Smoke and Shadow Part 3 Non-Spoiler Review

SmokeandShadow3
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Smoke and Shadow Part 3

SmokeandShadow3

Written By: Gene Luen Yang
Art By: Team Gurihiru
Letters By: Michael Heisler
Published By: Dark Horse Comics

With this book the 4th Avatar comic series has come to an end. Or has it? When I initially finished reading this book for the first time I was left feeling “Is that it? Did I get all the pages? Is there a Smoke and Shadow Part 4 I am not aware of?”. I really did not feel satisfied with how this series ended, after rereading it a few more times I still feel that it was not the strongest conclusion compared to the other series already released, but I did manage to figure out why I was left so disappointed initially. Format, the reason I was let down was because the previous 3 series (The Promise, The Search and The Rift) all followed a distinct format where part 3 left off with a strong conclusion to everything set up in that series. Smoke and Shadow however doesn’t try to resolve every single plot point and character arc in 1 book, it seems to be more the conclusion to the first stage of a larger story. This is both super interesting but also frustrating, interesting in the sense that it is the first time a comic has ended setting up this much stuff and the idea of a future comic series directly continuing plot threads from where this book leaves off seems cool. We have had little connections before like the end of The Promise setting up The Search, but this is more than a last page cliffhanger, a good amount of this book serves to set up a larger plot and character arc that is sure to come back at some stage.

The frustration comes from the fact that the previous series have given us the expectation that each story is fairly self-contained, each 3 part series tells its own story and it is easy to quickly sum up the key aspect of each series. The Promise is the start of this new post war era, it is the story of 3 inexperienced leaders dealing with a complex issue. The Search quite simply answers what happened to Zuko’s Mom, Ursa. The Rift deals primarily with Toph and her issues with her father among other things. Real progress was made with these key plot points, this cannot be said to the same degree with Smoke and Shadow Part 3. The problem is that by the end Smoke and Shadow has no clear identity as a series, there is no 1 sentence explanation about what this series is about, you just have to mention a little bit of everything it touches upon. This is the first series that the 3 part format has not worked for, that format works when you are telling a tight relatively self-contained story, but Smoke and Shadow is not that at all, it is the first 3 parts to a story that will continue at some point. At this stage I would much prefer a switch from this 3 part series format to just having each book released be Volume X of the Avatar The Last Airbender Graphic Novel series, sure name each arc within the story, but remove the constraints of this creative team having to write every story as 3 72 page books.

More of the frustration comes from the fact that we know what is coming next, North and South is the name of the next series and it looks to be completely focused on Team Avatar’s return to the Southern Water Tribe. That is a very important story to tell, so I can’t see them devoting any good amount of time to a b plot continuing the story of Smoke and Shadow, meaning that we will have to wait a full series before we get more Azula and what this book has set up. That is the key frustration, we already had The Rift which didn’t feature Azula and now she is back and more than likely gone again until whatever series is after North and South.

The last thing I will mention about the book in general is that as simply the next Avatar comic, the 12th volume and not the big conclusion to Smoke and Shadow it is a very entertaining book. Basically all of my negatives are tied to the lack of concrete resolution to what this series has set up, accepting that it is more a set up for a bigger story and I can really appreciate some of the set up and the excellent character scenes. This book is all about what you expect from it, if you go in just wanting answers and resolution for everything, you will be disappointed, if you are just excited for the next Avatar comic and are up for wherever it decides to go I think you will appreciate it more.

Now for some details about the story and characters. First of all Azula is back and she gets a good amount of focus throughout this book, she seems to have found some much-needed clarity since The Search and is much more composed and calculating than she was in that series. She is more like how she was in ATLA, though you can tell a lot has happened and she has changed to some degree, she feels more like Book 2 Earth Azula with a small unbalanced edge that makes her very unpredictable. There are a lot of huge Azula fans out there and I think they will be quite happy with what the direction they are taking her in, I know I was pleased with it, even if I expected a little bit more clarity.

