Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Search Part 1 review

I said in my 100th blog post, my Batman: Earth One review a few weeks back, that I don't inherently hate any and all changes to continuity.

So long as the core of iconic characters is left alone, I have no problem with changes like Alfred being part of security detail for the Royal Family, or Superman landing in the Ukraine instead of Kansas as seen in Superman: Red Son.

But note that when I say that, it's usually in regard to Alternate Universe, or Elseworld, stories. One of the biggest complaints people had to the end of Scott Snyder's excellent "City of Owls" arc was that it ended on an ambiguous note as to whether Bruce Wayne's brother was both alive and the main villain.

The complaints about that development were mostly because Snyder did this in the main DC Universe where Bruce has always been alone. I didn't hate on it too much because 1) The universe rebooted. 2) It wasn't made clear if it was his brother. And 3) Bruce being an only child isn't THAT much of an iconic detail about him.

I'm sure those who have made it to this point are wondering why I bothered to go on this Batman rant in the middle of what should be an Avatar: The Last Airbender trade paperback review. And the answer is simple: Gene Yang has decided to end the first part of his latest ATLA trilogy by teasing quite possibly the worst possible break from canon he could find in what is supposed to be a continuation of the MAIN, CANON AVATAR UNIVERSE.

I once read a fanfiction for the Potterverse where Harry Potter is born to Lily Evans and Severus Snape, and it takes you through his life with those two. As an AU fanfiction, that's not a bad idea, but imagine if that was the plot twist in Snape's memories in Deathly Hallows. You all would have freaking lost it.

I'm warning you right now, I can't do this without spoilers, so go to a comic store or a Barnes & Noble and read this thing before you go beyond the line below. Note I said 'read.' I'm sure what happened is a red herring, but until I know for sure, you may be happier not giving this wirter a share of your $11.


Ok, so now that the non-spoiler crowd should be gone, let's go over this whole "Zuko wasn't really Ozai's son" thing.

Yeah. Bet you all weren't ready for that one!

It's funny. I actually had a whole bit of humor lined up regarding the early flashbacks where Ursa is engaged to New Character #116 (Ikem) only to be arranged into a marriage with Ozai. I was ready to call out how Gene Yang just ripped Yue and Pakku's storylines for Ursa and how Ikem could now join the "Severus Snape House of Men Rejected for Plot" (hence why I had Snape in my head earlier), but I lost a lot of steam for that when this came up.

Let's be honest with ourselves here: This teaser is probably going to turn out to be total crap. Heck, I think we could all peg the plot resolution off the top of our heads! Zuko will meet his mom (or faux-Dad), he or she will say she meant 'our' as in Ozai and Ursa, and Zuko will be disappointed and emo about nearly being free of the royal bloodline's insanity.

Even THIS guy knew not to mess
with this origin story!
BUT... let's say for a second that Gene Yang was able to convince Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko that the supposed 'inconsequential detail' they left out of their story should be a really big deal. Let's say that this madness turns out to be legit. And let's say that Jinora in the premiere of Legend of Korra had to ask Katara about this story because this scandalous situation would somehow have never made it into the history books.

This revelation is BAD. It's a fanfiction, elseworld plot twist that can't work in the main universe because it drastically alters the entire dynamic of who Zuko is as a character. The whole driving point of his character for two years was to regain his honor and, as GanXingba put it, "Make Daddy love him." In the final season, Iroh used his ancestry as a byproduct of Sozin and Roku to explain how restoring balance to the world was as much his fight as Aang's.

What this plot twist is basically saying is, "Yeah, all that was a waste of your time. Turns out Zuko is the son of the Blue Spirit!" (Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure that's what we're supposed to take from Ikem's little Come to Jesus moment with the giant wolf. Really gives that mask a whole new bizarre dynamic, doesn't it?)

And let's not forget what Azula's motivation appears to be here. She knows that if she can prove Zuko isn't of Ozai's bloodline, he would be stripped of the title of Fire Lord, and she could begin her own personal reign of terror. How you working around that one, Gene?

