Avatar Online Podcast Special – Smoke and Shadow Part 3 Review

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Avatar Online Podcast Special – Smoke and Shadow Part 3  Review – March 20th 2016


Morgan (Airspeed Prime) is joined by Greg (Greg2b) and Kelly (Gemini530) as we review the latest Avatar comic release, Smoke and Shadow Part 3. We go in-depth analysing the book page by page as we discuss this polarizing comic release. We also discuss the crazy release date problems with the book at the start.

Next week will be our Korra rewatch for K204 Civil Wars Part 2.

Podcast is 3 hours and 40 minutes long

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Podcast is just over 220 minutes long

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Comments - 10 Posts

  1. Rocket Axxonu Said: Comment by Rocket Axxonu on January 2, 2017 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Haha, I think this might be the first podcast from this site I listened to. (I started to write a comment at the time, but it got too convoluted and I was confusing myself, so I gave up. Now the comment’s still overly long and convoluted, but I feel slightly less self conscious about it. xD If anyone actually reads this, feel free to point out mistakes and my inevitable errors in reasoning.) This is probably my favorite comic of the comic series so far, so hearing it gone over scene by scene in such depth has been awesome.

    Although it sounds like this comic may have had the most mixed reception of all the comics so far, again, this last part of Smoke and Shadow was actually probably my favorite. The crypt scene kind of blew my mind, in the sense that it was completely and totally unexpected, but also made complete sense for Azula’s character.

    [Still not sure how to organize my thoughts…so I guess I’ll just kind of go in order. x3 I’ll number them too, to maybe keep it from being all just a big muddle.]

    1. The lightning scene with Azula near the beginning—I never even considered the possibility that she could be redirecting lightning here, so the first time I heard this podcast I pretty much agreed with the conclusions here. So I thought it was interesting that it was confirmed in the Hardcover that Azula did actually redirect lightning here. (They did say that, didn’t they? I’m not imagining that?) We have to wonder where Azula would have learned that technique—did she pick it up simply from watching Zuko using it? Or does it imply something about her experiences between the end of The Search and here?

    2. The scene with the Kemurikage, before they’ve taken off their masks— (Where one gets angry at Kiyi, and the other says ‘Don’t waste your time. That one’s got fight in her. It’s in her blood.’) My assumption there was the first one (the angry one) was Zirin, and the calm one is Azula. The next scene where Zirin is complaining about having to take care of the kids and Azula tells her to have patience feels very much like simply a continuation of the previous conversation. (Azula’s comments about fight being in Kiyi’s blood also fits very much with what she says to Zuko in the crypt later, where she tells him that he can’t deny who he is. She doesn’t talk about blood or his relation to her and Ozai specifically, but I think the ‘you’re one of us’ line is implying that.)

    3. Zuko’s decision to use the army to lockdown the city/search people’s homes, and Azula’s subsequent speech in the crypt— (Sorry, this is a long one x3)

    I know this has been a point fans have been fairly critical of when it comes to Smoke and Shadow, for Azula not actually having forced Zuko into doing anything Ozai-level bad—but strangely, the whole thing completely worked for me, both the first time I read it, and when I’ve reread it later on, I think for a couple of reasons.

    First, I did feel like Zuko’s actions were quite ruthless, just as Azula said—even though they were understandable, they were still ruthless. Thinking about it from the people’s point of view—they were absolutely terrified their children might be taken away from them, but when they did the only thing they could in trying to get out of the city, Zuko trapped them there by force. Then he sent out soldiers to search their homes, essentially treating all the citizens like criminals, and people like Kei Lo who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time were arrested along with members of the New Ozai society.

    Of course, Zuko clearly felt the danger was so great that drastic action was required, and from our as the reader’s point of view, it was understandable, but from the people’s point of view, Zuko appeared to be acting just like Ozai. And so, the real danger of Zuko’s decisions perhaps weren’t so much about his decision starting him down a path toward evil, but rather that they had the potential to be incredibly damaging politically. Even though in another ruler’s situation this kind of decisive action might have been a good thing, considering he’s trying to establish a new system of doing things (ruling by cooperation and peace rather than force and fear), the fact that Zuko has the entire history of tyrannical firelords he’s trying to overcome, this decision, in sewing further mistrust among the people [making them inclined to rebel, and thereby forcing him to use force to subdue them, which will in turn, would likely cause the people to mistrust him more, starting in on an endless downward spiral], basically jeopardizes everything they’ve been working for. I think this is what made Zuko’s formal public apology at the end critical—he needed some way to heal some of that damage his actions had done to his relationship with the people, and was necessary for moving forward in a continued spirit of peace.

