Comicbook: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search
A comic book Interquel between Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and a sequel to the previous comic The Promise. It is written by Gene Yang and published by Dark Horse Books.After the events of The Promise, the Gaang is attending a lecture to figure out how best to create a new peaceful world, when Zuko is struck by the philosophy that how a ruler treats his family is indicative of how he will treat his nation. Disturbed by what seems to be a dire prophecy for his own rule of the Fire Nation, he decides he must find his long-missing mother Ursa, and is desperate enough to enlist the help of Azula. Being Azula, she manages to force him to agree to take her along on the search, unbound. And that's not the only twist in store on the journey, as a secret about Ursa's past also comes to light...A sequel, The Rift, stars Toph and deals with the early construction of Republic City.
You remember the "My father says she was born lucky. I was lucky to be born." quote from the Season 1 finale? Ozai says it to Zuko right after telling him that if Ursa and the Fire Sages hadn't pleaded for his life, he'd have thrown him out right after he was born because he believed that Zuko was a nonbender.
And if you think Ozai loves Azula? He doesn't. Ozai says he can and will kill her along with Ursa and Zuko if Ursa takes the children with her when she's banished.
Taken to the extreme in a flashback at the end of Part 3. Ozai was very aware that the letter Ursa wrote to Ikem was a lie. When Ursa stated that she wished that Zuko wasn't his son, he accepted by stating he'd never treat him as such again. So all the abuse that Ozai laid at Zuko's feet from then on was simply doing everything he could to spite Ursa.
Also, it's strongly implied that Azulon is being emotionally (and perhaps physically) abusive with Ozai at the same time.
Arranged Marriage: Ursa is basically forced into marrying Ozai because Fire Lord Azulon wants to conduct a eugenic experiment in breeding a better, more powerful royal heir. Ursa's refusal would result in the deaths of her and her parents.
Bad Boss: How do you think Vachir ended up with the Rough Rhinos? Ozai wants to actually be sure that Ikem is dead, and doesn't even want there to be the slightest possibility that Ikem did not perish in Forgetful Valley. Ozai goes as far as to disgrace Vachir from the Yu Yan Archers.
Beard of Sorrow: Ikem grows one after Ursa is forced to accept Ozai's proposal.
Beast with a Human Face: Koh's mother, the Mother of Faces, has an aura that makes forest creatures have markings that resemble human faces.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Ursa falsely wrote that Ikem was Zuko's father because her greatest wish was for Zuko to be nothing like Ozai. When Ozai calls her out for it, she says as much to his face. In retaliation, he vows that he will treat Zuko as a bastard child from that point on; controlling him, making him feel worthless, burning his face, banishing him for three years and generally being an evil, contemptible douchebag... Which ultimately leads to Zuko's Heel-Face Turn. So Ursa got her wish in a way that she will regret for the rest of her life.
Bee Bee Gun: The wolf noted below can cough up a swarm of spirit moth-wasps.
Bittersweet Ending: Team Avatar was able to get Rafa healed and the mystery behind Ursa was solved with her being found in a new family with Ikem with no memories, that were later restored. However, Azula is still crazy and probably more emotionally conflicted than she has ever been in her life. Ursa and Zuko both have to accept that Ursa had willingly given up all memories of her children for 5 years due to being unable to cope with the pain the memories of her time with the Fire Nation royalty gave her and now, having restored her memories, must live with her guilt. Zuko's happy to have his mother back but has potentially lost his sister again and rebuilding a relationship with his mother may be a challenge now that she has a new husband and daughter in her life to complicate matters as well. And that's not even going into what said husband and daughter must have to go through....
Brick Joke: The name of the play that Ursa and Ikem rehearse at the start is "Love Amongst The Dragons". Zuko makes a wry comment back in The Ember Island Players that Ursa would take them every year to watch how the troupe butchered it.
Brother-Sister Team: One of the themes of the story. Sokka/Katara are an example as well as the siblings the gang meets in the forest. Zuko and Azula are starting to develop toward this, at least between her bouts of paranoia.
Cain and Abel: One of Zuko's goals is to put an end to this and fix his relationship with Azula. He puts up with quite a bit of bad behavior from her in pursuit of this. In Part 2, Azula actually starts trying to put effort into mending fences as well, but of course it doesn't stick by the end.
In the end, this trope is played with in a heartwarming manner: Zuko accepts that he and Azula may always have a Cain and Abel relationship...and yet even so, he will always care for her, since she's his sister.
Call Forward: It's mentioned that the Yu Dao police force wants to learn Metalbending from Toph.
Chekhov's Gunman: Hey, remember that nice family from part 2, Noren, Noriko and Kiyi? Noriko is actually Ursa with a new face and no memory of her Royal Life, and Noren is Ikem with a new face. Kiyi? Meet Zuko's half-sister he never knew about.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Azula—though she wasn't exactly subtle. They were only putting up with her in the first place because Zuko wanted to try and make her sane.
