Avatar The Last Airbender The Search Part 3 Review
Airspeed Prime here with another Avatar comic review. Today saw the release of the final part of The Search, part 3. I got my copy this morning from my local comic store, but I could not write the review earlier as I went to go and see Thor 2 afterwards. I am back now and ready to review. Expect a video review tomorrow and a podcast discussion on Saturday.
Again as I always do, I will emphasise how important this book and other Avatar comics are to the future of Avatar. These deserve the support as they will be out only other way of getting store outside of shows and shows cannot go on indefinitely. If you can, buy a copy of this book.
The review will be split into a non spoiler review and a spoiler review, so do not read the spoiler part if you care about spoilers.
Avatar The Last Airbender The Search Part 3
Written by:¬†Gene Yang
Art and Colours by:¬†Team Gurihiru¬†(Art and inks by Sasaki with Colours by Kawano)
Letters By :¬†Michael Heisler
Published By:¬†Dark Horse Comics
As usual I will begin with the no spoiler section of my review.
When ATLA came to an end we were left with this huge cliffhanger that we had no idea if we would ever see a resolution to. That cliffhanger was “What happened to Zuko’s mom?”, this question has echoed throughout the fandom for the past 5 and a half years, at last we have the answers we were looking for. It is interesting to track this question through those 5 years. We had no clue if we would ever see an Avatar story again when the show ended, so it was a tough blow to take, seeing such a huge aspect of Zuko’s character left wide open. The Legend Of Korra was eventually announced years later, but the focus was on new characters and so the question of Zuko’s mother was more of a hope than an expectation, the creators clearly knew we were desperate for the answers and played with us in K101 when that very question was asked by Jinora only to be interrupted by Ikki. Comics were announced and again we expected Zuko’s mom to be a huge focus, so The Promise came as a surprise, until at last The Promise Part 3 set up The Search for Zuko’s mom to be explored in this series.
The first 2 parts were surprising in how they approached telling this story, I know I did not expect Ursa’s backstory pre Ozai to be so heavily linked in, it was a pleasant surprise as it allowed us to really get to know her as a character meaning that the search was all the more emotional as we grew to know her as Ursa and not just Zuko’s mom. I also did not expect the spirits to be linked in as much as they were. The first part set up the story and put things in place, while Part 2 added to the mystery by answering some things but keeping the big reveals back for Part 3. So all that is left is for Part 3 to deliver with the reveals, deliver on 5 and a half years of waiting and wondering. How did it do?
I was happy with the resolution overall. It is by no means a perfect story, but for something that was so important to the universe it was executed well. With a mystery set up like this the story always runs the risk of being too predictable, it is the balance of telling the readers just enough in the set up so that theories are flowing, but also so that the answers are not completely obvious. Part 3 got it just about right; I correctly called a lot of what happens, but not every detail. I would call that a success.
What surprised me most of all now that the series is done is how small in scale this story is. For a series called “The Search” it was a pretty focused story with a few key locations and a lot of character moments. Once the journey begins we really focus on Hira’a and The Forgetful Valley, again I like the choice in the end. While something more grand would have fit more in what Avatar has presented us already (Aang’s journey), the choice to keep it character focused and small in scaled worked well because you get a lot on what this series is actually about, not the journey itself, but the relationships and emotions of the characters.
20 of the 72 pages are Ursa flashback; this is consistent with the other parts and makes it so that we really got 2 stories for the price of one. The events that led up to Ursa being where she is and the journey to find her and aftermath. The flashbacks this time round are used in a slightly different way because the reveal about Ursa and where she is happens in the opening 10 pages. So we learn what happened to her through dialogue in the present day and then the flashbacks show us how it happened from her point of view and show us the emotion behind the decisions she made that led her to be where she is. These flashbacks are very well done, because they really give you an insight into Ursa and everything that has happened to her up to now, good and bad, so you really see her weigh up her options and consider if she would be a good or bad mother for making a certain decision. Without spoiling it, her decision here is why Ursa could not be located when Zuko searched before. I loved the decision to give Ursa this no right decision dilemma, she would gain and lose something either way, I really understood the choice she made in the end and could not be angry at her for it given everything she has been through. It definitely moves Ursa away from being this almost perfect mother character that I think most of us know her as, how she saved Zuko from Ozai in the last Part showed us this also, but this was in many ways an even tougher decision. Basically I love the decision to make Ursa a flawed mother, but in a way where you completely understand her decisions.