    Second, on Azula—the way her new goals are revealed and her sense that even though the kids were escaping she had accomplished what she set out to do with this particular plan all completely worked for me, I think mainly because of exactly what Azula says, and the implications that went along with it.

    This is what Azula says in this scene:

    “My destiny, you see, is to make you into the Fire Lord I tried to be—one who’s strong, who rules through fear. Can’t you see? It’s already working!” (And then, on the next page:) “In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve shown just how ruthless you can be. Deep down inside, you’re still one of us. You can deny it for a little while, but eventually you will become just like me…and then in a sense, I’ll be the Fire Lord again.”

    As I said, I felt like Azula saying that Zuko did act ruthlessly was justified, because based on what he did, it did seem like something like Ozai would have done, at least from the people’s point of view. However, as was pointed out here on the podcast, we don’t read Zuko’s decisions as evil—Zuko was acting out of desperation, and was trying to act for the people’s greater good, rather than out of a lack of compassion or feeling that he had some divine right to make whatever decisions he wanted simply because he was the Fire Lord, as would probably be the case with Ozai or Azula.

    However, reading this passage of Azula’s, I didn’t get the impression that Azula’s goal hright ere was to get Zuko to make these decisions with the same motivations as herself or Ozai would have—at least, not yet. Although that is Azula’s ultimate goal in the end, here she says things like, ‘It’s already working’ and ‘You can deny it for a little while, but eventually you will become just like me.’ Implying that, for Azula, this has only been a first step, and she has a much longer-term plan in mind for making Zuko strong the way Azula sees strength.

    Right now, Azula seems perfectly aware that Zuko sees himself as a part of Team Avatar, all about peace and cooperation. Rather, her goal here seems to have been simply to force Zuko into a situation where, no matter what his motivations, he felt he had no choice but to act ruthlessly. It could be argued that, to some extent, Zuko really didn’t have a choice, especially when the riot Azula asked for started—but I think that was precisely Azula’s goal. Her goal didn’t seem to be to turn Zuko suddenly evil just now, but rather to begin the process of alienating the people from him—by turning the people against him, it forces Zuko to act ruthlessly, even though he doesn’t want to. Looking at this in the longterm—although we don’t know what Azula’s future plans are, I think there’s room for plausible speculation. For instance, Azula may believe that if she keeps doing things that will stir up the people against Zuko, and he is continually forced into situations where he has no choice but to respond with force, even if right now he wants to rule through peace, eventually his experience will lead him to the conclusion that ruling through peace and cooperation can never work for long, and it really is only through fear and force he can rule effectively.

    So, in short, I didn’t really have a problem with any of this, and actually I thought it all came together in the third part amazingly, even if there were quite a few plot threads still left dangling. (In fact, I liked that, because I do love that feeling of there being a larger story set up.) Azula’s political maneuvering was so brilliant (the kidnapping of the general’s son after Zuko refused to go along with Ukano’s suggestions and forcing his hand was a particularly masterful stroke), not just for its immediate effects, but for Azula’s patience and willingness to take her time to slowly move Zuko toward the mindset she wants him to have really recalled the old Azula.

    On a side note, I think all this also explains Azula’s grin at the end, during Zuko’s speech of apology—it seems to me like she knows Zuko’s mindset right now, that (from her point of view) he’s in denial (of the ‘weak’ mindset to help the less fortunate, just like Aang and his friends), but this is only the beginning, and she has a lot more in store for him. (I can almost imagine Azula thinking something like: ‘It’s easy to apologize when everyone is safe and everything’s worked out, but when the trouble starts, you’re going to do the exact same thing again.’ And if you think about it that way, the apology might actually serve to sew greater mistrust and create more unrest in future, if Azula can succeed in forcing him into acting the same way he did here again.)