Haha! I talk to you because you're my REAL child!
But you know what, the most unforgivable thing that this story does with this revelation is something that can't be undone even if this turns out to be a red herring: It's made clear that regardless of how truthful it is, Ozai believed it to be the truth.

That means that any time Ozai and Zuko interacted, whether it be the performance for Azulon, the war meeting, the agni kai or any of their 'moments' in the first half of Book Three, THIS was in his mind. He was acting on the assumption that Zuko was not his son.

Do you see the gaping flaw here? This is a retcon as egregious as the Justice League mind-wiping Batman and Dr. Light in Identity Crisis, or Terra and Cassandra Cain being brainwashed by Deathstroke. Every motivation in the series is now tainted by this Jerry Springer-esque plot twist thrown in for shock value and a few extra buys.

I jokingly tweeted that this was Ozai's face when reading this crazy letter, but after a few moments of reflection, I think it was mine as well:

So let's see, what else should I touch on? Honestly, nothing is anywhere near my passion of the previous development, but there are some thoughts I can go through.

First off, Giruhiru's art is still really strong and Michael Heisler does a nice job as letterer. Everything flowed well and had it not been for the script, they'd be getting far more credit in my view.

The alternating flashback/real-time scenes were also a nice idea and again, I really want to give more praise to this.

As to the plot itself, the leaders of Avatar Earth are in a classroom hearing a professor talking about theories of government in Earth Kingdom history. I'd say that this development in regard to how to solve the problems proposed in "The Promise" is surreal, but it makes some sense and it led to some of the actually good comedy in the book.

I almost forgot to mention this, but I have no idea where this creative team is going with these Zuko-Suki dialogues. I feel like he's trying to tease a romantic paradigm shift, but until Toph's at an age where Sokka is not a weird proposition, this is just pointless nonsense that does nothing for anybody besides the obscure 'shippers.

The scenes with paranoid Azula were all awesome. I really wish she'd gone crazy earlier in the series so that the animation crew could have had more fun with it. I'm not sure what her logic is doing, but the fact that she thinks her mother is responsible for her crappy life because of mind control is absolutely awesome.

... Unless that actually becomes a thing. Oh God, that's going to become a thing, isn't it?

I like the logic as to how Azula gets to travel without restraints. When I saw the previews, I thought it would be more honor stuff, so this was a welcome twist.

That said, the writing in that scene was BAD. I felt like I was reading caricatures of the main cast talking to each other. Only Iroh felt like he was written in proper character, and his reign as interim Fire Lord looks like a good comic relief plot.

The stuff with the Blue Spirit wolf controlling Aang's face was just bizarre and I don't feel like it bodes well in terms of plot development. That said, the wolf fighting Appa was freaking badass.

Had it not been for the stupidity that was the last page, Sokka and Zuko had another really nice serious moment about sibling rivalry and the love that lies behind it, so that was nice. It's weird how the emo character and the comic character work so well, but I always enjoy Sokka and Zuko's exchanges.

If I judged scene by scene, there were some really good ones. Had it not been for the whole Zuko's mother plot, I'd say that this was another fairly solid entry in the Avatar legend from this crew.

Unfortunately, the whole point of "The Search" is to tell a narrative about finding Zuko's mother, so this TPB is botching it's entire reason for existing.

Gene Yang, I appreciate you took a risk, and if it means anything, this would be one of the better AU fanfictions for this universe if I had come across it online.

But it's not, and your increasing insanity sickens me. Even Frank Miller's crazy sequels to his Dark Knight Returns universe knew to stay out of the real canon.

You stole three years of character motivations, you stole what should have been "quite the story" as Katara put it on the Korra premiere, and you stole fizzy lifting drinks! You besmirched the name of Avatar, which now has to be washed and sterilized so you get NOTHING! YOU LOSE!


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  1. Yeah, I figured this was going to suck. No news on the Mai front huh?

  2. I think they're doing a short on Free Comic Book Day that teases where they're going with that.