Comforting Comforter: As he and Zuko talk about family, Sokka drapes a blanket over his sleeping sister. Zuko decides to do the same with his own sister.
Conspiracy Theorist: Azula has settled into a state of mind where literally everything bad that happens or has happened to her is some grand conspiracy by Ursa to undermine her.
Continuity Nod: The Yu Yan archer who failed to kill Ikem is Vachir, the archer from the Rough Rhinos. His failure is the reason why he's with them.
Koh the Face Stealer not only gets mentioned, but his existence actually becomes a pretty crucial plot point in Part 3. Rafa's face disfigurement was actually Koh stealing his face, and Koh is the Mother of Faces' son. Because of both, it causes the Mother of Faces to grant two wishes this season rather than one and help Rafa out.
Master Kunyo first appeared in The Promise. This series shows how he got to the colonies.
Cowardly Lion: Ikem is said to be a coward, but when Ursa is about to be taken away, he grabs a prop sword and stands up to some Fire Nation soldiers armed with real weapons and Firebending.
Cruel Mercy: Ozai lets a Yu Yan archer who failed him live, but takes away his status as a Yu Yan.
Cursed with Awesome: Sort of. It's revealed that anybody who gets their face stolen by Koh doesn't need to eat anymore, and presumably by that logic doesn't need to breathe either, though the latter isn't actually stated. The first trait would be useful in plenty of situations, and the second one would be obscenely useful for any dedicated waterbender. One could argue the disadvantages outweigh this, but it's still fairly useful.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: Ozai is smart enough to figure out that if Ursa is capable and willing to murder Azulon to protect her children, she's going to target him, as well, sooner or later — hence his decision to banish her as part of the deal. He also doesn't believe No One Could Survive That any more than his daughter does.
Darwinist Desire: The reason why Fire Lord Azulon had Ozai married to Ursa was because the Fire Sages thought the descendants of Avatar Roku and and the Fire Nation royalty would produce powerful offspring.
Possibly physically abusive as well. It's easy to miss, but when he confronts Ursa over the letter he grabs her wrist with one hand... and the other is curled into a fist.
Dragon Ascendant: In some extent Azula finally becomes this in this story, due that her father is imprisoned and depowered and she becomes one of the main antagonists of the story.
Driving Question: The entire comic series was made to answer the BIGGEST driving question of the series: What happened to Zuko's mother after her banishment? It also adds another potential driving question. Will Azula ever completely regain her sanity and if so, will she complete a true Heel-Face Turn?
Dungeon Bypass: Azula attempts to save traveling time by burning down a forest.
Easily Forgiven: Aang gives an amicable greeting to Azula on the morning of their quest despite her electrocuting him about a year ago and her current rudeness to him and his friends. Averted with everyone else. Though given that it's Aang, this is to be expected.
Eldritch Abomination: The Mother of Faces may be a somewhat benign example (when she feels like it), but she definitely looks the part. She is the source of all human faces, being the one that gave humans individual identity to begin with.
Sokka: How do you know? Are you detecting something with your special Avatar powers?
Aang: No. It says so on the sign.
Sokka: [just now noticing the sign] Oh.
Fantastic Slurs: Azula's use of "snow peasant" is definitely a racist/classist slur against waterbenders, but exactly how offensive and widespread that term is hasn't been revealed.
Foil: Sokka and Katara's sibling relationship is this to Zuko and Azula's. Sokka even lampshades this.
Foreshadowing: Zuko and Kiyi getting along so well hints to the true identity of the mother. It makes more sense given the brother-sister relationship theme underpinning much of the story; it seems that this bond can apply no matter how distant the connection. It also would mean that there's a way for Zuko to fulfill that relationship by having a positive one with Kiyi if not through Azula.
Freudian Excuse: Koh the Face Stealer, of all people, gets one: he had a falling-out with his mother and steals faces to counter what she does, but it's said that his real investment in taking faces is to have them around because he actually misses his mother.
Funny Background Event: Sokka and Suki hugging as Zuko tells the Gaang why Azula will be accompanying them on their search for Ursa.
Aang and Katara kissing in the audience as the main leads of Love Amongst the Dragons kiss at the finale.
Azula and Katara getting into a frankly silly argument while Aang and Zuko discuss serious matters. Sokka finally interrupts the talk between Aang and Zuko to tell them to break up the fight or someone will end up either burned or frozen.
Gilded Cage: Ozai informs Ursa that she cannot speak to her family or mention her pre-Fire Nation princess life again after their wedding. She cannot have certain possessions or travel where she wants without the Royal family's permission. Even her letters secretly sent back home were intercepted and confiscated, without her knowledge. Azulon does tell her that her new life will be better than her backwater village due to the comforts of the Palace.
