Updated with my thoughts on the physical copy of the book.
I think the best place to start this review is with why this book exists and why it is such a big moment for Avatar comics. It exists because the individual parts of The Promise were all so successful (all 3 becoming New York Times Bestsellers) that Dark Horse felt confident enough in Avatar to release a deluxe edition of this series collected in a big hardcover book. This in itself is a huge thing for Avatar comics going forward, Dark Horse know that Avatar fans love extras and will release them.
Now onto the actual review of this book, I should mention that I am basing this review off of the digital review copy of the book, not the physical book. I will be updating the review when I have the book in hand, but for now I can cover the content of the book, which is by far the most important point.
The Promise Library Edition
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The Cover of the Hardcover.[/caption]
Written By: Gene Luen Yang
Art, Colours and Cover By: Team Gurihiru (Kawano (Colours) and Sasaki (Pencils and inks))
Letters By: Michael Heisler
Avatar Created By: Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko
Published By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: February 20th 2013 in Comic Stores and March 5th from Book Stores
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The back cover of the hardcover.[/caption]
I have already reviewed the story of The Promise in my individual reviews of Part 1
so there is no need for me to go in-depth on the story. I will say that I think the story is excellent, Aang and Zuko are the focus as the Cover lets you know, but always in the background of the story is the influence of Roku on Aang and Ozai on Zuko. This makes for two interesting character journeys throughout this series as they learn to find their own paths as leaders of the world. Combine this with interesting new characters, the conflict of colonialism that continues immediately after the series, absolutely glorious art and a writer who understands how to write these established characters, you are left with a series that feels like watching episodes of Avatar. The series is not perfect, part 2 feels a bit light on story compared to 1 and 3, but that gives Toph a chance to take some of the spotlight, but it is an excellent opening series for ongoing Avatar comics.
I do like the way that the book starts off a new part, you get a clean version (No words or title, just the art) of that parts cover and then a blank page with the 4 nations symbols on it. I am glad that the covers were included in this way as they are great pieces.
Some of you may wonder if any edits have been made to the Story. I have not analysed this book comparing each page to their individual comic counterparts, but I did notice that one art continuity error has been corrected in this hardcover. In The Promise Part 3 Page 8 when Zuko wakes up he has no scar on his chest (the one he got from Azula in 321), in the hardcover the scar is now present and Gurihiru even make a comment about it in the annotations. Another would be from Part 2, Page 29, Sokka's headband is missing in the second panel, this is corrected here. A lot of little art errors have been corrected. One spelling error from Part 3 is also corrected, Sokka said "kingdem" and it has now been corrected to "kingdom". So a huge editing job was done over the whole series, so a lot of effort when into this book.
Having the book in hand, I must say it is a gorgeous book, when I got home from the comic shop my Mom even mentioned how impressive looking it is despite not having an interest in Avatar. The hardcover itself is great quality and feels durable. It is a very high quality book as is the case with most Dark Horse hardcovers.
New Content and Extras
-Annotations throughout the story from Gene Yang and Team Gurihiru
-12 Pages of exclusive concept art
This is what you have all been waiting for, the additional features of this collected edition. I think the first thing to get out of the way is that despite the book being the same size as the Avatar Art book, the actual pages are not the full size of the hardcover, they are bigger than the individual issues by about 25%. This increase in size makes the art even more lovely. There is a slight issue of the rest of the area of the pages being the annotations border, and many of the pages have no annotations so it is just a blank border. This is in part made up for by the annotations by Gene Yang and Team Gurihiru which are excellent when present.
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Here is an example of the annotations that are throughout the story.
Here is what it says if you cannot read it from the image.
"Gene Luen Yang: The original show's opening sequence made my heart skip a beat every time I watch it. It's so great!"
Some of them are very in-depth.[/caption]
The annotations are very interesting and at points do give additional insight into the characters and decisions made as well as artistic choices. The issue I have with them is that only about half of the pages actually have annotations, so half of the pages just have a giant blank border, and when there are 5+ pages in a row with no annotations it makes the decision not make the pages of the comic bigger confusing. The commentary is good when it is present and if it was on nearly every page I would have understood the decision more, it feels as if the annotations were a last minute idea that was not implemented 100%. I think if The Search also gets the hardcover treatment that if they just added more annotations my issues would be gone.
The biggest positive from the annotations for me was that it showcased how big of an Avatar fan Gene Yang is, he makes some great references back to ATLA and definitely understands the characters he is writing. The art comments from Gurihiru are more art focused and are quite funny as they point out their own mistakes and where some of the decisions came from.
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The Aang page from the extras. The design change over time is huge and for the better in my opinion.[/caption]
The other extras are 12 pages of concept art at the back of the book. The art includes the design process for all of the main characters with some commentary from Team Gurihiru, some pages of the comic from layouts to pencils to inks and cover concepts. Most interesting to me is the character design pages, because it really shows how crucial Mike and Bryan (and Gene too!!!) were in the final product, the change from Gurihiru's original designs to the final ones is huge and definitely for the better. The notes that Bryan give to Team Gurihiru are very in-depth, so they put a lot of time into getting the perfect character designs. This would have been a very different comic had the original designs been kept, all of the characters looked extremely young.
The concepts for designing the cover of the hardcover is also very interesting in that Team Gurihiru had to make the image express what the whole series was about, hence why Aang and Zuko with Roku and Ozai in the background ended up being the final choice.
I think the main question to talk about here is "Should I buy this Book?". For me there are a few things to think about when it comes to buying this book. First of all is that if you do not yet have any of the individual comics or just 1 or 2 of them, then I think that this collected edition is the book to get as opposed to the individual issues. Second would be if you already have all 3 parts, in this case I think it all depends on how interested you are in the extras and the hardcover style presentation. If you are just into the comics for the story and are not into the extras then this book may not be for you.
I personally am going to buy this book and was going to do so even before reading this review copy. You may wonder why, I will explain. I already have all 3 individual parts, but I have noticed that despite my good treatment of them that the corners are getting a bit wrecked so a hardcover book will be the more durable and the easier book to just pick up and have a quick read or look at the art. The hardcover book also makes for an amazing collectors piece that will look great next to your copy of the Avatar art book. I love Team Gurihiru's art so the extras are right up my alley and the annotations also interest me as I have an interest in the behind the scenes of the comics. So I would recommend this book, the extras are good, but could definitely be improved upon in future books and the story itself is the perfect continuation of Avatar The Last Airbender. A slight negative would be the price, $39.99 is the retail price, I think it is a bit much and that $34.99 would be a better price. That said the book is available online for much cheaper prices, especially Amazon.
Overall this is an excellent book, it is a close to perfect "deluxe edition" of The Promise series. The annotations do add to the story and the art extras are fascinating.