- This article is about the first Avatar. For the spirit, see Wan Shi Tong.
|"This is my mission: to use Raava's light spirit to guide the world toward peace."|
|— Wan declaring his life's goal.|
Wan was the first Avatar, having lived ten thousand years prior to Avatar Korra's time. After being banished from his home, he learned to coexist with the spirits and decided to help bring balance between them and the rest of mankind, a quest that eventually led to him becoming the first Avatar.
Gaining the power of fire
Wan grew up in a city built on the back of a fire lion turtle. Living in poverty, Wan's main goal was to survive and feed his friends which he achieved by regularly stealing from the ruling Chou family, relying on his agility and ingenuity to do so. One day, he was chased down the streets of the city by the three angry Chou brothers. At first, he managed to outrun them by making his way across the rooftops, but when he stopped to eat, the brothers caught up to him. Though Wan attempted to escape again, he was tripped by one of the brothers and subsequently captured. His sack of food was taken away and he was thrown from the roof into a muddy pen with hybrid pigs. When he eventually returned to his tree house, he offered his friends Jaya and Yao what little food he had managed to salvage by hiding it in his tunic, giving away his own portion to several hungry animals. He lamented their impoverished lifestyle and wished they could live in luxury like the Chous. Motivated by this desire, he devised a plan to gain more power so he could change his life.
When he was 18, Wan joined a group of four hunters that was preparing to leave the city and venture into the Spirit Wilds to collect food. Although the lead hunter was at first skeptical to let Wan join, he relented since there were no other willing volunteers. The group traveled to the face of the lion turtle, the guardian of their city, to receive the power of firebending, which would enable them to defend themselves against the hostile spirits living in the Spirit Wilds. Soon after the group set off, Wan pretended to chicken out and was subsequently ordered to go back to the lion turtle to return his bending ability. Instead, Wan returned directly to the city and kept his fire. He ignored Jaya's protests to return the element and inspired several other poor people to join him on a secret raid on the Chou palace. Although the raid started out smoothly, the Chou brothers called in reinforcements and Wan was captured after he was accidentally unmasked by Little Chou. He was brought before the lion turtle and, though the creature permitted him to keep his fire at his request, Wan was banished to the Spirit Wilds for his crimes.
Befriending the spirits
As he wandered the Wilds, Wan remained on edge, shooting flames at every spirit he encountered. While running away from a frog spirit, Wan was eaten by a plant, though he managed to save himself with his bending. He ran on until he collapsed from exhaustion on an open grassy spot. However, much to his surprise, the grass started to wrap itself around him and pulled him underground. He used his fire to save himself from certain death by suffocation and continued his journey through the wilderness. Afraid to lower his guard in the hostile environment, he remained awake the entire night.
By morning, his hunger and exhaustion prompted him to stop at what he perceived to be a fruit-carrying tree. As he tried to sink his teeth into what he thought was a fruit, it dissipated into a swarm of bees which had been tightly huddled together. They promptly attacked Wan for his disturbance. As he desperately attempted to get away from the angered insects, he stumbled over a cliff. At the bottom, he discovered an island-like oasis with more fruit trees. Still hungry, he made his way toward the island, but found his path blocked by an aye-aye spirit who suddenly appeared and told him he was not welcome at the oasis. Wan tried to reason with the spirit, telling the entity that he was hungry and in need of sleep. The spirit coldly replied that Wan's troubles were not his problem, so the man attempted to force the creature aside with firebending. Enraged, the spirit returned Wan's challenge and easily evaded his attacks by teleporting behind him before grabbing and throwing him aside into a nearby bush. Wan walked away in defeat, but when he noticed that several other spirits were granted access to the oasis, he covered himself in leaves and branches, disguising himself as "Bushy, the Bush Spirit". Though he briefly managed to fool the oasis guardian, the spirit discovered his deception through his human scent. When ordered to return home, Wan admitted that he was banished, earning pity from the other spirits. They suggested he find other lion turtle cities to live in, but the aye-aye guardian refused to give him directions, making a joke out of it, which irritated the firebender.