    4. On the Mai-Kei Lo breakup scene. Actually, I read it as Mai breaking up with Kei Lo (perhaps with the implication that it’s because she knows she still has feelings for Zuko, though I don’t think that we can know that for sure from this), and I never really questioned that. Although there wasn’t any dialogue, in the first shot, Kei Lo has his hands spread apart in a kind of questioning way. (I mentally hear him as saying something like, ‘Why, Mai? I thought we had something good going.’) And the fact that Mai has her face buried in her hands in the next frame—for another girl, it might make sense that this meant she was the one being broken up with, but for Mai (especially since we already know that she never liked Kei Lo as much as he liked her), I can’t see her showing that kind of weakness, unless it was out of guilt. And Kei Lo’s ‘I’ve got stuff to do’–that line had a very hurt tone to me, and seems like his way of dealing with Mai’s decision to break up. I think Mai breaking up with Kei Lo would also explain the comment from the Smoke and Shadow hardcover, how Kei Lo’s pain when Azula hits him with lightning foreshadows his emotional pain.

    5. The Ursa-Ozai confrontation at the end—I agree, I loved this scene. I liked in Smoke and Shadow how Ursa’s role didn’t end with The Search, and that we actually got to see her go through a character arc of her own throughout all this.

    Although Ursa’s development wasn’t the main plot of Smoke and Shadow, strangely, it didn’t feel odd to me that it was the final scene of the book. But, I think that mainly has to do with my own feeling about where the next comic centering on the Zuko/Azula may go, and the role Ursa may play in that—We have that very interesting scene in Smoke and Shadow part 1, where we see Ursa crying silently in the dark, and when Zuko tries to reassure her about Kiyi, we find out that Ursa is really thinking about Azula. She’s worried about Azula’s safety and happiness, but she clearly feels helpless to do anything about it. At this point, she’s still anxious, and ruled by her fear. But at the end of part 3, Ursa finally overcomes her fear of Ozai. Knowing that Azula’s wellbeing has been on Ursa’s mind, I could see where Ursa’s having finally conquered her inner demons here is going to be significant in the future of the comics, in that it may put Ursa in a place emotionally to potentially help Azula. (In order to conquer her fear of Ozai, Ursa had to change her own views on strength and weakness—which, I think as was said here in this podcast, for Azula to ever develop past where she is now, she’ll also have to change her own views, and Ursa may be the one to help her do it.)

    So, I really don’t know what to expect in the next comic that focuses on this part of the storyline. (It’s hard to say whether the next comic after North and South will focus on Zuko and Azula again, but I think there’s a good chance it might—looking at the comics we have so far, there have been a disproportionate number that focus on Zuko’s story, and because there was so much left unresolved in Smoke and Shadow, that’s the one people are probably most interested in. But, if they really are trying to build this story up to be something big, they might feel that’s still too soon for Zuko and Azula to have another confrontation just yet, and the next comic might focus on another, unrelated story, who knows.)


    Airspeed Prime Reply:

    The problem with the Azula Zuko conflict is simply that we know Zuko will not be fundamentally changed by what Azula is “making” him do. For the most part I think most fans accept that Zuko’s struggles with making the right decisions is in the past. It will always be one of his weaker points, but it is not a full on weakness. He was correct in The Promise with that big decision and the drama in SAS was caused by Azula.

    The problem is that all of the drama about what could potentially happen with Zuko is presented to us by Azula, who is the number 1 character on the list of characters who need and we expect to change going forward. Her actions more highlight her need to change rather than anything about Zuko’s actions really.

    In that going forward I do not see us having a ruthless Zuko who has been personally changed by Azula, instead I suspect we will have an Azula trying and thinking she is changing Zuko, but ultimately having very little effect outside of giving him issues to deal with that he would not have to if she didn’t cause an issue. We may see Zuko begin to get very frustrated with Azula continuing to “help” him, but I don’t think it will change his character.

    Azula is the one who has the questions to ask herself, why does she still think controlling people through fear is the way to do things given that Mai and Ty Lee are happier now that they moved away from her. She has made progress in accepting that she is not meant to be the one on the throne, but saying that she needs to make Zuko like her to be the ruler she thinks is needed is the issue. We saw what happened when Azula had that power and her decisions drastically lowered the fire nations chances of victory in the ATLA finale. I find it very hard to put any stock into Azula’s views into what the fire nation needs as a ruler.

