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The Search Part 1

The-SearchPT1

Story by
Gene Yang
Art by
Gurihiru
Publisher
Date of publication
March 20, 2013
Last comic
The Promise Part 3
Next comic
The Search Part 2

The Search Part 1 is the first installment in The Search trilogy, a series of graphic novels written as a continuation of the storyline established in The Promise trilogy, which was itself a continuation of the narrative set forth in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Much like in the previous trilogy, The Search Part 1 is written by comic author Gene Yang and illustrated by the art team Gurihiru, and was released by Dark Horse Comics on March 20, 2013.

Overview

When an Earth Kingdom scholar points out that a nation is like a family, and by treating his own family with dignity, a ruler learns how to govern with dignity, Zuko is determined to set things right withing his own family. He makes a deal with Azula, releasing her from the mental institution in exchange for her help on his quest to discover the truth about Ursa. With the help of Aang, Sokka, and Katara, the five set out on a journey toward Hira'a. Tensions between Azula and the rest stir trouble and an encounter with a wolf spirit delays them even more, though as they continue, they find their own dynamic to make it all work.

Synopsis

The story begins with a conversation between two individuals, the first imploring the second to divulge the whole truth about their past life to the other. The second individual complies with the request and begins to tell the tale from the beginning.

Many years earlier in the Fire Nation town of Hira'a, Ikem, an actor in the village's theater troupe, is standing on a makeshift wooden stage, holding up a decorative mask while reciting lines from a script for an upcoming play about spirits, when he is suddenly startled by fellow actress and girlfriend Ursa, wearing a similarly styled mask. Ursa brings the news that she was cast as the Dragon Empress, to which an enthusiastic Ikem congratulates her, stating that he can now finally fulfill his lifetime ambition of kissing her in front of the entire village. The couple begins practicing their lines from the play with their masks on and attempt to kiss one another, though the masks interfere. Ursa removes hers, though Ikem just looks at her intently. Uneased, she asks what is wrong, and is caught by surprise when Ikem asks her to marry him, wondering at first whether or not that was part of the script. Ikem takes off his mask, and, using a treasured memory from their shared childhood together, says that he has loved her since they were six. He takes the hand of a blushing Ursa and asks her once more if she will marry him. A beaming Ursa says yes and the two young lovers share a passionate kiss together.

The story shifts to the present day in 101 ASC, some weeks after the events of the Battle for Yu Dao. Avatar Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Fire Lord Zuko are assembled in a meeting chamber of the governor's place in Yu Dao together with Mayor Morishita and his wife, their daughter Kori, her boyfriend Sneers and other dignitaries to discuss the future of the city. The assembly is listening to a lecture of ancient Earth Kingdom theories in government delivered by an equally aged professor recommended by Earth King Kuei.

While the professor drones on, Sokka complains about the boring lecture to Aang, who sympathizes, believing there should an new way to see the four nations as opposed to going back to the traditional division. Both are promptly shushed by Katara, who has been intently listening to the lecture. After a snide comment by Sokka aimed at his "boring" sister, he is smacked in the face by a snowball generated by Katara.

ZukoSearch

Zuko snaps to attention upon hearing an Earth Kingdom philosophy regarding family.

While this bit of commotion is going on, Zuko, who is also zoning off during the course of the lecture, snaps back to attention when the professor mentions the word "family" and interrupts him by asking to repeat his last statement. Though somewhat annoyed by the request, the professor complies nevertheless, reiterating the ancient Earth Kingdom philosophy regarding the nature of family and government and how the two are invariably intertwined. According to the professor, by treating their own family with dignity, a ruler learns how to govern their nation with dignity. Aang catches Zuko staring forlornly into space upon hearing those words, and inquires what is wrong. The Fire Lord recounts a litany of his family's dysfunctions: an imprisoned father, an institutionalized sister, both by his command, and a banished mother; he wonders aloud what that means for the Fire Nation's future. Aang attempts to assuage Zuko's fears, but is interrupted by Sokka complaints about the professor's lecture again, saying only people like Katara are taking him seriously, which earns him another smack in the face with a snowball. The story then goes back into flashback mode, shortly after Ursa had accepted Ikem's proposal of marriage. An ebullient Ursa arrives home to give her parents the news of the proposal, only to find her mother Rina kneeling dejectedly and crying in the living room, Roku's headpiece cradled atop her lap, nestled within a crimson cloth. A distressed Ursa asks what is wrong and where her father, Jinzuk, is. Rina tearfully responds that he is in the greenhouse entertaining some "visitors" and implies to Ursa to go there at once, but stops her momentarily to tell her daughter that she loves her.

