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Hello one and all, and welcome to the fifth installment of the Avatar Nostalgiblog series, and the first to appear on my new profile, The Nostalgia Blogger, where I write about it so you don't have to!
This is a (more or less) official restart to the Nostalgiblog series, which will continue until the next book of the Legend of Korra begins, where I still start on a more regular blog series. But until then, I’ll continue to look back towards Korra’s predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and write about topics of interest.
Today I’ll be discussing the antagonists of the first series and deciding the top 7 strongest, the scariest, and even the downright baddest of the bad. I'm aware that the characters in Avatar are far from being simply black and white in their moral alignment, so I did my best to leave out characters with anti-hero qualities, like Jet and Zuko, and those acting more in self-defense or attacking for honor, like Hei Bai or Wan Shi Tong. Without further ado, let's get to it.
- The Coal Mine Warden
- Trailing at the end of the pack, we have the unnamed Warden who imprisoned earthbenders on an oil rig in the episode titled, well, Imprisoned. While he may not appear like much, he's certainly a downright vicious guy, even if appearing in only 1 episode. Although he's a tad of a jerk, throwing one of his men off the rig for not being sure of whether Appa was a buffalo or a bison, he's pretty much your run-of-the-mill villain. No redeeming qualities, full of himself, intimidating, confident, and so on. Just a common storybook baddy, yelling at old men and laughing at the protagonist (in this case, being Katara) for trying to instill hope into people. But his heartlessness and disregard for any life but his own earned him the number 7 spot on the list.
- The Coal Mine Warden
- Combustion Man
- Combustion Man (or, for all you Sokka fans out there, Sparky Sparky Boom Man) isn't so much a character as a walking tank. An assassin hired by Zuko to put to rest his nagging feeling of the Avatar's survival, Combustion Man never spoke as he pursued Aang and friends across the Fire Nation, attacking from afar with his special laser-eye-tattoo abilities. As stated on the Nickelodeon Avatar page, he accidentally blew off some of his limbs while practicing this power, which is how he got his metal arm and leg. Not much more can be said about him, because there isn't any more to say. Silent, deadly, and good at what he does, he earned his spot at number six on the list.
- Combustion Man
- Zhao was one of the main recurring antagonists from Season 1. He appeared early on, and continued to be a far more serious threat to the safety of the Gaang than Zuko could hope to be. Objectively, he could be argued to have been nearly as destructive and potentially dangerous to Aang as Ozai himself. He captured Aang using the Yuyan archers and held him in a fortress, stating he would keep Aang alive to prevent the cycle from restarting, but just barely. He attacked Aang during his visit with Jeong Jeong, and his own temper became his downfall. Finally, he led the Siege of the North, killed the Spirit of the Moon (and the moon along with it), and nearly destroyed the Northern Water Tribe completely. While all this is true, he resides low on the list because he is, also, a pretty basic antagonist. He's narcissistic, ambitious, arrogant, and short-tempered. He certainly has more backstory and development than the previous two, but in the long-run he doesn't have much to him.
- Another one-episode wonder, Hama was the waterbender residing in the Fire Nation who was stumbled upon by Aang & Co. She first appeared as a harmless elder, but was revealed to be from the Southern Water Tribe. Sokka still felt something was off, his suspicions reigned true when it was shown that Hama had an even deeper, darker secret: she could blend the water within other living creatures, and was carrying out her revenge against the Nation that imprisoned her and her people by taking hostages into a cave every full moon. While she isn't as prominent as Zhao or as destructive as Combustion Man, her impact is more on an emotional level. This episode pushes Katara to her limits, having to fight not only one of her own people, but having to use bloodbening to defeat the old witch, else watching her friends die in front of her own eyes. And although Hama's arrested, she wins a moral victory; she gave Katara no other alternative, forcing her to use the dark art that she thought so cruel and invasive. Katara became a bloodbender. *dramatic thunder crack*
- Long Feng
- Here we have a bad guy who doesn't reign in strength or ability, but in his cunning and tact. Long Feng, posing as advisor to the king and head of the Dai Li secret police, he manages to take control of the entire city of Ba Sing Se and keep the king completely oblivious to it and the fact of the century-long war that's been raging. He even plans to overthrow the Earth King himself, using the help of Azula, but ends up getting outsmarted by her (what a surprise). His charisma and political prowess earn him the third spot on this list, but his life in the shadows leaves him in the shadows of the top two baddest of the bad.
- Long Feng
- "What, you mean to suggest that Ozai isn't the Baddest of the Bad?" Yes, yes, it's true that he's the overarching villain that has remained as a faceless enigma for the first two seasons, and it's true that he nearly burned the Earth Kingdom as a whole down. But his soullessness and strength is what got him up to number 2 in the first place. Following the tradition set upon by numbers 7 and 5, Ozai in essence is a pretty generic bad guy. He wasn't revealed until season 3, and even then, he wasn't explored to be anything but heartless, besides a few flashbacks and memories of Zuko. But, there's a point to the little development; it's to make us hate him. Bryke wanted us to dislike Ozai, so they made him despicable and vicious, just like the aforementioned Zhao and Warden. Bryke doesn't want us to feel pity or remorse, because he's going to fall, and fall he does. He has nothing holding him back, nothing to stop him, and like a fire, he'll keep burning until doused. And Aang does a pretty good job dousing his flame for the rest of his days.
- Yes, I'm sure several of you expected this from the start, and it's true. Azula is the Baddest of the Bad. She overshadows Long Feng in cunning, scheming and lying; she holds far more authority and is much more a threat to Aang's safety than Zhao; and she has enough power to rival that of her father. But there is one thing that sets her above; development. The thing I've talked about in nearly all the other top 7's, character development and insight is what truly matters in the realm of storytelling. In season 2 her only role was antagonist, and she filled that role very well, managing to pursue Aang across the world, take over Omashu, draw Zuko to her side, topple and consume Ba Sing Se, and finally she managed to nearly end the Avatar cycle forever. But her story doesn't end there. Season 3 shines more light on her past, showing she is, deep down, a regular person. In The Beach, she feels jealously over Ty Lee, wants boys to like her, and mentions in a slightly disheartened tone that her mother thought she was a monster. In Zuko Alone, she was shown in Zuko's memories to be a devious little girl who messed with her brother and manipulated him; cruel, yes, but it makes her seem more human, since that dynamic exists between many siblings. And finally, she lost her grip on reality in the four-part series finale, where she became more and more paranoid and even saw hallucinations, showing signs of schizophrenia. Azula has a much larger fan base than any of the aforementioned antagonists, and not just because of how much screen time she got, but because of how developed and humanistic she was. And this is why Azula can take the pride in being named THE Baddest of the Bad (and the craziest of the crazy).
Well, there you have it. The baddest of them all in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Disagree with something I said, or feel I missed a piece of info or a character altogether? Feel free to voice your opinion below, whether you agree or not. All I ask is that you keep the discussions civil and on-topic. Until next time, I'm the Nostalgia Blogger; I write about it so you don't have to!