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Book Excerpt: When the Fire Nation Attacked: Illustrated Insights on Avatar: The Last Airbender

This always felt like a project that was far overdue—an ebook full of (mostly comedic) insights, questions, and illustrations about "Avatar: The Last Airbender." 

Alex Kanter and I both grew up watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and loved the show for countless reasons. We were drawn to the show for the battles, fantastical creatures and the idea that we could actually bend water and fire and air and earth. Though these aspects still exist in the show’s universe, it feels as though the show’s meaning has exponentially grown as our life experiences have increased. Whether we’re discussing why Toph would dominate the Seattle basketball scene or asking if Uncle Iroh can come speak at our graduations, it is our utmost hope that this brings a little joy to readers during this incredibly difficult time. 

Please know that we do not write this as masters of the “Avatar” world, nor do we claim to be anything more than your casual fans, with too many tangents and pop culture references to spare. So, if you are entering this ebook with the goal of learning bulletproof winning strategies for Pai Sho, we’re sorry to disappoint, but you may have to go to Reddit for that. On the contrary, if you have been drawn to this PDF because you've always had this aching question about how Jet would get out of the limo and introduce himself on “The Bachelorette,” then this might just be for you.

Most importantly, we want to thank you, the reader, as all proceeds of this document will be direct donations to food banks across the United States, through the national organization Feeding America, and to the Nationwide Bail Fund helping 38 community bail funds around the U.S. during this time of protests. The “Avatar” world is full of heroes, but in our world, it is the healthcare workers, grocery store attendants, and all other essential workers and those fighting for equality that show up every day and save the world. 

We cannot possibly thank you enough and it is our greatest hope that this document brings a smile to your face. (When the Fire Nation Attacked: Illustrated Insights on Avatar: The Last Airbender, was written by Michael Frank and Alex Kanter; illustrations by Mikaela Duhs. To order your copy, click here). 

Chapter 3: “And with the First Pick of the Element Draft…”

When you’re a kid, you want superpowers. It’s one of the first questions people ask you on the playground: “What superpower would you have?” It’s not even, “Do you want a superpower?” Obviously, that’s an affirmative. Now the question is of which superpower is the best. There’s flying like a bird, like Superman, but planes already exist. There’s teleportation, but we’ve all seen Jumper (and the magic of Jamie Bell) and that can only end in one very horrible, very deadly way. There’s super speed like Dash from The Incredibles or even super strength like his papa. 

A bunch of superheroes only have super suits. What’s that all about? They’re a bunch of Sokkas and Jets and Ozais pretending to be Aangs. Iron Man is not an Aang and don’t you try to tell me otherwise. Ant-Man is definitely a Sokka. Spider-Man is like a Haru. Thor and Toph are the same person and that’s a given. Are Batman and Zuko kind of similar? I think yes. 

But ever since I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender as a kid, I always wanted to be able to bend the elements; it combines a bunch of superpowers into one. I mean, by bending air you can fly. By bending any of the elements, you can essentially disappear and appear in a new spot. The Blue Spirit does it all the time. Super speed? That’s nothing in comparison to jamming on a rock, or using fire to propel you, or even sliding on ice that you’re forming in real time. Now that’s some super fucking speed. Super strength is pointless when you can move objects with your mind. 

Let’s be honest. The classic superpowers are lame and boring. The only ones worth a damn are those superpowers that the kids from Sky High (including a frosted Cousin Greg) had, or seeing into the future like Raven Baxter, or that puka-shell-wearing kid from The Luck of the Irish who was really good at basketball and really bad at leprechaun games. 

This chapter is all about functionality. It’s not about mastering the elements or even teaching them to someone else. This is about what you would do if you could bend one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, or air. How would you use those powers? But more importantly, which of those powers would be the best?

We have a good, old-fashioned, no-boundaries argument. This is an argument that assumes we only get to choose one element to bend. We are still our regular selves. Maybe we’re the only people in the world that can bend this element. To argue each contender, we will be looking at the best way to use each element in four areas of life:

Using the element at school

Using the element at work

Using the element at home

Using the element for your own personal gain (no consequences, anything goes)

For each area, we will give the absolute best reason to have each bending capability. If this was an NBA draft, which element is the Greg Oden? Which is the Andrea Bargnani? Which is the Shaquille O’Neal? Which is the Allen Iverson? These are the questions that won’t be answered, but must be pondered. 

