|"My name is Zuko. I am Lord of the Fire Nation – and I am your son."|
The Search Part Three is the third installment in The Search trilogy, a graphic novel continuation of The Promise storyline, which was itself a follow-up to the plot of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was originally released by Dark Horse Comics in collaboration with Nickelodeon on October 30, 2013, in comic book stores and on November 12, 2013, in regular stores. It was released with its counterparts in Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search Library Edition HC on February 5, 2014.
Wary of his sister's increasingly dangerous mental instability, Zuko relents in allowing the team to keep Azula on a tighter leash just as Aang persuades the Mother of Faces to make an appearance. The spirit announces that she will only grant one favor to one human, so Zuko relinquishes his chance to find his mother in order for Misu to make a request on behalf of her brother Rafa. Before she can ask for Rafa to receive his face back, however, Azula intervenes and demands to know where she can find Ursa, Princess of the Fire Nation, and the answer the Mother of Faces supplies is not what anyone expects. When Misu incessantly pleas with the spirit to grant her favor as well, the spirit becomes enraged, and no one is exempt from her wrath.
The flashbacks to Ursa's past also continue, revealing the details of her encounter with Noren during her trip back to Hira'a. What she learns in her hometown eventually takes her to Forgetful Valley, where a new chapter of her life begins. It is in Hira'a that her children's search and the life she now leads may finally coincide.
While Aang's spirit continues his conversation with the Mother of Faces, Zuko withstands Azula's lightning long enough to redirect it without being harmed, saving Rafa and Misu from what could have been a lethal attack. Azula, in a paranoid rage, insists that the two of them are obstructing her and Zuko's search for their mother and, realizing his naivety in tolerating his sister's lunatic behavior, permits Katara and Sokka to aid in defeating her. Misu implores them all to stop fighting for the spirits' sake, but Katara and Sokka are convinced to cease in their assaults only after Aang tells them that someone is coming. At this moment, the Mother of Faces finally appears before them.
In another flashback, Ursa converses with Noren over a meal about the coincidence of his name being the same as a character in Love amongst the Dragons. When he addresses her by name despite her not having introduced herself, Ursa becomes wary and gets up to leave. Suddenly, Noren mentions having his face kicked with dirt when he and Ursa were six and having his heart broken by her at twenty-one. Ursa turns around and recognizes for the first time that Noren is actually Ikem, her long-lost childhood friend and lover.
Back in the present, the Mother of Faces announces herself to the humans below her, admitting that she has strayed from her usual actions in the mortal world because the Avatar has asked it of her. Sokka admits to Aang that he is indeed "the bridge" as the Mother of Faces claims that she is a "generous spirit, softhearted and kind". Zuko and Aang hope that she will be able to tell them where Ursa is, so she explains that she may grant one favor to one person each season. Aang realizes a dilemma in this stipulation, being that Misu has a request for the sake of her brother as well. Aang, through praise and appeal, attempts to persuade the spirit into granting two favors to no avail. Zuko relinquishes the honor to Misu as they have been waiting longer, deciding with Aang that they will think of another way to find his mother.
Before Misu can complete her request to the spirit, however, Azula breaks free of the bond Katara made and demands to know where Ursa, Princess of the Fire Nation, is. The Mother of Faces recounts how a woman of that name came to her years prior, asking for a new face despite her beauty. In order to confirm the woman's sincerity, she granted one of entirely plain features, demonstrating the change by projecting the old and new faces on her hand. At this, Zuko recognizes the new face as that of Noriko. When he turns to alert Azula of this news, she has already begun her trek back to Hira'a. With directions from Misu, Zuko and Sokka, who is convinced that his friend may need backup.
