Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search Part 1 Review

This review was written by Wyatt (Mitch Gunner). Wyatt has also reviewed Book 1 of The Legend of Korra as well as all three Books in the Promise Trilogy.

The Search is a follow-up comic series to The Promise, a trilogy that transcends where Avatar: The Last Airbender concluded. The Search continues the journey of Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko as they are faced with new post-war challenges such as unveiling the truth behind the disappearance of Zuko’s mother. While The Search is a sure improvement over The Promise, it is still marred by issues of its own.

Story:

The story of The Search is its strongest component. The Promise compiles mostly filler material that, until the conclusion draws near, seems directionless. In contrast, The Search is centralized on a journey with a clear purpose and remains focused on a single group of characters. I feel more invested in the story because of its “purpose.” Also, the concept of traveling on a quest with a genuine goal is a classic element of the original series, so it’s nice to see The Search continue the tradition.

Another popular facet of Avatar that makes a noteworthy return is the flashback sequences. The flashbacks provide an interesting sub-plot for the narrative, but they are also led in and out of the primary story through sloppy transitions. I found myself reading about the “Gaang” encountering a giant spirit wolf, only to be abruptly thrust into a segment of flashbacks. These transitions interrupt the flow of the reading, which detracts from the idea that we’re supposed to feel like we’re watching an episode of the show, as the show fluently blended the past and the present. Flashbacks shouldn’t feel separate from the plot, but rather work as a device to explain the context of the story in a complimentary manner. The flashbacks also disappear at a random moment and do not return, causing me to question their importance to the first part of this trilogy. However, they still manage to tell a decent story and I am looking forward to their reoccurrence in The Search Parts 2 and 3.

The story within the flashbacks is essentially the base of the overall plot. It reminds the reader of whose story we are actually discovering: Ursa’s. In terms of substance, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s pretty much the separated lover’s idea in which the woman (Ursa) must leave the man she loves (Ikam) to be with someone of higher power (Ozai). There is even a proposal of marriage by the new man for self-interest. Moments of this romantic tale are extremely cliché and don’t immerse the reader as well as they should, though they’re not entirely bad, just stock. In fact, they still provide an entertaining B-plot nonetheless.

One of The Search’s most crippling problems is actually one of The Promise’s greatest integrations. The majority of The Search’s story feels like its recycled material from the show. It’s most unique and compelling concept is the mystery behind Zuko’s mother, but apart from it, there aren’t many aspects that haven’t already been covered in the original series. Even the Spirit Wolf scenes seem like a retread of when Aang struggled to communicate with spirits in the past (“The Winter Solstace Part 1″ and “The Seige of the North”). One of The Promise’s best attributes spawned from it’s willingness to take the characters and ideas that fans have familiarized themselves with in a new direction. The Search doesn’t introduce any new characters or ideas into the Avatar universe and, as a result, seems absorbed in and restricted to only its prime objective. But, like The Promise, some of The Search’s problematic qualities tend to also have an opposing positive side.

To elaborate, while The Search primarily focuses on pre-developed characters, this limitation acts as a safety net. It’s more difficult to go wrong with well established characters than it is with freshly created characters that could elicit negative opinions from the readers. Another way that the similarities are beneficial to the story is that it has closer bonds the to TV series. I certainly believed I was watching an episode of the show as I followed the characters I remember so thoroughly.

The Search’s structure is a set-up to Parts 2 and 3, so perhaps the lack of new substance is justified in that it has yet to be revealed. I can’t completely criticize the story format until the trilogy can be read in its entirety; however, it’s off to a solid start. As I mentioned previously, this narrative is a much more focused one than The Promise, and it ultimately succeeds through its simplicity. It gives just enough detail for the rest of the series to expand upon.

The conclusion to the story leaves the reader with a cliff-hanger that begs for controversy among the fandom. Is Ozai Zuko’s true father, or is there another man who Ursa may have been with (ahem… Ikam)? I will discuss my own theories on the idea in the “Miscellaneous” section of the review.

