Smoke and Shadow Part 1 Spoiler Review
This week has basically become “Smoke and Shadow” week on the site, and rightfully so, this is a book that needs to be talked about. I have already put up the super in-depth podcast review as well as my video spoiler review, now it is time to finish off the early coverage of this book with my full written spoiler review.
Smoke and Shadow Part 1
Written By:Â Gene Luen Yang
Art By: Team Gurihuru
I want to say one non spoiler thing before I get into the spoilers and that is a clarification/update to my early non spoiler review I put up last month. I talked a lot about how there were a good few hints towards Zuko and Suki romantically, and while there are definitely some small hints, the one big moment I mentioned then was a misreading of the scene on my part. I focused more on the art rather than the dialog while reading that scene and thus took it the wrong way, re-reading it the scene is actually a Maiko scene rather than a Zuki scene. So apologies if I led anyone astray, there was a huge sigh of relief on the podcast when I pointed this out to everyone.
Final Spoiler Warning
I am pretty sure I could write a book about my thoughts on this comic, so I will try to keep this as brief and focused as possible. So as usual I will cover this bullet point style giving some thoughts on the key moments for me.
- Ursa is fascinating despite not being the focus.
This book really highlights how great it is to have Ursa back as a character, she is no longer just part of the “What happened to Zuko’s mom?” mystery, she is now present in the story and thus she can be developed. We all know that Zuko and Mai are the main characters in this series, but Ursa has some great plot/character points set up that look set to have some great moments as the series progresses.
First up is that her daughter with Noren, Kiyi, is now afraid of her because of Ursa’s now having her original face and not the face of Noriko that Kiyi knows. This is naturally a shocking thing for such a young girl to be experiencing and you can definitely understand why she is so standoffish to her mother. What makes this even more interesting is that it links into the other thread set up for Ursa in this series, that Ursa is terrified about returning to the fire nation, but is trying to keep it together because Zuko is so happy to be returning home with his family.Â How this links into Kiyi is that they establish that Ursa’s hands get very cold when she is scared and anytime she tries to hold/protect Kiyi, Kiyi is shocked by how cold they are, in a way Kiyi can sense something is wrong with her mother.
On the other side of things they continue to show the great relationship that Zuko has with Kiyi, she is amazed by her new older brother, while he is always trying to protect her. They are definitely comparing the great relationship Zuko has with Kiyi with the badly strained one with the missing Azula, while Ursa now has problems to resolve with both of her daughters. The other Kiyi Zuko moment of note is that when they arrive at the palace she wants to explore with Zuko and calls him Zuzu, this stuns Zuko and Ursa as this is what Azula calls Zuko, her mockingly and Kiyi in an affectionate way. A lovely little moment also hinting at Azula and contrasting Kiyi and Azula. I have a feeling they may have Kiyi play an important role with Azula. I talked here about Zuko’s relationship with his new sister, but what about Azula with her new sister.
And Ursa does mention Azula, there is a great moment where Zuko tries to make her feel better thinking she is upset about the way Kiyi is acting around her, but she reveals that she was worrying about Azula. If she is safe, warm and happy.Â Zuko’s response is wonderful displaying just how well Gene Yang understands Azula’s character, Zuko assures his mother that Azula is alive and well, but that he does not know what happyness means for Azula. When you really think about we have never really seen Azula happy, it is not an emotion that you ever think about in relation to Azula, it highlights how she was raised by Ozai. She was just a tool to gain power for him, she never really got the chance to grow up normally and understand these basic concepts. I cannot wait for Azula to show up in this series, so many interesting character interactions.
Going back to her fear or returning to the Fire Nation, this is done very well. They take a full page to show how tough it is for her to take that first step back into the palace, they devote a double page spread to her scared inner dialogue as she walks through the palace and then comes across a portrait of Ozai. She is trying to convince herself that things are different from before, Ozai is not a threat and Zuko is in charge now, but you can see her basically have a panic attack in response to seeing the image of Ozai. They leave it there for Ursa in part 1, but I am so eager to see how they resolve and address these issues because I feel it was very necessary to bring them up as there were a lot of people very critical of Ursa after The Search, questioning and criticising her decisions to forget her past to start again with Noren, now that we are seeing how painful these memories are for her we better understand her decisions from The Search. Her kids were the only good memories from her time in the palace before she left, they were the big regrets when she forgot her past, but she was so afraid of Ozai she had to do it. They could have just went on without further explaning it, but they are delving further into Ursa’s decision which I feel is a great move.