Wan subsequently set out to find the other lion turtle cities on his own. On his travels, he spotted a cat deer caught in a net. Still hungry, he approached it with the intent of eating it. However, after seeing the creature up close, he felt sorry for it and climbed into the tree it hung from in an attempt to free it. At that moment, the group of hunters he had accompanied before arrived to claim the cat deer. Wan shot flames at the hunters and ran off, hoping the men would forget about the animal and chase him. Having experienced the dangers of the Spirit Wilds himself, he used the hazards to his advantage to dispatch two of his pursuers. Before he could rid himself completely of the hunters, Wan was struck by a fire blast that flung him against a tree branch, rendering him unconscious. Before the men could do anything, the aye-aye spirit, touched by Wan's selfless act, intervened and saved him. Wan was brought back to the oasis by the spirit, where he was placed in the mystic waters and healed. Deciding he'd had enough of humans, Wan resolved to stay at the oasis and learn the ways of the spirits, earning the nickname "Stinky" from the aye-aye spirit.
As time went by, Wan became known as a friend to the spirits. He developed his firebending skills further by learning the Dancing Dragon form from a white dragon, training himself to the point where his bending became an extension of his own body rather than just a tool. With these abilities, he protected the spirits and drove off hostile humans from the wilds.
Two years after his banishment, Wan decided to travel the world to find the other lion turtle cities and left the spirit oasis with Mula, the cat deer he had saved. During his journey, he encountered a stampede of fleeing spirits who told him they were running away from a raging fight between "all-powerful spirits". Concerned about the severe damage the battle could inflict on the valley, Wan went to investigate. He found two raging spirits and, oblivious to their identity, ordered them to stop. The white spirit, Raava, told him off, saying that the fight did not concern him. He objected, telling her it was his concern when the lives of spirits and animals were at stake. At that, the dark spirit, Vaatu, begged him for help and said he had been tortured by his counterpart for ten thousand years. Wan then used his firebending to break Raava's hold on Vaatu. In doing so, however, Vaatu was free to spread chaos across the world. It was only when Raava explained who she was and that her purpose was to keep Vaatu in check that Wan realized his error.
Becoming the Avatar
Feeling bad about his mistake, Wan offered to help Raava track down Vaatu, but he was told to stay out of the conflict. After the light spirit flew away, he resumed his original goal of finding the other lion turtle cities. Along the way, he came across harvesters with the ability to bend the air and, after unintentionally scaring them away, he followed them to their city, which was built atop a flying lion turtle. With no ability to naturally ascend to the airborne city, Wan constructed a catapult from a living tree and successfully flung himself toward the air lion turtle. While conversing with the people living there, Vaatu arrived. His presence turned the peaceful spirits living in the town into raging dark entities. Wan used his firebending to protect the people until Raava appeared and subdued Vaatu. After Vaatu gloated on how he would destroy her during the next Harmonic Convergence, Wan noticed that Raava was growing weaker. Despite her disdain for him, Wan promised to rectify his prior mistake and help Raava fight Vaatu. However, he would need to be stronger. He approached the air lion turtle and requested that he be granted the power to airbend. Though no human had ever possessed two elements before, Wan insisted that he was unlike other humans and could learn to do so. The lion turtle agreed to give Wan the power of air, but Raava would have to hold the power for him until he mastered it. Together, the two set out to train. Eventually, Raava gave the element of air to Wan by passing through his body and combining their energies. Though it was a dangerous undertaking, Wan survived the ordeal, and the small yet unlikely alliance set out to find the water and earth lion turtles to receive the last two elements.
Over the course of a year, Wan and Raava worked together, training to master the four elements in order to face and defeat Vaatu by the time of the Harmonic Convergence. As the event drew near, Wan and Raava came across a village in the Spirit Wilds near the fire lion turtle which was inhabited by Wan's friends. However, the hostile attitude of the settlers fomented the ever-increasing discontent between mankind and the spirits. When a gathering of spirits led by the aye-aye spirit approached the village, Wan attempted to resolve the conflict peacefully, but Vaatu's arrival corrupted the spirits and the conflict escalated, prompting Wan and Raava to intervene. To be powerful enough to control the four elements simultaneously, Wan and Raava merged their energies, but Wan could not keep up with the subsequent strain on his body and he passed out. When he regained consciousness, he found the village destroyed and was informed by Vaatu that all the humans had been annihilated. As Vaatu left, promising that the end of the world was nearing, Wan found a severely weakened Raava behind a rock. He gently picked her up, placed her in his teapot for easy transportation, and set out toward the Southern spirit portal.
