Since the end of the television series, the greatest mystery in world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, has been the fate of Zuko’s mother, Princess Ursa. Happily, this installment in the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series aims to solve it.
The story actually begins with a flashback, taking us to the rural town of Hira’a in the Fire Nation. Teenage Ursa is elated that she has just been cast as the lead in a local play. She shares this good news with her childhood friend and fellow actor, Ikem. The two also share a kiss, revealing that they are indeed a couple, and deeply in love. After joking around in theatrical masks—one of which should look very familiar to fans of the animated series—Ikem proposes to Ursa, sending her rushing home to share the good news with her family. But, as we know, this was not meant to be. When she arrives, Fire Lord Azulon is already there with his son Ozai and a slightly different kind of “proposal.”
Flash to the present.
Shortly after the end of Avatar: The Promise, the Earth King agreed to work with Zuko and Aang in order to establish a new type of city where citizens from all nations can live together. Zuko, however, is finding it difficult to focus. The Earth sages discuss that one of the fundamentals of a strong nation is family. Zuko’s family is broken. Against his best judgement, Zuko releases his psychotic younger sister Azula from an institution, believing that she might be the key to locating Ursa. He requests the company of Aang, Katara, and Sokka for support as well as safety when dealing with Azula. Once again, team Avatar is off on an adventure, minus Toph, plus Azula. We can’t have it all.
Gene Luen Yang once again dives into the world of Avatar, and I almost pity him for the enormity of the story he has to pick up. Ursa’s banishment has been a hot topic since the second season of the animated series! Will his script satisfy fans? Maybe. If anything, this installment shows that he is at least off to a good start. It is interesting to see his interpretation of Zuko’s relationship with his sister Azula played off against the very close Sokka and Katara.
The story switches between flashbacks to Ursa’s young life (as well as her marriage to Ozai) and the current generation, with Zuko trying to find her, and in essence find peace.
Flashback panels take on a brown and red hue, perhaps a Fire Nation version of black and white? The change in color does a good job of indicating that this part of the story takes place in the past. Artist team Gurihiru continues to do right by the visuals, so there is not much else to say about the art. It’s good. It’s Avatar. That’s what fans will want. Though, maybe it’s just me, but Aang appears to be growing a bit taller. If this is intentional to show the audience that he is maturing, then I applaud the artists. It’s a nice touch. There are also a few cute panels that fit in with a plot point in which Aang is making a strange face due to Spirit World activity. It was as funny to read as it was to look at.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search, part 1
by Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru
Dark Horse, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12