In spite of the fact that I strongly disliked the last two parts of this story, the conclusion did as well as it could given the framework it was given. It's kind of like Revenge of the Sith in that sense. Yeah, the two prequels before it were awful, but what followed turned out to be as good, if not better than what should have been possible.
My full audio review is below, but much like the Korra episodes I've been reviewing, I'm leaving some SparkNotes-style bulletpoints below.
-- Aang was written much better this go-around than he has been. The character - who last issue was taking a beyond cold, 'screw your family and identity crisis. I need you to possibly defy Fire Nation law and lead the country regardless of your blood status' stance - has finally remembered that he needs to respect spirits, fight for the downtrodden, and be a friend to Zuko.
-- I find it interesting that the Mother of Faces crafts every face in existence with great care and feels insulted that people want to alter them. But with the one request thing, it's whoever asks first and not what the group wants? So she's basically Shenron in Dragon Ball Z? [SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT].
Still, it was nice that once Koh was revealed as the one who took away the brother's face, and we found out the MoF is related to him, she very graciously agrees to both favors and even offers Ursa her memories back.
-- I have two HEAVY complaints with this story. One is the fault of Parts 1 and 2 of this story because it set up this terrible situation.
Ursa basically pulls a Peter Parker in Spider-Man: One More Day, voluntarily giving up all her memories of her children to a spirit. And why? Because she can't handle knowing them, and obviously, leaving two children without a mother randomly won't affect their psychologies or leave them on a lifelong search for answers.
Heck, I was going to say this is worse than OMD because at least Peter did his stupid move to save his aunt's life. This wasn't a necessary part of the deal. This was a 100 percent selfish move.
-- My other complaint is discussed at length in the audio blog. Let me get this straight: The MoF puts her full efforts into every face she crafts, but then tests Ursa by offering her a face that is 'more plain' than her current one? So all faces are equal, except when the spirit decides that some are better looking than others.
This raises so many rage-inducing issues. 1. If this spirit has beauty standards, why don't all the faces look like Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry? 2. How does the spirit decides who gets the beautiful faces? Is it random or is she trying to figure out who will do best with it?
And 3. Avatar: TLA is a show that pretty much lives by the 'don't judge a book by its cover' mantra. Toph is small and blind, but also the toughest person on the show. Azula's a better firebender than Zuko, and he has a scar, but he's the better human being by far. Even though the Earth Kingdom sided with Aang's side, plenty of people in the Earth Kingdom were corrupt, and plenty of Fire Nation citizens were good people.
The reason I bring all this up is because this plot point not only reinforces superficiality to the kids and adults reading this book, this world actually writes it into the universe as established fact. The spirits outright have a set idea of what is good-looking when the faces are designed. There is literally a universal pretty and ugly.
And don't tell me she only makes the new faces. She says specifically that she is insulted when people ask to replace her "precious gifts" and tell her that her "work is inadequate." Well if you submit that you make faces better looking than others, OF COURSE PEOPLE WON'T BE HAPPY!
Seriously, between all the people in The Promise Part 3 using all the "fat guy gets pretty girl" jokes King of Queens didn't burn, and this spirit setting forth a universal formula to beauty, Gene Yang is beginning to rival Frank Miller in terms of sheer superficial objectification. It's a good thing all the female characters already had backstories
-- All that aside, though, the sequences in Ursa and Ikem's family home made this comic a must-buy. From Zuko simply being happy knowing his mother is happy, to Ursa's apologies to Azula and Zuko, to those final panels where Zuko asks to know his mother's story, everything is done to perfection.
-- Well, there is still the whole "Ozai thought Zuko wasn't his kid" thing. Admittedly, the damage was minimized, but there is still an additional layer to the original story that now leaves me with an unsavory taste in my mouth. I'd rather Ozai just not like Zuko because he is weaker in his mind. I don't need this convoluted situation where he is mean to Zuko out of spite to his wife.
(Speaking of, Eminem once wrote, "Even if I hated Kim, I'd grit my teeth and I'd try to make it work with her, at least for Hailie's sake." How hard would you read a comic in which Slim Shady busts into the Fire Nation throne room and goes ballistic on Ozai?)
So yeah, most of the flaws are just a byproduct of bad writing in the previous parts and are done as well as you could imagine given the circumstances. A new layer of the Avatar universe was added that I despise, but it's small enough in terms of this story that it doesn't hurt it too badly.
I can honestly rate this a must-buy and must-own. When the writing staff added that "Where's my mother?" scene into the finale when it could have easily been left out, I firmly believe they knew it would elicit a reaction. It ultimately led to people buying Avatar comics, and them making more money.
And for what it's worth, even if I hate certain elements in the writing, I love the art. I love the universe. And I'll gladly keep supporting the product.