‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’ Take 2

I never thought we’d see it happen, but I’ve been hoping for awhile now that someone would take another stab at a live action Avatar: The Last Airbender. Evidently, series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and the folks in charge of Netflix feel the same way because that’s what we’re getting. Not a sequel series, such as the almost as great Legend of Korra, or a prequel or a spinoff. A full on remake.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is every bit as terrible as you remember – though also kind of hilarious – but personally I feel like it still doesn’t catch enough shit for whitewashing its leads. In their statement, DiMartino and Konietzko give us the assurance of a “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast,” so at least that base is covered. As for everything else wrong with that movie, being better than TLA is an extremely low bar to clear.

I totally missed out on Avatar the first time around; hell, I saw TLA first. I didn’t check out the series itself until 2013, when it became my go to for Netflix-and-chill on hungover weekend mornings. I am living proof that being late to a party is better than not showing up, because I was all in before even finishing the first season. I don’t love Avatar quite as much as Star Wars, Harry Potter or The Incredibles, but at this point it’s planted firmly in my personal canon of “Shit that is Awesome.” Hell, it even inspired one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever written.

The world of Avatar has magic (“bending”), hybrid animals, spirits, otherworldly dimensions, steampunk vehicles and huge cities and continents. I’ve no idea how Netflix is going to visualize all of that, though they did pretty awesome work on the new Lost in Space; maybe they’re ready to step up to the next level. I’m just trying very hard to not think about that other Netflix series that featured mystical kung fu and the occasional dragon. It went…poorly.

The world doesn’t need another live action Avatar adaptation, but I’m choosing to be optimistic about it for the following reasons:

  1. It could not possibly be worse than The Last Airbender. DiMartino and Konietzko would have to actively try to make their live action version shittier and the effort involved to do so would kill them.
  2. No one named Jackson Rathbone will appear in this series.
  3. It could grow the fan base and maybe get newcomers to check out the original show and Korra; like, for instance, certain family members who have weird hang-ups about watching cartoons.
  4. A whole new generation will get to here the words “then everything changed when the fire nation attacked.”
  5. I will probably like it more than the four sequels James Cameron is still making for his Avatar.

See? We have so much to look forward to.

The Worst Thing Ever Just Happened

This definitely calls for an Ahsoka Face. Image courtesy of Agents of Geek.

This definitely calls for an Ahsoka Face. Image courtesy of Agents of Geek.

I decided to dust off my imaginary psychology doctorate and coin a new mental health term. Let’s call it Irrational Fanboy Butthurtness (IFB). I feel like it needs to be addressed because I have recently suffered from it for the first time. I think.

If you are a fanboy or fangirl of Avatar: The Last Airbender, you may be aware that the first of a new graphic trilogy – this one called Smoke and Shadow – just came out. It has the same creative team as the last three such trilogies: writer Gene Luen Yang and artist duo Gurihiru. This first entry, which I read, is pretty good. Or it would be if some unholy abomination hadn’t defiled it. This:

Seriously? Art by Gurihiru. Photo by me.

Seriously? Art by Gurihiru. Photo by me.

Yep. That is Mai; kissing someone who is not Zuko. It is disgraceful.

Said Not Zuko is some fuckstick named Kei Lo. He sucks. If you didn’t read “Rebound,” which was one of Dark Horse Comics’ offerings from Free Comic Book Day 2013 then you have no idea who he is. He was some tool who attempted to lure Mai into joining the New Ozai Society, which is trying to overthrow Fire Lord Zuko and replace him with his insane war criminal dad Ozai, who was imprisoned as of Avatar’s end. The society is being led by Mai’s dad Ukano, whom Kei Lo was working for. “Rebound” was a solid one-shot; Mai kicked ass, put her delusional dad in his place, rescued her toddler brother Tom-Tom and punched fuckstick Kei Lo in the face. It even ended with some hopeful implication of her and Zuko getting back together, since Yang broke them up in the not so great (and not just for that reason) The Promise.

My experience with Yang’s writing outside of his Avatar work is limited. I’ve never touched any of his supposedly very good independent graphic novels but I’m enjoying his currently ongoing Superman run to the point where I was even willing to forgive this frankly baffling scene where Yang felt that the need to reassure his readers that Superman does in fact have a large penis.

Well, thank God that's settled. Art by John Romita Jr. Screencap from Superman #43.

Well, thank God that’s settled. Art by John Romita Jr. Screencap from Superman #43.

I mean, I always just assumed that the Man of Steel being as hung as Comet the Super-Horse was one of those things that went without saying, but Yang clearly felt otherwise.

But part one Smoke and Shadow marks the point where this guy is officially on my Shit List. Because having Mai hookup with freaking Kei Lo just feels like trolling at this point. Not helping matters is Kei Lo’s rather rushed and unconvincing transition from unsympathetic patsy to well-intentioned schmuck with a heart of gold. Mai and Zuko (or “Maiko” in fandom terms) was never exactly the most popular pairing in Avatar, especially amongst the sizeable chunk of fans who feel he should have ended up with Katara (they’re called “Zutarians”). However, these people are morons are deeply misguided. Maiko is awesome and is meant to be. Avatar didn’t invent shipping but it sure as hell cranked its intensity up to 11.

So is Yang a bitter, jaded Zutara shipper trying his best to sabotage Maiko, seeing as Legend of Korra cemented Aang and Katara’s relationship (called “Kataang”) into capital C canon? I would have to wait until the end of the Smoke and Shadow to find out but signs currently point to yes. At best we will get some awkward love triangle stuff before Maiko is reunited and Kei Lo is smothered to death beneath a mound of flying bison shit. Or Yang regresses Zuko’s character (again) and has him do something bratty and impetuous that drives Mai permanently into Kei Lo’s feeble arms.

But in the meantime this really sucks and I am filled with dread and rage. I have full blown IFB and it isn’t leaving anytime soon. Is this how Gen One Star Wars fans felt when they stepped out of The Phantom Menace? Or how Celtic Frost fans felt when they first listened to Cold Lake? It really sucks.

I was able to cope with the Niners losing the Super Bowl. The very real prospect of Deftones never releasing Eros bothers me but I can accept it. But destroying Maiko for the sake of some completely disposable dipshit character whose name you will still have to look up even after seeing it in print five or six times is completely intolerable. The mere possibility (nothing is set in stone yet) makes me lose my shit. Don’t blow this, Gene.

Part one of Smoke and Shadow is out now. Part two will be released Dec. 29 and we have to wait until April 12 for part three.