• Feature: The Legend of Korra: Turf War - Part 2 Reviews 

    “The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars” Part 2

    By and | January 17th, 2018
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    “The Legend of Korra” is back! And yes, it is worth the wait.

    Cover by Heather Campbell
    with Jane Bak

    Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino
    Written by Michael Dante DiMartino
    Layouts by Irene Koh and Paul Reinwand
    Illustrated by Irene Koh
    Colored by Vivian Ng
    Lettered by Nate Piekos

    Recovering from a fight with the dragon-eel spirit and furious for revenge, Triple Threats member Tokuga solidifies his ties with the duplicitous Wonyong. Meanwhile, when Republic City’s housing crisis reaches its peak, Zhu Li sets her sights on the biggest public figure in the city—President Raiko—in a bid for the presidency! With her friend’s success, the future of the spirit portal, and the wellbeing of Republic City’s citizens at stake, can Korra remain neutral and fulfill her duties as the Avatar?

    Written by series co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino and drawn by Irene Koh (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Afrina and the Glass Coffin), with consultation by Bryan Konietzko, this is the official continuation of The Legend of Korra!

    Mark Tweedale: OK, this isn’t the first part anymore, so to free us up a bit, I’m dropping a spoiler warning right at the top. Paul, I’m curious what your thoughts are on the opening, of the destroyed and hostile Spirit World on the other side of the Republic City Portal. Korra’s assessment is that this is a warning and the spirits have done this damage to protect themselves, and even Jinora thinks that only the spirits could have inflicted this damage, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that.

    Spirits pick up on human emotions and amplify them. And yesterday Korra and Tokuga and the others were fighting just on the other side of the portal. I wonder how much hostility and rage the spirits have towards humans and how much is absorbed from humans.

    Paul Lai: You’re right, Mark, there’s no way to talk about this installment of the story without delving into details (unless we want to use the blandest generalities), so plunging into spoilerdom is appropriate.
    I read this second part of this “Legend of Korra” continuation without re-reading the first, so I was vague on details but strong on the impression left by Part 1. My first lasting impression was that Korra was, as always, full of courage in some respects, but perhaps too brash and rash in others. My second memory was that the spiritual world on one side and the intertwined material/political world on the other were becoming entangled by threats—Triple and otherwise—that would speed to catastrophe. The portal into a desolate Spirit World was an instant reconnection to that foreboding in this story. It’s the heaviness I love Korra for.

    The transition from the opening Spirit World scenes to the tanks of General Iroh in the scenes immediately following suggest that you’re on to something with your insight, Mark. Violence on one side of the portal seems to be mirroring militancy on the other. The further we return in Part 2 into the fray of the Republic City game of thrones, the more we see what may be disturbing the harmony that we opened Part 1 with. There’s so much intrigue here.
    Having said that, I felt pretty exhausted by this volume, to be honest. I know it’s always difficult to judge the middle act of a three part story, but I felt like I needed a bit more relief and lightness in this one. The creators effectively sell the tension with Asami, the threat of Tokuga, the specter of civic failure and criminal exploitation. But the Avatarverse humor and charm that usually makes this ominousness palatable feels absent. I know “Korra” has a maturity that wants to resist reducing characters into joke-bots or rooting interests. But I remained a little cold to all this conflict because there was so much of it. Did you feel that, Mark, or am I just in a mood?

    Mark: Or maybe we’re both in a mood. I got a similar feeling from this one, but not for any one reason, rather many small ones. You pointed out, you hadn’t reread Part 1 going into this book, so you were going in with your six-month-old impressions. That’s a long time between parts and it takes its toll. For example, the opening returning to the Spirit World would have a much stronger impact if we remembered more clearly what it had looked like before. Irene Koh had panels in there that mimicked the ones in the first part, but I didn’t know that until I revisited Part 1. We lose momentum between parts and there’s a difficulty in getting it back up to speed again, and a plot dense in political conflict makes this especially difficult.