Not all of the concepts work well, nor does all of The Search’s content plead originality, but there are still a lot of aspects that contribute to building a pretty good story. As mixed as my opinions are, I can surely say that it carries a lot of potential into the next two Parts of The Search.

Characters:

The characters are a little better handled than in The Promise. They are more like themselves and don’t make any drastic, seemingly out of character decisions.

There is a noticeable lack of Toph throughout the story, as she apparently has more important things to do, but this is for the better. The balancing of the characters is crucial to The Search’s story. There’s the brother-sister pairs of Sokka and Katara, & Zuko and Azula, and then there’s the Avatar to keep the peace. Where would Toph fit in? Well, she wouldn’t, which is why it’s a thoughtful choice by the writers to exclude her for this particular story.

The interaction between Sokka and Katara, & Zuko and Azula is a useful plot device in The Search. It becomes especially apparent towards the end when there is a scene shared by Sokka and Zuko while their sisters are asleep. Sokka covers Katara with a blanket to keep her from getting cold, like an older brother should, followed by Zuko covering his own sister with a blanket. It’s odd seeing Zuko perform such a caring act for someone who was a mortal enemy in the finale, but it also recognizes that they are still brother and sister, thus deeming him responsible for her whether she deserves it or not. It’s probably the strongest character moment in Part 1 of The Search because it is one of the only ones to take the characters in a new direction.

The lead characters continue to pull their own weight and work well together.  Aang is still a fun-loving kid with a mature side, Sokka brings his always great sense of humor to the group which translates appropriately, and Zuko’s personal arcs that made him my favorite character in the original series remain prominent. My main criticism pertains to Katara and Azula’s involvement.

Katara, who in the past represented the heart of the story, takes a back seat to the rest of the characters. The emotional weight that used to define her character is never depicted in The Search which is disappointing to me.

Azula, on the other hand, continues to be manipulative and, following her descent into insanity, quite psychotic at times. Her presence adds an unsettling feel at times and, as the reader, you don’t want to trust her. Unfortunately, it can sometimes seem forced as if the writers were trying a little too hard to emphasize the importance of Azula’s condition.

The majority of my skepticism lies within her “good” side. During my reading, I was hoping that she wouldn’t somehow become a part of Team Avatar. That sort of notion would contradict her character’s effective portrayal as Avatar’s best villain. Nothing has happened yet that hints at such a reversal of character and hopefully there won’t be.

The side characters are actually spot on with the show. There are a couple of scenes with the Kyoshi warriors where Suki and Ty Lee are attempting to aid Zuko. Their interaction with Zuko is exactly how I would imagine it to be based on how they were portrayed in the show. There is also a scene or two between Ursa and a young Zuko that are very reminiscent of the episode “Zuko Alone” that are handled very well.

The characters in the flashbacks such as Ursa, Ozai, and a new character, Ikam, are less admirable. As much as it is interesting seeing these characters have lengthier moments together than in the show, I couldn’t build enough of a connection to their situation to care about them. I’m much more invested in how their stories will play out and not their personal struggles.

Because the majority of the characters used are already developed, there is a striking sense of familiarity, along with a feeling of nostalgia. It seems a bit limiting to only deal with what we’ve already seen, but it also succeeds in feeling identical to an episode of the show. There are some issues when it comes to the characters, but nothing too severe preventing them from coming out on top.

Presentation:

The presentation will not render The Promise obsolete, but it manages to look slightly better. It’s not so much the visual quality has improved as much as the way it’s used is more effective. An example of this is how The Search takes advantage of the deep contrasts of night to make bending elements stand out (fire especially).

A specific part in the story when the visuals are at their finest is when the Gaang encounters a humongous spirit wolf. The shear scale of the wolf and the mystical powers it uses simply look great.

The character designs that I once found to be irritating are beginning to grow on me. In a sense, I like that they appear differently because it sets a subtle barrier between the TV show and the comic books. The distinctions in the design support the comic’s goal to take the series into untouched territory and to produce stand alone content.

Once again, the side characters look like duplicates from the original series. Perhaps because I am accustomed to concentrating on the main characters more than the side characters, I overlook any design flaws. Overall, though, the characters look great.

