara crowd or something by rubbing this mush in their faces. Hell, Sokka even Hangs A Lampshade on it constantly, so we know that making Aang and Katara all unnecessarily lovey-dovey and crap is on some level being done intentionally.

The story does have its good moments, though. For instance, I actually like that Zuko is becoming his father, is aware of it, yet cannot help it anyway because he is too invested in the welfare of his nation's people. That's called tension, and it should be the focus of the story, and for the most part it is. Sokka's still providing the occasional comic relief, and Toph is still Toph, so that's good. But the Aang and Katara thing has got to get out of the way of the real story, and Aang has to stop rehashing the same damn inner turmoil he already faced in Book 3: Fire. Yes, we get that Aang is a pacifist, and that he hates violence even if it appears necessary, why are we still going on about this? I guess my issue is that the story seems to be focusing so much on a promise Aang made to Zuko to end Zuko if he should ever go back to being evil, when it should be focusing on finding a solution to the real problem, which is that the fire nation colonials don't like the plan to ship them back to the fire nation, and nobody even bothered asking their damn opinion about things. Yet Aang harps so much on worrying about how he might have to kill Zuko he can't seem to realize that the real problem is that the Return to Harmony movement is a disaster. Its kind of a stupid way to drag out the conflict in my eyes.

As for the artwork itself, its okay. I wish that they had done a bit better job with some of the backgrounds, and there are a few panels that are just not planned out so well. For example, take a look at the cover art. Notice how Zuko's body is HUGE? It looks as if he is supposed to be in the foreground, but he is actually in the background, as you can see when you look at Toph's position. So either Zuko is really large or Toph is really small or something. It is confusing and sloppy! Now, if that was done to try and put some emphasis on Zuko, especially because the plot does center around the character's inner turmoil, then why the brown fade effect on him? Avatar's done some amazing covers for their DVDs in the past, so I'm left wondering why it is that they failed to do so in this comic.

Anyways, just my thoughts, what do you all think so far?

edited 2nd Feb '12 3:06:03 PM by MyGodItsFullofStars

 
 2 Ghilz, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 3:18:38 PM from The Moon. Or Canada. Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Fight It Out!
and you have adults, usually anime nerds, who liked the cartoon. Those are your potential customers.

As a non anime fan but comic fan who liked the series, I take offense to that. And seriously, you are going to criticize a comic book for being in the comic book format? Seriously? If a manga fan wants a manga, get a goddamn manga. When I buy a copy of Tintin, I don't whine about the format being different than Spider-Man.

It's a Comic Book, made by people that make Comic Books. Why are you surprised they stick with the format they are familiar?

For example, take a look at the cover art. Notice how Zuko's body is HUGE? It looks as if he is supposed to be in the foreground, but he is actually in the background, as you can see when you look at Toph's position. So either Zuko is really large or Toph is really small or something. It is confusing and sloppy!

It's a standard Comic book cover thing... Having characters assembled as a collage rather than a team shot. Common especially if they aren't all togheter in the story. You really have never read any western comics before have you?

edited 2nd Feb '12 3:23:02 PM by Ghilz

[up]I have only read a few western comics, mostly hand-me-downs, so you are right in that I am not too familiar with the genre, but my point is is that the majority of Avatar fans likely haven't either. I'm not saying that there aren't a few in the crowd, such as yourself, but considering the nature of the previous Avatar expanded universe comics, I wasn't expecting something that I'd finish in ten minutes.

I'm also just, in general, a bit sick of the whole western comic books format. Why the hell would anyone want to pay ten bucks for thirty pages that they can finish in ten minutes reading time? And then these companies complain about how they can't sell more copies? Are western comic book creators just stupid or something? Audiences these days expect a bit more story for their money - hell, some of the best comics these days are offered free over the internet. I'm sorry, but this is something comic book creators have got to realize, before they kill their entire industry by restricting their audience to a few diehard fans with loaded wallets. It is just plain greedy, is what it is - greedy and shortsighted.
 
 4 The Gloomer, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 3:41:24 PM from Northern Ireland
Inadequate law student
I have only read a few western comics, mostly hand-me-downs, so you are right in that I am not too familiar with the genre,

I'm also just, in general, a bit sick of the whole western comic books format.

A slight inconsistency?

Seriously, you open your post with an assertion that you're not really familiar with western comic books, then you go off on this unsubstantiated polemic against the medium. Wise up, friendo.

edited 2nd Feb '12 3:42:35 PM by TheGloomer

Clearly, you do not know what you are talking about. $10 for a 20 page comic? LO Lno.

