Monday, January 22, 2018

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow
By Gene Luen Yang (Script), Gurihiru (Art)
Dark Horse Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: After reuniting with his mother, Ursa, Zuko and his family return to the Fire Nation. It’s a very bittersweet homecoming for Ursa; although she’s happy to be with her son again, she’s still very much haunted by the past she left behind there. Meanwhile, Zuko must deal with a growing threat from the New Ozai Society, an organization determined to show how weak and unfit to rule the current Fire Lord is. Their cause gains even more momentum when Zuko can’t seem to stop a spate of kidnappings, allegedly by spirits known as the Kemurikage, and he has no choice but to call on an old friend for help.

Review: I’ve been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender on and off lately, so I was totally in the mood to read Smoke and Shadow, the fourth graphic novel that follows the continuing adventures of the gAang, post-TV series. I was especially looking forward to this installment because HELLO—ZUKO! He was absent from the previous volume, The Rift, and he makes a most welcome return in Smoke and Shadow. Returns are a bit of a theme here, as Zuko’s mother, Ursa, sets foot in the Fire Nation’s Capital City for the first time since viewers of the show watched her leave a young Zuko and Azula behind and disappear. Mai is back for this story as well and features prominently in it, while Katara and Sokka head home to the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since the end of the war.

I know I’ve lavished heaps of praise on these graphic novels in previous reviews, but it’s because every bit of praise is absolutely well-deserved. What I continue to adore about these comics is how extremely well-crafted the stories are and the care that’s taken to keep the characters consistent with the characters we originally met in the TV series. The continuity not only between the show and the comics but also between the graphic novels is simply stellar. Thanks to Gene Luen Yang’s superb writing and artists Gurihiru’s lush, beautifully rendered illustrations, it’s like the TV series never signed off.

Although I love every member of Team Avatar, Zuko is my favorite. The transformation of his character is one of the best written arcs EVER. I love that he’s not perfect, and in Smoke and Shadow, we glimpse some of the impulsiveness that was especially prevalent during the first season of the show. To be fair, though, the New Ozai Society, a group trying to undermine Zuko’s authority and restore his father to power, often puts Zuko in a position where he’s forced to react to their plotting. AtLA story lines can be pretty intense, as is this one. Creepy spirits are kidnapping Fire Nation children, and the New Ozai Society capitalizes on the ensuing panic to bolster their claim that Zuko is too weak to be Fire Lord. Meanwhile, a subplot finds Zuko’s mother, Ursa, struggling with facing the past life she didn’t think she’d ever see again. There’s also a brilliant plot twist that’s bound to feature in future graphic novels.

As always happens when reviewing these AtLA comics, I could go on and on about how phenomenal they are. Before wrapping up, I just have to say how badass Mai is in Smoke and Shadow. I really liked seeing her in the spotlight here, and like everyone else in the Avatar-verse, she’s a wonderfully complex character.

Yet again, Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru have produced a homerun of a collaboration set in a world that I love so much. There’s typically a bit of a wait between graphic novels, but I’d wait forever as long as I knew there’d be another one eventually because they are just. So. Amazing.

All in All: I pretty much know these are going to be 5 star reads from the moment a new title is announced. They haven’t disappointed me yet, and I doubt they ever could.


  1. Wow these sound good! Glad they are consistently high quality, that can be tough with graphic novels sometimes. And I'm one who loves it when continuity is tight, especially across media- TV and the books. that can be hard to pull off! Sounds like an awesome series. :)

    1. It's a fantastic series, and I highly, highly recommend it! It took me forever to finally watch the TV series, LOL, but once I started, I binge watched all 3 seasons! These graphic novels have all been outstanding, too; it amazes me how they've managed to both stay true to the TV show while also continuing to develop the characters' growth.

  2. Yes! I'm glad to find someone else who reads these. Zuko is also my favorite. :)

    I'm looking forward to your thoughts on North & South!

    1. Yay! I'm also thrilled to chat with another fan of the graphic novels! And I really need to get my hands on a copy of North and South soon!


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