As they drew near the portal on the day of the Harmonic Convergence, Raava apologized for her prejudiced view of Wan, as she had been unaware that humans had the capability of displaying nobility and courage. In response, he reassured her that they would be able to defeat Vaatu by working together. Wan and Raava traveled through the Southern portal into the Spirit World, while Vaatu emerged from the Northern portal. The dark spirit challenged Raava, but Wan stepped forward to defend her. Using his firebending, Wan attacked Vaatu, though the spirit easily evaded his blasts and retaliated with his tendrils and energy beams. Realizing he was no match for Vaatu, he called upon Raava to help him by merging their energies once more. With the additional boost, and despite the mortal danger the merge placed him in, Wan delivered a few powerful fire streams at Vaatu. As Harmonic Convergence began, Vaatu knocked Wan down and pinned him to the ground near the Southern portal. Refusing to give up and desperate to defeat Vaatu, Wan placed his hand on the spirit portal and permanently bonded his spirit with Raava's, making Wan the first Avatar. Finding newfound strength in the Avatar State, Wan was able to trap Vaatu in an elemental cage and imprisoned him in the hollow of the Tree of Time in the Spirit World. He subsequently closed the Northern spirit portal in order to prevent any human from ever physically entering the Spirit World and accidentally releasing Vaatu. Because of the ever-present conflict between spirits and mankind, Wan guided the spirits in the Mortal World to the Spirit World via the Southern portal and closed that portal as well. He announced that, as the Avatar, he would be the bridge between the two worlds and would work to maintain balance in the world of man while teaching them to respect the spirits.
Over time, Wan continued his goal to maintain balance in the world, urging different groups of people to coexist peacefully. However, this proved to be a daunting task; one that he worked toward throughout his lifetime without ever seeing an end to. Years later, an armored and elderly Wan lay dying in the aftermath of a battle. Before passing away, Wan apologized to Raava for failing to bring peace to the world, stating that even with Vaatu locked away, darkness still surrounded humanity. However, the light spirit reassured him that they would always be together, and his quest would continue through his subsequent lifetimes. With that, Wan exhaled his last breath and his spirit, merged with Raava's, left his body to be reincarnated; thus beginning the Avatar Cycle.
As the first Avatar, Wan established the title as one who promotes world peace and maintains the balance between the physical and spiritual realms. His fusion with Raava also created the Avatar Spirit and Cycle, which ensured the reincarnation of the Avatar into a person born to the next nation corresponding to the order in which he learned his bending abilities: namely fire, air, water, and earth.
Wan's story, however, along with most of the knowledge from his time, faded through the succeeding centuries, turning into legend. Those who were aware of his story met his decision to close the spirit portals with criticism, deeming his actions as either foolish or misguided. Even his own incarnation, Avatar Korra, despite her initial intent on closing the portals, decided to keep them open to usher in a new era where humans and spirits could live in harmony.
The Red Lotus was one of the few organizations to know his story and spread it among its members, including Unalaq and Zaheer. It became the organization's goal to open the spirit portals with the hope of releasing Vaatu, believing that disorder would ultimately bring balance to the world. Unalaq, however, later betrayed the organization to pursue his personal goal of fusing with Vaatu to become the Dark Avatar.
A statue of Wan remained inside the Hall of Avatar statues in the Southern Air Temple sanctuary. The statue is unique in that it is carved from wood and has deteriorated over time, whereas most of the others are stone. It depicts Wan being embraced by an image of Raava. Jinora, while on a family visit to the Southern Air Temple, found herself drawn to the statue. Concurrent with Korra's success in bringing back the southern lights, Wan's statue, though stored in a shadowed alcove deep in the sanctuary, shone brightly.
Appearances in Korra's life
In 171 AG, Avatar Wan appeared in a vision to an amnesiac Korra, who had to reconnect with her deepest Avatar memories to find Raava. Wan helped her accomplish this by showing her how he became the first Avatar.
Later, while Unalaq was attacking Raava during Harmonic Convergence, Korra saw Wan at the end of a lineup of Avatars in a vision. After the chief dealt a final blow to the light spirit, Wan was the last Avatar to disappear, signifying that the connection to Korra's past lives was severed. However, due to the Tree of Time's connection to the cosmic energy, Korra's memories of Wan were displayed inside the tree's hollow when she entered it to meditate.
Wan was initially reckless and quick to anger, especially when he felt that he or those close to him were being treated unjustly. He typically went against the advice of others in pursuit of doing what he felt was right or necessary, and preferred to use trickery to get what he wanted as opposed to violence. He kept an open mind, unafraid to envision things differently, and when he made mistakes, he was remorseful and willing to admit his wrongdoing. His sense of justice was strong, to the point where he would risk his life in order to make things right. Despite his recklessness and temper, Wan was merciful and exhibited restraint, refraining from finishing off one of the Chou brothers with his firebending. While initially disinterested with the affairs of the outside world, he developed a curiosity and a desire to learn about nature, spirits, and other human cities. While the spirits treated him rudely at first, Wan remained willing to learn their ways and help them. Despite becoming one of the most powerful humans of his time, he humbly used his abilities for the benefit of humans and spirits alike, establishing the position of the Avatar as a dutiful role rather than one to assert control over others.