Good Counterpart: Well, "good" if you don't threaten her. The Mother of Faces is basically a complete opposite to Koh. Whereas Koh steals faces, the Mother gives them.
This is because she's his mother, and Koh apparently has issues with her and does the opposite of what she does out of outward spite and inner, Freudian longing for her.
Heel-Face Turn: Azula apparently starts on one in the end, giving up on her goals of killing her mother and taking the throne from her brother. It's subject to interpretation though: Aang and Katara believe she's changing now, but Sokka still thinks she's a crazy threat.
Hypocrite: Ursa of all people. The last thing she says to Zuko before her banishment is "Never forget who you are". She then proceeds to get a new face and have her memories of her time in the royal family completely removed, including her children. No surprise why Ursa has suddenly turned into a huge Base Breaker for the franchise. At the very least, she's genuinely remorseful for said action and wants to work to repair it.
I Just Want to Be Normal: Zuko shows shades of this trope once he finds that incriminating letter, as now he potentially has a legitimate out to be Fire Lord. But in the final volume, Ursa admits that what was written in the letter was untrue, and Ozai knew it. Zuko admits that deep down he always knew he was supposed to become the Fire Lord.
I Never Told You My Name: Noren accidentally reveals he knows who Ursa is even though they haven't been formally introduced (it's actually Ikem with a new face). Ursa very quickly gets suspicious.
Jerkass Has a Point: One may think nine-year-old Azula is being a brat by insulting her firebending teacher and claiming she knows better than him, and side with Zuko when he tries to defend him... unless you read "The Promise", where said teacher actually appears and shows that Azula's perception of him is pretty spot-on.
Lady Macbeth: Ursa, surprisingly. She makes a bargain with Ozai to help kill his father and become Fire Lord in exchange for escaping with the children. Ozai haggles her down from there, keeping their children as collateral.
Love at First Punch: Ikem fell in love with Ursa after she punched him in the stomach and kicked dirt in his face when they were six.
Love Hurts: A more familial variation, but ultimately the main motivation as to why Ursa chose to have her memories of her royal life removed.
Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Zuko seemingly finds out via letter that his real father was not Ozai, but a man named Ikem. But the letter ends up being a lie.
Master Poisoner: None other than Prince Zuko's mother, Ursa, is revealed to be this. She knew how to make an odorless, color-less, lethal poison that was next to impossible to detect. She ended up offering a deal to Ozai; she would concoct the poison and give it to him to do as he pleased (the idea being he'd poison his father and then take the throne) and Zuko (who was going to be executed as a punishment to Ozai) would be spared. Ozai accepts.
Meaningful Name: Noren. The name is also of a character in "Love Amongst the Dragons" and has meaning to him. It's the name Ikem chose after gaining a new face, to maintain a connection to the acting troupe and, by extension, Ursa.
Mercy Kill: Ozai was considering doing this to Zuko in his sleep. However, Ursa talked Ozai out of it.
The Needs of the Many: Aang uses this rationale in an attempt to convince Zuko to burn the incriminating letter. Whether or not Zuko has a blood right to the throne is irrelevant in Aang's eyes; Zuko needs to be on the throne to help rebuild both the world and the Fire Nation's reputation.
Never My Fault: In Azula's warped mind, everything is Ursa's fault. No exceptions.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ursa, FULL STOP. Firstly, a significant amount of the abuse we saw Ozai give Zuko was due to Ursa saying she didn't want Ozai to be his father, leading Ozai to no longer treat him like his son. Secondly, Ozai kept the letter and with Azula, almost took the throne away from Zuko since there would've been no way to dispute its validity.
No One Could Survive That: Ozai doesn't believe for a second Vachir's claim that no one could survive in Forgetful Valley and his target must be dead already. (Now we know where Azula learned it.)
Oh, Crap: Pretty much Team Avatar's reaction after Azula's wish to the Mother of Faces is granted and they notice Azula has run off.
Parental Abandonment: In addition to being banished, Ursa, when getting a new face from the Mother of Faces spirit, also makes the controversial decision to have her painful memories of her life with the Fire Nation royalty wiped, which she feels she cannot bear to remember (but unfortunately includes her memories of Zuko and Azula).
Parental Favoritism: Once again, in flashbacks Ozai praises Azula's skills in firebending and is infuriated with Zuko's failures in the same area.
Pragmatic Hero: Aang, of all people, is showing signs of this. He is willing to burn a letter stating that Zuko is not Ozai's son and, therefore, not the rightful Fire Lord.
