Jan 27, 2012

Avatar – The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures and The Promise Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang

Avatar - The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures

Avatar comics! Yes, they exist, and if you’re me, this is very exciting news indeed. This is only my second time ever seeking out media tie-ins for a TV series I like (the first time was for Babylon 5, many years ago), which is probably a measure of how in love I am with the fictional universe of Avatar.

The Lost Adventures is an anthology of twenty-eight short stories by several contributors, including members of the creative team behind the original Nickelodeon series. As with any anthology, the tone and quality of the stories was diverse, but overall they were beautifully drawn and an absolute pleasure to read (for example, Aang looks a little weird in the cover image, I think, but I’m happy to report that this is not the case throughout the book).

All the stories in The Lost Adventures, except two bonus ones at the end, are set at the same time as the three seasons of Avatar. They give us brief glimpses of what the characters might have been up to between episodes, and also capture little moments of character interaction that never made it to the series, but which add another layer to the characterisation. In this sense, this collection contributes to making the universe of Avatar feel even more alive and endless and full of stories beyond what we were allowed to see. It makes us long for more, but that’s a wonderful feeling I associate with my very favourite fictional universes.


The structure of The Lost Adventures mirrors that of the original series: the stories in the first section, which overlaps with season one, are mostly comedic short vignettes. But as we move on to sections two and three, they grow longer and darker and more serious in tone. There are stories about Zuko and Mai’s first kiss, about Katara’s despair at the beginning of season three, about Ember Island, about Aang’s past, and about Team Avatar bonding at the Western Air Temple before their final confrontation with the Fire Lord. They’re mostly based on character moments, since any plot-oriented material made it to the actual series, but that’s exactly why I loved them so much. They showed me new sides of characters I already loved, and they gave me the opportunity to spend more time with them.

Avatar - The Last Airbender: The Promise part 1 by Gene Luen YangThe Lost Adventures is a lot of fun, but Gene Luen Yang’s brand new The Promise Part 1 is by far the better book of the two. It’s the first instalment of a trilogy of direct sequels to the original TV series, which means that it’s set right after the final episode. This is incredibly exciting for any fans who upon finishing watching Avatar immediately cried “Noooooooooo, what happens next? I need more.”

Unfortunately, this also means I can’t provide a plot summary without spoiling the finale for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet. Suffice to say that The Promise picks up right where Avatar left us. Then there’s a gap between chapters one and two, and the rest of the story focuses on how the world is doing one year after the end of the war.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise part 1 by Gene Luen Yang - Aang

Fans of Gene Luen Yang’s previous books, like the brilliant American Born Chinese and The Eternal Smile, will already know what to expect from his writing. His books are both intelligent and fun; they combine seriousness with humour and never hesitate to address difficult questions. The Promise Part 1 is no exception. His writing is absolutely perfect for the world of Avatar – he gets the tone, the humour, and the complexity just right.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise part 1 by Gene Luen Yang - Appa and Team Avatar
Appa! Team Avatar! D’awww.

I can’t stress enough how much I love the fact that this book even exists. How many stories out there actually deal with the inevitable complications that follow the big epic finale? One of the things I loved the most about Avatar was its willingness to deal with the political implications of the story it was telling, and that’s the case with this book too. We soon realise that the end of the war was not a magical wand that made everything okay again. Instead, the transition to peace and to a new political system is slow and tricky.

The process of decolonisation in particular, which is the focus of this story, is messy and fraught with complications. The Fire Nation begins to retreat from the territories it had occupied in the Earth Kingdom, only to realise that after a hundred years or so, people have created roots. And they’ll of course resist any attempt to be shipped back to a home they identify with in the abstract, but don’t truly feel is their own. It’s a difficult situation with no simple solutions, but a writer like Gene Luen Yang would never shy away from that.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise part 1 by Gene Luen Yang - Zuko
Zuko! I love him so much.

These books made me so, so happy. In addition to everything else, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to spend more time with these characters. I would be lying if I said either The Lost Adventures or The Promise worked as introductions to the world of Avatar – they’re too full of spoilers for the series, and there’s too much that would make no sense without context. They’re most definitely written with already existing fans in mind – but for those, what an absolute treat.

