Every story has a beginning, and the Last Airbender series told a lot of beginnings in its long run. However, we didn’t quite get the lowdown on the origin of the eponymous character. Not until the spin off series; The Legend of Korra gave us an insight on the First Avatar; Avatar Wan.
The second book or season of The Legend of Korra series was not a very popular one. Many fans really hated it, and it is popularly considered as the lowest ranking season of all. It retconned a lot of the franchise’s established mythos; all the while doubling up with one of the most unbelievably annoying villains to appear on a TV screen; Unalaq.
There was no getting behind his foolish and downright creepy obsession with the spirit world. The only redeeming factor from the Book of Spirits was the First Avatar’s appearance: Avatar Wan.
The First Avatar appeared in two episodes of Book 2, showing viewers a time when the four nations had not been formed; and the spirits had a higher stake to Earth than humans did. While fans got to really see how life was for the First Avatar; the first ever bridge between the spirits and humans, you could argue that not every single detail was picked up. There were some subtle details that may have gone under the radar; and so it’s only right we shed some light on them.
The First Avatar’s Eye Color
Before he became the first Avatar; Wan was a resident of the city on the Lion Turtle that granted people the ability to bend fire. We can safely assume his people would go on to become the Fire Nation in the coming 10 millenia that spanned from The Beginning.
One other nod to this possibly correct assumption was the First Avatar’s eye color. Throughout the Avatar series, from the Last Airbender to The Legend of Korra; we see that there is a distinct eye color that many firebenders are shown to possess. Most of them have the same copper-colored eyes that Wan does.
We get more of this in the prequel novel, The Rise of Kyoshi; where Hei-Ran and her daughter Rangi are described as having the same ‘copper or bronze-colored iris’. It is also mentioned that this is one of the major ways to discern a firebender; down to the point that a waterbender once uses poison to change his eye color to bronze so he can hide from pirates.
The Double Meaning of The First Avatar’s Name
Without even adding any actual logic to the name; you have to admit that the name Wan does sound like “one”. Away from that very phonetic link, is the fact that as Wan is the first Avatar to ever exist, his name also possesses a secondary meaning; already shown in the series before. Wan means ten thousand in Mandarin, which is a reference to the events that saw him become Avatar ten thousand years before Korra’s existence and the events in The Legend of Korra.
The name has also been used in Avatar: The Last Airbender before, in reference to the spirit owl Wan Shi Tong, whose library Avatar Aang and his group used to find a way to stop the Hundred Year War. In Mandarin, Wan Shi Tong means “he who knows ten-thousand things,” and the spirit himself mentions this when he is introduced in the episode.
The Basis For His Design
Character designs based on real people are not a new thing. In fact, it is not uncommon for animators to base character designs on likenesses to someone on the team, considering how much of a constant reference point they are when drawing and animating the character. We’ve already discussed how The Boulder was based on pro wrestler and A-List actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, but the very first Avatar was also subject to this treatment.
In the Legend of Korra’s artbook, we are treated to the knowledge that Avatar Wan was modeled after Avatar showrunner and co-creator Bryan Konietzko. He had also previously played the “Foaming at the mouth guy” in Warriors of Kyoshi and Avatar Day in The Last Airbender series.
The First Avatar Determined The Order Of The Elements
The Avatar series has one aspect that is widely known, and that is the order or cycle of the elements. The avatar elements rotate in a cycle, from the Fire Nation first, to the Air Nomads, then the Water Tribe and the Earth Kingdom bringing up the end. Once it ends, it restarts with the Fire Nation yet again. As Avatar Wan was the first Avatar, and as he was a firebender, it made sense that the order began there.
Also, it is in this order that the Avatar is supposed to learn the respective elements during training. The Avatar is meant to start learning the elements from their native element, and then work their way through the cycle in the order. Avatar Wan established this order, obtaining the elements as he sought to create peace with the spirits. He began with firebending, and then airbending, bringing it all to a close with waterbending and earthbending.