The Search also uses the environment to its advantage. If a scene is supposed to be intense, more extreme contrasts in color are applied, or if there is a larger battle (Spirit Wolf), it takes place in the daytime to implement a sense of scale.

As far as I can tell, The Search’s presentation is composed of detailed visuals that allude excellently to the style of the original show.

Entertainment Value:

Despite any notable flaws, The Search is a fairly entertaining read. I wanted to read it straight through from beginning to end, so that it would resemble an episode of the show and, when I did, it felt satisfying.

There is some decent action and humor, but the storytelling element is likely what you’ll be invested in the most. The concept alone is an incentive for a lot of Avatar fans, as the trilogy promises to reveal what happened to Zuko’s mother. Even if some don’t want to read The Search, I predict that they will at least check out Part 3 to get the answer they have desired for so long.

If you’re looking to pass around 45 minutes of time and you’re an Avatar fan, there is definitely some fun to be had here, just don’t expect something as high caliber as the TV series.

Miscellaneous:

This is a new category that I am testing that will involve any knit-picky complaints or smaller positive notes that don’t really fit into the previous categories. Please comment on it… Do you think it is worth including in the review?

Okay, I don’t EVER say something like this about Avatar, but the whole ordeal with Aang sensing a spirit in his face is simply DUMB to me. Not only is it completely unnecessary (you don’t need to sense a humongous spirit wolf to notice it’s presence), but it’s just so “out there” that it doesn’t fit with anything around it. I can’t tell if the “face thing” is a joke or not.

I’ve heard a lot of uproar about Ozai possibly not being Zuko’s father, so I thought I’d take a side of the argument. I encourage you to comment and lend your own opinions about this debate. Are you “pr-Ozai” (for the Ozai isn’t Zuko’s father theory) or “n-Ozai” (against the Ozai isn’t Zuko’s father theory)?

I, personally, am “Pr-Ozai.” I will admit that I don’t think this sort of element is necessary to the plot (so far), but at least it is an interesting thought to ponder. With the lack of new direction throughout The Search, the idea of Ozai not being Zuko’s father is a refreshing inclusion. I hear a lot of fans say that, by Zuko not being related to Ozai, his actions in turning against his own father to preserve his moral values is weakened. However, it wouldn’t really affect the meaning behind Zuko’s character decision because, even if Ozai isn’t his father, he acted as one. Zuko was still raised by Ozai, thus making Ozai Zuko’s true father in terms of his involvement in Zuko’s life. Those are my two biggest points in the argument.

I found The Search to be more enjoyable if you read right through to the end in one sitting because it feels more like an episode from the TV series. I finished it in around 40 minutes.

The romance that annoyed me in The Promise, with its frequently awkward writing, is almost entirely absent in The Search. I presume the Mike Dimartino may have recognized the weakness and ended it. I also think he might have put an end to the awful humor behind Toph’s metal bending students, as only one unsuccessful joke poked in that direction (“Lilly-livers” just isn’t that funny). The writing also has stepped up likely do to Mikes influence as a writer.

Conclusion:

The Avatar comic series continue to boast more potential than they actually live up to. The Search is a more focused journey that Avatar fans will likely find to be more engaging than The Promise, though it’s less bold. For now, don’t expect The Search to add too much to the universe.

This is a familiar story, the same characters, and a similar presentation to what the loyal fans have hard wired in their brains when they think about the TV show. It could be seen as beneficial in that it is a nice “blast from the past,” or some may view it as a retread of what’s come before it.

I still wouldn’t recommend purchasing Part 1, but I do encourage die hard Avatar fans to look it up on YouTube where you can read the whole book. It’s an improvement to The Promise that needs mending in a lot of areas, but is no doubt a step in the right direction.

I give Part 1 of The Search a 7.5/10.

  • FairyDragon

    Can’t wait for The Search Part 2 and the new spirit: The Mother of all Faces :D

    • saopingle

      Anti-Koh

    • Luna Justice

      Just wait! People from this fandom will start shipping her with Koh!

