|"Plans are in motion. Not even the Avatar will be able to stop them."|
|— Liling to her daughters, Ru and Yaling.|
Liling was a businesswoman, earthbender, and bending supremacist. Originally hailing from the northwestern Earth Kingdom, she relocated to Ba Sing Se due to the Hundred Year War. Following the conflict's end, Liling returned to her home area with her daughters, Ru and Yaling, and consequently became one of the leading factory owners in the newly founded Cranefish Town.
Though a member of the Cranefish Town Business Council and a public advocate for peace and security in the town, Liling secretly harbored deep resentment toward nonbenders. Believing in the supremacy of benders and feeling threatened by the new machines that made bending obsolete, she covertly acted to ruin all nonbender-owned businesses and drive out every nonbender in Cranefish Town.
Liling was born and raised in a small village in the northwestern Earth Kingdom, near the location where Cranefish Town would later be built. When she was young, the land around her village was dominated by "pristine wilderness", for which she developed a certain fondness. As she grew older, Liling relocated to Ba Sing Se due to the Hundred Year War where she spent most of her adult life and gave birth to two daughters, Ru and Yaling. Unlike many Earth Kingdom citizens, Liling never hated the Fire Nation but rather blamed the nonbending Earth King Kuei for being too weak to protect his people.
The life of Liling's family took an abrupt turn for the worse when Ba Sing Se was captured by the Fire Nation through a coup in spring 100 AG. Forced to leave all their possessions and friends behind, Liling and her daughters fled the city with nothing but their clothes. This was a traumatic experience for Liling who vowed to never again lose a home in this way. The fall of Ba Sing Se also strengthened her belief in the superiority of benders, as she came to the conclusion that the Dai Li had only been able to defect to the Fire Nation and overthrow the Earth Kingdom's government because of the Earth King's weakness.
Following the end of the Hundred Year War, she returned with her family to Cranefish Town to establish her business, becoming one of several factory owners in the city. To help oversee the growth of the city, she joined with other local business owners to establish the Cranefish Town Business Council. Ostensibly in response to the significant bender violence experienced by the city, Liling employed a security team of thirty highly-skilled benders, all of whom were citizens of Cranefish Town, to protect her factory. In truth, however, she had grown apprehensive about the new technologies which some nonbender-owned factories employed to replace bending laborers. As she believed that this marginalized the benders, whom she regarded as natural leaders and rulers, Liling started a conspiracy to engender conflicts between benders and nonbenders, with the ultimate aim of disempowering the latter.
Conspiracy against nonbenders
When Team Avatar arrived in Cranefish Town around 102 AG, Liling was present at a business council meeting convened by Lao Beifong to deal with the problem of bender violence. She listened as Lao suggested implementing a ban on bending on public streets but did not join her fellow bending council members in protesting the proposal, even though she believed that Lao's proposal was designed to marginalize all benders. After Avatar Aang suggested forming a police force to establish law and order in the town, Liling volunteered her private security team to take on the job and be trained as police officers. At Lao's suggestion that nonbenders also be allowed to serve on the police force, Liling agreed that nonbenders could be trained to assist the officer once the problem of violence had been dealt with. At Liling's suggestion, her proposal was voted on by the council, receiving unanimous support among the remaining members.
Following the council meeting, Liling prompted her daughters to hire several of the benders that had been the cause of the violence in Cranefish Town to sabotage the machines at the Earthen Fire Refinery and other factories owned by nonbenders, intimating to them that there should be no loose ends. When her daughters later reported that one of the benders involved had been captured by the Avatar, Liling was not overly concerned, noting that more important things were at stake and plans were in motion that not even the Avatar would be able to stop.
On the next day, Liling was visited by Aang and his friends at her mansion. The Avatar intended to enlist her aid in restoring the destroyed factories in order to reduce tensions between benders and nonbenders in Cranefish Town. After welcoming them, Liling started a conversation with Aang by expressing her sympathy for his unease about the rapid development of the town, as it had been built on land sacred to the Air Nomads. She also expressed her regret for not having been able to properly "guide" Cranefish Town's development. When the Avatar responded by stating his plan for the bending business owners to support the nonbenders, Liling feigned to fully agree with his proposal. The meeting was then interrupted when the house cat smashed a small statuette of Avatar Kyoshi.