Upon arriving at the greenhouse, Ursa is shocked to discover her father's "guests" are none other than Fire Lord Azulon and his youngest son, Prince Ozai. After comparing her beauty to her mother's flowers, Azulon reveals to Ursa the true reason for his visitation. He states that the Fire Sages had prophesied that a union between the bloodline of Avatar Roku and his own would yield a lineage of powerful rulers, ensuring his family's rule over the Fire Nation for centuries to come. Since he had needed to conducted a long and difficult search to locate the descendants of the Avatar, Azulon speculates it was done intentionally by Roku, though in the end, it had all been worth it.

Back in present time, following the successful meeting at Yu Dao, Zuko returns back to the Fire Nation and to the prison where his father Ozai is held. Once there, Zuko meets up with Suki and Ty Lee, clad in full Kyoshi Warrior regalia guarding the door to Ozai's cell. Inside, a bound and restrained Azula stares silently at her imprisoned father. Hoping to break the silent impasse, Zuko enters the cell to serve them tea. A chaotic scene follows when an angry Azula yanks the tea tray out of Zuko's hands with her teeth, knocking him to the cell floor as a smirking Ozai watches with glee. As a still bound Azula stands over her brother, yelling at him for serving her tea while restrained, Ty Lee strikes Azula with two chi blocking blows that send Azula falling to the floor. Azula then has a psychotic episode upon seeing Ty Lee, bellowing at her former friend as to how she and Mai lost their fear of her. Zuko tries restoring order but Azula, having regained her composure, says if he wants her to get the information he desired regarding their missing mother in a dignified manner, he and the Kyoshi Warriors should leave her and Ozai to discuss such matters in private. Despite Suki and Ty Lee's misgivings, Zuko complies and the three then leave the cell.

Another flashback follows showing a morose Ursa leaving her home aboard a komodo rhino-drawn carriage with Fire Lord Azulon and Prince Ozai after having agreed to the terms of the arranged marriage. A guard then informs them that a commoner is blocking the road. It turns out to be Ikem, armed with wooden prop swords and ready to fight. The guards then mock Ikem and, on orders from Azulon, attempt to remove him from the road. Despite not being a firebender and armed with wooden swords, Ikem holds his own well against the more powerful royal guards. Ursa pleads to Ozai for them to stop hurting Ikem, stating that Ikem was just and old childhood friend and was confused. After Ozai stops the guards' attacks, Ursa approaches Ikem, telling him to go home. Ikem wants Ursa to tell him that marrying Ozai is what she really wants, and she tearfully does so, leaving Ikem alone and upset on the roadside as the entourage departs for the Fire Nation.

Back again in current time, night falls and Zuko, Ty Lee, Suki, and Azula, who is seated, bound and restrained in a wheelchair, are in the Palace Courtyard. Zuko then convinces the two Kyoshi Warriors to allow him to take Azula back to the Palace alone where he has prepared her old room for her to live in. Suki and Ty Lee reluctantly comply, despite Ty Lee's warning that the effects of her chi-blocking on Azula will soon wear off. Once alone, Zuko begins questioning his sister as to what she discussed with her father. After answering Zuko's queries with trivialities, Azula asks her brother if he has been chi-blocked before. When Zuko answers no, Azula describes the effects on the body in detail and in particular, describes the tremendous elasticity of the muscles and joints that develops prior to the body returning to normal. Then, Azula demonstrates it by casually slipping her bound arm and firing a blue flash of lightning at Zuko which shocks him temporarily. Azula then bounds right out of the wheelchair, shredding the straitjacket to pieces and begins to flee. Zuko orders Azula to stop, but she refuses. Zuko then shoots a fireball at her sister. Azula does a somersault and then, spreading her legs wide enough at just the precise moment, allows the fireball to pass between them, cutting through the metal ankle restraints that bound her. Now able to move freely, Azula shoots a blast of blue flame towards Zuko and then nimbly clambers up the side of a nearby building.

Ikem

Ikem with his makeshift weapon.