Picking the winner is something entirely else. It’s like a blind taste test. It’s a blindfolded experience. Our judge won’t know who wrote what, only that one winner needs to be chosen. This third party—our editor, Quinn Fish—will pick the element that has the best case for being the No. 1 draft pick in the First Element Draft. 

Let’s not overcomplicate this. It’s the question any Avatar fan has pondered. If I lived in Aang’s world and wasn’t the Avatar, and trust me you probably aren’t, which element would I want to bend?


School: A plethora of options here. I wasn’t the coolest cat in middle school or high school. If you were bullied a bit, you could use the water in the air to water-whip your bully. You could slyly make the water splash out of the fountain so it sprays all over your bully’s face, shirt, pants and shoes. Wet shoes and socks are the worst, so now you’ve really made ‘em pay. You’d likely become the bully next. Other best practices include: never having to lift up your water bottle and never having to screw or unscrew it. You could just waterbend the water into your mouth. Water fountains are just for the peons now. 

Work: What would be the greatest job in the world for those who can waterbend? Marine biologist? Professional whale watcher? Deep-sea fisherman? It’d sure be helpful to waterbend with any of those. The only profession that needs waterbending is professional surfing, a sport that already relies on people riding the biggest waves in the world. Call me partial for being a coastal dweller, but holy hell, can you imagine surfing while waterbending? They could make the greatest waves in the world and surf them to perfection, requiring incredible concentration to control the waves, the board and their body all at the same time. Watching Katara battle Kelly Slater at the World Surf League Championship would be the greatest sporting event of all time. 

Home: We all know about the 4 a.m. water run. Your water bottle is in the kitchen. You forgot to fill up a glass before you went to bed. You drank all of your water before hitting the hay. You might’ve had a big night out and that water is more important than ever. It’s awful to get up, get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, fill up, drink water, and become fully awake in the process. With waterbending, that all goes away. You grab the water out of the air and throw it into your mouth. You’re always hydrated. This applies to all parts of the house at all hours of the day. You never have to make a water run. Ever. You never have to fill up a pot of water to make some pasta. The phrase, “I forgot my water in the other room,” no longer exists. 

Personal: I’ve never been able to ice skate, snowboard, or surf all that well. My balance is shoddy and my technique even worse. With waterbending, especially as a kid, it would just be so much fun to do all of those things. A day on the lake, a day on the slopes, a day at the beach all become incredible. And there’s the big one. The big kahuna of waterbending. I would 100 percent, immediately walk on water. Take that, Jesus. 

Illustration by Mikaela Duhs


School: Airbending at school has an abundance of advantages when compared to the other elements. For one, movement of air is so minimal that you probably wouldn’t get caught bending it. For example, imagine showing up to class having not done your homework assignment. The professor asks for everyone to put the assignment on their desk, so it can easily be collected. Just before the teacher gets to your desk, a massive gust of wind takes everything off your desk and into the sky. Seemingly not your fault and your B- overall grade stays intact. Oh, and you can fly. 

Work: If you are a pilot, professional skydiver, tornado stopper (this is a new job that could be created), or even a weatherman, being able to airbend is second to none. You predicted rain today on The Weather Channel? No problem, let me just airbend some clouds from another town. Oh, and you can fly. 

Home: Candles have a spectacular way of needing to be put out right when you find yourself sitting comfortably on your couch or bed. With a little airbending, that candle is out and I never had to get up. Another great at-home airbending use would be fixing your video game console. Imagine this: you are playing Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64 and the game freezes. Old you would have taken out the game, blown air on it as well as the game slot and tried again. Imagine if you could airbend. You could dust that game so well that the graphics would turn to 4K. Oh, and you can fly.

Personal: Soup, pizza, hot chocolate, coffee, and Hot Pockets all have something in common: for some reason, no matter how hard you try to heat them to the correct temperature, they will always be too hot. With airbending, you never have to bite into a scorching hot piece of pizza again. When your food is ready, a little whoosh of air, and now you’re at a safe-to-eat temperature. Oh, and you can fly.


School: Freshman year of college is full of easy-to-make food. It’s full of Top Ramen, mac ‘n’ cheese, and any other microwavable dish available. The cafeterias—the majority of them at least—serve food in mass quantities. You end up eating the exact same thing every couple of days. It’s repetition at its finest. You’re eating whatever you can, but you might have to wait five to ten minutes to warm up your food, hanging in line for the one microwave in your dorm; the grossest, dirtiest little hot box you’ve ever seen. With firebending, you can heat up any food at any time. You can make elaborate meals in your dorm room. You can be eating the finest food any freshman has ever eaten.