- The Kemurikage will definitely be a talking point in the fandom, the debate about if they are actually spirits or just people using the legend of the Kemurikage to their advantage will be back and forth until we get more info on them in Part 2. I really don’t think there are any obvious hints in the book that give away their true nature, right now I would lean more towards them being people using the idea of the Kemurikage just because Spirits being involved in human political affairs is not something we have any precident for, it just doesn’t make sense to me for them to care if Zuko is Fire Lord. That said I don’t have any good speculation about who these 3 people could be right now.
I really like the legend established for the Kemurikage(Which conveniently means Smoke Shadow). They are basically a story that parents in the fire nation tell their kids to make them behave, the idea is that if they are bold the Kemurikage will come down from the mountains and take the naughty children away. Which is exactly what happens to Tom-Tom, they had been blackmailing Ukano the whole book and at the end kidnap Tom-Tom for his failures.
In general I find them to be another great concept and mystery. I hope they have a really good story and explanation planned out.
-Next I want to talk about Ukano, Mai’s father and also the main plot of this book. As I have said before this book is not particularly plot heavy, it is very much a character focused and driven story so far, it isÂ a part 1 so it is setting things up and putting things into place. The plot revolves around 1 central moment of the story the New Ozai Soceity’s assassination attempt on Zuko as he returns back to the fire nation. The book is about the build up toÂ this moment, the execution of the attack and the aftermath. Everything else is character focused. So for the most part Ukano represents the political aspects of this book, but he is more plot focused due to being Mai’s father.
It is hard to like him as a character here, because he has pushed his family away to make the New Ozai Soceity what it is and even more so because of his ideals. He wants Ozai back on the throne because he feels that Zuko is a weak leader in trying to fix the fire nation’s relationships with the other nations in the aftermath of the 100 year war. He is so Fire Nation focused it is annoying, he seems to have no perspecive of the other nations, the bad the Fire Nation did to become so powerful. Of course the Fire Nation have to give in to some demands of the other nations now, after a 100 year war things need to change, balance needs to be restored and all Ukano can think of is wanting the Fire Nation to be the way it was before, getting back the high position he held. The worst thing about it is that Zuko offered him a good job in the new government, but he refused. He has done this himself.
You have some sympathy for him because he is being haunted and manipulated by the Kemurikage, they are telling him to do things because bad things will happen to the fire nation and his family. Which I do like, that deep down he believes in his ideals as wrong as they are and just wants to protect his family, the problem is that he is just not very likeable, especially when later in the story he begins to manipulate Mai and turn her around on Zuko.
So while he is kind of a villain, he comes across more as a man lacking in perspective who got himself into an aweful position of being blackmailed into doing worse things. I am interested in seeing where they go with him, will they play up his love for his family more or his loyalty to Ozai and the old ways of the Fire Nation, In the end I think they will go for the family, but it will take a big turn around for it to be believable and meaningful.
-Mai is one of the main characters in this book. I think it is awesome that I can say that, because in the grand scheme of ATLA she is not really in it all that much despite some very important moments. She is a character I have always liked a lot and I thought her portrayal here was very good. I think reading the free comic “Rebound” is important to understanding her character here, but I really like the idea that she is gathering information on the New Ozai Soceity and working against them mainly to protect Zuko, that even though they are not together she does not want to see him get hurt. It shows she is open to the relationship again and how close the two are.
I also enjoyed seeing her and Ty Lee paired up again, establishing that among the Ozai’s Angels these 2 were really close friends and are still to this day. I loved hearing them bring up Azula, Ty Lee is afraid of seeing her again and Mai just dismisses her as a lunatic. I think they are very heavily foreshadowing the 3 of them having a scene together, I think it could be a very important scene for Azula’s development going forward, Mai and Ty Lee understanding that Azula is in a bad way and that their “betrayal” is partly responsible as much as it was something they needed to do. I really feel that they are going to have a scene where they bring up that they were friends with Azula when they were younger, but Ozai changed her and have them explain to her why they did what they did and possibly help her understand what having and being a friend is, that it is not about using and manipulating people it is about helping each other and enjoying being around someone else.