Reflecting on the speculation over the course of Smoke and Shadow I realise I was asking for way too much for her to just have a huge change all done in this one book, it is clear that they have a plan for Azula going forward, she is absolutely still in play by the end of this book and I find that fascinating, suddenly we have huge wild card going forward, she could pop up anywhere and given her goals at this stage and some realisations she has had who knows what she could do. I won’t spoil the really important Azula moments, but it was great to see little bits of the confident and controlling Azula of old, especially her completely dominating her scenes with Ukano, she is absolutely the one in control , controlling through fear and blackmail. Overall I really like the idea of Azula again being this big antagonist messing around in the background, it at least confirms that at some stage down the line a lot of comic time will be devoted to her as a character, which is needed for one of the most popular and interesting characters we know very little about between now and Korra.

Kiyi has some surprisingly great moments in this book, they really seem to be setting her up for something bigger, the book gives no obvious hint as to an exact plot for her, but some of the reveals and lines said about her make her feel extremely important. They do touch on her issues with Ursa, but I don’t want to spoil what happens.

Speaking of Ursa they do go back to what she has been dealing with, her fear of being back in the Royal Palace. While they don’t focus on it too much, they have a wonderful scene between her and Iroh that is very emotional and shows that connection were told about before, Iroh really was one of the few bright points of Ursa’s time in the palace. Iroh gives Ursa some great advice that really does help her and leads to a somewhat surprising scene towards the end of the book that while brief was very well done.

The biggest surprise for me with the book was how it handles Ukano. Part 2 made me really dislike him, some of the things he did were unforgivable and I like that the book in no way tries to diminish what he did. Azula is overall in charge, but he is at fault as well and has to be punished for what he did. They don’t give him a full redemption arc, but it is enough to make you not despise him completely. They emphasise how much he cares about his family and that what he did tore it apart and what he truly wants is for his family to be back together, it is very well done despite not getting a lot of time and focus.

There are a few smaller things that I really enjoyed. The little references back to Mai, Ty Lee and Azula when they were close as kids and how it links into how the Kemurikage are getting around the city so easily, the book does not really linger on Mai and Ty Lee’s relationship with Azula now, but it was nice to see their past friendship mentioned and show that even when they were young Azula was controlling Mai and Ty Lee. The other thing is the interaction between the kids in the Kemurikage hideout, the focus is on Kiyi, Tom-Tom and Constable Sung’s son, Guri. Again they don’t linger on it too much, but the kids are written as kids, quick to argue and fight, but also quick to cheer and support when good things happen. Tom-Tom gets angry when Guri calls his father one of the bad guys, while Kiyi focuses on trying to find a way to escape, just some fun interactions between the younger characters, especially when they spot Aang and instantly know who he is. It is nice to see that Aang is a celebrity even in the Fire Nation.

In conclusion, I do still recommend this book, it is not bad by any means, it just fails to live up to the high expectations we have set for this series. If you go in expecting amazing resolutions to all the plots set up, you will probably be disappointed, if you just consider this the 12th Avatar comic release which also happens to wrap up some aspects of the Smoke and Shadow story I think you will get a lot more out of this book. There are many highlights like the way Azula is written, the Iroh and Ursa scene and the Ukano resolution. On the other side of things I do have a few negatives like the confusing way they leave things off with Kei Lo and the romances in general. it is just very unfortunate that the most hyped Avatar comic is probably on the weaker side of the comics we released so far, the one positive to take is that it looks like some of these unresolved Smoke and Shadow plot/character threads will continue at a later stage and get more time and focus than they would have trying to rush it all into this Part 3.

Major thanks to Dark Horse for supplying me with a review copy of Smoke and Shadow Part 3.

If you are not into written reviews, then check out my non-spoiler video review.

