On August 12th, 2020, fans of the cult classic Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender were hit with a debilitating blow. The show’s original creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko announced their departure from Netflix’s long-in-development live action remake. Whether the rumors of Netflix attempting to infuse more diversity into the cast and aging up the characters to precipitate sexual tension are true or not, I discuss my thoughts on the creators original statements in this video. Either way, it was a serious letdown for people hoping to see a faithful adaptation of the source material. While I will briefly touch upon their statements in this article, my intent isn’t to keep the discussion negative. Instead I’m here to tell you that something far better from the original creators is on its way.
I believe that DiMartino and Konietzko are well on their way to creating the next animated Avatar series. And I believe they’ve been subtlety hinting about it from their brief appearances online during the past several months. When the two announced that their involvement with the Netflix adaptations had ended, they both seemed disheartened about the 2 years spent working on the project that they had seemingly wasted. Michael DiMartino said “I started to reevaluate what is truly important in my life and what I wanted to do with what’s left of it. I took some advice from Uncle Iroh. I looked inward and started asking myself the big question: “Who are you and what do you want?” From an outsider looking in, it’s hard not see his frustration as a creator losing track of what was so important to him about the series to begin with and to see he wants to move past the Netflix project as quickly as possible to move onto what’s next.
Bryan Konietzko had similar thoughts. He said “I will continue to be deeply involved in the Avatar universe, telling the stories my partner and I want to tell in the way we want to tell them. I will put my time, energy, and talents towards the projects that give me the most fulfillment, and where I am afforded trust and respect.”
You may not be aware, but there are a number of canonical comic adventures that Michael and Bryan consult on and help in the writing of that extend both the stories of The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra past the conclusion of each series. And recently we’ve even gotten a 2-part book series that revolves around the early days of Avatar Kyoshi that Michael DiMartino consulted on. I personally love the series. I listened to them both on Audible twice, and then I decided I needed physical copies for my book shelf. If you’re interested in listening to those free now, click this link to a 30-day free subscription to Audible so you can listen to the first book now! The consulting of DiMartino and Konietzko on these expanded universe projects could be what Bryan is referring to when he says he “will continue to be deeply involved in the Avatar universe,” but let’s be honest. Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra’s newfound resurgence in popularity, in no small part due to their inclusion on Netflix, leave the creators uniquely placed to pitch their next project to Nickelodeon, or whomever wishes to pick up the proposed series. The demand for a new series is at an all-time high.
Michael DiMartino also claims that he has other projects he’s working on within the Avatar universe, as he mentions in this prerecorded Avatarverse Comic Con panel released July 24th. It’s an interesting discussion between several of the writers for both the comics and book series, with DiMartino as an aside, but what’s notable for me is his demeanor at the time of recording. This was recorded after he had formally severed ties with the Netflix adaptation, but before he had made his announcement on August 12th that he had done so, so likely none of the panelists here knew that. He seems happy to discuss the series’ longevity, but also depressed by the notion. I may be reading into his body language, but he seemed a bit distant from the discussion. However, his final thoughts are worth including here. “But yeah, I’m just working on some, some of my own side projects right now, so. Obviously I’m still involved in the Avatar universe in various forms.”
Obviously fans have been speculating about where the series can be taken next, and I have several theories about that. The big question is when the next Avatar series takes place. The world has proven that it’s a living universe in the sense that it continues to grow and expand, each era containing its own struggles and strengths that make it unique and a story worth telling. The initial thought most fans likely have of a third series is that it must take place after Avatar Korra’s era, just as the Legend of Korra takes place after Avatar Aang’s era. But I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case.
For one thing, with the rapid enhancement of technological improvement in the Avatar series, it becomes increasingly difficult to generate how the world could develop with each successive Avatar. And while I certainly think there’s more story to be had past Korra, I’d much prefer a more grounded fantasy setting for a next series, if only so that the creators don’t get pigeonholed into continually trying to top themselves with advancing the world forward with each consecutive series. That said, just as is with the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of the Avatar, the next series should focus on an Earth-Kingdom Avatar, and I don’t think there’s a more interest choice than Avatar Kyoshi herself.
Both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra revolve around origin stories for their titular heroes, but with Kyoshi we already have the first two years of her Avatarhood written and documented well by author F.C. Yee. This could present new storytelling avenues for the creators to run with as its already an established character. But what I find so fascinating about the Kyoshi books is that there were only two planned. Abrams publishing originally pitched this as a 2-book series, but the second book ends with so much potential for her story to continue. After all, she’s 17 years old by the end of book 2, but somehow lives to 230 years of age! Upon actually getting my hands on the physical copy of the second book, I was shocked at the opening flap, which claims this is “the epic conclusion to the legendary story of Avatar Kyoshi.” Both titles in the series have made it onto the New York Times bestseller list, so the draw to continue her story with more books is strong. The only reason I can think of that a third book isn’t in the works beyond this point is that the original creators have other plans for the character. There’s so much room for a story to be told through an animated medium, and they haven’t even begun to touch upon Chin the Conqueror in the novels.
A recent interview from the two creators via Polygon sheds more light on this theory, and the notion that they are considering continuing the Avatar world in a new animated series. When asked whether they still have questions about the world and history of the Avatar, they both had interesting responses.
Bryan said: “Absolutely. Even after 18 years, I still find the Avatarverse to be a wellspring of creativity and storytelling. Mike and I built this fantasy world out of things we love, and we simply set out to make shows that we would want to watch ourselves. Thankfully that has kept it fresh for me after all this time. While it doesn’t encompass everything I want to say and do as an artist, it’s a really wonderful place to come back to and create within.”
And Mike has this to say: “Yes, there are many seeds we planted through both series and in the graphic novels that could be expanded on and explored. The Avatar universe is a big place and has a long history so there’s a lot of potential for new stories.”
Both creators seem hopeful about the future of the franchise, with Bryan claiming it’s a wellspring of creativity and storytelling, and Michael referencing the universe’s long history holding new stories. I think a third series following Avatar Kyoshi would be really fun. How did she manage to live over two centuries? What else does she do in her lifetime? What exactly did Chin the Conqueror conquer? So many questions worth exploring. Kyoshi is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating characters in the Avatar universe, and it’d be a shame if we didn’t see more of her story play out, if not in future novels or comics, then put her in an animated series.
If you‘re looking for more Avatar: The Last Airbender discussion, head on over to Project Geekology and check out our new podcast. Our 2nd episode will be all about the show, how it was made, some of the worldbuilding choices in it, and what it means for us as fans. Check out our new Avatar themed merch now! You’ll find our Teespring shop right here has this brand new design in multiple different colors and sizes.