Put on a Bus: Toph is too busy with her metalbending school to help the Gaang this time around. Similarly, Iroh was left behind as acting Fire Lord in Zuko's absence.
Reality Warper: When the Mother of Faces visits her forest, face-like patterns appear on the animals and plants living in it. Aang, as the bridge between humans and spirits, is affected too, his face starting to wear expressions mimicking some of the patterns around him without his being able to control it.
Reluctant Psycho: Azula is fully aware that she's lost her mind, and it's yet another thing she blames on Ursa.
Running Gag: Katara has taken to throwing snowballs in Sokka's face when she doesn't like one of his quips.
The Mother of Faces only grants one wish per season but Team Avatar had two favors that needed addressing, thus the choice: either ask for her help in finding Ursa, or address Rafa's face disfigurement. They INTENDED to do the latter, but Azula being Azula, she cut in and yelled for the former, and it took some unforeseen circumstances to get the Mother of Faces to help Rafa. Ironically, had Azula not done so they likely would've NEVER found Ursa.
Noren/ Ikem had taken Ursa to the Mother of Faces for a new identity to keep her safe from Ozai but the Mother of Faces sensed that her pain lay deeper from her past life so she also gave a choice. She could take the memories of her Royal Life away, but it would mean forgetting her children completely, or she could abstain and Ursa would keep those memories but she would be under constant emotional pain from being separated from them. She chose to lose her memories, only being restored thanks to the first Sadistic Choice making the Mother of Faces a bit more agreeable.
Sanity Has Advantages: Azula escapes from the Gaang in Volume 1 with her typical do-daring, but unlike her pre-breakdown self is quickly recaptured because she stops running to get into an argument with a hallucination. She's beaten easily whenever a fight happens, thanks to her general craziness making her erratic.
Savage Wolves: The Gaang gets attacked by a gigantic spirit wolf, later shown to be a pet of the Mother of Faces.
Self-Made Orphan: The Search reveals that Ozai is the one who murdered Azulon. The vicious and treasonous thing Ursa did that night is just simply making an untraceable poison and giving it to Ozai before leaving.
Azula's true motive for "helping" with the search for Ursa is so that she can kill her mother.
Shame If Something Happened: Though Azulon never comes out and says it directly, his words and their reactions all but state outright that he knows Ursa's adoptive family has been hiding her and that not going along with his plan would end badly for them. Ozai is a bit less subtle about it.
Ship Tease: Between Zuko and Suki, bizarrely enough. Her grabbing his hand in The Promise could be explained as the fans reading too much into it, but here there's no doubt it's deliberate.
There's also an odd variation of this in Part One; Katara's necklace clearly has an Air Nomad glyph on it instead of a Water Tribe one. It reverts to normal a few pages later, but it's more than enough to make any and all Kataangs Squee their heads off, thinking they're secretly engaged.
Sixth Ranger Traitor: Azula plans to betray Team Avatar and overthrow Zuko later on. She ends up doing the former, but gives up on accomplishing the latter.
Split Personality: Word of God describes Azula as like someone who has this: she flips between being a more manic and irrational version of her former manipulative, sane self and a completely emotionally unstable and Ax-Crazy psychopath.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The Gaang is not happy about having Azula around, especially given her sinister motives and accusing them of being her mother's accomplices in a plot to undermine her. Afterwards, they give up and decide that they must contain Azula.
Tyke Bomb: Azulon planned Ozai's bloodline with Ursa to be this. According to his Fire Sages, the descendants of the Fire Nation Royal Family and Roku would produce really strong firebenders. It certainly was a success in regards to Azula.
Wham Shot: When the Mother of Faces reveals that Ursa is actually Noren's wife from back in Part 2.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Azula, after giving up her ambitions in the last volume, just...runs away. We don't see what becomes of her afterward, although this might be a deliberate Sequel Hook, especially since Aang, Katara and Sokka say they're sure she'll turn up again soon. And the series ends with a promo for another comic, The Rift.
Aang calls out Zuko multiple times for not burning the incriminating letter when he had the chance, pointing out that Zuko being Fire Lord is needed to rebuild the world regardless of whether or not he is the true heir.
The Mother of Faces hates it when people ask for a new face when she put so much work into crafting the one they already have, which is why she only does it sparingly.
The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Azula, as she would have been in the series finale, still aims to be this. Taken a step further with a letter from Ursa that supposedly proves Zuko isn't really Ozai's heir. However, thanks to the sequel, it's a simple matter of fact that she can't possibly succeed. The official site for Korra states that Zuko was Fire Lord for many years (before retiring to become a wandering ambassador), and his daughter after him. As it turns out Ursa intentionally lied in her letter to get a reaction from Ozai that would prove her letters were being intercepted, and Zuko actually is Ozai's son... Ozai full well knows this too and still treats his children with contempt.