The search for Zuko’s mother, Ursa, continues as Team Avatar arrives in her home village of Hira’a. While many of the residents know of Ursa, it seems that she is more of a local legend than anything else. Luckily, a local man named Noren invites them to his home and offers what limited knowledge he has. The story continues to flash back to Ursa’s unhappy marriage to Fire Lord Ozai. Slowly, the reason for her disappearance is uncovered.
Meanwhile, an emotional bomb has been dropped on Zuko. It seems that his unstable sister, Azula, has been concealing a note written by Ursa during her time in the palace. And the subject of this note–if true–could change everything for the newly minted Fire Lord.
Family is a major theme in this installment of the Avatar graphic novels. When the team arrives at Noren’s house, they meet his wife Noriko and their young daughter Kiyi. Aang, Katara, and Zuko find comfort in witnessing the love the family shares, but Azula bristles at the relationship. Later, the group follows a lead into Forgetful Valley, a strange forest where Ursa’s boyfriend Ikem is rumored to have vanished. Here they meet elderly waterbenders Misu and Rafa. Misu has been traveling with her brother Rafa for years in hopes of finding a cure for a strange ailment that causes him to wear a mask. Azula cannot seem to grasp the concept of families supporting one another. Zuko, on the other hand, is inspired to reach out to his own sister, even if his affection makes her more hostile.
According to the back cover, Gene Luen Yang has written the story in “close collaboration” with the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender. So we can be sure the script we are reading is what was intended as canon. It is difficult to say if anyone unfamiliar with the Avatar series would be emotionally invested in the outcome of the story, especially since this issue is halfway through the arc. That said, there is a lot of interesting character development going on. Azula’s constant visions of her mother give the readers a sense of who she might be underneath her layers of mental illness. It’s also nice to see Zuko grasp for a sense of family anywhere he can find it. Aang, on the other hand, feels slightly out of character. When Zuko shares the contents of his mother’s letter with the Avatar, it seems that Aang could be a tad more supportive of the Firelord’s feelings about this possible revelation. Regardless, a reader might also consider whether Aang is beginning to change under the pressure of having to be both Zuko’s friend and the Avatar.
Visually, Forgetful Valley is an interesting landscape. Most of the spirit animals appear to have faces hidden in the markings on their bodies. Sensitive to spirit energy, Aang’s own face contorts to match the patterns on whichever animal is nearest to him. It’s a fun sight gag, repeated from the last volume.
The use of clay colors to indicate a flashback to Ursa’s story remains a nice touch, especially in contrast to another flashback dealing with the waterbenders, Misu and Rafa. Their backstory is colored in light blues. Reds for fire, blues for water. Cool.
Even though it marks a halfway point for the mystery of Ursa, fans of Avatar will definitely want to read this.