In another flashback, Ursa becomes enthralled in the prop warehouse of her youth with Ikem by her side. He recounts how he was never the same after she left, and no matter how much fellow villagers tried to cheer him up, he never recovered from the event. In his anguish, he retreated to Forgetful Valley, wishing to forget all that had happened. There, he met the Mother of Faces, who was gracious enough to give him his new face, which he accepted so that he could return to Hira'a without the endless sympathies of the people he had known all his life. However, he chose never to marry or have children, as he did not leave Ursa behind with his old identity. Aang urges Katara that they must help Zuko and Sokka, but Katara is conflicted as she is watching Misu waterbend at the Mother of Faces, begging her not to leave, as they have spent years waiting for her. The spirit shows her anger for Misu's actions before departing, despite the Avatar's pleads.
Ursa mentions how Ozai claimed to have found and killed Ikem and how his new face saved him from any such turmoil. At this, Noren says that she can come with him to Forgetful Valley and receive for herself a new face. Although she would like to leave much of her life in the palace behind, her love for her children keeps her from agreeing. Instead, Ursa sees the prospect of returning to the capital with a new identity as preferable, as that would mean she could see her children without being noticed. Still conflicted about what she will do afterward, Ursa nonetheless takes Noren's arm and agrees to go find the Mother of Faces.
In his new search for the Mother of Faces, Aang calls out to her while encapsulating himself in a large air bubble, pleading that it will not be difficult for someone of her skill to grant Misu's favor. Instead of finding her, a group of giant crabs with faces adorning their shells attacks him with huge claws. He manages to ward them off, but is forcefully thrown from the lake by a strong eruption of water for his insolence. The Mother of Faces resurfaces before Aang and Katara, berating the former's lack of respect and reverence toward her and her sacred pool and venting her rage at how little the humans whose faces she crafted appreciate her personal handiwork. At the peak of her wrath, she tells him to leave and to take his friends with him, and the forest echoes her command.
Another flashback reveals the lives of Ursa and Noren during their hike through Forgetful Valley. While they dine on the amateurish results of Noren's cooking, they notice the wolf spirit drinking from a nearby sacred pool and know the Mother of Faces must be close. Before the spirit surfaces from the water, Ursa admits that the last few months in the forest with Noren made her feel she had found her place in the world, making her unsure as to whether she wants to leave for her children or stay for him. Noren offers that the two of them could go retrieve the children and return to Hira'a, but she knows that this will only endanger them and her loved ones. Their conversation ends when they come face-to-face with the Mother of Faces.
The spirit asks Ursa what she desires, to which she responds with the request for a new face and identity, saying she will accept even the plainest face so long as it is new. The Mother of Faces senses much pain in her and understands that a new face alone will not relieve. Ursa to claims that the pain if from the memories of her new life. The Mother of Faces offers to grant her not only a new face, but a new mind without memories of her previous life. She asks if she will remember Noren, and is assured that she will if she does not want to forget him. Although she is told that she will not remember Zuko or Azula if she agrees, Ursa does affirm her wish with tears in her eyes, and the Mother of Faces obliges. As the spirit recedes into her sacred pool, Noriko calls for Noren in stumbling blindness, who tells her that he will always be there for her. After regaining her sight, the two eventually leave the forest and become husband and wife.
Since the directions they had gotten from Misu had led down a shorter route than that which Azula took, Zuko and Sokka arrive at Noren's house before Azula. They see from a window that the family inside is eating dinner; Zuko knocks on the door while Sokka stays outside as a lookout for Azula. Noren says he thought Zuko might return, but before he can explain this, Kiyi hugs the Fire Lord and pulls him to the table. Noriko explains that the family eats together every night and questions Zuko as to why he has come back, and before he tells her the truth of his search, he asks her if she is happy here; she simply responds, "Of course. This is where I belong." At this, Zuko smiles and prepares to leave, pleased with the life his mother has found, but Noren suddenly interjects and encourages him to reveal his true identity. After turning back to Noriko once more, Zuko announces that he is actually her son.
