Two Takes on Legend of Korra: Turf Wars
Michael Dante DiMartino (Writer), Irene Koh (Artist), Vivian Ng (Colorist), Nate Piekos of Blambot (Letterer)
Dark Horse Comics
August 8, 2017
To start off, why don’t we talk about our personal experiences with Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra? Did you watch Avatar growing up? Did you love Korra, or did it take a while for you to warm to it?
Rosie Knight: I loved Korra. I’d really enjoyed Avatar, but had gotten into it a little late, and it was just a really solid and lovely show, but Korra moved me in such a deep way. Everything about it was super great, and I followed it with an almost religious fervor right until it ended. I was super stoked for this book when it was announced and it didn’t disappoint.
Alenka Figa: I also got into Avatar late; I watched all of it when it was on Netflix in 2011 or 2012? I’d been aware of its existence as a kid, but it was so satisfying to binge, and I’ve watched it over multiple times since, including as a supportive, familiar backdrop when I was very upset. Legend of Korra’s release was very exciting for me, because it was announced after I’d fallen completely in love with Avatar, and I also followed with near-religious fervor! Korra and Asami’s relationship was particularly exciting; around the end of the series I’d been considering getting a tattoo, and when I was watching the final episode I yelled “be queer!” at the screen–or something to that effect–and then they were queer? It’s still rare to see that happen in cartoons! I did get the tattoo.
There is a lot of coming out in this comic; Korra and Asami come out to Korra’s parents, to their friends. The exploration of their feelings for each other almost felt overshadowed by it, to me. What did you think about Turf Wars as a coming out story?
Rosie: For me, just the fact that Korrasmi was being recognized as canon was such a huge thing, that it was only on my second read through that I started to think the relationship was a little too centered around other people’s experiences of it. Though I did also think that as this is a book aimed at middle grade readers it’s a nice thing to cover as young queer people reading it can see a version of coming out, something that is rarely covered in comic books, let alone one that is seen in licensed books.
Alenka: I have mixed feelings regarding the coming-out aspect of the story. I agree that it is a nice thing to cover in a book aimed at younger readers, especially ones who may be coming out to family in the future, and neither previous comics nor the show have ever addressed queerness in the Avatar world. However, I was really bummed when Korra and Asami’s vacation ended so swiftly. They discuss when they first realized they liked each other, but I was really hoping for more of Korra and Asami just…being together? Of course, Avatar has always been about the larger world, and how its characters handle various political, environmental, and ethical conflicts, so maybe I’m asking for a little too much fanfiction.
Rosie: I totally agree with you here! I could have read an entire book about the vacation, and think that as fans of Korrasami we end up wanting to realign our focus from the greater world of Avatar to the more interpersonal slice of life aspects of the book!
The Triple Threats are back! I always forget the layers of Mako and Bolin’s backstory, but their storyline seems to be taking us back to political and economic strife in Republic City. Are you interested in the upcoming election and the land battle surrounding the new spirit portal?
Alenka: I’m gonna be honest and say that “shitty, ineffective president runs for re-election” is really appealing to me right now. I would like to see Raiko get his ass stomped all over! It would be very cathartic. When they introduced the presidential race, Tenzin sings Zhu Li’s praises almost immediately after which, to me, implied that they might push her to run against him. I really hope that’s what happens, because can you imagine Varrick as her campaign manager? Oh my god I want this, please grant my wish! Plus, with Korra and Asami working to advocate for the evacuees, they can be a power couple backing up Zhu Li! There seems to be a fun, somewhat anti-capitalist message tied up in the “corporation wants Spirit Portal amusement park” storyline, so I’m here for it. Also, I’m a sucker for super skilled fighters like Tokuga. Gimme those juicy fight scenes, please!
Rosie: Could this book have come at a better time? Not only is it beautiful, enchanting and inspiring, but it’s also politically resonant. I live to see Raiko get taken down and I feel like it would honestly do a lot for me on a personal level right now. It seems almost too good to be true that Zhu Li might run against him but I did definitely get those vibes from the moment with Tenzin. As for the Spirit Portal theme park, I am heavily into any anti-establishment, anti-capitalist rhetoric in middle grade books, and they set it up so well in this first book that I can’t wait to see the Avatar’s team take that Scooby Doo villain down.
The other big story that crops up in Turf Wars regards the evacuees whose homes were destroyed by the mecha at the end of Legend of Korra‘s final season. I found this storyline interesting; while they’re still in their home city, it echoes real life refugee situations. What are your hopes for this?
Alenka: Avatar has always used complicated stories to comment broadly on real issues; this is their attempt to consider how governments treat refugees and displaced people. There’s not quite enough here in the first volume for me to have deeper thoughts, but I’m glad that it’s present in the book. Also, I suppose if they didn’t address all the citizens whose homes were destroyed, that’d be a huge plot hole!
Rosie: I was really happy that this was a story they chose to include in the book, aside from wishing for a thousand Korassami slice of life scenes. I really do adore the world-building in this book; it fits so well into the established Avatar lore. Though they only scratched the surface I’m excited to see what they will cover with this storyline, as I truly believe comics are a medium for change and “radical” thought so any way they can open up a dialogue and create empathetic portrayals of refugees and displaced people is fantastic.
I saved the best for last–the art! I was so excited when it was first announced Irene Koh would be the main artist, and goodness has she delivered! I also found Vivian Ng’s colors stunningly gorgeous. What do you think about the art? Does it line up well with the series, but do the artists make it their own?
Rosie: I was a huge fan of Irene Koh and Vivian Ng before the book came out so this creative partnership was a complete dream team announcement for me, especially on this property. From the opening Koh and Ng create a world which, though completely cohesive with the Korra we know and love, is also entirely their own. Koh’s linework is so recognisable and lovely that it instantly draws you into the story, I could honestly read these books for the rest of my life and never get bored of their visual stylings.
Alenka: I have been dying over the little hints and sketches Irene Koh tweeted while working on this book! Your comment about her linework is spot on, I think her style is a bit softer that what we’re used to seeing on the cartoon, but it works so well for a sweet new-girlfriends story like this! I am less familiar with Vivian Ng’s work but her colors are essential for making the Spirit World come alive, and she just totally blows it out of the park. That first two page spread! You can feel the vibrancy and strangeness of the Spirit World, just as you can on the show.
Rosie: Legend of Korra: Turf Wars is a stunning book.