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Comic Book / Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow

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The fourth comic trilogy in the Avatar franchise. In addition to following up on previous trilogies, it is also a sequel to the Free Comic Book Day 2013 issue, Rebound.

Having found his mother at the end of The Search, Zuko is eager to bring her and her new family back to the Fire Nation and show her how much it has changed. However, in his absence, things have continued changing, and for the worse: a group named the New Ozai Society is campaigning to discredit Zuko for his weakness and absenteeism and restore Ozai to the throne. Furthermore, beings called Kemurikage, mysterious figures thought only to exist in legend, take an interest in the rebellion and do so by abducting children much like the legends of old. Meanwhile, Mai seems to have found a new boyfriend, tearing up old wounds between himself and Mai...

Smoke and Shadow's first book happens concurrently with the previous trilogy, The Rift.

Followed by Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South. The oneshot Azula in the Spirit Temple also picks up after this story.

Smoke and Shadow provides examples of:

  • Action Mom: When Constable Sung's son is being abducted by the Kemurikage, he and his wife try to fight them off armed with kitchen knives. Sung is a tall, burly man who probably has a lot of combat experience, but his wife appears to just be a frightened mom trying to protect her baby.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Mai is virtually the protagonist of the trilogy.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Invoked by Ursa when she visits Ozai at his cell. After calling him out for being an egotistical asshole and having no love for his family, she ends her "The Reason You Suck" Speech with a pitiful, almost disappointed note that Ozai's heart is so small that he couldn't even love himself if he tried.
  • Anachronic Order: Part 1 takes place right after The Search, and also takes place throughout the entirety of The Rift trilogy.
  • Antagonist Title: The title refers to the Big Bad of the story — the Kemurikage. It becomes subverted because the real Kemurikage haven't caused trouble nor set foot in the mortal realm since the Fire Nation's warlord era until Mai accidentally summoned one. The Kemurikage Mai saw were imposters.
  • Anti-Villain: Depending on your viewpoint, Azula and the fake Kemurikage turn out to be these in the end, as they were actually working to strengthen Zuko as a Fire Lord, not remove him from the throne as was suspected. To say their methods were less than heroic would be an understatement, though.
  • Betty and Veronica: Kei Lo acts as the Betty to Mai's Archie and Zuko's Veronica.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The New Ozai Society and Kemurikage are the threat that the heroes have to face, and they seek Zuko's removal from the throne. Subverted in that the Kemurikage introduced were imposters actually working to undo the New Ozai Society from within and strengthen Zuko's rule. The real Kemurikage were slumbering until Mai accidentally awoke one. As for the New Ozai Society, they thought that by involving the fake Kemurikage, they could stage attacks that Zuko's forces would be slow to respond, effectively discrediting him.
  • Big Brother Instinct:
    • Inverted. This is Little Sister Instinct we're talking about : Azula's plan against the New Ozai Society was to financially bankrupt them to prevent them from hurting Zuko as well as to round up all potential members that could risk attacking or hurting him.
    • Later Played Straight when Azula stops one of her cohorts from assaulting her little half-sister Kiyi, adding that Kiyi's a fighter since it's in her blood.
  • Big Brother Worship: Kiyi is very impressed with her half-brother's firebending and assumes he can easily deal with anything thrown at him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Mai and the Kyoshi Warriors arrive to turn the tide of battle at the ambush on Zuko's convoy.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Zuko and Mai manage to find the children abducted and either put an end to or severely weakened both the New Ozai Society and the Kemurikage/Fire Warriors. Also, Azula has returned looking much more sane and has a desire to help her brother become a stronger Fire Lord, trying to work with him in her own way to help rule the nation. However, Mai and Zuko are still suffering through intense relationship problems. Azula's plans to help her brother are a MASSIVE case of Hero with an F in Good territory (not to mention becoming a dangerous threat again) that may eventually put her in confrontation again with Zuko's desires.
  • Black Shirt: The New Ozai Society, which resents the concessions Zuko has made with the colonies and want a more aggressive Fire Lord and want to restore the old Imperial ideals.
