This week marks a changing of the guard for Avatar: The Last Airbender comics. Since the iconic animated martial arts adventure series went off the air in 2008, writer Gene Luen Yang has been penning the further adventures of Avatar Aang and his friends in a series of comic books. But with the release of the Avatar The Last Airbender: Imbalance, Part One graphic novel, a new creative team is taking over in the form of writer Faith Erin Hicks and artist Peter Wartman.
Hicks has been a comics writer for some time now, and is probably best known for her Nameless City series. These graphic novels tell the story of a city that’s been invaded and re-conquered so many times that it’s constantly getting new names from various invading powers, and how that affects friendships between invaders and the people who have lived in the city all their lives. Avatar always seemed like a strong influence on Nameless City, which explains why Hicks was so excited to get the call from publisher Dark Horse.
“I write and draw comics for younger readers, and Avatar is really the gold standard for storytelling for a young audience,” Hicks tells EW. “The world is complex, the characters are complex, and it never talks down to its readers. Nameless City is not an homage to Avatar (Bone and Fullmetal Alchemist were also big influences), but Avatar was definitely a huge influence on it. And then after doing my own complicated fantasy trilogy for children, I just got contacted out of the blue by Dark Horse saying Gene Yang was moving on as a writer and they were interested in having me write real Avatar comics. It’s just really exciting and really cool.”
Hicks and Wartman pick up with the gang — peaceful airbender Aang, wise waterbender Katara, intense earthbender Toph, and funny fighter Sokka — a few years after they helped end the Hundred-Year War that threw their world out of balance. But peacetime is still full of its own conflicts and problems, as Aang and the team find out in the pages below when they follow the summons of Toph’s father and arrive in the multi-ethnic factory town that will become Republic City by the time Korra succeeds Aang as Avatar.
“I wanted to show the growing pains of Republic City,” Hicks says. “It’s not perfect in Legend of Korra, there are problems with crime, but it’s still this huge multicultural city where all the different people from across this world come and live together in relative harmony. I wanted to show the difficult growing pains it took for the city to reach that level. The thread going through the first book in particular is about how benders were previously employed to do certain tasks, and then machines came in and put them out of work. With the rise of machinery, now non-benders have a lot more power and say in society, where previously it was just benders who would have most of the power because of their special abilities. I wanted to play around with those ideas of societal imbalance, and showcase this social shift that was happening because of the rise of industrialization.”
Any fans stressed out about canon shouldn’t worry too much about Hicks connecting these dots. Although they didn’t write the new series, Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are still on hand as consultants, giving Hicks notes on the story and helping her refine her ideas for the world.
Wartman came up with new character designs for the main cast, showing how much they’ve changed since their first adventures while still staying true to their roots and their youth.
“I love these kids. It’s actually really fun writing them now as teenagers,” Hicks says. “They technically have a lot more agency and power than they did at the beginning of the Avatar series. Back then the Fire Nation was taking over the world and Aang was being hunted, whereas now he’s the Avatar and someone who can affect world politics. I want to bring that aspect of it, because they do have these adult challenges, but also I like it when they act like teenagers. I like when they struggle with their relationships, where they’re friends but there are undercurrents of different kinds of feelings going on. I really enjoy it as a writer. They’ve gone through this incredible journey and come out the other side so much more mature, but they’re still very young. I want to bring that to these particular stories.”
Like other Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra comics, Imbalance will arrive in three graphic-novel installments. Part One is out this week, with Part Two and Part Three set to follow in the coming months. Hicks says she’s just getting started, and she’s not alone. With prose novels and a possible live-action remake on the horizon, the future of Avatar remains bright.
“It’s a big world,” she says. “I love the idea of the shifting dynamics of this world. I’m interested in how industrialization affects this world, going from superpowers to machinery. I’m really curious about the Spirit World, which they only lightly touched on in Avatar. I just feel like Avatar is such a huge world, there’s so many potential interesting stories to tell. It just feels like it’s open to endless possibilities.”