Work: No need to overcomplicate this. Firefighters. And yes, you might say, “Oh, well waterbending would be better for them.” Wrong. You’re wrong. Waterbenders can’t create controlled fires. They can’t stop and start fire at will. Fire extinguishers would become extinct. How about waterbenders and firebenders work together on this one? Millions of animals would be saved. Honorable mention: pottery people, kiln workers, mechanics, and chefs. All of the chefs. 

Home: Two words: body temperature. Constant homeostasis. It’s so exhausting to constantly be changing clothes, throwing on sweats and a hoodie, changing into shorts and a tank midday, back into pants and a jacket (or two) for the evening. How about this? Wake up and put on whatever clothes you want. You can always be wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Sandal weather all the time. Why put on sunscreen when you can instantly make yourself tan, which seems like a thing firebenders should be able to do? Take that UV in the safest way possible. Sunburns are a thing of the past.

Personal: Harnessing and redirecting lightning would be the greatest party trick in the history of party tricks. Only a select few can do it in the Avatar universe, including Iroh, Zuko, Azula and Aang. In the US, lightning strikes most often in Florida and Texas, making lightning redistribution the most equally dangerous and incredible way to impress someone in those respective states’ histories. 

Illustration by Mikaela Duhs


School: There are probably few times one would need to move a few thousand pounds of rock at school, but there is one scenario that earthbending would be clutch: the science fair. Out of the way paper mache volcano, here comes a 200-pound, 5-foot-tall rock volcano. You would undoubtedly take home the gold.

Work: So this one is slightly dependent on the line of work you’re in. For example, does the band Mt. Joy need to earthbend to put out great album after great album? No, they don’t, but think about all the incredible options for artists, construction workers and, most importantly, geologists. Artists would be able to bend metal and create bust after bust, improving our lives through art. Construction workers would be crafting bridges, buildings and roads in days, saving taxpayers millions. Finally, geologists would find more fossils than Indiana Jones, helping us answer the age old question, “Does this bitch actually not know about pangea?” 

Home: RENOVATION. If you can earthbend, the chances of you having a backyard improvement show on HGTV that is followed by Property Brothers: Forever Home hosted by Jonathan and Drew Scott is basically a guarantee. So now, you aren’t just improving your own home, but you are travelling America with the HGTV crew improving Karen and Scott’s house in rural Kansas. After a few seasons, you get brought on as a guest for Queer Eye. What a life that would be. 

Personal: I’m stealing a huge personal benefit from the show. Throughout the Avatar gang’s travels, Toph, at any point, can build herself a little shelter. Most of the time, this would not be a huge benefit, but imagine never having to book another Airbnb or hotel because you can simply build your own. Yes, the issue of not having a bathroom still applies, but who cares? That’s what public restrooms are for. As someone who loves the outdoors and camping, a little earthbending in my life would be greatly appreciated. 

The Winner: 

Though each element clearly carries its own advantages, the No. 1 draft pick must be based on practicality, utility and sheer aptitude. Plain and simple. I’m all for staying quenched and there’s no doubt in my mind that surfing would be infinitely aided by waterbending, but these just don’t feel all that high up on my hierarchy of needs. Airbending would definitely lead to a new job sector, but at the end of the day, all you’re doing is moving air. I’m sorry, I know some amazing things can be done with a good gust, but cleaning out Super Smash Bros. just isn’t something I can see myself being super stoked on; it takes all of one blow. While flying seems like the greatest perk of airbending, is that really a necessity for most of us? (No.)

We’re between firebending and earthbending and it’s going to be a close one. Firebending has the appeal because not only is it useful, but it just feels important. Firefighters? Those dudes and gals are heroes. Realistically, though, as nice as homeostasis sounds, in reality, it’s the sweat and chills that remind us we’re alive. Or maybe that’s just the Brooklyn in me talking. Regardless, there are countless appliances that can heat our food and give us UV rays without the sun. Next. 

Earthbending takes the cake for me, based primarily on the outright number of things that can be done with it; things that can’t be done without it. From building your own structure to constructing roads to renovating Karen and Scott’s Kansas cottage—I mean, we have to think about the greater good. There is no piece of equipment in the world that could erect a structure, road or bridge instantly. When we consider how little we know about the ocean, fossils and even the human condition, it’s a no-brainer for me. And with the first pick of the Element I Want to Bend Draft, Quinn Fish selects earthbending.

To order your ebook copy of When the Fire Nation Attacked: Illustrated Insights on Avatar: The Last Airbender, click here 

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