Azula has been a huge highlight of the series so far for me, she is once again a fascinating character especially with how she reacts to the reveals that happen, but what this part did highlight to me was that as much as Azula has been a big focus of this series her story did not have to end here. I think everyone wanted a full mother, son and daughter reunion with Ursa, Zuko and Azula, while we get most of this, Azula’s story still has a ways to go. So we do not really get any form of resolution for Azula, we do get some good development with her that is clearly setting up something for when we next see her again. It was a slight disappointment to see The Search end with Azula still a bit of an enigma. I think it should work out well for her as a happy ending for her right now would have been a bit quick, so her having a lot more to come will work out better for her in the end.
Zuko is interesting in this book, much of what he does is stepping up when Azula acts out, we really see how the balance of power of these siblings has shifted, Azula’s mental state has allowed Zuko to surpass her. It is not just fighting, he mainly stops her from hurting others, despite everything she has done he still wants a better relationship with his sister. He is open to her, all that is left is for her to open up too. What I like most about Zuko in this book is his reaction to finding out what happened to Ursa, he is not angry, but instead he feels like to come back into her life would mess up her life, it really shows his maturity and that at a base level he cares about others. He has been desperate to find his mother and when given the opportunity to see her again he is ok just to see that she is happy. It really showed me that as much as I went into this series with the idea that Zuko and Azula NEEDED to find their mother, really it was only Azula who needs Ursa, Zuko naturally wants to see his mother, but the scars do not run as deep between Zuko and Ursa as with Azula and Ursa. Zuko’s real father is revealed and I am sure everyone will be relieved with the answer.
Aang’s main role in this book is doing his role as the bridge between the two worlds, he is the only one that The Mother of Faces will really listen to. I found it fascinating to see this book come out so soon after “Beginnings” as her reaction to humans is very similar to most of the spirits in Korra. They all look down on the humans and only have any sort of respect for the Avatar. She gets a bit of character development herself when she is forced to admit to a mistake of her own, showing that spirits are not perfect beings, she has some responsibility for how Rafa came to be in the situation he is in. The main issue here is that Aang needs two favours from her: to give Rafa a new face and help Zuko to find Ursa, but she is only willing to do one and only because the Avatar asked. As seen in the preview, Aang stands up to her and asks how she can be so heartless while she calls humans selfish. Aang is not being selfish, he wants to help others because he cares, while The Mother Of Faces just does not respect humans. It is an interesting dynamic especially post “Beginnings”. A fan favourite spirit also gets a great reference here.
Katara and Sokka are in the book, but are not the focus in anyway. It makes sense that they are there, but there is not much to really say about them. There are some cute Kataang moments, which are always appreciated.
I won’t touch much on the ending here as it is difficult to talk at all about it without spoiling stuff. Everything comes together pretty well near the end, the flashback story and the present day story, both work well alongside each other. As we find out how Ursa came to be where she is, we see the characters come closer to her, until all is revealed. The Mother Of Faces is actually a pretty main character in this book and links everything together in the past and present day.
The writing is good, the real challenge as I mentioned above was writing those Ursa scenes in such a way where you really understood Ursa’s situation, Gene Yang succeeded. This book definitely does not have the great continuity moments from Part 2, but is extremely solid throughout. The back and fourths between Aang and The Mother Of Faces are also done well and really show that the two are different beings, one is clearly a spirit and Aang obviously a human, they speak in different ways and have different priorities. It really made me understand how important Aang is as the Avatar; nothing would have happened if Aang was not there as he really came through with his job as spirit bridge. I would maybe question leaving Azula’s story so wide open without any real hint of where she is going, it is clear the comics will continue beyond The Rift, so I have faith, it would have made this series better to get even a hint of something. I think the placement of the flashbacks deserves a bit of praise also, as it was not just a case of X many pages of flashback inserted randomly between scenes in the present, the number of pages and timing is well done to flow well with the story and helps to build towards the climax.
The art as ever is stunning. Nothing bad to say, Team Gurihiru do such good work that when I read other comics it really does mean a step down from how great they are. Clean, clear and full of expression is my to the point description of their art, they do not get bogged down with a lot of heavy inking, so I really appreciate that they keep things clear and colourful to fit in with the show which also keeps things clear. I hope we have Gurihiru on Avatar comics for a long time.
Overall this was a fitting conclusion to a 5 and a half year journey to get these answers and also to a great 3 part series. It is on the whole a better series than The Promise, which while good did not have the same impact that this story does and that is simply because of the subject matter. Where is Ursa > pretty much anything, but also you can see that the writing has improved a lot and that really stands out in some of the really important scenes in this book. Full of reveals, but also a lot of nice character development. Only negatives for me are Azula’s story being left too open and that the end scene could have maybe used an extra page just to make it that much more satisfying. Definitely worth picking up.
Warning Spoilers Ahead
Reveal part so there is a lot to talk about.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room, what happened to Ursa? Where is she now?