Returning to a vision of the past, Ikem is seen walking sorrowfully through a terrain of rocks, before climbing onto a tree branch and crying. After gathering his thoughts, Ikem makes a makeshift campsite of tree branches and leaves. He also fashions a weapon and makes a fire. While sitting on the log staring at the fire, Ikem suddenly hears a slurping noise coming from the nearby river, where the wolf spirit is lapping at the water. Exiting the vision, Zuko steps through a torn window into a room with furniture set on fire, and questions a guard about Azula's whereabouts. The guard points toward a pair of double doors leading into a room that Zuko enters. Inside the room, Zuko feels the warmth of a framed Fire Nation emblem and firebends at it, prompting the door to open and reveal a secret chamber. In the chamber, Zuko finds Azula rampaging about her father overcoming control to give her the truth. She then finds a series of envelopes which she claims are years worth of letters Ursa had written, and tells Zuko to come have a look. When Zuko steps closer, Azula burns the fire with a flame, to the horror of Zuko. Azula laughs at the expression on Zuko's face before having a psychotic break down. She then tells Zuko that she also wants to find Ursa and would tell him what was in the letters on one condition.

The story then shifts back into a vision of Ozai and forlorn-looking Ursa's wedding. Ozai tells Ursa that she has wonderful parents, to which she responds that they've always been good to her. Then Ozai tells Ursa that she would have to say goodbye to her parents and never speak of Hira'a, her family, or her old life ever again, before kissing her surprised face on the cheek.

Going back to the present time at the Fire Nation Palace, Sokka, Katara, and Aang are surprised to see Iroh, who tells Zuko that his friends are here. Zuko wonders where the last member of Team Avatar, Toph, is to which Sokka responds that she is at her academy. Ever since seeing Toph's students metalbend, everyone, including the Yu Dao Police Chief, wants to become a metal bender. Zuko tells them that he recently obtained some information about his mother, and that he wanted them to help him look for her, while Iroh watched over the Fire Nation as interim Fire Lord. Azula then appeared behind Zuko, causing Katara to waterbend ice spikes at Azula, which she casually dodged. Sokka and Aang also prepared to attack, before Suki emerged and embraced Sokka. Zuko explained to Team Avatar that Azula was the one who got the information about Ursa, and that she was coming with them, unbound and with dignity, to search for their mother. Aang, Sokka, and Katara all initially protested this idea before Iroh told them that Zuko yearned for peace. Upon hearing this, Aang smiled and agreed to help Zuko.

The next day, Aang greeted Azula before their trip, to which Azula responded by cautioning Aang's handling of her bag on his "shaggy beast". Aang pet Appa's nose and airbent Azula's bag onto his saddle. Zuko dictates that someone should keep an eye on Azula at all times, to which Sokka quickly volunteers. But before he can do much with his boomerang, Azula zaps him with an electric shock, prompting Katara, Zuko, and Aang to bend water, fire, and earth respectively, all to no avail. Zuko manages to calm Azula down, reminding her of their deal, and Sokka changes his mind about taking first watch.

As Appa flies away with Team Avatar and Azula, Iroh, holding a cup of tea, reminisces about how he once aspired to become Fire Lord of "this dreary place". He then states that the problem with the Fire Nation is that they've had too many weapons and not enough tea, handing the nearest guard his cup of tea, and then announcing a National Tea Appreciation Day.

Now in the air, Sokka talks about how it would be just like old times, to which Aang responded that it would be better then old times because he could now kiss Katara whenever, and proceeded to kiss Katara, much to the dismay of Sokka. Azula then had another mental breakdown, asking who "she" approached first, and how "she" convinced them to help ruing her life. Zuko tried to stop Azula my throwing a punch, but Azula responded that it was just small talk.

As Team Avatar approached Hira'a, Zuko suggested that they set up camp so they wouldn't enter town suspiciously in the middle of the night. Aang then begins to make a gruesome face, which Aang claimed was caused by the presence of a spirit. He then spotted the spirit, a giant wolf, before it ran off. Azula then jumped off Appa to go her own way, but she was too high up and Aang tried to chase her on his glider. Upon capturing her, Azula firebent at his glider, singeing it, and causing Aang to fall to the ground. As Appa descended to the ground, Zuko told Katara and Sokka to make sure Aang was okay, and ran off to go after Azula.

