It is often bittersweet when a television show goes off the air, especially if it ends on a note that left you wanting more. Many series have tried to address this by offering “official” continuations of canceled shows via comic books, a practice popularized by the successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer run from the mid-00s. When Dark Horse Comics announced The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars in 2015, many worried it would be a simple cash-in on the popular franchise, as some of the post-show comics of its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender felt. However, thanks to being written by series co-creator Michael DiMartino and boasting beautiful art from Irene Koh (as well as Paul Reinwand on layouts and Vivian Ng on colors) Turf Wars proves itself a worthy successor to the television series that pushes Korra and her friends into the next chapter of their lives.
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Library Edition
Heather Campbell (cover artist), Michael DiMartino (writer), Irene Koh (interior artist), Vivian Ng (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Paul Reinwand (layout artist).
Dark Horse Comics
March 26, 2019
Initially released in three volumes throughout 2017 and 2018, the new Library Edition of Turf Wars collects the miniseries in a complete package that feels satisfyingly well made. In addition to collecting the three volumes in one place for the first time, the new Library Edition also includes behind-the-scenes documents such as character designs, color processes, and writer’s notes. The highlight of the new addition is the glimpse at Irene Koh’s participation, going beyond merely drawing the scripts to actively shaping and altering the characters and world of Turf Wars to provide more authentic representation. A foreword from Koh relays the deep connection she shares with Korra, as a fellow bisexual martial artist and PTSD survivor, and provides a new context for the graphic novel as a whole, and its LGBTQ themes in particular.
Picking up immediately where the season 4 finale ended, Turf Wars begins by exploring the now-famous final moment of the series where Korra and Asami hold hands and walk into the Spirit World together. Freed from the confines of a television network, a relationship that series co-creator Bryan Konietzko described as “supportive” but limiting in regards to queer representation on the screen, Turf Wars wholeheartedly embraces their relationship and explicitly spotlights their love and affection for one another. While their romance forms the central spine of Turf Wars’ story, it is not the only thread from The Legend of Korra’s finale that the series explores.
A massive portal to the Spirit World now sits in the heart of Republic City, and no one, except the Air Nation, is particularly happy about that. Citizens have been displaced from their now-destroyed homes, and spirits have to contend with noisy, often dangerous humans freely crossing into their realm after centuries of relative solitude. The instability caused by the portal bleeds into every storyline, from the rising power of the Triple Threat Triad gang taking advantage of their rivals’ loss of territory to President Raiko’s scrambling attempt to retain his position in Republic City after failing to stop the invasion in Season 4 of Korra.
The Triple Threats, led by their mysterious new head honcho Tokuga, form the primary antagonists in Turf Wars, escalating from a power grab in a gang war to threats that put the entire city at risk. Unfortunately, Tokuga is also Turf Wars‘ weakest point. In a series with several fantastic villains, such as Kuvira and Zaheer, Tokuga is a flat, one-note power-mad gangster whose rise to supervillain status is as dull as it is cliche. Even an interesting, spirit-corrupted design from Irene Koh and flashy choice of weaponry can’t save him from mediocrity.
While the miniseries’ villain leaves much to be desired, the minor conflicts prove much more interesting and developed. Raiko’s flailing grasps at maintaining power butting heads with Zhu Li and Asami’s dreams of a future for Republic City are entertaining and give a satisfying conclusion to Raiko’s arc left dangling through the television series. The still-rebuilding Air Nation’s increasingly active role in the development of Republic City and the Spirit World’s increased presence is an exciting direction for the setting.
As mentioned, Korra and Asami’s relationship forms the core of Turf Wars, and, thankfully, it is the best part of the series. Their romance is genuinely sweet and wonderful to see presented with no half-measures or obfuscation. Providing new context for their friendship throughout Korra’s four seasons, while still respecting their personalities and not sanding over their hard edges, it is a satisfying pay-off for fans and a fun dynamic for newcomers.
While no outright homophobia occurs in Turf Wars, the collection does attempt to present a world somewhat similar to our own where bigotry is present. Their friends and family celebrate Korra and Asami’s love, but caution that others might not feel the same way about the new couple. The Fire Nation’s century-long empire enforced strict anti-queer laws that have fostered lingering hate, and the ancient Earth Kingdom still clings to old beliefs and traditions. While a reasonable attempt to provide real-world analogs for the series’ target YA audience, it could also be argued that a fictional setting such as the world of Korra could simply not include such bigotry and give those young readers an ideal to hope for in their own lives.
These well-meaning but clumsy attempts from DiMartino extend beyond Turf Wars’ queer themes and into the script itself. While The Legend of Korra had an all-star voice cast with the likes of Janet Varney, JK Simmons, and Seychelle Gabriel to bolster occasionally weak dialogue with fantastic performances, Turf Wars can only present the words as written. Conversations and monologues can sometimes feel clunky and awkward as a result. Thankfully, Irene Koh’s art is both expressive and detailed enough to help minimize the damage from these moments.
Koh, whose art revels in equal parts fashion and form, is a perfect fit for Korra and provides a style that echoes the animated series while remaining firmly distinct. Vivian Ng’s colors only solidify this feeling, as the flatter color palette used further divorces the art from feeling ripped straight from the television series. Koh, as well as her co-artist for page layouts, Reinwand, has a grasp of fight choreography and anatomy that allows the fight scenes and displays of bending prowess to flow in a way that other Avatar adaptations have struggled to overcome. Outside of the combat arena, the detail and design work provided to characters’ fashion is far beyond most comics, with frequent outfit changes and killer looks occurring with impressive frequency.
Turf Wars has a lot to offer Legend of Korra fans, from seeing your favorites rendered in a new aesthetic to watching them grow and develop in ways they hadn’t or weren’t allowed to do before. Its nature as an immediate follow-up to Korra’s final season might make it a bit daunting for readers just joining the party. Still, if you are a fan of the series or are okay with jumping into a new world head first, it is an excellent choice for your next comic.