  • Body Double: Iroh acts as one for Zuko when they hear about a possible ambush. He is able to get away with this because he is in a curtained cart, only revealing his hand to wave.
    "What do you think? Is my hand-waving filled with enough angst?"
  • Call-Back: To "Avatar Roku" in Part 2 when Aang, Zuko, Mai, and Kei Lo visit a Fire Temple. Fire Sage Shyu returns, and when faced with a dragon-head lock Aang recalls seeing something similar in the temple on Crescent Island.
    • Bordering on Brick Joke, but Mai and Ty Lee figured out a hidden passage that Azula would hide away in while they'd play hide and seek. Ty Lee says that "you really should've explored the castle more when we were kids." which is the exact same thing Azula said to Zuko in The Search.
    • A lot of visual cues about Azula's sanity come from knowing the artistic decisions used in The Search such as baggier eyes and Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises.
    • Kiyi tries to do the Dancing Dragon, saying that she had spied on Zuko doing it in the garden. She thinks it's what makes him so brave, and hopes that it'll work for her too. In a way, it does, since it unlocks her firebending.
  • Central Theme: Many argue that the next book North and South handles it better, but like in the sequel book; a recurring theme of change vs. progression is seen between Zuko and Azula. Unlike the latter book in which both sides have a morally grey outlook, this book indicates in multiple ways the benefits for change. Azula wants Zuko to be just like the Sozin, Azulon and Ozai and herself, blatantly unaware or ignorant that those exact philosophies are the reason why Azula went insane in the first place. Zuko himself fights for the beliefs of a new age of love and peace not just for the Fire Nation but for the rest of the world beyond it's gates; a stark contrast to the old beliefs that he and his sister were raised to believe all their lives.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Bits of trivia during re-airings of the series revealed that Ukano was the mastermind behind Omashu's invasion, making him a brilliant tactician in his own right. This ultimately proves true, as Mai notes, her father would never have been stupid enough to actually ambush the most heavily guarded passageway, which is why the small ambush he set up on the main path was a diversion.
  • Child Hater: The Fire Warriors start to lose patience because they didn't sign up to babysit children.
  • The Coup: The New Ozai Society finally acts, preparing an ambush for Fire Lord Zuko when he returns home from The Search.
  • Covers Always Lie: As seen in the page image, the cover of Part One shows Aang and Zuko in combat stance, Aang using his airbending and Zuko bending fire, ready to face some unseen opponent. But the actual story of Part One focuses on the Fire Nation characters, so Aang only appears shortly at the beginning, and he doesn't fight anyone nor use any kind of aggressive bending.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Kyoshi Warriors wipe the floor with the New Ozai Society ambush they had been warned about before Iroh can even get out to fight. That's because there were only six of them. The real ambush elsewhere features significantly more insurgents.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: This comic deconstructs The Good King. Zuko finds out that even with him being an objectively better Fire Lord than his father, there is still resistance to his rule, resistance that may one day need to be dealt with through overt violence.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Kiyi's coldness and reluctance towards Ursa's original face bears a resemblance to a child trying to adjust to a step-parent.
  • Easily Forgiven: Mai does keep her father's involvement a secret, but it is pointed out that Zuko has behaved very foolishly where his father was concerned too, going on the equivalent of a wild goose chase for two and a half years to earn his father's respect.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Ukano may be a reactionary and be willing to order the death of innocents, but he won't fight his daughter.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Unako helps lead the captive children out of their prison after Azula tells him she plans on keeping them there longer.
  • Everybody Has Standards: Ty Lee may be a flirt but she thinks Mai is laying it on a little thick with her relationship with Kei Lo.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Early Fire Nation culture is based on Jomon and Yayoi, which many of them are seen dressed in square-patterned trims of the former or sporting side hair buns of the latter.
  • Feed the Mole: Kei Lo is told false information about the ambush site because Ukano knows his loyalties are in doubt.
  • Generation Xerox: Of a sort. Azula and Zuko's rivalry has essentially become another feud between Sozin (Azula) and Roku (Zuko).
