I'm fresh to the Avatar franchise, having just finished watching all three books of TLA, and now I'm reading the comics. I'm careful to read/watch something first
and only then
read opinions on the Internet, to ensure that my own first impression will be unmarred by those of others.
Gosh, I'm so glad I'm doing it that way.
Don't get me wrong, I love the cartoon. I consider it one of the best Western animated series, if not the
best. And in particular, its ethical messages, while they're the same old stuff, transcend times and cultures, which I believe to be a mark of good fantasy. But once in a while, I like works that challenge
my ethics, that force me to think and present no "obviously right" solution to the problem at hand.
I didn't expect much from a spin-off comic, and maybe that's because I was pleasantly surprised. For a children's tie-in to a children's animated series, The Promise
touches complicated political issues that even we modern adults struggle with: decolonization, immigration, and prejudice fueled by fallout from a century of war and broken lives.
The appeal of this comic becomes clear when we compare Avatar
to another franchise dealing with a "stopping the colonial empire" plot: Code Geass
. It seems to me that, despite being supposedly Darker and Edgier
and aimed at an older audience, Code Geass
never treated itself
as seriously as Avatar
did. The Promise
shows the realistic result of suddenly stopping a prolonged war by offing the Big Bad
: the tensions are not going to disappear overnight just because The Hero
preaches the "let's all get along" rhetoric. There are going to be mutual hatreds, diplomatic mishaps, and inevitable compromises. Things will get worse before they get better.
And in particular, the plot will the colonies, far from supporting a White Man's Burden
message, doesn't excuse the Fire Nation's actions. Was it wrong to invade and claim the Earth Kingdom coast for itself? Absolutely. But the colonies are already there
, now, and the modern-day leaders — interested as they are in peace — have to deal with the fact that they exist and destroying them would ruin too many people's lives. And there is no universally right solution. That is the point
. If there was, modern politics would be easy.