Meanwhile, Aang and Katara are still in the forest, now defending themselves, Rafa, and Misu from a multitude of spirit animals while trying not to hurt them. Aang says he and the others have to leave, but Misu is adamant that she and Rafa cannot leave now without achieving their goal. Before the two can come to some agreement, Aang sees a flock of spirit bats flying toward Rafa. In an attempt to protect him from the incoming assault, he accidentally blows Rafa's mask away, revealing a completely blank face. Misu becomes hysterical and desperately tries to find the mask again, but Aang realizes that his condition is notably similar to the work of Koh the Face Stealer. The Mother of Faces suddenly halts the onslaught and tells Aang to repeat himself, causing him to explain the being. She tells him that Koh is her son and that they have been "estranged" since time began. After hearing of Koh's recent history, the Mother of Faces takes hold of Rafa and restores his face. As Rafa and Misu embrace in their triumph, Aang apologizes to the elderly spirit for his behavior and that of humans, informing her that he had acted only out of utmost urgency to restore the relationships between a brother and a sister and between a mother and her son.
Back at Noren's house, Noren apologizes to Zuko for not telling the truth about Noriko's identity, admitting that he had hoped he could protect the life he shared with Ursa in his home. Noren explains to his wife that her previous name was Ursa and that she bore two children as Princess of the Fire Nation, with one of them having already ascended the throne, and revealing that she knows none of this due to her altered memories. After this, Noren looks to Zuko and finally admits his own true name, Ikem. At this revelation, Zuko declares that this home may be where he belongs, with his mother, sister, and father; but Noren says that this cannot be possible.
Before Noren can divulge further into the matter of Zuko's paternity, everyone notices sounds of a quarrel on the roof. Suddenly Azula makes an entrance by crashing through the ceiling with Sokka falling beside her, lighting concentrated in her hand. She quickly pushes her brother aside and focuses on her bewildered mother, asking if the latter's second daughter was meant as a replacement for her first "monster". Sokka warns her to stop threatening Noriko just as his boomerang finishes its round, hitting Azula squarely in the back of the head. Although Noren wishes to first go and retrieve his wife, Sokka leads him and Kiyi out first to assure the child's safety. Azula recovers from her hit soon after and dives for Noriko, pinning her against a wall and readying to bring down the final blow. Noriko, confused and with tears in her eyes, takes the face of Azula gently and says that if she truly is her mother, she is sorry for not loving her enough.
Zuko intervenes just in time and tells her not to try lightning on him since he will easily redirect it. Despite his warning, Azula unleashes a blast of lightning at him, which he redirects right back at her. She persists in trying to persuade him to her views, however, by mentioning how if he sides with her, he will not have to keep the throne that she believes he never wanted. Zuko contradicts this by admitting that he has always known the throne to be his destiny, revealing that he spared her on the cliff because, no matter how dysfunctional their relationship had turned out, he could not kill his sister.
Suddenly, Azula becomes extremely emotional and runs for the door, leaving behind the letter in which she had placed all her faith. He and Noriko chase after her, Zuko pleading for her to come back so that he might help her, but Azula, crying freely now, continues her escape into Forgetful Valley alone. Although wanting to go after her longer, Noriko beckons him to look as the Mother of Faces approaches. When she arrives she asks Noriko if she would like to remember her past. Zuko tries to dissuade her from such a decision in order to let her keep her life in Hira'a, but she agrees, thus being returned her old face and her memories.
Meanwhile, Aang, Katara, and Sokka converse on the sidelines about how Azula will one day return. Aang notes how he thinks Azula meant to leave the letter behind and did not simply drop it, contrary to Sokka's opinion. At the house, Ursa takes Zuko aside to talk to him while Noren and Kiyi sit further away. She confesses that she owes Zuko the same apology she gave to Azula, admitting her sorrow for choosing to forget her own children, but Zuko believes that he has grown up fine despite the circumstances. Before they catch up, Zuko says that he has to first know the truth about the letter, which he hands to his mother.