  • The Ghost:
    • Azula doesn't appear in the first book but several characters talk about her. Subverted: The twist ending of Part Two is that she's the leader of the (fake) Kamurikage.
    • Ozai is constantly talked about but he never physically appears until the very last scene of the story where Ursa meets him in prison.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
    • Ozai's shadow hangs over the entire story, with the New Ozai Society making their move to reinstate him and Ursa trying to deal with the trauma that her former husband had inflicted her. Ironically, Ozai doesn't physically appear until the very last scene, where Ursa gives "The Reason You Suck" Speech to him.
    • Then you have Warlord Toz and the Kemurikage themselves. The warlord kidnapped children, causing their mothers to die of grief and become the aforementioned spirits that have haunted the Fire Islands. They’ve inspired stories that would be used to get children in the Fire Nation capital to behave, and for some strange reason, they’ve returned to the mortal realm. Except, the actual spirits have mellowed out, and moved on into the Spirit World. Their old legend however, inspired Azula and a bunch of female cultists to impersonate them and cause trouble specifically for Zuko, showing that their actions have left a mark.
  • Hazy-Feel Turn: Azula, surprisingly enough. Despite villainous methods, she's doing what she does for (what she perceives to be) the good of Zuko and the Fire Nation.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Kei Lo decides he can't go through with attacking Zuko's innocent family and helps him fight off the ambush. However, Zuko and later Mai initially thought he was just merely trying to save his own skin.
    • Ukano has one in the end as well, once he breaks down and realizes how horrible he has been, especially to the children.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Azula's plan against the New Ozai Society was to financially bankrupt them to prevent them from hurting Zuko as well as to round up all potential members that could risk attacking or hurting him. However, her plan also required mass child abduction and to strike fear into the hearts of the people to expose the members which nearly caused a revolt. Girl's heart is (somewhat) in the right place at least, but the brain's still half-out to lunch.
  • Heel Realization: Ukano, once he realizes that Azula was using him. As a result, he's willing to accept going to prison for a long time as punishment for his actions.
  • Honey Trap:

    • Mai pretends to be in love with Kei Lo in order to pump information from him. At first. Ty Lee however, did question if what Mai did was ethical.
    • Mai develops genuine feelings for him later on and is heartbroken when he dumps her.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Aang is weirded out by Mai and Kei Lo's Sickeningly Sweethearts routine, until Zuko reminds him he has no room to talk.
  • I Have Your Wife: After threatening to harm his loved ones if Ukano failed again, the Kemurikage kidnap Tom-Tom. Subverted, as it turns out he is in league with the Kemurikage.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Implied with Ozai. Despite his bluster, Ursa sees him for what he is, just a pathetic little man trying to be big. On top of that, she remarks that his heart is so small that aside from being incapable of loving anyone, he's incapable of loving himself.
  • In the Blood: Discussed in Azula's fight with Zuko.
    Azula: In the last twenty-four hours, I've shown just how ruthless you can be. Deep down inside, you're still one of us. You can deny it for a little while, but eventually you will become just like me...
  • Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: The legend of the Kemurikage is about a ruthless warlord named Toz, who demanded annual tributes from villages. When one village refused, Toz punished them by having his men abduct the village's children, and the children were never seen again, causing the mothers to die of sadness. Shortly thereafter, the Kemurikage began to haunt Toz and his men. They drifted into the warlord's encampment in the middle of the night and abducted children.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: The Fire Nation Captial is supposedly under attack by the Kemurikage while the New Ozai insurgency is also involved, the former of which warrants the Avatar's attention, and Aang has some difficulty cooperating with Zuko's government over the whole issue. Once it's revealed that the Kemurikage that were abducting children were humans and not the real deal, it's no longer the Avatar's problem. Despite that, Aang refused to sit idly by and let these kidnappings happen, so he decides to this off the books.
