Smoke and Shadow Part 1 Non-Spoiler Thoughts
First of all, major thanks to Dark Horse Comics for the early review copy of this book. So yes, it has been a long time since The Rift Part 3 was released, but we are now in the home stretch. In just over a month on September 23rd, Smoke and Shadow Part 1 will be released in comic stores (October 6th is the mass market release date). So to get you guys even more hyped for this book than you already are here are some early impressions of the book.
Overall this book is definitely worth the long wait, it had a lot to live up to after how good The Search and The Rift were, but a few pages in and I was laughing and grinning at so many of the character interactions. This is something I will come back to time and time again about this book, the strength is how well the characters are written. This Part 1 is not crazy heavy on plot, basically the preview pages that are out cover the main plot of this book, the New Ozai Society (Set up already in the free comic from 2013 Rebound) are planning to attack Zuko and his family upon his return to the capital, this book covers the set up, the attack and aftermath. No surprises there, so it leaves a lot of time to set up the key characters that this book is going to explore, a lot of pages are given to character interactions we have not seen for a while or have not seen a lot of full stop. Seeing Mai and Ty Lee catch up after being apart for a while is great as they are teamed up for this whole book. Zuko and his whole family is also fascinating, his great relationship with his little sister Kiyi, how he is around his mother, Â Ursa, after being apart for so long and of course Iroh gets some hilarious scenes throughout as he plays a slightly bigger role here than in previous stories.
So for sure the characters will be what the discussions about this book will revolve around and as usual shipping will be a major topic also. This book will definitely raise many fan’s eyebrows when they first read it. I for one was shocked to see Kei Lo from Rebound return, he seemed to me to just be a random character only for that book, but here he is basically the biggest of the minor characters and he has an odd, but interesting arc throughout the story with regards to his relationship with Mai. It is weird, I don’t know if I completely trust him, but the book kind of made me like him. On the other side of things they are also continuing to hint a little bit at Zuko and Suki, it is a tiny part of the book, but it is there, I really don’t know where they are going with this. It will get fans talking, but for me I think they may just be here as speedbumps for the IMO inevitable Mai and Zuko get back together moment that I am sure will happen at some stage in this story. I won’t go into what happens between Mai and Zuko in this book, but I will say that they do interact. Remember how up in arms people were after The Search Part 1 and the questions over who Zuko’s father was, red herrings people, they are a thing from time to time.
While I said there is not that much plot here, there are a lot of character focused plots going on, a lot of family issues. Mai’s father, Ukano is the leader of the Â New Ozai Society and because of this he is estranged from his family. We already know that Zuko has only just been reunited with his mother as of The Search and now has a new younger sister in Kiyi and father figure with Noren. He has to protect his family from the New Ozai Society as they deal with their issues and the return to the Fire Nation. Kiyi for example has grown up knowing her mother as Noriko, now she has suddenly had to adapt to her mother having a new face and name, this at a time when Ursa is struggling with her return to the Fire Nation, a place full of bad memories for her. You can really see just how much depth there is to be explored over the 3 parts of this story and I have not even mentioned Azula who I will not say much about apart from the fact that she is talked about, I won’t say if she shows up in this book or not, but it is clear that Gene Yang knows that the fans are eager to learn where she has been since The Search, the set up is great.
I think Mai deserves some solo discussion, she is basically just as main of a character in this book as Zuko is. They really do have similar amount of pagecount. It is really interesting having her in such an important role, you really do get to know her better with all this focus, you get to see more of who she is, her views on her father, the New Ozai Soceity and much more. I have always been a big fan of Mai, and I am very happy with her portrayal in this book. Her friendship with Ty Lee is also really well done, you can definitely see how close they are and that they have known each other for a long time.
I will finish by saying that for me the weakest part of this book is the cover, I simply do not understand why Aang is on the cover when he, Katara and Sokka are not in this book past the first few scenes. The focus of this story is basically just the Fire Nation characters, mainly Zuko’s group and Mai’s group. We know Aang and co will return as we have seen the other covers, but he really shouldn’t be on the cover of this book given his involvement. It should be Mai and Zuko. I get that on a part 1 it makes sense to have the main series character on the cover regardless of his involvement, but Zuko is enough to sell this book really. I think it is a strength of this book that I didn’t miss Aang, Katara and Sokka, for what this book is trying to do, they are not needed, they will be needed at a different time. Again the writer is understanding better and better when to use the characters and when to not. Oh, I nearly forgot the art, but as I have said in my past few reviews, there are only so many ways of saying the same thing about the art of Team Gurihiru, it gets better and better, there are some wonderful panels in this book. You can tell they really enjoyed getting to draw Mai a lot.
When this book is released next month, I think it will get the fandom talking. There are a lot of things covered here that we have been waiting to see for a while, for me the comic has done its job, now we need to do ours and really make a big deal about this book when it comes out. Korra is over, the comics are good and deserve the same level of attention and discussion as Korra got. They have been popular for sure, but they are rarely discussed, now the comics are the focus, the things giving us new avatar content.
I will have a more detailed review which will have spoilers out the day this book is officially released, September 23rd.
But if you want more non spoiler thoughts on the book, check out this youtube video, where I give my thoughts in audio form.
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