REVIEW: Legend of Korra – Turf Wars – Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and Irene Koh

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Author: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and Irene Koh

UK Publisher: Dark Horse

Genre: Graphic novel, fantasy, YA

After a refreshing sojourn in the Spirit World, Korra and Asami return to Republic City but find nothing but political hijinks and human vs. spirit conflict! Pompous developer Wonyong Keum plans to turn the new spirit portal into an amusement park, potentially severing an already tumultuous connection with the spirits. At the city’s edge, Zhu Li enlists everyone she can to aid the thousands of hungry and homeless evacuees who have relocated there. Meanwhile, the Triple Threats’ ruthless new leader, Tokuga, is determined to unite the other triads under his rule, no matter the cost.

In order to get through it all, Korra and Asami vow to look out for each other–but first, they’ve got to get better at being a team!

I realise it wasn’t all that long ago I reviewed the first three Last Airbender collected editions, however I was lent this copy of Turf Wars and felt the opportunity was too great to pass up as – perhaps even more so than the original series – there was some need for further narrative for these characters. Anyone familiar with the series will know that Legend of Korra was shortchanged after Nickelodeon withdrew budget for their final season – moved from TV airing to streaming-only, their budget was also cut and they were faced with the choice of either losing animators or losing episodes. They chose the latter, and Korra’s final season was reduced from 13 episodes to 12 and a clip-based recap episode. The ending was also somewhat censored – whilst it was heavily implied that Korra and Asami were mirroring Aang and Katara from the end of The Last Airbender, nothing explicitly representing it could be animated due to Nickelodeon’s censorship rules. So instead of the kiss that ended The Last Airbender, we get hand-holding which could be skewed as “gals being pals” if one were so inclined. The creators never shied away from confirming the relationship, releasing art afterwards to celebrate it, but I remember some people feeling a little short-changed.

For me, this book was as much about being able to write about this relationship without the same censorship restrictions as it was about getting a chance to explore the characters further. The structure of Korra didn’t suit me the way Airbender did – I found the collection of shorter series choppy, and meant that I didn’t have time to really get to know the characters in the same way. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but I struggled to settle into the characters and plot each time – in the same way I struggle with collections of short stories. The chance to spend more time with characters in a slower-paced environment appealed to me.

Like the Last Airbender library editions, this is a weighty and wieldy tome. It’s beautiful, but equally perhaps inaccessible to people with accessibility requirements. I’d jarred my wrist earlier that day and found myself getting cramp whilst reading it. Unlike the Last Airbender books, however, Turf Wars makes use of the full page for images – where other editions have maintained the same image size from the individual volumes and used the white space around them for annotations and commentary, Turf Wars blows the pages up fully, meaning the text and images are bigger. You still get the bonus content at the end, and but the pages are allowed to speak for themselves.

The book opens with an introduction from one of the creators, discussing why he wanted to ensure this book was written, and the importance of LGBTQ+ representation. The Avatar universe has long been one I have held up as an exceptional example of inclusivity and diversity without tokenism. It seemed only natural that LGBTQ+ people received some representation, and without the restraints of censorship. The introduction discusses how the book looks to place attitudes towards different sexualities in the various cultures set up within the Avatar universe, however this is done gently and by and large with very little conflict. The authors aren’t looking for drama, they’re just looking to expand the world and tell a story about two women in love. I can’t speak for how satisfying this is narratively – there may be people who want this examined further, who perhaps might feel this constitutes a hand wave across cultures, but at the same time, isn’t it nice to just have it established without all the hate and drama?

The art style in this is noticeably different as well – whilst the Last Airbender comics seem to be striving to mimic the show as closely as possible, this has a much more sketchy, artistic feel. It’s setting up its own character. I wonder how much of this is because these books are imagined for a slightly older audience, and how much it is demonstrating the different tones between the two chapters of the Avatar world. Either way, it’s very effective and I really enjoyed it.

Story-wise, I think I was less invested in this than the other comics. With the Last Airbender, there were issues which had remained unresolved that had been recurring themes through the whole series – what happened to Zuko’s mother, how do the nations cope following years of occupation and war? With Korra, and the nature of the stories being broadly resolved at the end of each season, any continuation was always going to be more about developing the characters further than further plot or world building. For me, it felt comparatively rushed, and I wonder if some of that is just the sheer number of characters in the cast who are given plot-focus compared to the original Team Avatar. It’s a problem across so many narratives – if you have too many characters it’s hard to really get your teeth into each of them in the same way.

It’s not a bad book, though. I feel like once a few more have been released the series will start to feel robust to me in the way the Last Airbender series does. I’m really looking forward to it.

Briefly:

  • As with other collected editions, this is heavy and unwieldy, however the images take up the full page so you can really see the details of the art.
  • I feel it isn’t as strong story-wise as some of the stories within the Last Airbender series, but I think part of that is because there is less clear and driven direction pushing the narrative. The Last Airbender was pretty linear, events following chronologically across the whole series and showing us nearly everything. Korra was always more episodic, the stories contained within a single season and new themes being introduced each time.
  • It makes a lovely addition to the set, however, and it’s nice to see the story being continued without arbitrary restrictions on what can and can’t be included by a network.

Rating: 4/5 – this is a strong addition to the Avatar universe, but alas not quite as strong as its predecessors. That’s a bar which is set very high though, so it’s likely you won’t be disappointed.

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Legend of Korra – Turf Wars – Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and Irene Koh

  1. writingthebluesaway says:

    I’m so glad that they’re able to explore Korra and Asami more in this, it was such a shame in the show that it had to be so censored. I also didn’t know about the budget being cut, I watched both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra quite a while after they came out! I preferred Airbender more but I think this would be a good purchase if you’re really attached to the characters and the universe. Also the cover is so pretty!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Claire says:

      I agree! One of my favourite bits of Korra was actually the kids from the original Team Avatar – I always felt they didn’t get enough attention! I would have happily watched a whole series about that extended, dysfunctional family.

      Liked by 1 person

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