Part 3, the final installment of the Smoke and Shadow series, part of the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, has been released and boy does it deliver. While not without its problems, this edition has shown that the creative team is truly improving and we may yet have some even greater issues to look forward to.
All that being said, as I mentioned, there are some issues that I will address in this review. Some of the characters voices still do not feel quite right, and some of the dialogue is a little clunky. Certainly, the writer, Gene Luen Yang, has improved since The Promise (the first of the Avatar comics), but the original TV series left such a high standard of characterisation, that it would be hard for anyone to live up to it.
The story is one of political intrigue, insurrection, and even bordering on terrorism. Fire Lord Zuko faces an opponent of apparently spiritual origins, but not all is as it seems. There is an interesting commentary going on here where Zuko’s character and actions are brought into question; faced with difficult decisions, will be cave in and slip into his old ways, the violent and totalitarian methods of his father, or will he pursue the new way he has learned as a friend of Avatar Aang?
Seeing Zuko struggle with his identity has been a common theme of the comic series. It has been shown not only in how he rules the Fire Nation, but also in his personal relationships. His friendships are strained almost to breaking point at times, his trust of Aang wavers, and his romance with Mai is falling apart, or so it seems.
Desperate to be a better person, Zuko tries to stick to Avatar Aang’s advice. But as his enemies push harder and harder, causing more and more chaos, he hears the tempting call of his old self again.This causes some interesting confrontations, and moral quandaries for Zuko, and many of the conversations give the characters pause, which is nice to see. The fulfilment of the issues, however, is somewhat swifter than I would have liked, but it is left on more of an ambiguous note, leaving the reader to determine just how much Zuko has been changed by the events, and how it may not all be over at all.
A concern I’ve had in a number of these comics is how some of the characters have become slight caricatures of their former selves. Uncle Iroh, for example, has always had an obsession with tea, but it has been made slightly clownish in these issues. Rather than being a thing of quiet dignity and a slight quirk, his love of tea is made into his defining characteristic. This is redeemed somewhat by a short conversation he has in this issue, revealing some of his own worries and fears. So, I was pleased to see him given more space as a character, rather than just having him be a punchline.
The ending is abrupt, it must be said, despite being something of an ‘open’ ending in many respects. The romance subplot is given a rather bizarre runaround, and then for seemingly no reason is twisted back again in the last few pages. Again, it seems that events are being set up for future adventures, but for the time being, it just seems a bit odd.
All criticisms aside, this volume is definitely worth a read, and the whole Smoke and Shadow saga is well worth having on your shelves if you’re an Avatar fan.
Check out our previous reviews;