  • Kick the Dog: Ukano refuses to spare Ursa or Kiyi simply because Zuko decided to fight back.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Mai had no idea what Zuko had been up to, and why Zuko released Azula in the first place. Ty Lee had to clear all that up. Given that Mai was out of it and had her hands full for two and a half trilogies, this is not surprising.
  • Maybe Ever After: Zuko and Mai. They don't get together in these comics but it is very likely they will eventually. Kei Lo break ups with Mai after seeing her acting too close to Zuko, and Zuko has a daughter in The Legend of Korra who looks very similar to Mai.
  • Meaningful Appearance: Azula's new look as the Kemurikage manages this on two levels. Azula takes on the form of the ghosts of the past in an attempt to swindle the New Ozai society out of money while trying to get Zuko to become a more decisive and efficient (as well as tyrannical) Fire Lord. At face value, it's a ruse and a spook tactic. However, her Motive Rant reveals that she wants Zuko to rule like she did, which she modeled off of Ozai: One of fear, power, and tyranny. A clever case of Stealth Pun, Azula also symbolically represents the ghosts of the past Fire Nation, and Azula herself is currently one of them: An old mentality that is best left forgotten to the pages of history. This also puts her in direct conflict again with Zuko who desires none of the past bloodshed; desiring a new age of love, peace and prosperity for not just the Fire Nation, but for the world as a whole.
  • Out of Focus:
    • Much of the main cast has a reduced role in the first part. Team Avatar left for Yu Dao and Zuko only has a supporting role. Mai serves as the main protagonist for Part 1.
    • Aang comes back to a major role in Part Two, but Sokka and Katara head back home instead after learning about the problems there in The Rift (and into the next comic story, North and South).
  • Pet the Dog: One genuine and one subversion from Azula.
    • The genuine one is when she stops one of her cohorts from assaulting Kiyi, adding that Kiyi's a fighter since it's in her blood. Despite the resentment toward her mother and the circumstances behind Kiyi's birth, Azula still seems to accept Kiyi as a sister.
    • The subversion is when she pressures Ukano to spend a lot of money to accommodate the kidnapped children and make sure they're well fed and comfortable. It seems like a nice gesture, but it turns out her motive is to financially break Ukano and the New Ozai Society, and the condition of the children themselves is something she couldn't care less about.
  • Playing with Fire: Kiyi is revealed to be a firebender just like her brother and sister.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Zuko summons Aang at the last minute, because he knows only the Avatar knows how to handle spirits.
  • Psycho Supporter: The big reveal at the end is that Azula has become one; she's accepted that Zuko has the throne and now wants to make him the best Fire Lord he can be — for her warped definition of "best". She's practically gone familial Yandere for him.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ursa eventually says one to her ex-husband Ozai, telling him that she finally sees Ozai for who he is, deeming him a small man trying to act big, and with a heart too small for everyone with no room for his son, daughter, brother, or even himself.
  • Recycled Premise: The Kemurikage were a recycled idea that was left on the floor of the animated series. In particular, the Fire Warriors, a group of all female warriors designated to be a counterpart of the Kyoshi Warriors.
  • Sanity Strengthening: Azula is... saner than she was in The Search. Still crazy, but a lot more in control and rational than before.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The BIG reveal is that the Kemurikage that are terrorizing the capital are impersonators dressed as them. However, Aang talked to a REAL Kemurikage ghost, and she clarifies that until the moment she came to speak to him, her kind has not set foot in the mortal realm for ages.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Aang is told he’s officially overstayed his welcome, but Suki gives him the idea to investigate and track down Kiyi himself. She and Ty Lee both willingly agree to help Aang with his rogue investigation.
  • Sequel Hook: Azula is still at large, determined to shape Zuko in her image. On a shorter term note, Sokka and Katara going back home in the second issue leads into the following story Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South.
  • She's Back: After she ran off to parts unknown as a broken mess at the end of The Search Azula has returned with a vengeance, having spend the intervening time regaining her former sanity and with a new outlook on life, to mold Zuko into becoming the type of ruthless Fire Lord she would have been in order to make him ready for potential threats ahead.