[up]I don't have to be a big reader of western comics to understand just how terrible their business model really is. Heck, they talk about it in just about every other issue of Wired magazine, and companies like DC Comics have been struggling for years. It is no mystery as to why - it used to be that you could buy an entire phone book thick "pulp" issue for under a dollar, but then they decided to drop the mass market appeal and specialize in superhero comics. So now American comics have these glossy editions with gorgeous artwork but very little appeal outside of the small audience of dedicated collectors, while in Japan they sell more comics than all other books combined. America could be like that too, if only the artists and publishers were willing to take some risks, like dropping the color and writing stories meant to appeal to someone other than a superhero fan.
 
Also, why was this moved to comics? The medium may be a comic, but the audience it appeals to are going to be browsing over in Western Animation. So now a bunch of comic book fans are going to rail on me for questioning their industry, instead of focusing on the actual review and discussion of the story of the book. I put this one in Western Animation for a reason - moving it to here is going to basically kill the thread for no good reason other than "putting things into categories that they technically belong to".

For example, let's say that I wanted to discuss a plot point presented by the online comics of the Heroes television show. I don't really want to talk about their merit as comic books, I want to talk about their merit as part of the story of Heroes. I might make a few side comments if there is some technical detail of the artwork that I disagree with or liked, but that doesn't mean it is meant to be a discussion on the art and craft of the comic book. The same situation, I feel, applies here - this is primarily a discussion of the Avatar universe, not a discussion on the technical achievements and failings of the art of a comic book (even if I did make a few comments to that effect, the focus of the discussion should be on the story).

Or am I making any sense at all?
 
 8 zam, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 4:00:55 PM from Orlando, FL . Relationship Status: Heisenberg unreliable
Praise Him
I like avatar and I also like comics and I know I'm not the only one like that.
All of time and space, anywhere and everywhere, any star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

 9 Ghilz, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 4:01:06 PM from The Moon. Or Canada. Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Fight It Out!
So really, less a review, more raging against the medium?
 10 The Gloomer, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 4:03:54 PM from Northern Ireland
Inadequate law student
Or am I making any sense at all?

Yes, everything should be more like Glorious Nippon.

[up]Why must people get so defensive whenever someone points out the flaws in something over the internet? I'm not trying to personally attack you, I'm just pointing out where I feel improvements could have been made in the story and how it was presented. If you'd like to make a rational counterpoint to my issues with the story of The Promise that is just fine, but instead everyone is relying on personal attacks instead of addressing the actual issues that I raised. Yes, I am by no means a veteran comic book collector, but that doesn't mean my points aren't valid ones.

I'm a fan, just like you, but I'm not so blind as to just simply buy every single piece of crap that gets turned out by the marketing machine. I have certain expectations, expectations that I feel were not met by The Promise. That is all. If you liked the story, then say so, no need to start tossing out judgments about the author.
 
 12 zam, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 4:14:13 PM from Orlando, FL . Relationship Status: Heisenberg unreliable
Praise Him
Okay medium stuff aside I'm looking forward to part 2. Anyone else?
All of time and space, anywhere and everywhere, any star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

[up]I look forward to it with the understanding that the portions of the story that I liked will be developed and explored further, and the focus on the whole Kataang thing will be dropped. I think that this is exactly what will happen, but who knows?
 
There was no random decision to switch to exclusively superhero comics. It happened because of incredibly strict restrictions placed on the industry making it more or less impossible to tell anything OTHER than superhero stories.

Really, limited appeal? So those 60, 000 average unit sales from September last year is limited now?

Oh really? No appeal beyond Superheros? Cause there's no Maus, Mouse Templar, Walking Dead, Y: The Last Man, Hellboy, Frankenstein or Hellblazer, amirite?

[up]This is what I'm talking about. What does this have to do with The Last Airbender? Can someone please move this discussion back to where it belongs?

Even though it is a derail, I'll address your point. Yes, there are some exceptions to the rule, and American companies do publish the occasional Graphic Novel. The issue, though, is that there is still very little mass appeal in these things. A few of them manage to touch a chord, like Maus, that can have populist appeal, but for the most part the audience that likes zombies and Hellboy and all that other stuff is the same audience that lines up for comic books. You will never see something like an American comic book that features a romantic plot that appeals to girls (Shoujo comics, they call them in Japan), or an American comic book that, say, attempts to teach their audience some useful skill, like cooking, or science, or the science of cooking (Yakitate!! Japan).

And that is why I can say with some certainty that American comics have limited market appeal - because it is the truth. I understand that you like comics, and that is fine, but the industry is going to be in trouble so long as it continues to act like the only stories worth publishing are ones involving strong male leads taking on the world.

edited 2nd Feb '12 4:27:26 PM by MyGodItsFullofStars

 
 16 The Gloomer, Thu, 2nd Feb '12 4:29:53 PM from Northern Ireland
Inadequate law student
Why must people get so defensive whenever someone points out the flaws in something over the internet?

