The latest installment in the continuing adventures of Avatar Aang and his friends in the graphic novel comics, has been released. Smoke and Shadow Part Two picks up where Part One left off – if you haven’t already read it, you can check out our review of it here.
As these comics have something of a niche audience, there does seem to be more of an emphasis and subtle hints towards the deeper lore at times, like throw away remarks to events and characters a casual audience might have missed. What’ s more, writer Gene Luen Yang has been teasing long-time fans with the raising and sinking of various ships (‘relationships‘ in fandom language). And this installment is no different. But where this series has improved on previous issues is in dealing with the political fallout of the series finale.
Here those consequences are getting even more desperate. The subterfuge, the rebellions against the new Fire Lord, and the continuing difficulty of one who turned from violence and evil to establish dominance over a country that for so long has relied on it.
Aang at last rejoins Fire Lord Zuko, to help him deal with the problems arising in the Fire Nation. All is not well and the ghostly Kemurikage are stealing children from Fire Nation homes. This has emboldened the rebellion and Zuko’s rule is slipping from his hands. We are also in for some awkward situations as Mai and Zuko, now broken up, must work together again.
The relationships are, alas, the weakest element of the story. In the previous installments it was getting a little mawkish, but here it is balanced out with Aang’s awkward and absurdly bright expressions which bring some much needed comedy into the situations. The suggestion that Zuko and Suki may be beginning a subtle romance has been rising for some time, to mixed reactions from fans. Matters are not helped by the fact that Zuko’s daughter, who appears in The Legend of Korra, bears a more than striking resemblance to Mai, suggesting to many that the Zuko/Suki ship will never truly sail.
Moreover, Kei Lo, Mai’s new boyfriend, has remained somewhat underdeveloped and uninteresting. Despite having some mild redemption in displaying some initiative common to non-benders in this universe, I still have little to grasp in order to really get a sense of who he is. I suspect he’ll die at some point.
The artwork continues to be outstanding. Gurihiru (Japan-based comic book artist duo made up of Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano) have only improved as the series has gone on and it is really starting to resemble the show once again. But what’s more, some of the artistic choices are becoming reminiscent also of The Legend of Korra, making these comics look more and more like a bridge between the various series.
I won’t give too much away, but there is something of a surprise in this installment that will have readers eagerly awaiting for part three. When that comes out, we will be here to review it!