The aspect of this book that I think will irk fans the most is that Kei Lo returns in a big way after debuting in Rebound. He gets a decent amount of page time here. I personally feel that he is developed reasonably well, though I am overall unsure of what his overall role will be in the book going forward. Right now I feel he is just an obstacle so that Mai and Zuko do not just immediately get back together the second they meet, even though they have Mai begin to actually care for Kei Lo, I really don’t think MaiLo is going to be an endgame ship. If anything I feel they have subtly set up Ty Lee and Kei Lo a little bit, with Ty Lee very eager to trust him and saying he has a good aura and so on. In general I think I need to see more of him before I can properly say if I like or dislike him as a character. Thankfully they have not gone down the shipping drama road just yet as Zuko and Kei Lo seem to get along pretty well, though we have yet to get the moment where Zuko realises Mai is properly dating Kei Lo.
He is a nice character, though there is always the potential for him to be a double/triple agent for the New Ozai Soceity. I am just very unsure about him right now.
-In case you wanted to know what the Zuko and Suki moment I misinterpreted was I will explain. Page 66, Zuko is saying goodbye to the Kyoshi Warriors who had just assisted him in fending off the New Ozai Soceity attack. Zuko asks Suki if Mai is with her group and she says know and that Mai is at home, Zuko then asks Suki if she knows where Mai’s home is now(The reason he doesn’t know is that Mai is now living with her aunt mura after Ukano left the family, so she is not living in her usual house, hence why he asks), Suki says that she does and tells Zuko just to ask her and she can organise a visit, Zuko says he will and blushes. I initially kind of ignored the dialogue and just saw a Zuko and Suki goodbye scene, Suki says the word “visit” and Zuko blushes, you can see where my shipping alarm went off. I later read the dialogue properly and understood that Zuko was blushing at the thought of going to see Mai and have a 1 on 1 talk with her, Suki is aware that the 2 are broken up and is just leaving Zuko the option of knowing where to find Mai. CRISIS AVERTED.
That said there is 1 scene that is either hinting at or trolling us with Zuki. When Suki arrives to tell Zuko the protection plan against the attack, Kiyi basically asks Zuko if he thinks Suki is pretty and he says yes. There is not really anything here as Zuko is not going to say that Suki is not attractive especially when she is standing right next to him, the one issue is as to why this scene is even in the book at all, sure it is a cute scene with Kiyi and Zuko, but why even hint at Zuki. Is it a response to the people who saw some Zuki in The Promise, a little “Hey you think you saw this, have this scene then!”
-Final point I want to make is about Aang, Katara and Sokka’s involvement in the book and how it relates to where Smoke and Shadow is set compared to the other comics.
Quite simply my main negative with this book is that Aang should not be on the cover, he is only in the book for the first 15 or so pages before he, Katara and Sokka leave. They set up Aang’s return at the end with Zuko wanting to bring in the Avatar to assist with the Kemurikage seeing as the Avatar is best equipped to handle a spirit. So I just don’t get why he is on the cover at all beyond him being the main character of the franchise and this being a part 1 and marketing stuff. I think Mai or the Kemurikage would be much better suited as being on the cover.
How this relates to the continuity is that basically Aang and co leave Zuko and his family to bond, then the Zuko and Mai stuff here takes place over the course of the following day. The events lead Zuko to ask Iroh to take his place at the Yu Dao Inauguration Ceremonly in a few days, which is the exact event that Aang and co have left to prepare for and the exact event that everyone attends at the beginning of The Rift Part 1, with Iroh in that Book telling that Gaang that he is there instead of Zuko because they need time as a family to be together.
Smoke and Shadow does have a 1 month timeskip which occurs just after Zuko asks Iroh to take his place at the ceremony, so during this 1 month period The Rift takes place and then at the end of this period Zuko is now requesting Aang’s help. I think it is some very well written continuity, Myself and many other fans were initially confused by the timing, but the book explains things very well.
In short from part 2 of Smoke and Shadow onwards we are back into the normal timeline, this series is now set after The Rift.
In conclusion, there are a few other things I could mention, but I don’t want this review to be insanely long given that there is a near 3 hour podcast we put out going through the book page by page.
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend any Avatar fan to pick it up when they can. With no new show on the horizon, this is where we will be getting our new story content from for the foreseeable future, we need to support the comics all the more now that we know we are getting Korra comics also.
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