In a final flashback, Ursa is in the palace with Ozai again, when he informed her of the supposed assassination of Ikem. She is outraged at his actions, citing that he knew more than anyone that Zuko was his son. This causes Ozai to claims that he knew, as he had spies track her every move months before they were married. This leads Ozai to the question of why she would tell so obvious a lie, to which she replies, "Maybe it was just my wishful thinking." He asks if she truly wishes that Zuko was not his child, causing Ursa to claim that if he turns out like him, then yes. Ozai grins wildly at this brazen remark, and declares that from that point on, he will spare no expense in treating Zuko as though he were "the son of a treacherous dog" only to fulfill Ursa's wish.
In the present again, Zuko takes in the fact that Ozai is, in fact, his father. Ursa still wants to tell him so much about the life she had in Hira'a and the life she had before she met Ozai, and Zuko wishes to hear it all. "For you, my dear," she supplies, "I'll start from the beginning ..."
A week after its predecessor suddenly shot to the top of the chart months after its publication, The Search Part Three became number one on the New York Times graphic novel bestseller list upon release, beating out its popular Walking Dead competition. However, despite sharing the strong sales of Part 2, it did not remain at the top for long, falling to third the following week.
The Search Part Three was hailed by Speak Geeky to Me as "an absolutely amazing comic and by far the best of the Avatar comics released so far," praising the artistry and storytelling and giving it a full ten-out-of-ten. Angela Sylvia of the Fandom Post was also enamored, saying of the answer to the "Zuko's mom" question, "it's nothing like what I expected, and is still so satisfying." She also gave the comic a perfect score.
- Main article: Transcript:The Search Part Three
- On page 14, Azula's "Even when you're strong, you're weak!" toward Zuko parallels Ozai's "Even with all the power in the world, you are still weak!" toward Aang in "Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang".
- Aang mentions how Koh "took someone important away from one of [his] past lives," and that this past life still spared Koh, alluding to Kuruk's revelations in Escape from the Spirit World.
- Noriko and Noren turned out to be Ursa and Ikem, respectively, thus revealing Kiyi to be Zuko and Azula's half-sister.
- Rafa's face was stolen by Koh, the Face Stealer.
- Koh is revealed to be the son of the Mother of Faces.
- Ursa calls Love amongst the Dragons "Love amongst Dragons" on page nine.
- On page 51, in the second panel, the Mother of Faces grabs Rafa's face with her right hand, but in the subsequent panels, she is shown holding him with her left hand.
- On page 65, in the last panel, Zuko is missing his top-knot and Fire Lord headpiece.
- The final page of the novel features Zuko and Ursa beginning a conversation about the latter's past "from the beginning", revealing this dialogue to have been the same one that commenced the plot of The Search Part One. However, this installment's version contains one sentence, "From the beginning," that was absent from part one.
Library Edition reveals
The Search Library Edition compiles all three parts of The Search trilogy as well as interjects trivia- and production-based notes in the sidebar of many pages. These notes were written by Gene Luen Yang and the Gurihiru team, with further contributions by Michael Dante DiMartino; the series co-creator's additions are a notable distinction for this Library Edition, having not been included in The Promise Library Edition. The following are notable points from the Library Edition that pertain to The Search Part Three's early production phase and trivialities as attested by the aforementioned crew members.
- Michael DiMartino (author-perspective, storytelling trivia):
- The team hoped that the Mother of Faces would feel "primal, ancient, and mysterious." For this purpose, images of multi-headed Hindu goddesses were sent to Gurihiru for reference.
- DiMartino was immensely pleased with Ursa's depictions on page 20 (170 in The Search Library Edition) and with her characterization throughout the novel (p. 170).