Smoke and Shadow Part 3 Review

Also look out for the podcast this Sunday, where we will be reviewing this book in-detail, full spoilers and I will be releasing a full spoiler review for this book in a few days time. This review is just my general non-spoiler impressions, I have a lot more to say once I can talk spoilers.

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My name is Morgan Bannon, I am a 22 Year old Male from Ireland and I am the Site Super Moderator. I have watched and been a fan of Avatar since it premiered. I am also a news post writer for the site and host the site's podcast, The Avatar Online Podcast. My strength as an Avatar fan would be just a good knowledge of Avatar Canon and characters.

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Comments - 27 Posts

  1. K.D. Said: Comment by K.D. on March 18, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink
     

    While it’s certainly better that Azula is more lucid/controlling, I was very disappointed with the direction the book took. She was set up again and again as someone who could reach a healthier place, only to return to, like you said, Book 2-esque antics. And I do adore her as a villain; it just seems like wasted potential.

    But, as with everything else in this book, we have a lot of open ends and I think some of these concerns will be addressed later. (Especially if Ursa is involved.) Very exciting.

    Reply

    Avatar of Airspeed Prime

    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    I definitely understand why they very much stayed away from even starting a redemption arc just yet, they know how invested people are in her as a character so they want to do something bigger with her to potentially get to a redemption at some stage. It means she is not as great as she could have been here, but in the long run it will work out better for her as a character to have more time to write her arc. She is very much on her own ATLA Zuko style arc at the moment, struggling within herself as to what to do, at some point I think they will have someone try and guide her back, and I think Iroh should at least try and help her like he helped Zuko before and Ursa here.

    Reply

    Mark Reply:

    The thing is…they kind of DID start a redemption arc here. She has people she’s working with (people who are damaged like she was and who she’s helped apparently), she no longer is so crazy, and she’s trying to help Zuko because she cares about him. And it’s unclear if she’s truly misaimed in her way of helping him, or if she knew her seemingly misaimed way of helping him would make him respond the way he does – apologizing to his people and striving to be a better Fire Lord for them.

    She operates Book 2-style, but she’s more of a hard anti-hero than a villain, and I suspect
    the next comic with her will actually have her and the other Kemurikage as the main stars.

    Reply

    Avatar of Airspeed Prime

    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    They have developed Azula’s character since the search, but I don’t think what we have got so far can really be classed as the beginning of a redemption arc. I think it will ultimately lead to one, but I don’t think it has started yet, she is not trying to fix things with Zuko or Ursa which for Azula as a character is the key to a redemption arc.

    I really don’t agree with what you are saying about Azula trying to help Zuko, she is trying to help herself through manipulating events to force Zuko to act a certain way. I think ultimately Azula’s problem right now is that she only knows 1 way to do things, she only knows how to control people through fear and manipulation, being ruthless which seems to be the keyword in their exchanges here. Her interactions with Mai and Ty Lee highlight the idea that she doesn’t really know what it is to have a true friend and potentially what a loving relationship actually is. She even says she is trying to make Zuko rule through fear, which we know is the biggest issue with Azula as a character, when that fails she has nothing, this is what broke her mentally in ATLA when her control failed her and now she is back to focusing on it. She certainly has a new perspective on things, but we are still a long way away from a redemption arc IMO.

    Avatar of stefan

    stefan Reply:

    Forcing Zuko to act in a certain way or trying to help him would be the same. If he knew she wanted to help him he wouldn’t react the the way he did in the comics. Eventually, Zuko proved that using fear wouldn’t work at all.

    It appears she did accept the visions of Ursa and they were not only about her destiny. She has a new group friends and one of them have a similar attitude like Mai’s and has kind of a new life. Difinetly, she is a little different. She needs time for redemption and she is on the right track.

    As for Maiko, it can be resolved in a page or two in North and South, like when Aang is going to the Southern Water Tribe after talking to Mai and Zuko.

    Kiyi and Ursa are totally awesome. When she grows up, Kiyi will be very cool.

