ConScene Review: ATLA: The Promise

With the conclusion of Nickelodeon’s popular television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) in 2008 legions of fans clamored to know what happened to its characters and whether or not the unresolved questions would ever be answered. In response Nickelodeon has teamed with Dark Horse Comics to produce a series of graphic novels featuring the further adventures of Avatar Aang and his friends picking up where the show left off and bridging the gap to the upcoming spinoff, The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, which takes place 70 years after ATLA.

The first book in this new comic series, ATLA: The Promise, is set to release on January 25, 2012 and Dark Horse has graciously given Convention Scene an advance peek at the book. Written by critically acclaimed cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, the comic begins with an homage to the opening of each episode of ATLA, a brief explanation of the world built by series creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino and a rundown of the main characters and events of the show. This is expedient because the main action of the comic picks up with the final shot of the show and dives into a heavily continuity-laden plot regarding the fallout of the war and Aang, Zuko, and the Earth King resolving the issue of Fire Nation colonies within the Earth Kingdom’s borders.

Yang presents a very complex problem with no easy solution but does so in a manner that is accessible to younger readers while not speaking down to older fans. There is a fine line for any writer looking to appeal to all-ages but Yang has walked it well for years garnering high praise and several awards for his own comics including Level Up, The Eternal Smile, and the indie darling American Born Chinese. While a vocal protestor of the film adaptation’s casting practices, Yang certainly proves himself a fan of the original series with spot-on characterizations of not only the main cast but secondary and tertiary characters as well. He also does an excellent job of laying the groundwork for themes and plots that have been revealed in the promotional material for Legend of Korra.

The ladies of Gurihiru Studios have been tapped for the artwork on this comic and their fun style blending Manga with conventional Western comics is very effective and reflects the feel of the original series. They capture the action scenes well and do a particularly good job of including Appa and Momo, Aang’s pet sky bison and bat-winged lemur respectively, as characters rather than set pieces, a difficult position for non-speaking roles. Veterans of ATLA already (they drew stories for Nickelodeon Magazine collected in Dark Horse’s ATLA: The Lost Adventures) the cast is presented as older while staying on model.

Overall this series will be a must-have for any fans of the show. It complements the original series perfectly and whets the appetite for the new spinoff. Be sure to ask your local comic shop to reserve a copy for you on January 25th!

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