  • 4 more days

    *Ikem* I personally think it was practically confirmed that Ikem was Zuko’s father:And it would make sense because Zuko doesn’t have the evil aura that Ozai and Azula have, nor was he a firebending prodigy like Azula as a child.

    The Search Part 2 comes out in July 10. I can’t wait since it’s hinted that *SPOILER ALERT* Aang, or Appa and Momo, find(s) the herd of Flying Bison in the book while traveling through the mysterious forest.

    Nice Review!

    • MitchGunner

      Even though Zuko may not be of the same blood as Ozai and Azula, he was still raised by their standards and could have become just as bad had it not been for his mother’s influence, and eventually, his uncle’s. I also feel like Azula’s skills primarily came from her dedication (obsession) to her training and from Ozai’s favoritism of her over Zuko that might have been why she seemed to be better trained. For example, in the episode “Zuko Alone” (one of my favorites), there is a scene in which Azula demonstrates the firebending she’s been learning to Firelord Azulon. Zuko, himself, does not have a demonstration of his own because he hasn’t learned any new firebending techniques. On the other hand, like some people are born with the ability to make incredible pieces of art and some can only draw an incredibly simplistic stick figure, it is possible that Azula, sharing the blood of a talented firebending family and Zuko not… it could explain why there is a noticeable gap in terms of skill between Zuko and Azula (like what you were getting at). I suppose only time will tell.
      I had no idea that The Search is going to cover the sub-plot of Aang discovering the Sky Bison herd. I like that the comics are slowly beginning to fill in the gaps leading to The Legend of Korra.

      • Lauren

        I always wondered how there were Sky Bison in LOK when Appa was supposed to be the last one.

        • III

          It was never really said that Appa was the last one of his kind, but it’s kinda true considerring how the new Sky Bison had some different features than the original ones.

    • HaZardous

      There isn’t anything mentioned about the Bisons in the comic. At least not yet.

      • Miuyre

        Yeah, I just finished the comic, nothing about Sky Bisons. Maybe it’s in Part 3.

        • MitchGunner

          Finished it as well. No Bisons, but there was THE MOTHER OF ALL FACES at least. Will start reviewing it tonight.

    • Shadao

      That has unfortunate implications if you believed that. You’re implying that Zuko is good because he has no Ozai’s blood, but Azula is doomed to be evil and crazy because she has Ozai’s blood. In other words, good and evil are inherited, not defined by the choices you make.

  • TTT

    Okay, After Book 3 of ATLA was finished, did anyone google Avatar the Last Airbender Book 4, only to come up with amateur theories about lightbending and shadowbending, and being all sad that ATLA was truly over? And remember the day you learned there’d be an sequel to ATLA called The Legend of Korra? HAPPIEST DAY OF MY LIFE!

    • coolman229

      And then we saw the show and the happiness died.

    • coolman229

      And then we saw the show and the happiness died.

      • MitchGunner

        ???

      • Kai

        Why? You didn’t like the legend of korra? Just asking

        • coolman229

          The Legend of Korra was one of the greatest disappointments in my life. I will say that after A Voice In The Night the show started falling apart. The gray conflict of the Equalists was simplified as Equalists = evil and Benders = good, despite the fact that the Equalists had genuine complaints. The whole love triangle subplots ate up way to much time. We had more focus on Mako waffling between Korra and Asami than on actually developing the Equalist plot.

          There were about 6 or 7 subplots and story elements introduced early on that disappeared to focus on Makorra. Off the top of my head I can think of the Bending Triads, the homeless children, and Korra’s Airbending training. Korra’s relationship with Tenzin was sidelined for her romance with Mako. Bending has stopped being about certain forms and philosophies and is really just whatever looks cool.

          And in the end, the story was really about Noatak, Tarrlok, and Yakone and not Korra.

          I could go on but that’s long enough. I like a lot about LoK. I love most of the characters, I love Republic City, I love the animation, the mustic. But I have a lot of issues with the story and writing (due in no small part in Bryke’s refusal to have additional writers peer review their work) that keep me from saying the show was good.