- "I remember when Gene first pitched me the idea of Mother of Faces. I was intrigued but a bit worried about her powers being a little too magical. Around the same time, Bryan, the writers, and I were developing more of the mythology around the spirits for book 2 of Korra. For one of the episodes, ["Beginnings, Part 1",] we came up with the idea that spirits can take over a human body for a short time, but at great peril to the human. I asked Gene to apply that concept to Mother of Faces, so by making physical contact with Ursa, she can alter her appearance. This is one example of how work on the series influenced what happens in the graphic novels." (p. 188)
- One thing DiMartino had always been mulling over in concern to Ursa's whereabouts was that amnesia was the factor that kept her from contacting her children for so many years, long before her complete fate had been mapped in the plot of The Search (p. 203).
- DiMartino feels that having Zuko search for the truth not only of his mother's whereabouts, but also of his paternity was important for the character to go through (p. 222).
- "When I first read the script, I got chills when I got to the end and realized it was Ursa and Zuko's conversation from the very first panel of the story, and we'd just been hearing Ursa tell her own backstory to her son" (p. 226).
- Gene Yang (author-perspective, storytelling trivia):
- The Mother of Faces was originally conceived with the design of a Korean queen, but Gurihiru's trial sketches were enough to make Yang realize that this approach would not work. Once DiMartino began his collaboration with the art duo, the current design was finalized, with inspiration having been drawn from depictions of Guan Yin, goddess of compassion. (p. 162)
- Between the face theme that runs throughout The Search and his opinion of the spirit as "one of the best villains ever created," Yang was intent on shoehorning some mention of Koh the Face Stealer into the plot (p. 200).
- "Sokka is to Team Avatar as Hawkeye is to the Avengers. He's a normal guy who hangs out with, and goes up against, the uberpowerful. Here, we show how he does is—with wit and cleverness." (p. 207)
- Gurihiru (stylistic and artistic trivia):
- The dish that Ursa and Ikem are eating on page nine (159 of The Search Library Edition) is loco moco. This is a Hawaiian specialty, keeping with Hira'a's tropical inspiration. (p. 159)
- "The idea for the faces on the crabs' shells comes from Beijing opera" (p. 174).
- Gurihiru changed the overall tint and colors on a page depending on the emotional state or mood of the Mother of Faces in order to more clearly portray her feelings, which otherwise may have been more ambiguous due to her lack of eyes or changes in facial expression (p. 179).
- The scene on pages 30 and 31 (180 and 181 of The Search Library Edition) was illustrated as such in contrast to the pages of part one when Ikem first retreated to Forgetful Valley. Since Ikem is with Ursa this time, however, the mood is more optimistic. (p. 181)
- On page 33 (183 in The Search Library Edition), Ursa's hairstyle is the same as it was when she was twenty-one as a device to illustrate the passage of time (p. 183).
- The script for The Search Part Three intended Gurihiru to illustrate Noren and Noriko's dining area as composed of chairs and tables. Instead, the home was redesigned slightly to include "a Japanese-style low table (chabu-dai) and cushions (zabuton)," in-line with the duo's Japanese heritage. (p. 196)
- The dark coloration that appears in Noren and Noriko's house after page 56 (206 in The Search Library Edition) was meant to illustrate the tension that sprouted from Azula's sudden attack (p. 207).
- Cues from Studio Ghibli are overtly present in the mystical scene of pages 66 and 67 (pp. 216 and 217).
- Best Sellers - The New York Times (1). Best Sellers, Paperback Graphic Books. The New York Times (2013-11-24 [for documentation purposes]). Retrieved on November 13, 2013.
- Best Sellers - The New York Times (2). Best Sellers> Paperback Graphic Books. The New York Times (2013-12-01 [for documentation purposes]). Retrieved on November 13, 2013.
- Best Sellers - The New York Times (3). Best Sellers> Paperback Graphic Books. The New York Times (2013-12-08 [for documentation purposes]). Retrieved on November 13, 2013.
- Lewis, Mathias. "Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search Part Three – Comic Review". Comics-Reviews. Speak Geeky to Me. Retrieved on November 30, 2013.
- Sylvia, Angela (2013-09-19). "Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search Part Three Graphic Novel Review". The Fandom Post. Retrieved on November 30, 2013.