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    Take Mr. Keum for example. He’s a character that was introduced and appeared in a single scene in Part 1, and he plays a major part in the political intrigue of this story. In Part 2, he exists as a name only until we see him on page 71, near the end of the book. Before you read Part 2, if I’d asked you who Mr. Keum was, would you have been able to answer the question? So this story is burdened with reintroducing this character, but he can’t actually appear to make a new impression without breaking the plot, so all we have is characters talking about him. Our impression of Mr. Keum comes almost exclusively from the, ‘Ugh, I hate that guy,’ attitude of the other characters. This is a limitation of the three-volume story format the “Avatar” and “Korra” books use. Every single plotline in this book is in its second act, and I find that has a wearying affect on me as a reader.

    Paul: I hesitate to blame the creators for the publication schedule, a pattern that the Yang and Gurihiru “Avatar” books established and made work well. But I agree with you: it’s a tall task both remembering the intrigue laid out in Part 1 with all these interconnected story threads, and maintaining the momentum that all those punchy openings set in motion.

    Between breaths just now, I re-read Part 1. I anticipate “Turf Wars” will read so much better as a finished set of three or as a hefty Library Edition.

    Mark: Yes, these problems will vanish in the Library Edition.

    Paul: Perhaps the difference between the denser “Korra” narrative expectations and the “Avatar” ones (which I applaud the creators for maintaining—one of my favorite aspects of the series) would have warranted considering a format or schedule change. I think these two volumes could read wonderfully as four shorter monthlies, for instance, though I totally get not wanting to fool with production formats for retailers and consumers’ sake.

    Reminded now of how well DiMartino and Koh (with uber-competent coloring by Ng, lettering by Piekos, and co-layout by Reinwand) brought us back into the Korra world in Part 1, I can see more pieces on the chessboard being advanced in Part 2 here. The nudges forward are not surprising, but they are more-than-competently advanced. Disquiet with the Spirit World and the portal-adjacent land dispute gets heated enough for a Second Act. The Tokuga-Keum-police-Korra conflict heightens with a recipe-perfect mix of revelations of manipulation and collusion, with compelling action at different registers (i.e. daylight street police chases, spiritual-atmospherics-charged climactic battling, etc.). And the complicated emotional terrain of Korra and Asami’s relationship push-and-pull goes to interesting places. I highly prescribe re-reading Part 1 to get the most of Part 2’s plot progression.

    Nonetheless, I stand by my initial feeling that the drama could have been lightened a bit more without sacrificing the intensity of the story. Did you find similar story problems? And did you have any feeling about the consistency of the art team’s storytelling and style?

    Mark: I didn’t really want any levity added to the story. There’s a problem I find in the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comics where often an arc tries to be too many different kinds of stories. The TV series could do so many different tones, and I liked the way an individual episode could commit to a specific tone from start to finish. Of course, that’s easier in a twenty minute TV episode versus two hundred and forty pages of comic over the course of a year. “Turf Wars” is a dark story, especially in Tokuga’s scenes, and I found the series worked best when they leaned into it. The last third of this story really worked for me for that reason.

    That said, I certainly think the Zhu-Li-Moon-for-president plotline could have carried more of the humour. Part 1 did such a great job of showing how ridiculous and dangerous President Raiko is without breaking the overall tone.

    As for the storytelling, there was also one moment in this volume that jumped out as written for animation instead of a comic. It’s the moment when Mako, Bolin, and Lin try to sneak up on Tokuga, but instead find a trap waiting for them… and a huge explosion follows. And yet considering all the build up to this moment, I found it hit too soft at the crescendo.

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    This is kind of a pet peeve for me, actually, because explosions don’t work the same way in comics as they do in film or TV, yet I frequently see comics imitating films to their detriment. In a film you get a vacuum of sound right before the blast, then a big boom with rolling clouds and long holds afterwards. They’ve often got a very controlled ‘fast and then slow’ tempo. Comics, however, have to find other ways to stretch out a moment.