Basically continuing on from her meeting with Noren in Part 2, he reveals that he is Ikem to her and that he has never been the same since she left. He explains that the mother of faces gave him a new face and life and that the same could happen to Ursa if she wants, she is very conflicted in that there is much of her life in the Royal family that she wants to forget, but the thing she does not want to forget is her children. Her conflict here is really well written in that she considers that with a new face she could possibly get to see her kids again, but Ikem points out that it would be worse that way than it is now in that she would be able to see them, but never be with them again. She explains how it is torture to her not knowing if they are happy or sad and weighs up if it is better to start again and leave that pain behind or keep things as they are and always remember her kids, but always have the pain of not being able to be with them. It is tragic and deep, she doesn’t want to forget her kids, but at that time she knows she will never be able to see them again, she even seconds before making the decision to get a new face calls herself horrible for what she is doing to Zuko and Azula. It is hard to believe that Ursa would make the decision to forget about her kids and start a new life, it is easy to jump towards hating Ursa because of this, but the way it is written and presented makes Ursa sympathetic.
Eventually Zuko reveals to Ursa who is now Noriko that he is her son, the interesting thing is that Zuko now that he has seen what a lovely life she, Noren and Kiyi have, does not want her to get her original face and memories back as it could break up that family. Noriko says yes and returns to being Ursa as we know her, she apologises to Zuko for the choice to forget about him, but he understands and in the end his life has turned out fine. It is a short reunion between the two as it then transitions into the conversation that started The Search Part 1; it was in fact Ursa telling her story to Zuko. It is a clever way to book mark the series, but the shortness of this epilogue is a bit of a negative. Now that I have read part 3 I really realise that what I wanted was less the details of what happened to Ursa, though they are fascinating, but rather to see the reunion and that bond returning. I assume in later comics we will see the Mother-Son relationship flourish and of course there is still the Mother-Daughter bond to be healed.
Speaking of Azula. As I mentioned above she does not get a resolution in this comic, she steals Rafa and Misu’s request of The Mother Of Faces to ask about Ursa and then goes out to find Noriko. Noriko at this point does not remember her life as Ursa and so does not know what is happening, but what Azula talks about does again highlight that the root of Azula’s issues are in her broken relationship with her mother and finding out that she has a new life and more importantly a new daughter puts her over the edge. I really thought there was no way to get out of this situation without someone getting burned, but again some great writing came through as Noriko despite not knowing Azula understands that it is all true and says “I am sorry I didn’t love you enough”, Azula wells up with tears upon hearing this, but again tries to kill Noriko and remove the nagging from her head. We get a bit of development between the siblings as Zuko again reiterates before Azula runs off that despite their messed up relationship she is still his sister. It just shows that right now it is Azula that needs to develop in their relationship not Zuko. Which by the end of the comic I think is a huge positive, I feel that more or less all of Zuko’s issues have been dealt with and now Azula is the one who needs time. Azula exits the story running off into the forgetful valley.
Aang’s main story in the comic is him reasoning with the Mother Of Faces to help Misu and Rafa as well as Zuko. She is only willing to grant one favour to humans. I really enjoyed how this came to a conclusion, Rafa’s mask fell off in the action revealing him not to have a disfigured face, but no face at all. Aang instantly recognises this as Koh’s work and says as much aloud, she hears this and reveals that Koh is her estranged son. She realises that because her own son is responsible for Rafa’s condition that it would only be correct to give him his face back, as I mentioned in the on-spoiler part of the review seeing a spirit have these issues that you would normally associate with humans was interesting to see. She acts high and mighty and looks down on humans, yet she has more in common than she realises. She has issues with her son, just like Azula and Zuko have issues.
Everyone can calm down too; Zuko is in fact Ozai’s son. Ursa wrote that letter with a lie with the aim to find out if Ozai was spying on her. The thing is that he knew Zuko was his all along, so he told her that he had Ikem killed just because she made up something in a letter. We see in flashback the confrontation between the two over this, Ursa reveals that she wanted to hurt Ozai as well as find out if he was spying, this causes Ozai to make the decision to treat Zuko like he was not his own son. We have the truth at last, Ozai treats Zuko so terribly all because he was annoyed at Ursa for making up a lie that he knew was a lie anyway. This adds more to Ursa’s decision to forget her past life; Ozai really was a terrible person all along.
This also means that Zuko and Azula have a step-sister in Kiyi. It will be interesting to see what the family situation is now, I assume the two families minus Ozai will merge, Zuko does get on well with Kiyi and I think Ikem and Zuko have enough similarities to where they would get on. I am definitely looking forward to seeing this new look royal family again.
Podcast review will be up at the weekend, so look out for that.
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