    If Azula gets the arc she needs and develops as a character I could see her being quite a good adviser to Zuko in that a less extreme and more stable Azula could balance out Zuko’s tendency for lenience quite well, she is intelligent in terms of strategy and politics and if she could better understand people she could be a great asset for Zuko as an adviser. But not as she is right now. She fundamentally has shown she doesn’t understand yet what it really means to have friends or be a friend to someone or truly care about someone.


    Justin Reply:

    I really want to see Azula’s relationship with her new companions.


    Justin Reply:

    What if Azula’s next appearance confirms she was using reverse phycology on Zuko?


    Rocket Axxonu Reply:

    (Yeah…sorry in advance, my thoughts just kind of kept going on and on. x3)

    I agree, I don’t think Zuko was changed at all fundamentally through the events of Smoke and Shadow. And even though Zuko did feel sorry later for allowing fear to dictate some of his decisions, I don’t think we were meant to see Zuko feeling that he had done something really irredeemable—like I think you all said here on the podcast, his expression in that last scene in the crypt before Azula disappears, while he looks disturbed by what Azula has said, it’s not a deeply emotional kind of regret, or horror, or anything like that, and after she gets away, his focus is pretty quick to shift to the other things that need taking care of.
    I admit, I also don’t really expect the story to go in the direction of Azula’s plans succeeding, and Zuko turning ruthless, and having to come back from it. (We already had one long redemption story from Zuko, and I doubt they’ll want to go down the route of having another.) And I agree that I think Zuko’s character and convictions are firmly rooted enough that he will ultimately resist Azula’s attempts to bring out a darker side. However, although Zuko’s motivations were ultimately good in this case (he wanted to apprehend Azula as quickly as possible and get the children back), I think we’ve seen in the show (and in Korra) how even the best intentions can still lead to bad consequences, and sometimes even seriously warped points of view. From that standpoint, the threat of how Azula intends to change Zuko felt very real to me, even if I didn’t believe it would really actually happen, and the drama of that scene worked well for me.
    I know opinions on this are bound to vary (there are some aspects of how people tend to behave and react to things that could be debated forever, and fall outside the parameters of just a series like this x3), but for me, the idea of Azula continuing to come back and force Zuko into these impossible situations really does feel like it has a potential to affect Zuko’s future style of leadership. Even though it was more about actions (being forced into it) than Zuko’s motivations at this point, leaders learn their style of leadership through their experiences, and even leaders who start out as Zuko is starting out, wanting to establish a peaceful reign based on cooperation, if they are faced with enough impossible decisions, could find their mindset fundamentally altered, in the sense that even if their motivations are still technically good, they could find themselves acting like a tyrant for the sake of what they perceive as the greater good.
    In the specific case in Smoke and Shadow, Zuko did choose to follow Aang’s recommendation at first, but was left in a very difficult position because of it when more children were taken, and it looked to those under him that he had let it happen because he hadn’t taken decisive action. Consequently, though we know Zuko’s motivations were not of the Ozai variety, he did end up using force, against Aang’s recommendation and just as Azula had wanted him to do. (And I could see how, if Zuko is faced with enough of those kinds of decisions, and sees taking the peaceful decision first results in devastating consequences, he could potentially get to a point where he is inclined to just take the more ruthless measure first, in order to prevent those horrible things he’s seen happen before. Things worked out this time, but we can see where things might easily have gone very wrong.)
    Again, I don’t expect them to actually go down that route, partially because having to have a second redemption arc might be a bit much, and also because Zuko, for how much he struggles with indecisiveness and uncertainty, I think his journey through ATLA made him firm enough in his character that he will hold his ground and always try to do the right thing. But I think the moment where he ultimately proves that completely is still yet to come, and his actions in Smoke and Shadow, while not really evil, did come out of a weakness Azula’s strategies were able to bring to the surface.
    On a side (but I guess related) note:
    I definitely hear what you’re saying about how Zuko wouldn’t be forced to make these decisions if not for Azula’s interference. (That is, Azula is trying to show Zuko that force and fear are necessary to be a powerful leader, but it’s Azula the one creating riots and such, which he wouldn’t be having to deal with if she hadn’t gotten involved.) However, it’s also true that the New Ozai Society and their intent to get Ozai back on the throne existed before Azula came along—she only pushed them to do what they had been wanting to do anyway. So I could see how, in Azula’s mind, she only saw herself as speeding up a process that would have eventually happened anyway. (And we saw in The Promise how the conflict between the Fire Nation colonists and native Earth Kingdom got out of control, and Azula wasn’t involved there.)
    I think Zuko knows conflict will continue to arise whether Azula is the cause of it or not, and the question he may ask himself is, whether it should be always handled with force, as Azula and Ozai seem to believe, or if he should always try to look for more peaceful solutions. Considering how, at the end of The Promise, we got the sense that Zuko’s decision to go out with his army and protect the new, more integrated kind of world (which was somewhat based on Ozai’s advice) was actually fundamentally the right one, it could be that Zuko’s growth in all this as Fire Lord will be learning to balance the two philosophies, Aang’s more peaceful way of handling things, avoiding conflict, and the more decisive and forceful leadership style of Azula and Ozai, that neither one is always the right decision in every particular case. (That is, Zuko learning to be able to see the value of Azula and Ozai’s style in taking action, while not going over to the view that his actions are always right simply because he’s the Fire Lord.)
    I definitely agree that between Zuko and Azula, Azula is the one who needs far more development, and I would love the see the comics focus on that kind of arc for her. But, I do think it’s still set up to be mainly Zuko’s story at the moment. I felt like Azula’s goal did succeed, it’s just that she’s still at the very start of a longterm plan, and her goal was still pretty modest. She set things up so Zuko had a simple choice, between taking decisive, forceful action and Aang’s suggestion to hold back (investigate and talk to Ukano), and Zuko did choose to take the decisive action. Of course, Azula takes it as proof that, deep down, for all he tries to act like an idealizing hero and true member of Team Avatar, he really is fundamentally like her and Ozai, and it’s inevitable he will become just like him, and that she just has to unlock something she believes is already there. And admittedly, in the face of violently rebellious citizens (the people in favor of Harmony Restoration in The Promise, and then the Safe Nation Society in Smoke and Shadow), it’s easy to see how leaders could become cynical and harsh.
    But I completely agree, I can picture the story progressing with Azula going on with her plans, believing she is succeeding in bringing what she sees as Zuko’s innate inner ruthlessness to the surface, but then he makes a decision that runs counter to all her expectations, proving her wrong about who he really is.
    About what you said about Azula having the potential to be a great advisor to Zuko (if she can make the necessary changes in herself first): oh yes, definitely. That could very well be the direction they’re planning to take this.
    But I agree, if that is in the plan, I think that’s still a long way off. (As much as I’d like to see a kind of redemptive arc for Azula, my mind keeps going back to the fact that Zuko’s change took two and a half seasons to happen, a little bit at a time, and Zuko really wasn’t a completely bad guy to begin with. Azula doesn’t just simply lack compassion, she is actively antagonistic toward it.) However, the writers could do something fairly surprising, especially since we have yet to learn what exactly happened between The Search and Smoke and Shadow—we have Azula’s brief explanation to Zuko, but I feel like there has to be more to tell there. Considering how little we got into her head at the end of The Search and in Smoke and Shadow, that could be a jumping off point for further development in her arc.
    Anyway, those are my thoughts. (Yeah, I rambled a lot and lost my way several times as usual. All these thoughts seemed so much more simple and organized when they were in my mind. x3) I wouldn’t try to claim that from an objective point of view there aren’t flaws in Smoke and Shadow 3 or that there aren’t ways it could have been improved, but I just mean that my own response to the story personally was I didn’t have a problem with it, because of various factors in the way it played out. It both surprised me and felt like it made sense in my mind, so I felt like in that sense, that aspect of the story was successful, at least for me.
    Of course, I think it’s interesting that readers can have different responses and reactions to various aspects of the plot, and it seems to serve as a good jumping off point for discussion, so I have no complaints on that. :J


  2. Justin Said: Comment by Justin on January 3, 2017 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m wrong and Azula is trying to corrupt Zuko.