  • Shipper on Deck: Kiyi seems to ship Zuko with Suki. Meanwhile, Aang is ecstatic to see Mai and Zuko in the same room and excitedly asks if they're back together.
  • Ship Tease: The series oddly continues to lightly tease Suki and Zuko, yet even when he has Suki as company, all he can talk about is Mai.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: Part 1 takes place the same time as The Rift.
  • Stealth Mentor: Implied to be what Azula was being to Zuko all along, helping him be a better Fire Lord through a reverse psychology act of claiming she's trying to make him more ruthless, which has the opposite effect and she seems pleased with this.
  • Stealth Pun: During their investigation of the Dragonbone Catacombs, Zuko and Mai briefly get separated from Aang and Kei Lo and wind up discussing their relationship and breakup while Zuko is using his firebending to illuminate the room. In other words, he's stil carrying a torch for Mai.
  • Talk to the Fist: When Zuko understands the demands of the New Ozai Society ambush, he responds by attacking them.
  • Technicolor Fire: Much like the fire of the dragons, Zuko creates an inferno of multicolored fire when diverting an attack.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Mai's and Zuko's breakup after The Promise seems to get even worse, to the point it gets harder for them to cooperate. Aang can hardly put up with it and gets tired of it.
  • Time Skip: The first book jumps ahead by a month toward the end. However, it pretty much takes place the same time as The Rift.
  • Unwitting Pawn: As it turns out the New Ozai Society ended up becoming this to Azula in the end. They teamed up with her thinking that they both wanted the same thing; to reestablish Ozai as the head of the Fire Nation. However at the end of the comic its revealed that Azula no longer cares about freeing Ozai and only teamed up with the New Ozai Society in order to root out their members and cut of the legs of their organization before they could pose a serious threat to Zuko's rule, all so Azula could teach Zuko the lesson that he needs to be more ruthless if he wants the Fire Nation to be strong.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Upheld despite Azula, leader of the fake Kemurikage, not being really dead. Metaphorically, Azula and her goals represent the Fire Nation of Ozai's time, one ruled under fear and power. This is a massive contrast to Zuko's desire and plans to change the Fire Nation into a nation of peace and a nation willing to work with other nations. Played straight with the real ones though. They’re the spirits of mothers who died of grief, and haunted the warlords for the loss of their children who never returned to them. But they’ve mellowed out and moved on after the First Fire Lord brought the warlords to justice.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Without firebending or his freedom, Ozai desperately tries to intimidate Ursa with the most vicious death threats he could think of. Ursa calls his bluff and verbally strikes him where it hurts the most: His Inferiority Superiority Complex. Ozai is left stunned and couldn't come up with a better response other than screaming for her to come back as Ursa leaves the cell.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Once again, Azula gets away and evades capture.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • Ukano, Mai's father, states that for a guy dedicated to peace, Zuko has a heavy hand when it comes to his own people.
    • Also, Azula may be wrong-headed in how she's going about it, but Zuko really DOES need to become a stronger Fire Lord given how much problems his indecisive nature have been causing.
  • Wham Line: One of the Kemurikage reveals that it wasn't them this time.
    Kemurikage: Our sadness receded. We never again set foot in the human world.
    Aang: But then, why return now? Why are you haunting people again?
    Kemurikage: I repeat, Avatar. From the time of the first Fire Lord until this moment, we have not entered your world.
  • Wham Shot: One of the Kemikurage lightningbends at Zuko, and he realizes it's Azula.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ty Lee doesn't like how Mai is leading Kei Lo on, but Mai points out that Kei Lo did the same to her in order to recruit her.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: Invoked, Fire Lord Sozin walled off a section of the Dragonbone Catacombs behind a locked door so no-one could see the historical records he wanted to conceal. The door has mundane mechanical locks disguised as locks opened by firebending. As the only people who would go into the catacombs are members of the royal family and Fire Sages, who would all be firebenders, they would automatically try to open the doors with fire instead of picking the lock.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Aang knows something is up with Zuko when he directly calls him “Avatar Aang” rather than just his name.