Which is to say: please watch the series, and then come be ridiculously excited about these books with me.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise part 1 by Gene Luen Yang - Katara, Sokka, Momo and Toph hugging
All my favourite Avatar moments seem to involve group hugs.

They read it too: The Discriminating Fangirl, Memoirs of a Teenage Bibliophile.


Also, there’s an audio interview with Gene Luen Yang at Authors are Rockstars, as well as a text one at the Dark Horse Comics website. I really love this bit:
I’m excited about exploring a recurrent theme in a new way. Many of my books deal with the coming together of cultures. That’s one of the reasons why A:TLA appeals to me. There are four distinct cultures in the Avatarverse: Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomad. And each culture has subcultures.

In Legend of Korra, the cultures end up meshing together, much as cultures do in New York. So how do we get from a world where harmony is maintained by the separation of cultures to one where they intermingle? And is it possible for one culture to live beside—or within—another without losing some of its distinctiveness? These questions are very interesting to me.
Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through one of my affiliates links I will get 5%. I requested a copy of this book via NetGalley.


  1. My daughter loves the show (and I admit I enjoy it, too), and she would love this book! I'll have to mention it to her.

  2. I've never watched this show, but your enthusiasm certainly makes me curious.

    What I really wanted to comment on was my delight at seeing that you were a Bab5 fan. I loved that show and still get choked up when I think of the Fall of Centauri Prime.

  3. Ah! I was so excited for this. I really enjoyed the television series, but I'm so excited for The Legend of Korra and to see this world evolve further. So this is brilliant.

    What'd you make of the art? I think Gurihiru is (are? it's a team) fantastic, and really captures the energy of the show. I was always fascinated by the fight sequences, which, naturally, are harder to render in comics.

  4. I haven't watched this show, but the artwork in these books looks phenomenal! So glad that you found something new to love, and that you enjoyed the book!

  5. I semi-skimmed this review because I haven't watched the series, but my takeaway? I must remedy my lack of AVATAR knowledge, stat. Luckily, my library has the series on DVD, and the first series is at a nearby branch. Yay!

  6. I REALLY need to finish this series..I watched um…the first episode. And I KNOW you AND Renay loved it!! PLUS Yang has now written this XD Have you read Level Up yet?? It's really good!! I think you'd love it. And I just saw that you and Kelly are reading Animal Vegetable Miracle!!!! How did I not know this?????

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  8. OMG a sequel comic series to A:TLA?!? Eee!!! *giddy* This excites me to no end. Media tie-ins usually make me nervous, but your enthusiasm has assuaged me considerably. I'll definitely have to check these out!

  9. I haven't watched the show either, but it's something I've been meaning to remedy - especially now that I've read your review, because I really want to read The Promise Part 1 now!

  10. I'm still in the first season, but I'm loving it so far! Appa really reminds me of Totoro, who has a very special place in my heart. I can't wait to get to the end of the series to find out what happens.

  11. Anna: Yes, I'm sure she'd enjoy the books too :)

    Teresa: Me too! I went on to read a trilogy of novels about Londo Mollari because I HAD to know what happened to him. I've been thinking of rewatching the whole series, actually - it would be a great way to introduce it to my boyfriend, who has never seen it.

    Clare: I thought the art was great, especially in The Promise. They were some action sequences and they handled them very well!

    Zibilee: It's always a great feeling to find something you love this much :D

    Memory: Yes you must! I can't wait to hear what you think. If the series doesn't grab you right away, remember that it's worth sticking with. It took me until halfway through season 1 to really get into it.

    Chris: And Debi too! We wouldn't all mislead you :P I haven't read Level Up yet, but I really want to. And yes, Kelly and I are reviewing Animal Vegetable Miracle together, JUST to make you and Heather happy :P Aren't we nice? ;)

    intoyourlungs: Don't be nervous, Gene Luen Yang is PERFECT for Avatar :D He captures the spirit of the series so well.

    Belle: It's a great book, but definitely watch the series fist.

    Amanda: I'm so glad you're enjoying it! The creators said the inspiration for Appa was the Cat Bus on Totoro, so that makes perfect sense.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.