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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.