I don't think I was being defensive. I enjoy western comic books and manga equally, each on their own merits.

I'm not trying to personally attack you, I'm just pointing out where I feel improvements could have been made in the story and how it was presented. If you'd like to make a rational counterpoint to my issues with the story of The Promise that is just fine, but instead everyone is relying on personal attacks instead of addressing the actual issues that I raised.

Everybody is addressing the issues you raised. Nobody's making personal attacks that I can see.

Yes, I am by no means a veteran comic book collector, but that doesn't mean my points aren't valid ones.

Normally, I would be inclined to agree, but you said that you're not really up to date on western comics, and then you went and shot your mouth off about how they ought to be more like manga.

There are examples of western comic book creators attempting something like that ("Amerimanga" such as Gold Digger, and to some extent Robert Kirkman's Invincible).

I'm a fan, just like you, but I'm not so blind as to just simply buy every single piece of crap that gets turned out by the marketing machine. I have certain expectations, expectations that I feel were not met by The Promise. That is all.

Are you insinuating that I'm some sort of sheep or something? As for your expectations, what I don't understand is why you expected a western comic book to be exactly the same as a manga.

If you liked the story, then say so, no need to start tossing out judgments about the author.

I don't think anybody's said anything about the author.

And that is why I can say with some certainty that American comics have limited market appeal - because it is the truth. I understand that you like comics, and that is fine, but the industry is going to be in trouble so long as it continues to act like the only stories worth publishing are ones involving strong male leads taking on the world.

Now, that is a fair point.

edited 2nd Feb '12 4:32:25 PM by TheGloomer

 17 Vampire Buddha, Fri, 3rd Feb '12 7:41:29 AM from Right behind you Relationship Status: Having tea with Cthulhu
Butterscotch Dinosaur Pussy
God and Gloomer, please stop using western when you mean American. The terms are not synonymous.
 18 The Gloomer, Fri, 3rd Feb '12 8:15:54 AM from Northern Ireland
Inadequate law student
[up]Sorry, force of habit. I know I really shouldn't do that.

 19 betraylawl, Fri, 3rd Feb '12 9:42:27 AM from Little China Relationship Status: Wishing you were here
S. is my middle name
Don't see a reason why a poor review is in a forum that it basically bashes its topic
Gifted like Christmas
Wait, what about Azula? Does this Interquel say anything about her, or is that a topic that is not going to be touched on?
Oh, Equestria, we stand on guard for thee!
 21 Known Unknown, Mon, 6th Feb '12 9:31:58 PM from Here. There. Everywhere.
Fresh For 2014
@MGIFOS You bring up the issue via ranting, you deal with consequences (IE, that people will respond to your rants).

If you wanted to talk solely about Avatar, you should have made the conversation about Avatar without having a go at the medium in which it's presented - don't suddenly complain about where the conversation is going now that it's turned to criticism of your own assertions.

Anyway, I might buy this - but I think I'll wait to do so until after I've seen a bit of Korra. I dunno, I just feel like I want to see where things ended up before I see how they got there - it seems like the sort of thing I might want to know ends before means about. Like an appropriate telling of history, mayhaps.

edited 6th Feb '12 9:32:33 PM by KnownUnknown

"My final prayer: O my body, always make me a man who questions!" — Frantz Fanon
Well, I've heard tell that part 3 is going to have Azula in it. That is cause for concern.

Why? The last I checked, Azula had a spectacular Villainous Breakdown and got shipped off to a mental health facility off-screen for around-the-clock care. Would her mental health have improved by that point? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? After all, the story is going into an unstable situation, and Azula, no matter what state her health is in, might make it worse! Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Oh, Equestria, we stand on guard for thee!
So Part/Book Two is out. All I'll say is

what the hell, out-of-nowhere Zu Ki

edited 16th Jun '12 7:05:13 AM by AkumaShogun

 
[up] Oh, you mean Zuko and Suki. [lol]

I have to agree that this scenario is odd. I mean, the most interaction those two had had was when Zuko tried to burn Suki's village down, and awkwardly meeting each other again some time later. Maybe what's going on here is that Zuko/Mai and Suki/Sokka are having trouble in paradise, and Zuko and Suki are simply turning to each other for solace while both of them are on the rebound.

I know relationships are a thorny area for fandoms, but I like to think of myself as someone who can give a reasonable, objective take on such things. smile
Oh, Equestria, we stand on guard for thee!
 25 Hamburger Time, Wed, 27th Jun '12 11:55:44 PM from Right behind you
You know you want it ♥
I really hope this series doesn't end up breaking up Maiko and Sukka. I actually like those pairings.
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