In his later life, Wan was much less impulsive and, while willing to fight for peace, preferred to settle disputes through diplomacy, believing that people needed to accept each other's differences in order to live in harmony. He spent his whole life trying to maintain balance in the world, proving himself to be a compassionate, optimistic, and courageous individual who put the needs and safety of others above his own. However, by the end of his life, Wan felt guilty for failing to stop conflict, believing there was not enough time.
Originally, Wan could only bend one element at a time when unaided by Raava. Upon merging with her, he became capable of bending all four elements simultaneously and entering the Avatar State to augment his bending. He also gained the ability to open and close the spirit portals.
The bending ability the fire lion turtle gifted upon the settlers living on his back were only temporary and people, including Wan, were limited in their skills to simple fire blasts. However, during his time living with the spirits, Wan developed the Dancing Dragon firebending form and was the first human to use fire as an extension of his body rather than as a mere tool to help forage for food. He became capable of redirecting fire back at his opponents and developed higher-level firebending techniques such as flame deflection, jet propulsion, and the ability to produce bigger plumes of fire. He was skilled enough to use the element to defend spirits and humans from dark spirits that Vaatu corrupted and also relied on firebending the most in his final battle with the dark spirit, displaying it as his favorite and most proficient bending art.
Guided by the desire to aid Raava, Wan traveled to other lion turtles intent on learning to bend the other three elements. After training extensively with Raava over the course of a year, he became proficient in the use of each individual art form. With airbending, Wan was able to produce massive air blasts, maintain an air spout, push back large groups of enemies, and use an air cloud as a means of transportation. His waterbending skills extended to mastery over basic forms, such as streaming the water, to classic techniques involving the use of water whips. With earthbending, Wan primarily used the element to hurl boulders at his opponents and launch himself in the air. By combining the elements, he was able to hold his own against Vaatu, though he could not completely defeat him. Only once he permanently fused his soul with Raava's could he bend all the elements simultaneously and ultimately manage to contain the dark spirit in an elemental sphere.
Aside from bending, Wan was agile and skilled in acrobatics, as displayed when he swung off a clothesline, landed on an adjacent block, and ran across the rooftops. He was strong enough to leap large distances and showed high stamina and physical endurance, surviving a direct hit from Vaatu's energy beams and recovering quickly enough to keep fighting. His versatility and vigor no doubt allowed him to master all of the elements and successfully merge with Raava.
The Legend of Korra
Book Two: Spirits (神靈)
- 207. "Beginnings, Part 1" (vision)
- 208. "Beginnings, Part 2" (vision)
- 213. "Darkness Falls" (vision, no lines)
- 214. "Light in the Dark" (vision)
- In Mandarin Chinese, "Wan" ( ) means "ten thousand", the number of years he lived before Korra, and can be used non-literally to mean uncountable or infinite.
- "Wan" is also phonetically similar to "one" in English, which is interesting to note considering that he was the first Avatar.
- After being allowed by the lion turtle to keep the fire, prior to his banishment, Wan became the first permanent human bender in the world.
- The order in which Wan received the elements became the order of the Avatar Cycle: fire, air, water, and earth.
- Wan gained control over three elements within a year's time, similar to Aang.
- During his final battle against Vaatu, different pieces of Wan's outfit included a main color from each of the eventual four nations: his robes were shades of orange and yellow, which are associated with the Air Nomads; his sash was dark blue with light blue embroidery, which are associated with the Water Tribes; his armbands were light green, which is associated with the Earth Kingdom; and his scarf was bright red, which is associated with the Fire Nation.
- Wan is the third person to die on screen in The Legend of Korra. The others are, in chronological order, Amon, Tarrlok, Unalaq, Hou-Ting, P'Li, Ming-Hua, Ghazan, and Hiroshi.
- Wan's physical design was based on The Legend of Korra co-creator Bryan Konietzko.
- The site of Wan's death is the same field of large earth coins that Prince Zuko passes through millennia later before arriving at the plains village.
c. 9,829 BG
Unknown; eventually Salai or Gun