    Mark Reply:

    “She is not trying to fix things with Zuko or Ursa which for Azula as a character is the key to a redemption arc.”

    I agree Ursa is a key thing, but let’s not pretend that Ursa doesn’t have to meet her halfway on that and also fix things with her. She’s been a lousy mother.

    And she IS trying to fix things with Zuko, she does care about him and wants him to succeed now. The issue is that she’s still doing it in an Azula way, through fear and manipulation, not to mention a side of self-servingness (she’s not after power now, she’s just after the feeling of fulfilling what she assumes is her destiny…much like Zuko in his redemption arc, she is misaimed as to what her destiny is.)

    So I disagree, this IS the start of a redemption arc. Zuko already showed that such an arc doesn’t ever start totally right, the character will still be wrong-headed about a lot of things, but it’s a start all the same. She wants Zuko to be a strong Fire Lord and wants stability for her nation, both are unobjectively GOOD desires. The issue now is for her to learn that the way she’s going about it will only bring about the opposite effect.

    Reply

    Chinoiseire Reply:

    I do not think she was a villain here. She made Ukano start his plan early on purpose to destroy him and have him kidnap children to bankrupt him. By no means was her plan for him to succeed. She just had a complicated a bit amoral plan to make him fail and show Zuko how he should rule through fear. So her plan was misguided but she was genuinely trying to help Zuko. She was a anti-villain maybe, but definitely not the antagonist and had a great deal of character development. Azula’s new purpose is to help Zuko the way she feels he needs help, she has found new “friends” and she no longer hallucinations and is happy. So I think she is clearly on the redemption path, it is just slow.

    Reply

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    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    I think you are being a bit too kind to Azula here, she may not be as villainous as before, but she is absolutely the antagonist in the sense that she is causing the problems that Zuko is trying to deal with. She orchestrated the kidnapping of kids, lets not kid ourselves here, she is still the villain of this series despite her growth. There is more potential for her to change now, but currently she has not really started down any sort of path of change in that it is clear that the key growth for her will be eventually understanding the error in relying on control through fear, which is still her focus at the moment highlighting that she has not started her redemption yet.

    Reply

    Chinoiseire Reply:

    But Azula saw herself as doing good, and that is what is important as a change. And Ukano would have tried to overthrow Zuko (but just 6 months later) on his own anyway, the conflict did not happen because of her. Yea the kidnapping of children did happen as her idea, but they were not hurt and it was done in purpose to bankrupt Ukano. So she was not the source of conflict (she merely escalated it as a Batman gambit to make it fail). Her methods here is what is the issue but it is a big change already.

    Mark Reply:

    I agree. The technical start of Zuko’s redemption arc still had him making the wrong choices for what he thought were the right reasons, something he still struggles with. It’s the same with Azula, this is pretty much her equivalent to Zuko running around as the Blue Spirit robbing rich people. Better intentions, terrible methods.

  2. Avatar of Airspeed Prime
    Airspeed Prime Said: Comment by Airspeed Prime on March 18, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink
     

    Like I said at the end of this review. These are not my full thoughts on the book by any means, I have a lot to say about the exact details of this book and there are certain things I just didn’t mention because there was not a whole lot to say that didn’t just go straight into spoilers.

    This weekend’s podcast and a Spoiler review will feature more of my full thoughts.

    Reply

  3. Neg Said: Comment by Neg on March 18, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
     

    Mai was pretty good in this series overall, but honestly, Kei Lo really did not need to be there. He was fine in the first issue, but he really wore out his welcome, and to make matters worse, he came off as a good guy, but then Yang adds in something like “this is about her choosing me over you” and then (spoiler alert) having him dump Mai for like no reason. Otherwise, everything else on Mai’s end was fairly solid.

