After Avatar: The Last Airbender wrapped up in 2008, many fans — myself included — had a hard time saying goodbye to the beloved TV show. Even after The Legend of Korra was announced in 2010 and began airing on Nickelodeon in 2012, it was difficult to get used to the sequel series, which was set seventy years into the future. The Legend of Korra had an entirely new cast of characters, and most of the original characters from The Last Airbender were old, off-screen, or dead.
Then, everything changed when Dark Horse Comics attacked…
I mean, when Dark Horse Comics announced that it would publish a trilogy of comics to continue the story of The Last Airbender. The result was The Promise, and fans rejoiced when it was soon followed by an entire series of comic trilogies.
Much like the Avatar served as the bridge between the Physical World and the Spirit World, this new series of comics became the bridge between the respective eras of The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Though the comics focus on the immediate aftermath of The Last Airbender, there are hints about how the World of Avatar will evolve to eventually reach the status quo of The Legend of Korra. Here’s a glimpse into what the original Team Avatar has been up to since defeating Fire Lord Ozai.
Exploring a Postwar World
A misconception about animated series is that they never tackle important issues. Both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra disproved this fallacy by exploring an array of topics like coming of age, sexism, discrimination, and social oppression, just to name a few. The Promise, which was the first trilogy of comics set after The Last Airbender, concentrates on the themes of postcolonialism and cultural identity.
Even before it initiated the Hundred Year War, the Fire Nation occupied Earth Kingdom territory and built a series of colonies. The Promise focuses on what will become of those colonies. In conjunction with Earth King Kuei, Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko establish a Harmony Restoration Movement, which will withdraw the Fire Nation citizens from the colonies so that the Earth Kingdom can live in independence once more. Yet, it soon becomes clear that separation does not ensure harmony or peace.
Postcolonialism is an an area of study that examines the lasting impact of colonialism. To put it more simply, what happens after one nation invades and occupies another? Once immigrants from the invading nation establish roots in the colonized land, how can they leave? The Promise explores these questions by centering on the first Fire Nation colony, Yu Dao. Many Yu Dao residents are of both Fire Nation descent and Earth Kingdom descent, and as a result, they oppose the Harmony Restoration Movement because it would separate them from their friends and family.
Zuko and Earth King Kuei find themselves on opposite sides of the issue when Zuko realizes that the colonies have built an identity that must be preserved. With Zuko now opposing the Harmony Restoration Movement, an outraged Kuei dispatches his military to enforce the removal of Fire Nation citizens from Yu Dao. When Zuko personally responds with the Fire Nation Army, the world teeters on the brink of war once more.
With such a complex story, it’s admittedly easy to lose track of the narrative’s multiple layers. Sokka says it best: “The protestors and the Earth Kingdom Army want the colonials to go, the Fire Nation Army wants the colonials to stay, and the Yu Dao Resistance just want their city to be left alone.”
In the midst of open warfare between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom, Aang is haunted by a promise that he made to Zuko: that if Zuko ever exhibited any of his father Ozai’s tyranny, then Aang would kill Zuko. At the same time, Katara realizes that the Yu Dao issue parallels her own relationship with Aang. Aang is an Air Nomad, while Katara is of the Southern Water Tribe, so what would Yu Dao’s separation mean for them? How can Aang and Katara be together while the families of Yu Dao are torn apart?
Ultimately, Aang decides that Zuko has the right answer. The Hundred Year War has changed the world, and there is no going back, only forward. The colonies must be given the freedom to evolve beyond their roots of discrimination and oppression. As Aang tells Kuei, it’s a whole new kind of world. The Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the former colonies have a difficult path ahead of them, but through that path, they — and the entire world — can begin to heal from the scars of war.
What Does Being the Last Airbender Really Mean?
The Promise is also concerned with cultural identity. As the last living Air Nomad, Aang has a mixed reaction when he encounters the Official Avatar Aang Fan Club. He is thrilled with the club’s appreciation for airbending philosophy, but he is hurt when he finds that they have appropriated the sacred tradition of airbending tattoos, essentially turning them into a merit badge for club members. The issue forces Aang to question how he can preserve his dying culture, and whether he should do so alone.
Yet, after the fan club members prove instrumental in averting the crisis at Yu Dao, Aang comes to the difficult realization that no one person, not even the Avatar, can preserve an entire culture on their own. His heritage cannot be confined to history scrolls. In his words, “Air Nomad culture has to belong to the future, too.” He thus founds the Air Acolytes, personally instructing its members in the ways of his people.
Catching Up With the Rest of Team Avatar
If The Promise sounds like an extremely intricate story to you, that’s because it is. How does the world recover from a Hundred Year War? That’s the overarching theme of The Promise, and it’s a question that lacks an easy answer. I thought that The Promise effectively balances these important topics, though it’s still worth reading the comic more than once, in order to understand and appreciate its intense level of detail.
Beyond these heftier subjects that I’ve focused on, there are many other plot points throughout The Promise. Toph establishes a Metalbending Academy; Sokka contracts a case of the “oogies” from seeing his sister dating the Avatar; Zuko and Aang wrestle with whether to accept counsel from Ozai and Avatar Roku, respectively; and… well, Mai breaks up with Zuko. (Even now, that last one still hurts…)
Even with all of that going on, The Promise is a vital continuation of Avatar: The Last Airbender because over the next sixty-nine years, Yu Dao and the former Fire Nation colonies will evolve into the United Republic of Nations, which serves as the main setting of The Legend of Korra. The Promise is essential reading for any fan who wants the complete story, and the comic’s complexities never cease to fascinate me.
I’ll be recapping the rest of the Avatar comic series in a follow-up article, so stay tuned!