Smoke and Shadow Part 2 Non-Spoiler Thoughts
Smoke and Shadow Part 2 will be released in comic stores on December 16th 2015 (December 29th is the release date everywhere else), but right now I have a non-spoiler review for you thanks to an early review copy, I will have my full spoiler review out December 16th along with the release of the book.
I find I end up saying the same thing about all of the Part 2s of these Avatar comic series, that they don’t have the big conclusions of a Part 3 or the initial interest of everything being new in a Part 1, they are just the middle part needed to connect the two notable parts. I feel I end up being a bit dismissive and overly negative about the Part 2s because of this, but in reality they are all quality books and often serve the important role of telling the “meat” of the story.
Smoke and Shadow Part 2 is definitely a part 2, but I think there are a few notable parts here that will make Part 2 stand out. I think what will probably get the fandom talking the most will be the section in the middle of the book where we get some very early history of the Fire Nation that is potentially the earliest in the timeline we have ever explored. We learn about the origins of the Fire Nation, a bit more about how Sozin thought of this early history of his nation and most important to the plot where the legend of the Kemurikage came from. Of course I will not spoil the exact details of what is told here, but I will say that as a huge fan of the lore of the Avatar universe, I was very pleased with this section of the book, it adds so much and as far as I could tell it fits in very well with the early history we know about.
How these reveals come about is because of the investigation into the Kemurikage kidnapping of Tom-Tom. Our main team of characters is Mai, Kei Lo, Aang and Zuko with some focus on the new character, Constable Sung. It is an interesting 4 way dynamic, the awkwardness of Mai and Zuko and their current romantic situation, we know they both still care about each other, but Mai is dating Kei Lo. What saves the romance from being the annoying overly dramatic shipping stuff that Avatar fans hate is that Zuko and Kei Lo have a level of respect for each other and are not fighting over Mai, there are certainly moments highlighting both Mai and Zuko and Mai and Kei Lo’s relationship, but there is no issue between the two guys. Aang ends up acting as a bit of an awkward bystander, aware himself of the odd romantic situation, but not wanting to get involved. With regards to the romance I still fully believe that Mai and Zuko will be together by the end of this series, the problem is that Kei Lo for the most part is presented as a very nice guy, so Mai breaking up with him seems harsh and like it would add unneeded drama. I quite like Kei Lo as a character, but I still have my suspicions with him, though I may be reading to much into some small moments. He is not an incredibly deep character and feels a little bit like he is only in the story as a roadblock to the inevitable MAIKO reunion, but they have done just enough to make him interesting enough as an individual.
What ends up happening is that Aang suggests they investigate the Kemurikage to discover why they are kidnapping in the first place, which leads the group to look up the history of the fire nation and the legends of the nation. Their journey to find this information feels very similar to Aang and Zuko’s exploration of the Ancient Sun Warrior Temple, interesting ancient puzzles and secrets needing to be unlocked. A fun little journey so that this is not just a boring trip to a library.
If there was one part of this book I was a little disappointed with it would be that Ursa is not focused on that much in this book. I felt like there was so much set up around her in Part 1, so it was odd to only see her in a few pages here, no real attention on how scared she is being back in the Palace nor any reaction to where we last saw her in Part 1 terrified after seeing a portrait of Ozai. Her relationship with Kiyi continues to be strained, but that is about it, given how this book ends I am a little worried that Part 3 will not have enough time to resolve everything focused on Ursa. I hope she gets some good focus in Part 3, but there is so much else to cover with the romance stuff, the Kemurikage plot, Mai and her father, Ukano and a few more plot threads.
Ukano on the other hand does get a good amount of focus here and for me really steps things up as an antagonistic character, he continues to heavily manipulate those around him. I am fascinated to see where they go with him in Part 3. He cares for his family, but seems to prioritise wanting Zuko off the throne ahead of them, will they go full on villain with him or will they redeem him by having him truly protect his family, given how much of a focus Mai is, where they go with her father is an important plot.
In terms of any big reveals, we get a few things of note. I think most people won’t be at all surprised with the cliffhanger ending to the book, not to criticise it for being predictable, it was relatively obvious, but something we have been waiting for. We get the return of a minor ATLA character, no one huge that will make the fandom freak out, but this character is well used, I definitely perked up a bit when I saw this character on the page, a very nice use of a show character that makes complete sense.
Katara and Sokka are not in this book beyond what we have seen in the preview, further hinting that the next comic series will be water tribe focused, so I am happy about that, I was a little worried they would try and cram in a water tribe side plot to Smoke and Shadow, but they seem to be giving their homecoming the time it deserves.
So overall I think this is a very good book, if you liked Part 1 this will be a solid continuation. It is saved from being just “the middle part” by having some of the most interesting Avatar world lore/history we have seen in a while as well as some important plot advancements. I don’t think it will blow anyone away, but it certainly has set up part 3 well to potentially deliver some amazing moments.
I am excited to talk about the full details of this book on the 16th, so keep an eye out for my spoiler review as well as a podcast review of Smoke and Shadow Part 2.
Here is my non-spoiler video review for Smoke and Shadow Part 2
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