          • MitchGunner

            I respect your opinion because, unlike others who were disappointed with the show, you have your own reasons backing it. I, personally thought the first season was excellent and I have my own reasons opposing yours (refer to my review of Book 1).

    • MitchGunner

      As much as an Avatar fan as I was when it was still going on (and now), I didn’t even find out about The Legend of Korra until a day before it’s premiere. I only had to wait a day, which was great! That’s probably why this wait seems so long.

      • Kai

        You were so lucky,it felt like ages to me like it does now but it’s all going to be worth it in the end. The legend of korra will only get better.

  • Wut

    The Search Pt 2 was leaked a couple of days ago.

    • MitchGunner

      Awesome! Thanks for the heads up. I’ll read it later and probably begin my review :)

  • Sibis

    In the Search; I feel Aang, Sokka, and Katara come off as annoying characters that try to roadblock the pace of the story.

  • Tumas

    Great review, and I definitely agree overall.

    Now, with regard to the Ikem vs. Ozai debate, I’m fairly in the ‘n-Ozai’ camp. A major part of Zuko’s brilliant character development depended on his need to balance the two sides of his family (eg ‘The Avatar and the Fire Lord’). If he is really unrelated to Ozai, it would therefore render such development practically unnecessary null. More importantly, it would give a rather misguided message: that the goodness of a person can be measured by who they’re related to. This contradicts what was seen in the original series, where good and bad people could be found irrespective of their backgrounds.

    Other than that, the fact remains that if Zuko really weren’t Ozai’s son, it would be easier for him to be dethroned. It’s just too convenient for Ozai and Azula’s plans, and they talked enough to have come up with some sort of plan.

  • Icg

    I already read the second part on tumblr

  • Swaroopa

    I had read search part 2 a few days ago (it’s available on youtube now) and i was kinda disappointed. Other than the ending, it has nothing new to offer really, and only confirmed things that were implied on the show. But then I guess we weren’t going to really find out anything about ursa’s true whereabouts until part 3. (this is only my opinion :))

  • Taylor

    Nice review.. Concerning the debate on Zuko’s parents, I personally believe Ozai is his biological father. Maybe I’m wrong, but having a different father would have undermined Zuko’s entire conflict and development from a antagonist to a protagonist. His struggle with his identity completely stemmed from his family problems. The only reason I can come up with as to why the comic would throw a curve ball with Ikem and Zuko would be simply because Bryan and Mike are not the ones writing it, and thus the writer, who did not create Zuko and his life story, added it in.
    P.S. I also don’t think Nickelodeon approves of illicit /extramarital affairs in children’s TV based comics.
    P.S.S. The review was good and in depth. :)

    • Shadao

      I agree about the problem of Ikem being Zuko’s father. Why does Zuko need Ikem to be his father? He already has a true father figure, Iroh. Ikem, Zuko barely knows the guy. Heck, it seems more like easy route for Zuko to escape his responsibility as Fire Lord and the fact that he had a cruel father.

  • m

    I think it would make a lot more sense for Ozai to not be Zuko’s father, but that it would ruin some of the storyline established in the show, or at least be very contradictory. In the episode The Avatar and the Firelord, one of the major points revealed in that Zuko is descended from both, and not being related to Sozin, since Ursa and her family aren’t, ruin that, and makes the idea of opposing histories that Zuko has to come to terms with invalid. However, it would also make sense about why Zuko isn’t as skilled or powerful as Azula and Ozai, and why he can never get along with either. Also, I had assumed Ozai had banished Zuko either because he cared just enough to not want to kill his only son, or because it would look bad on him to kill his child, and might make people wonder about the seemingly new trend of the second child taking over after the Firelord (Ozai passing Iroh, Azula passing Zuko). I didn’t see where they alluded to finding the new herd of sky bison or lemurs, but the forest definitely makes sense as the place to find them. It was revealed in one of the games, I think one of the LOK games, that Aang found them. It doesn’t say how or where though. And you can also read the second comic on youtube, for those of you who can’t wait :) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCFpvP9Iseo

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