    If so I hope she finds a positive relationship that makes her realize love is stronger than fear.


    Rocket Axxonu Reply:

    Haha, well, even if there was some kind of reverse psychology involved, she would still be pretty bad, considering all the things she did. (Kidnapping kids and using a man’s family to blackmail him are things that are hard to get past.) But yeah, I have trouble seeing them taking it in that direction. Even just looking at it purely from a story point of view, I think that would feel strange—the reveal of Smoke and Shadow was that Azula’s goal was neither to get Ozai back on the throne, or herself, but rather it was all about making Zuko a ruthless ruler. So it would be odd for there to be yet another reveal of another set of motivations. (Not to mention, that smile she had at the end of Smoke and Shadow wasn’t really a nice smile, her being happy about Zuko apologizing to the people; it looked a little maniacal. x3)

    So, I guess I tend to feel that Azula is legitimately trying to make Zuko into a Fire Lord who rules like Ozai. It is a change from her goals of before, which were all about achieving power for herself (now it’s about getting for Zuko what she wanted for herself before), but currently she still seems very much rooted in her old beliefs about power and weakness. Compassion and friendship are still weaknesses from Azula’s point of view, and I think something pretty dramatic will have to happen for that view to change.

    To be honest, I’m still on the fence about whether I think they will take the story down a redemption route—on the one hand, they have set up Azula as a complex character with vulnerabilities (even as those vulnerabilities come out in ways that don’t appear as vulnerabilities on the surface, thanks to Azula’s extreme aversion to showing weakness of any kind), and the moments of seeing how both Zuko and Ursa want to help Azula and still regard her as family seem to possibly be setting something up.

    But at the same time, in the original series, Zuko’s journey that changed him from what he was in book one to what he became partway through book three was one of the most powerful and unique arcs of any series, and it took two and a half season to happen. And arguably, as far as compassion goes, Azula now is not even as far as Zuko was in book one. (As angry as Zuko was, we did get moments that showed Zuko did care about his uncle and the men under his command, and seeing Zuko’s reasons behind his banishment also showed something of his character. Even though he was technically the bad guy of the show for a long time, I think they pretty much set up from the start he always had the potential for good—he had the right instincts, he was just on the wrong side. Contrast that with Azula, manipulative, sadistic, and fundamentally self-centered in almost everything she’s done up to this point.) For Azula to really change and become one of the good guys, in terms of her current worldview as of Smoke and Shadow, her transformation would have to be even more dramatic than Zuko’s.

    For that reason, maybe a partial redemption will be more likely—Azula still remains the villain technically speaking, but she does learn to legitimately care about Zuko and Ursa, and accepts that about herself, without viewing it as weakness. (And so gains at least one redeeming quality that separates her from Ozai, even if she remains a villain.)

    But, who knows really. So far the comics have been great in having twists and turns and things that are just impossible to predict. So really the only thing I feel confident in in terms of where these comics are going is that, whatever happens, it’ll probably be something I don’t expect. x3

    Side note: Hehe, oh yeah, I’ll be interested to see more of Azula’s interaction with her new henchmen too. They had some really interesting designs, it made it seem like they’ll have some importance later on. (Although from what little we saw, it seemed the relationship so far was just more of Azula’s usual bullying. xD)

    (Sorry this reply turned kind of long. x3 )


    Justin Reply:

    That is a long comment lol but anyway I don’t feel they will go down a full on redemption road myself. I would love if they make her character like Asajj Ventress from The Clone Wars. Right now Azula is like Ventress from season 3 but by season 4 & 5 she became an anti-hero.

    Could you see Azula eventually becoming like that?


    Justin Reply:

    And did Gene Yang once say Azula would have a better relationship with her new henchwomen? I feel like I read something about that.


    Rocket Axxonu Reply:

    Oh, I have no idea on that. (I did listen to this site’s interview with Gene Yang, but I haven’t heard/read any recent ones.) That would be interesting though.

    Lol, I was actually going to bring up the word ‘anti-hero’ as a possibility for Azula too. (But then it was going to make the post even longer, so I left that out. xD) Yeah, I could sort of see that. That is, she being that character that they do sort of have to team up with from time to time, but never fully lets go of her old methods.


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