    Reply

  4. Inn Said: Comment by Inn on March 18, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
     

    This whole love triangle between Zuko Mai and Kei Lo is very similar to a love triangle in Young Justice animated series between Superboy Miss Martian and Lagoon Boy

    Reply

    Z Reply:

    http://tlrledbetter.tumblr.com/post/130315343172

    Reply

  5. Avatar of stefan
    stefan Said: Comment by stefan on March 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
     

    One of the most important things in the comics without reading it, Zuko finally solved all of his issues. He doesn’t have to struggle to make decisions. So if there is any future comics that focus on the Fire Nation it won’t be about Zuko and his struggle hopefully. Based on the information from Bryke it looks like North and South will be the last comics about the original Team Avatar. The show started in the Southern Water Tribe and the comics will end there too.

    Reply

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    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    There is no way they just end the Avatar comics with North and South given how Azula is left off in this book. I guess North and South could have a fire nation b plot, but I feel that would take away from the water tribe stuff.

    Reply

    Avatar of stefan

    stefan Reply:

    Possibly, there will be one more comics focus on the Fire Nation after North and South while releasing Korra comics. Will it be about Zuko struggling with Mai not being that excited about Azula’s decision to come home or something like that ( just kidding XD ). After the end of Smoke and Shadow part 3, he has no issue to solve. When it is most likely to announce it?

    It is interesting to see how Dark Horse going to release two popular comics in the same year.

    Reply

    Mark Reply:

    Whether it’s a full comic trilogy or a FCBD one-shot issue, I can’t see them NOT doing a comic starring Azula and her Kemurikage entourage now.

    Avatar of stefan

    stefan Reply:

    So far Gene Yang back in August 2015 said he was working on Smoke and Shadow and North and South. Most likely the Azula comics will be announce by the end of this year or in the first few months of next year.

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/gene-yangs-avatar-series-smoke-and-shadow-to-explore-fire-lord-zukos-legacy

    Reply

    Chinoiseire Reply:

    What information based on Bryke indicates there will be no more comics?

    Reply

    Avatar of stefan

    stefan Reply:

    My apologies. From what I understood there is no ATLA comics after North and South announced yet. It is logical to do one more comic series that focuses on the Fire Nation after solving all of Zuko’s issues.

    Reply

    Avatar of Airspeed Prime

    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    Of course we have never known about 2 upcoming comics. The Search was announced while The promise was coming out, The Rift announced during The Search, Smoke and Shadow during The Rift and now North and South during Smoke and Shadow.

    I assume we will get confirmation of a new comic at some stage, though I think the focus will be more on the Korra comics in the upcoming months.

  6. AvatarKorraPark Said: Comment by AvatarKorraPark on March 18, 2016 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
     

    I feel like this is a comic that will look better in retrospect, when we find out what happens next with some of it. Unfortunately in comics, though, getting “what happens next” is never a guarantee.

    Reply

  7. Jonny Said: Comment by Jonny on March 19, 2016 at 2:11 am | Permalink
     

    I don’t know what about you but for me this comic is one big cliffhanger

    Reply

  8. Den Said: Comment by Den on March 20, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink
     

    in your opinion is there any chance form Mai and Zuko to return to each other

    Reply

    Avatar of Airspeed Prime

    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    I am extremely confident that at some stage they will get back together. Throughout all 3 parts of this series they have very much shown how close to two are and at some stage I think they will get back together.

    Reply

  9. Avatar of Justin
    Justin Said: Comment by Justin on September 23, 2016 at 6:18 am | Permalink
     

    I think Azula was using reverse phycology on Zuko. I know there’s not a lot that can be called hints but there are things that could’ve been done purposefully subtlety. 1:Azula leads Azula to the Firelord’s most trusted advisor crypt, possibly alluding that she really is giving Azula helpful advise just without him knowing and 2: After Zuko gives a speech about admitting his mistakes and striving to do better we see Azula give a small smile.

    There just small things that might not mean nothing in the long run but it’s possible.

    Reply

 

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