* This review contains spoilers if you haven't watched the complete Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series.
By Gene Luen Yang (Script), Gurihiru (Art)
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
To Sum It Up: Haunted by the mystery of what happened to his mother, Zuko sets out on a mission to find her at last. Aang, Katara, and Sokka are by their friend’s side as he delves into his mother’s past, but they’re also there to keep a watchful eye on the other member of their traveling party—Azula. Her troubled mind causes her to see her mother everywhere, and while Zuko hopes that this quest will somehow help him connect with his family, Azula has other ideas.
Review: If, like me, you yelled “NOOOOOO!!!!” during the series finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender when Zuko questioned his father, Ozai, about the whereabouts of his mother only to have the scene cut away, then The Search is for you. Finally, finally, finally, here is the desperately needed closure to one of AtLA’s biggest unresolved story lines.
As a Zuko fan of infinite degree, I loved the Zuko-centered plot of The Search. I was also hugely invested in his quest because I wanted to know what had happened to his mother, Ursa, following the events in the TV series. The show left her fate dangling on one gigantic question mark, and I was really surprised that it was never revisited during the series’ run. The Search, however, does a fantastic job of filling in those gaps through an impressive, compelling employment of flashbacks. We learn about Ursa’s life before her marriage to Ozai, which she really didn’t have much choice but to accept or risk the wrath of both Ozai and his father, Fire Lord Azulon. The heartbreak commences early in The Search, as Ursa must leave her loved ones behind.
As The Search focuses not only on Zuko but on his whole family, Azula also figures prominently in the graphic novel. Her descent into madness is so sad to behold, and Zuko very much wants to set things to right for her as well as try to mend their fractured relationship. Azula, however, is so wrapped up in the maelstrom of thoughts that is her mind right now that she imagines seeing Ursa everywhere and feels she’s constantly being judged by her mother. I’m not the biggest Azula fan, but I do feel really, really sorry for her here, especially since Zuko makes such an effort to help his sister.
Although there’s an overall somber tone to The Search, Sokka lightens the mood with every page that he’s on. Alas, Toph is not part of this quest; she’s presently occupied running her metalbending school. But we’ve still got Aang and Katara (and Appa and Momo!), and seeing the gaang assembled and off on another journey together brought all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings to my heart, which helped balance out all of the times it shattered over some utterly gut-wrenching scenes. Yeah—I almost cried a few times.
Once again, script writer Gene Luen Yang and artists Gurihiru have collaborated to produce an amazing piece of work. While I still would have loved to have seen this story developed into an episode of the show, fans won’t be let down in any way by all that The Search delivers. It constantly surprised me with plot twist after plot twist right until the very end. This is absolutely essential reading if you love AtLA and have been wondering about Zuko and Azula’s mother ever since the TV series ended.
All in All: The Search is AtLA storytelling at its finest—brilliant writing, gorgeous artwork, and plenty of Zuko scenes. Every page is a mini-masterpiece.