Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search Library Edition: Review

The Search Cover.jpg

Avatar: The Last Airbender stands as an example of how good childrens cartoons can be. On the surface it looks a lot like a standard westernization of Japanese anime which too often can end up diluted and compromised in the translation, but it quickly established itself as a masterpiece of writing, voice acting and beautiful artwork. If you havent seen it yet (and, it most definitely refers to the cartoon and not the execrable movie) then this book is not for you yet; go away and watch the series now, this book will be waiting for you on your return.

This book is for those of you who loved the series and realize that there were too many plot threads that were never tied off, and ones that wont be tied off with any real satisfaction in the Legend of Kora series. Specifically, this book takes a look at the mystery surrounding Zukos mother who was last seen banished into the night presumably in an effort to save her sons life. Its a major part of Zukos backstory that has had so many fan theories built up around it that the challenge of satisfying fans must have been a daunting undertaking.

The bit where Thor explains to his friends that he needs Loki's help.

The bit where Thor explains to his friends that he needs Loki's help.

Dark Horse Comics have a history of treating their licences with respect and this tends to involve getting original talent on board. This doesn't just lend authenticity to the works, but often brings the books into the continuity of the series. In this case, original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have taken the opportunity to tie off a few loose ends and they've done it in a way that feels like it belongs as part of the series cannon. 

The Search begins not long after the TV series with Fire Lord Zuko ruling over his people in peace and his Father and Sister locked up for their past actions. It would have been simple for the show to forget that Zukos mother left two children behind that night but instead his sister, Azula, is brought into events early on as she agrees to help find out what really happened to their mother. Team Avatar joins their friend to not only help solve the mystery, but also to be there when his sister inevitably betrays him. 

From a storytelling perspective having that wild card in the mix makes perfect sense in progressing the story at a decent pace, but its an element thats woven into the story that really is about the relationship between brother and sister more than Zukos hunt for his absent parent. Its one of those themes thats used almost too overtly when contrasts are drawn between Zuko and Azula, and original Team Avatar siblings Sokka and Katara. But while its certainly not done subtly it never feels forced or contrived and frequently its done with a simple image that only feels blatant on subsequent readings. Another theme featuring Masks is taken from the series and woven so subtly throughout the pages that it took a second reading to truly appreciate that a major plot point had been set up so early on. The storytelling is simply so perfectly organic that even major revelations are set up right from the beginning in a way that rewards repeat readings greatly. 

Xander proves that even when a military badass he's still a good source of the funny.

Xander proves that even when a military badass he's still a good source of the funny.

And if there is a word that keeps coming up when trying to describe the writing here it has to be organic. It managed to take ideas, moments and even lines from the series and incorporate them in a way which will please fans but never feels forced or artificial. There are even elements which are are shown as seeds here but which will bear fruit in the Legend of Kora series but manage not to feel forced in the way that prequels so often seem to feel. It feels like an authentic and, yes, organic story that is a part of a single flowing continuity and thats an achievement worth commending. The same goes for the characters who, for the most part, speak so authentically that its difficult to read their words in anything other than the original actors voice. There are a couple of disappointments though: Toph is nowhere to be seen (ahem) but her character is given a nice mention that will make Kora fans smile, and Sokka fulfills his role of comic relief with a little too much enthusiasm. It detracts a little from his development during the series but not to the detriment of the story. Sokka just doesn't get the chance to be anything other than funny until he does and then all is forgiven!

Its not just the writing that adds to this authenticity but the artwork too. It has to be difficult trying to seem consistent with an aesthetic that, by necessity, had to be simple enough to be drawn at twenty-frames a second with a weekly series deadlines to meet. Avatar: The Last Airbender was a beautiful cartoon, but traditional comics dont have the same restrictions. That said, it stands as a compliment that this book both never looks worse than the series, but also never strays too far from the look that it established. Frequent enhancements such as the use of light and shadow or the arrangement of frames on the page always improve the experience but never to the point of overpowering it with fancy effects. There are a number of times too where a powerful moment is expressed without a single word and the art is more than up to the task.

The Search was originally released in March 2013 and was made up of three graphic novels. This Library Edition collects all three parts in a hardbound cover and was released by Dark Horse Comics on February 5th 2014. As well as the complete story it adds some beautiful concept art that takes the reader through some of the stylistic evolution that didn't make it onto the page. There are also numerous editorial notes on the pages themselves that are never less than entertaining and oven provide an insight into the creative thinking behind the words and themes. It all adds up to an almost perfect collectible item that holds up to multiple reads; a must for any Avatar fan and as such it scores a full five bending elements because I am the Avatar, a bridge between worlds.