To repair the statuette, Liling asked Ru and Yaling to enter the room, introducing them to Team Avatar. Yaling quickly fixed the statuette, but then became embroiled in a discussion with Toph Beifong about who was the better bender. By presenting her metalbending, Toph easily won the argument, impressing Yaling. Shortly thereafter, the Avatar and his friends left, whereupon Liling again claimed that she would promptly send supplies to help rebuild the destroyed factories. Unknown to her, Toph had figured out that she and her daughters were lying and were behind the sabotage.
The secret rally, capture, and liberation
The following night, Liling organized a secret rally in one of the old mines under Cranefish Town. Having invited sympathetic benders of all social classes, including some other Business Council members, she held a speech to incite the crowd against nonbenders. Liling claimed that Lao Beifong and other nonbenders were attempting to displace them and to overturn the traditional dominance of benders through new laws and technologies. She told the crowd that benders had allied to oppose the "nonbender insurgence" and "take back" what was theirs, namely absolute power.
This statement prompted a question by one listener who expressed concern that an open rebellion by benders against nonbenders would result in the military intervention of the Earth Kingdom. Liling responded by explaining that she planned to covertly disempower the nonbenders by sabotaging their businesses and ruin the nonbending factory owners. By doing so, she claimed that the benders would "set right the imbalance in the world", prompting an enthusiastic response by most of the present benders. Unknown to Liling, however, her daughter Yaling had brought Toph to the rally, believing her to be a sympathizer, while the rest of Team Avatar had come in disguises. Following Liling's speech, Yaling led Toph to the podium, stating that she had joined their cause. When Liling asked whether that was true, Toph promptly responded with "no" and declaring her arrested. A furious Yaling then attacked Toph, and Team Avatar threw off their disguises.
Though initially shocked at the Avatar's presence, Liling quickly collected herself. Though expressing her regret about them becoming enemies, she incited to crowd against the Avatar, and a full clash brought out. She used her bending to attack Team Avatar and divided them by raising a large earth wall. Despite these efforts, Aang and his friends quickly incapacitated the bending supremacists, including chi blocking Yaling.
Realizing that they could not win, Liling momentarily held off Aang and his friends by using her earthbending and ordered her daughters and followers to escape through a tunnel while she stayed behind. When Ru and Yaling protested, Liling stated that the Avatar could not hurt her, just arrest her, and that her safety was less important than her cause. She then destabilized the cave ceiling, forcing Team Avatar to concentrate on her. The other bending supremacists thus managed to escape, while Liling was overwhelmed and captured by Team Avatar. When Aang told her that "it's over", she confidently answered that "it's only just begun."
Liling was consequently imprisoned in a metal cage at the Earthen Fire Refinery, while the Avatar and his friends debated her fate. Aang attempted to convince her to back down, whereupon Liling explained and reaffirmed her belief that benders could not coexist with nonbenders on equal terms. She stated that his peaceful airbender ways and strive for compromise were misguided, prompting the Avatar to counter that he had saved the Earth Kingdom and defeated Fire Lord Ozai without killing the latter - thereby proving that his methods were effective. Liling hatefully stated that his purportedly humane way in dealing with Ozai, namely taking away his bending, was worse than death. The two found no common ground, and she was left in her cell for the night.
On the following day, Yaling and some bending supremacists created a diversion in the city and attacked the Earthen Fire Refinery while most of Team Avatar was gone. When Ru got into the building and freed her mother, the two hugged. Liling assured her daughter that everything was alright, and told her that they had to go home to prepare their next moves. Upon arriving, Liling encountered an excited Ru who was happy to see her and showed her how she had prepared everything for their escape from Cranefish Town. To Ru's surprise, Liling firmly stated that they would stay and fight, arguing that she would not again lose a home, like when they had lost everything in Ba Sing Se. She proceeded to lecture her daughter, repeating her belief that nonbenders were to blame for the fall of the Earth Kingdom's capital during the war.
Ru was no longer willing to simply accept this version of the events and got increasingly upset as she argued with her mother and finally asked her if Liling truly believed her to be weak just because she was a nonbender. At first a bit shocked at the outburst, Liling quickly recollected herself and told Ru that she would always love her as much as Yaling. To Ru's disappointment, however, her mother also claimed that nonbenders had to understand that they were simply weaker than benders because this was how the world worked. She then left the room to prepare for her plan to drive away the Avatar, not realizing just how much she had hurt Ru with this statement.