Where He Died
In his last moments, we see Wan passing away in a field after sustaining injuries from a war he was fighting. It is assumed he fought this war alongside or with the Earth Kingdom, as he is shown surrounded by many large wooden coins; which are a signature of siege weapons that the Earthbenders and the Earth Kingdom were associated with.
This location was actually featured in the main Avatar series at an earlier time. During the Book 2 episode ‘Zuko Alone’, Zuko passes through a field of the broken Earthbender coins as he makes his way to a rural town.
The First Avatar’s Firebending Skills
Although we see that many characters have used the power of fire long before Wan did, the first Avatar was actually the first to create the firebending artform. We see this when he single handedly manhandles a group of wanderers who attempt to attack him with their fire.
As the Avatar, and the first one at that, it should be no surprise that Wan’s bending would be above average in comparison to most firebenders, but we don’t see his skill in using fire to propel himself. The main instances of fire propulsion occur with mainly the Royal Family. In the Last Airbender, it’s Azula and Ozai that do this, and in the Legend of Korra, it’s General Iroh, Zuko’s grandson.
The First Avatar’s Firebending Teacher
In the Last Airbender, we learn that humans learned the art of bending the elements from watching the original masters of bending; dragons for fire, sky bison for air, badger moles for earth and the moon for water. The Legend of Korra may have either retconned or expanded that reveal with the introduction of the Lion Turtles, who are seen giving humans the power to bend, but they did not teach them the art. In the same vein, we see an actual training session from the original masters with Wan.
The First Avatar spends some time in the spirit wilds, and while he does, he learns the firebending artform from a dragon spirit. The dragon spirit teaches him the Dancing Dragon bending form, which we have earlier seen. Aang and Zuko learn it from the last two dragons in the Last Airbender Book 3 episode; The Firebending Masters as they also learn that dragons are not as extinct as the world believes them to be.
What He Wears As The First Avatar
The Avatar not only acts as the bridge between the spirit and human worlds. He is also a force for unification of the four nations. As such, the Avatar must be impartial and treat everyone with impartiality. While he was not able to unify the four nations in his time as the Avatar, Wan did his best to represent all nations, and we see this especially in his fight against Vaatu.
As he prepares to take on the dark spirit, Wan is dressed in clothing that honors all four nations. His robes are orange and yellow for the Air Nomads; his scarf is red for the Fire Nation; the blue sash he wears represents the Water Tribe and his green armbands signify the Earth Kingdom.
He Inadvertently Created The Red Lotus
The Red Lotus organization is introduced in Book 3 as the main antagonists. They are a militant splinter cell of the White Lotus organization. As opposed to the White Lotus’s task of protecting balance and the Avatar, the Red Lotus vehemently oppose the world order. They believe that the Avatar contributes imbalance to the world, and must be removed permanently. The reason for this belief lies in the actions of the first Avatar. Wan not only sealed away Vaatu in the Tree of Time but also closed off the spirit world from the physical world until the next Harmonic Convergence 10,000 years later.
If it wasn’t for the actions of Wan, the Red Lotus organization may never have been formed. In the same vein, we can argue that without Wan, the world would have been thrown into 10,000 years of darkness. This was something that Vaatu promised afterall.
The First Avatar Was Voiced By Talented Actor Steven Yeun
We’ve had some amazing actors lend their voice talents to bring The Legend of Korra characters to life. There was J.K Simmons, who played Tenzin and Zelda Williams who played Book 4 villain Kuvira. In the same light, the first Avatar was actor Steven Yeun.
Steven Yeun has a number of acting gigs under his belt, primarily with Netflix animations such as Keith in Voltron: Legendary Defender, Little Cato in Final Space and Steve in Tales of Arcadia. Most notably however, is his role as Glenn Rhee on AMC’s hit horror drama show; The Walking Dead.
It’s no surprise that someone of this calibre was hand picked to play the very first Avatar. Avatar Wan’s role was a very pivotal one, and so it makes a lot of sense.