    In this scene, as the explosion goes off, everyone turns to run except Mako. Though he’s injured, he attempts to bend the explosion so that the others can escape, but we don’t get any tension because it’s only a few panels and on the next page turn Mako’s fine. The tension is resolved too quickly to have impact. The sequence would have played more to the strength of comics if each piece of information in this sequence was a single panel, slowing everything down, and then on the page turn we return to Tokuga so that we have to wait for the Tokuga scene to end before we learn the fate of Mako. It’s a small thing, but it changes the focus of the scene from the explosion, which is a plot point in a political game, to the character struggle as a result of the explosion.

    Paul: That’s a deft observation, Mark! Would you put that more on DiMartino still writing for animation, or the artists for underutilizing comics’ tools of dramatic effect?

    Mark: I don’t know nearly enough about the team’s process to say, but given the breakdown of the pages, I’m inclined to think this comes from the writing.

    I also had some problems with the coloring being inconsistent. Sometimes it worked fantastically. The panel below with Lin briefing Mako and Bolin has lots going on in terms of light and shadow. There’s texture and interest there, even though the scene is fairly straightforward.

    Plus, I loved that little bit of humor from Bolin.

    But in this scene, when Creeping Crystals are threatening Asami, the lighting is flat. It’s lit much the same way as a scene earlier in the same location, when Korra and Asami shared a moment together. The coloring in this scene isn’t communicating the story.

    Given the dramatic qualities of the scene unfolding, it’s disappointing that the dominant impression in the colors is beige. And even though it’s evening, the temperature of the location is the same as it was during the day. The only light source is likely a single ceiling light in the center of the room, which had such dramatic potential too—the corners of the room could have been darker than where Asami is sitting. Imagine how different this panel would look if the most distant figures were darker than Jargala Omo. The depth in the image could have used to show proximity to Asami, cool figures at the edges of the room and warm in the center, so that there’s a sense of movement as Jargala travels from the door to Asami’s desk. And then when Asami’s electric glove ignites, it’d add a secondary light source of intense blue casting light upward on the character’s faces.

    I feel like there were a lot of wasted opportunities in this scene.

    Paul: Maybe the contrast you’re pointing out between a scene lit with a ton of dramatic intention and one whose color and light don’t seem to contribute to the emotion or tension is emblematic. I do agree with you, I don’t think frivolous jokes were what this Act lacked. Tonal variation, perhaps, is more what I was looking for, and I do think that ebb and flow was baked into the outline, but didn’t land with the same energy or confidence here in Part 2 that it seemed to in Part 1. I do like your analysis of why the artistic execution of some scenes left me feeling a little flat. For me, I’d attribute that sparklessness to some of the art, but still hang some blame on a second part scripted to continue the first’s plotlines, not to significantly twist or turn them.

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    These complaints, though, are all qualified with a big old asterisk for me, that I’d reserve harsh judgment until Part 3. I felt like in some places, Irene Koh continued to shine, and ways that her art might’ve been eccentric and ‘off-model’ actually added to the distinct flavor that befits “Korra” stories. But in others, the art team seemed to lack the gusto they exhibit elsewhere. In one sequence over three pages, Korra and Asami discuss plot and motivation points with a mix of tension and affection, and the art team opens the scene (p. 49) with an upward POV that stays fixed for four panels, almost catching the lovers in the privacy of an intimate argument like a voyeuristic reality show camera, and then communicating their emotion in the next pair of pages with midground shots that isolate heavy acting with gesture, touch, position, expression, and posture. There are several affective turns in this scene, and the artists do well to leave it under-rendered so the character acting feels clean and speaks for itself. But I couldn’t help but receive that scene with some of the coldness that you point out in the Jargala scene, and the emotional pitch of the moment felt undersold.