Liling and her followers approached Earthen Fire Refinery on the next day. After a short-lived attempt by Aang to defuse the situation, Liling assaulted the Avatar and ordered her loyalists to attack. As the battle began, She and Yaling initially stayed back and watched. The bending supremacists' initial assault went badly, however, as Team Avatar and their allies were prepared. Annoyed how Toph Beifong was seemingly playing with the bending supremacists, Liling ordered her daughter to "crush" the metalbender. The battle continued to ebb and flow, and Liling eventually mused how Team Avatar had known that the bending supremacists would attack. To her surprise, her question was answered by Ru who confronted her mother and proclaimed her change of allegiance. Liling was horrified at Ru's betrayal. When the latter explained how the bending supremacist movement was the true aggressor in the conflict between benders and nonbenders, Liling refused to listen and claimed that all she was doing was to protect her family, including Ru. Furious, Ru attempted to chi block her mother, but Liling easily defeated her. Full of hatred, she proclaimed that she would bury Ru to punish her and almost killed her with earthbending before Avatar Aang intervened.
Realizing that she was defeated, Liling threateningly lifted a large boulder and proclaimed that her message would continue to spread, and that Aang could not stop the coming war between benders and nonbenders. He then entered the Avatar State and incapacitated Liling, but refrained from taking her bending. Instead, he told her that he would continue to fight for peace, before flying away to deal with her remaining followers. Left alone with Ru, Liling defiantly told her that she was a "wretched, ungrateful child" whereupon Ru countered that she was a "terrible mother". Liling and Yaling were subsequently locked up in a cage next to the refinery, refusing to acknowledge Ru who sat outside and thoughtfully watched them.
Liling was a highly motivated woman, willing to do anything for the sake of her family, her home, and most importantly all benders. A fanatical believer in bending supremacy, she believed that a "natural order" existed according to which benders had to be the leading members of society because they were allegedly better and stronger than nonbenders. In this way, she rationalized the Fire Nation's war against the Earth Kingdom, believing that the Fire Lords were simply doing what all strong benders would do - exploiting the weakness of nonbenders like the Earth monarchs.
Even though she had a nonbending daughter, Ru, whom she loved and trusted, Liling also believed that benders were in general "worth more" than nonbenders, and that taking away someone's bending was worse than murdering them. Opposed to racism, Liling wanted to overcome the differences between the benders of the four nations, so that they could work together to prevent nonbenders from gaining power.
To achieve her goals, Liling was willing to risk and do everything in her powers, including challenging the Avatar. She had no qualms about sabotaging and marginalizing nonbenders, and was uncaring about possible deaths which resulted from her plans. Liling was also a capable manipulator and a liar who had been able to hide her supremacist beliefs from the public. Despite these skills, she was ignorant of Ru's unease about her anti-nonbender world view and shocked when her daughter turned against her. Liling then showcased her ruthlessness, as she was willing to punish Ru by burying her alive.
- Imbalance trilogy
- Liling was specifically designed with her face always partially covered to imply "she has something she's hiding".
- Faith Erin Hicks pitched Liling as a "bad mom" character to Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, a twist on the many "bad dads" in the Avatar franchise.
- Liling's fears of nonbenders using advanced technology to rise against benders ultimately came true when the Equalists utilized electrified gloves and mecha tanks in their quest to destroy bending forever. She was also correct that Aang wasn't able to stop it due to him being deceased at the time, although his reincarnation, Korra was able to end it.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Hicks, Faith Erin (writer), Wartman, Peter (artist), Hill, Ryan (colorist). Imbalance Part One (December 18, 2018), Dark Horse Comics.
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Hicks, Faith Erin (writer), Wartman, Peter (artist), Hill, Ryan (colorist). Imbalance Part Two (May 14, 2019), Dark Horse Comics.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Hicks, Faith Erin (writer), Wartman, Peter (artist), Matera, Adele (colorist). Imbalance Part Three (October 1, 2019), Dark Horse Comics.
- ↑ Grunenwald, Joe (May 7, 2019). INTERVIEW: Faith Erin Hicks and Peter Wartman on their latest AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER GN. ComicsBeat.com. Retrieved on May 13, 2019.
- ↑ Hicks, Faith Erin (October 1, 2019). Back when I was pitching story ideas for Imbalance to Bryan & Mike, the first thing I said was "Avatar has a lot of Bad Dads, how about a Bad Mom this time?" Happily, they went for it. :D. Twitter. Retrieved on June 18, 2020.