Review by Ian Keogh
Not every graphic novel carrying an ‘all ages’ designation actually merits it in anything other than the most general sense. The best graphic novels for children, by contrast, also offer something for adults, transcending their genre through thoughtful content, universal jokes or drama, or touching emotional satisfaction. The Search hits the spot on that account. Whether or not you know anything about the Aang the Avatar and his world it’s possible to be captivated by The Search’s strong emotional themes and two parallel storylines as Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru turn out a page turning drama.
It begins with the Fire Lord Zuko, one of Avatar’s more complex characters, deciding to discover at last what happened to his mother. His father, the cruel Ozai, now imprisoned, refuses to provide any answers, so Zuko turns to his insane and entitled sister Azula for company as he sets off on a quest for those answers. Thankfully they’re also accompanied by Aang, Katara and Sokka. Yang runs two stories in parallel, the journey and gradual discoveries in the present day spliced by pages showing their mother Ursa first as a young woman herself, then skipping through the years revealing more and more of her history. Hers is a tragic story, one of forced marriage and abuse, although as this is an all ages title, it’s emotional rather than physical abuse that’s shown.
Artists Gurihiru have a beautiful cartooning style, complete and adaptable, able to convey the joyful moments along with the melancholy, and the decorative appeal needed for later scenes set in a mysterious forest with magical creatures. It’s the sadness that’s the strongest requirement here, as we really need to feel for Ursa, and to a lesser extent Yuko, for The Search to be a success, and the way both are drawn in different circumstances ensures we do feel for them.
The primary theme of The Search is that of yearning, for love, for knowledge, for power or for forms of salvation, and it’s wonderfully explored by Yang applying it to a greater or lesser extent to his entire cast. Despite this being Yuko and Ursa’s story Yang ensures there’s still a large enough part for Aang to merit his being the series star, and by the final chapter you’ll be amazed at how adroitly Yang has foreshadowed what happens, and how everything slots neatly into place. As a bonus, for fans of the original animation he also makes a connection with a being Aang’s met before.
As with The Promise, and indeed the following The Rift, it is possible to buy The Search split into three slimmer paperbacks starting with Part One, but with a story this satisfying why would you want to?