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This September, Dark Horse will release Smoke and Shadow, the first chapter of its latest Avatar: The Last Airbender series — and according to writer Gene Luen Yang, fans should prepare themselves for a thrilling and adventurous ride.
“One of the best things about working on the comics is that we get to tie up some loose ends that the series left,” Yang told EW. “And the series left them intentionally, I’ve talked to Mike [Dante DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko], the creators of the original show about it, and we talked about how life in general, we often have loose ends so they wanted that feel. So in the comic, we bring some resolution.” Yang went on to explain how that resolution aligns with the storytelling of previous books in the Avatar series, specifically, the massive mystery that the original series left us with: what happened to Fire Lord Zuko’s mom?
The secret was answered about two years ago in the second Avatar series, The Search, and according to Yang, Smoke and Shadow is almost a direct continuation of that book. “He brings his mom back to the Fire Nation, because a lot of it will be about power — it’ll be about how Zuko was handling being the Fire Lord,” Yang explained. “I think all of us are haunted by our families, our families of origin in some way. We worry about either continuing the legacy of our parents or falling into the same pitfalls as they did. And I feel like that’s just a hundred times worse for Zuko. So the focus will be really on the Fire Nation world family, and on how Zuko deals with power and fear.”
Yang went on to explain how the book will deal heavily with “the temptations that Zuko will go through about being haunted. He takes on the role as dad, he sits on the same throne that his dad did, but he doesn’t want to be like his dad,” he said. “At the same time, that’s the only model he has to follow, that’s the only Fire Lord that he really remembers seeing up close. So a lot of the ways in which fear drives us to abuse power, those are all temptations Zuko is going to have to face. And while these main topics seem like they’re slightly sophisticated for a show whose demographic is aimed at a younger audience as well as adults, Yang insists that’s one of the things he loves about the Avatar series. “Even though it’s targeted at kids, it dealt with really adult topics in really subtle ways,” he said. “Almost no character is really evil or really good. And when I was watching this, Zuko was my favorite character and I think it’s because all of us can relate to that struggle between good and evil.”
Despite the fact that this is far from Yang’s first rodeo in penning part of the Avatar series, he admitted that the pressure of writing hasn’t changed. “I thought it would. It should, right?” asked Yang with a laugh. “I think that’s just true of writing in general. There’s this quote that said ‘writers are people for whom writing is harder than the average person’ and I feel like the more I do this, the harder it gets. It’s kind of crazy. I feel like I’m used to the world now, I feel like I know the characters better than when I first started. But writing can be excruciating. I feel extremely lucky to be in this particular situation, though, because I also do Superman for DC Comics. And they’re two very different things. Avatar is a much newer property. Both of them have these rabid fan bases, but in Avatar, there’s just been one continuity.”
So, what can readers expect in Smoke and Shadow? Two words: Fire Warriors. “When we were talking about what to do with these three books, Brian described to me this group of Fire Nation women warriors that they were kind of batting around,” said Yang. “And unfortunately, that concept got left on the cutting room floor. So it’ll be a little bit like the Fire Nation equivalent of the Kyoshi warriors. We’re bringing that concept in now, so that will be one of the main adversaries of the book.” As for Yang’s future with the comic? He’ll helm the upcoming three issues, as well as three more after that — and it’s clear that he’s enjoying every moment of bringing these characters to life.
“We know what the future of Korra is, so there’s a rough idea of what’s going to happen,” he revealed. “As for my personal involvement, I’ve had a ton of fun doing these and I’d like to write them as long as I can.”
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