    But I wouldn’t push these complaints too hard. One thing that strikes me is that Gurihiru and “Avatar” were, in some ways, traversing well-worn paths in anime- and manga-styled visual storytelling, though they did so with utmost competence and personality. Like the animated series “Korra,” it seems like Koh and company are fusing something rarer. Yes, something with tons of precedent and influences, as Koh herself tends to show off in her style, but also something dancing between mature and mass appeal, between alternative and animated, between Disney and Deviant Art, and there are thornier questions of tone when you’re trailblazing. Am I off base here?

    Mark: Personally, I love that Koh always seems to be thinking about the characters first. You can see that in the care she takes with the body language between Korra and Asami, but it extends to bit parts too—look at how she handles the introduction of the gambling triad members on page 35 just from a few panels of hands.

    For me, the best stuff in this volume comes in the last third, beginning with Korra waiting for Asami on their date. Koh and Ng did an excellent job referencing Bryan Konietzko’s ‘Turtle-duck Date Night’ in this scene. I’m pretty sure we’ll return to this location in Part 3 to properly bring the moment in the poster to the comics.

    All of the issues I’ve mentioned so far with this volume are merely bumps. There’s nothing damning in any of them, but they do take some of the momentum out of the story. However, going into the last third, the comic sailed along smoothly. Everything clicked. I really liked seeing a bit of that familiar Korra rage let loose, when she feels the situation is slipping out of her control, and seeing how she hasn’t quite figured out how to fight an opponent with a eel-like arm. Plus the colors here are fantastic. What were the things that worked for you in this volume, Paul?

    Paul: The Mako and Bolin buddy cop shtick is working for me. Korra keeping me off balance like she always has—that’s working for me. Koh’s artistic range—comedy, broiling tension, swift action—that’s a real plus. Storywise, I’m still enamored with the reach of the interweaving elements of politics, crime, spirituality, land use, romance… it’s very true to the TV show’s ambition, and that’s why even if the narrative momentarily flags, nothing will keep me from wanting to keep reading these characters in this world, preferably with these creators.

    So to get specific about the closing scenes, did the cliffhanger ending work for you, Mark? I thought the last three scenes were quite effective in mounting tension to propel us into Part 3, despite my quibbles about the pacing and potency of most of what precedes it.

    Mark: If I’d looked at the plot on paper, I think I would have cringed at the idea of Asami being damseled, but this is where that scene with Creeping Crystals confronting her earlier was essential. It’s a reminder that Asami is not someone to be messed with and she’s not helpless.

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    I certainly think we’ll see more of the Spirit World impact on the narrative. That was something that was there in the opening of Part 2, but otherwise played very little into the overall story. In terms of visuals, I like that in the last panel there’s this striking beam of light shooting up into the sky in Republic City, a powerful visual reminder of this plot element still being in play.

    Paul: Yes! I’m glad you picked out that detail. Just such a finely drawn world. We had some complaints, but it seems like you’re with me, this remains top quality comics and Korra’s resoundingly good as ever. I’m hyped for this to wrap up in June… which seems verrrrry far away. Final thoughts, Mark?

    Mark: Honestly, it’s just great to hang out with the characters again. There’s such care in how each and every one of them is handled. None ever feel thinly drawn. To me, this is the greatest strength of the series. However, there were some issues with pacing and the coloring, so I’m going to give this one a 7.5.

    Paul: Act 2’s are hard to get perfect and best judged as part of the larger arc, but against the very high standards “Korra” and its creators have set for themselves, I would back you on a 7.5, with expectations that “Turf Wars” is going to stick the landing in its closing chapter.

    Final verdict: 7.5 – “The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars” has been away for a while and Part 2 has to build up all that lost momentum again, but everything we love about Korra and her world is still here.


    Mark Tweedale

    Mark writes Hell Notes, The Harrow County Observer, and The Damned Speakeasy. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter here.

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    Paul Lai

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