As Azula was running off, Ursa's image appeared in the river and told her that she was just hurting herself. Azula yelled angrily back at the river, telling her mother not to pretend to care for her, and that she was stronger than she realized. Azula also argued that Ursa had been conspiring to take her down for power, questioning how she was able to contact Zuko, Ty Lee, and Mai after she disappeared. She finally took out an envelope from her boot and stated that it was the evidence she needed to overthrow Zuko, but Ursa was standing in her way, and when she did find her, she would end her. Ursa responded by showing her lover for her, but Azula firebent at the water, causing it to rise up, and yelled that Ursa's last treacherous act was turning her own mind against herself. Zuko then arrives to see a panting Azula, and asks who she was talking to. He then reminds her of their deal, to which Azula responds that she has no need for Zuko and begins to generate lightning. Zuko prepares to fight back as well, before Katara swiftly waterbent an ice case around Azula. Aang begins making the gruesome face again, sensing the presence of the spirit, before The giant wolf spirit truly emerges behind Sokka to the shock of Azula and Katara.

Back in a vision, Ursa is seen composing a letter that she hides in her dress. She then lifts a picture of her and Ozai's wedding day to reveal the masks from the Love Amongst Dragons play, the Blue Spirit mask, and another, white mask, before a someone knocks on her door. a young Zuko appears recounting a nightmare. Ursa carries him back to his bed and told him it was only a nightmare and to hang onto the good dreams that come. She then walked through a hall and knocked at a door in a kitchen. An old woman named Elua answers the door. Ursa entrusts Elua to deliver the letter to Hira'a safely in confidence, stating that Elua's been like family to her. Elua happily obliges, but then secretly reads it before handing it to a sparring Ozai, stating there was a secret that required immediate attention. After Ozai read the letter, he yelled out the impossibility of the secret, and crumpled the letter in his hand.

Returning to the present tense, Team Avatar is seen busily fighting with the wolf spirit. Zuko notices that the markings on the wrolf spirit's chest resemble the gruesome image Aang's face kept making. Aang tried to be respectful of the spirit, and explaining that he was the avatar, politely apologized for disturbing it. The wolf spirit did not react and came back more ferocious. Sokka, Katara, and Zuko kept attacking it with their bending elements, but none seemed to phase the wolf spirit. Appa stepped in and took on the wolf spirit by hitting it with his massive tail, causing the wolf spirit to crash into the nearby rocks. When the wolf spirit got up off the ground, it threw up a swarm of moth wasps that surrounded Team Avatar. Azula pleaded with Zuko to give her a chance to help them, sharing her belief that if you can't trust your family, then who can you trust. Zuko then melted the ice that surrounded Azula with firebending. Azula quickly generated lightning and shot it in a direction away from Team Avatar, causing the light-attracted moth wasps and wolf spirit to pursue the light.

Zuko reading Ursa's letter

Zuko reading Ursa's letter.

At their set up camp site, Sokka and Zuko talk around a fire while Azula talks in her sleep, Aang meditates, and Katara sleeps. Sokka questions why Zuko let Azula sleep with her hands unbound, to which Zuko responded that he was giving her a chance. They exchanged small talk, commenting on the cold temperature, before Sokka got up and covered Katara in a blanket. Zuko asked why he still cared for her sister even though she often threw snowballs at his face, to which Sokka answered that she was still his sister. Zuko, following Sokka's example, covered Azula in a blanket too before he saw the envelope tucked in her boot. He reached for it and read, "My dearest Ikem, It's taken me a long time to admit it, but you were right. I belong with you. and nothing is worth this pain. My one consolation is our son Zuko. When I look into his eyes, it's as if I'm looking into yours. My thoughts are with you always. Love, Ursa." At the mention of "our son", Zuko looked up with surprise and shock.

Trivia

  • Before Ursa's mother directs her to the greenhouse, she can be seen cradling Roku's Crown Prince headpiece.
  • In Ozai's secret chamber, there are artifacts from each of the four nations, including Air Nomad clothing.
  • The Blue Spirit mask can be seen on page 56 with the other theater masks from Love Amongst Dragons.
  • The white mask in Ursa's secret compartment closely resembles early development art of the Blue Spirit mask.
  • Azulon took an interest in the flowers of magistrate Jinzuk's greenhouse. Notably, his great-grandfather let himself be portrayed standing amidst flowers and several leaves in his offical portrait.
  • The targets in Ozai's training chamber are clothed in the armor of the Royal Earthbender Guards.
  • A running gag throughout the comic is Katara throwing snowballs in Sokka's face.

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