Smoke and Shadow Part 3 Non-Spoiler Review
Smoke and Shadow Part 3
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.
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.
You Might Also Like