“The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars” comes to an end,wrapping up this trilogy, while setting up more stories to come.
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 with Marissa Louise
Lettered by Nate Piekos
When Asami is kidnapped, Korra sets out to the Spirit Wilds to find her. Now teeming with dark spirits influenced by the half spirit-half human Tokuga, the landscape is more dangerous than ever before. The two women must trust in each other and work together if they are to make it out alive. Their fate is revealed in this stunning, action-packed conclusion to The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars!
Mark Tweedale: Since this is the final part of ‘Turf Wars,’ there’s going to be spoilers in this review. Consider yourself warned.
I did a reread of the whole thing for this review. Considering Part 1 came out August last year, I was a little (OK, a lot) hazy on the details. In particular, Wonyong Keum’s storyline is much stronger with the trilogy together, especially since in Part 2 he was limited to an appearance on a single page and no dialogue. The little things that get lost reading part by part come to life in a complete reading, and make it feel more like the Avatar world we know from the television shows. Did you do a reread too?
Paul Lai: I didn’t reread the trilogy, but despite being a bit hazy myself about details, I still LOVED this ending. “The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars” is good! That’s my headline. The ending sticks the landing so well, I didn’t even need to go back to Parts 1 and 2. I was immediately thrown back into the world, into the conflicts and tensions, into the stakes for our characters. Having gushed about the last two installments with you, I wanted to be critical of this chapter. I wanted to shake my head at original Avatar DiMartino and the art team with Irene Koh as illustrator. I wanted to say, “they couldn’t quite bring it all together”… but I was spellbound through the whole ending. The pace and rhythm, the visual legibility of the action that kept it action-oriented but still character- and tension-focused, and the just-enough resolution to feel realistic and satisfying at the same time… I’m not going to be able to come up with very many disapproving words on this one. In fact, I felt Part 3 was so good, it made some of the lulls of Part 2 disappear. What was your take?
Mark: I have to agree. I got swept up in this one. Even after a second read, I don’t really have any criticisms, just praise. In particular, something that jumped out at me was a detail in Vivian Ng’s coloring. I don’t know if you noticed, but virtually every scene with Tokuga has this dirty-looking yellow in it. This is distinct from the yellows you see with other characters, which are either much more green for the Creeping Crystals or much warmer for the lead characters. This sickly yellow builds throughout Parts 2 and 3—in the sequence with Asami and Keum tied up and seemingly utterly at the mercy of Tokuga, this yellow is everywhere—and ultimately culminates with Tokuga releasing the poison gas, which (surprise) is that same sickly yellow. It was a really nice touch, and it’s elements like this that makes the story feel so cohesive.
Plus I loved the little nods to continuity from Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s run on the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comics.
Paul: Hadn’t noticed that particular color motif, but I agree that Ng’s colors steer the emotional range of the scenes while maintaining the nostalgic tinge as the original show’s palette. Tokuga’s threat does heighten in this installment—the colors contribute to that, the dynamics of his movement and anatomy… but it all serves the story, and he becomes a focal point of tension at just the right time to lead to that taut culmination you’re talking about.Continued below
Tokuga is one of those parts of the story where Part 3 retroactively made Parts 1 and 2 even better. I feel like the creators established his villainy, but kept it bottled up in smart ways. Korra’s moral universe has always been less absolute and more modernist than, say, Avatar Aang’s narratives. So I think it fit nicely to have Tokuga one of multiple possible dangers. For a moment, as Chapter 3 began to narrow to its climax, I wondered if some of that moral complexity was cheated by aiming our animus at Tokuga. But through the ending, though there are plenty of satisfying (or pat, if you want to see it that way) resolutions, there’s also plenty of the ambivalence that keep’s Korra’s sense of sophistication and realpolitik. At least for me.
Mark: On the topic of Tokuga, I think this part did a good job of showing how young he was. He took advantage of chaos to rise to the top, but he’s not actually that good at staying on top. As Terry Pratchett said in Going Postal: “Being an absolute ruler today was not as simple as people thought. At least, it was not simple if your ambitions included being an absolute ruler tomorrow.”
Tokuga’s gangsters are overextended and his oversights everywhere (something Asami is quick to take advantage of). It’s not hard to imagine what would happen if his plan had succeeded… someone would have taken advantage and overthrown Tokuga. The threat to Republic City isn’t that Tokuga will rule, but rather how much chaos and death he’ll inflict in service of his ego. His plan is fundamentally self destructive, but he’s too inexperienced to recognize it.
Paul: That’s a smart read on Tokuga, and there’s the brash young villain about him that promises to return for more trouble. But Jargala’s one character where I bet rereading the whole story helps keep certain threads in mind, because I needed all those subtle reminders what part she played in the tapestry.
Interesting to read your assessment of Tokuga’s power plays, though. The whole story’s various threads, from President Raiko’s failing leadership to Korra’s negotiations with the spiritual realm, would make a fun study in various forms of soft power and hard politics. But the optimism and innocence that reasserts itself in the book’s ending (straight from the optimistic and innocent mouth of Avatar Aang himself) is definitely part of the satisfaction of this closing chapter for me. (Call me a sucker.)
Mark: (And call me a sucker too.)
Paul: The right candidate for Republic City’s President won, Korra’s parents are repentant, a detente with the Spirit Portal is achieved. All seems well. I can’t help but feel like there’s a strong whiff of the post-WWII liberal consensus reasserted here, with lots of progressive cultural trappings but little fundamental critique of corrupting structures except insofar as they have been corrupted by corrupt corrupters. But that’s alright with me, and I think it fits the Avatar moral vibe. Lots of balance and such.
What’s extraordinary to me is that I felt pretty happy with the amount of treatment each character set got, while remaining excited for the story growth opportunities still in place. The Korra–Asami relationship has plenty of room for new wrinkles. Tenzin still stands to play a role, as does new President Zhu Li, so there’s something old and something new in the city infrastructure. We have some movements with Mako and Bolin.
Mark: I’ve said it several times in our “Avatar: The Last Airbender” reviews, one of the weaknesses of the trilogy-of-OGNs format is that it almost has an obligation to address all the major characters since they usually take a year to come out, whereas the TV show could focus very narrowly on a single character for a full episode. So this is something I can’t help but be conscious off while reading these books. That said, ‘Turf Wars’ weathered this rather well.Continued below
The presidential stuff was the only thing that seemed to pull too much attention, though I only really felt that way in the beginning of this part, if only because while the city is under attack, it seemed a much less pressing concern. I enjoyed seeing the way movers changed the political landscape though. And President Zhu Li sure has a nice ring to it, huh?
Given that ‘Turf Wars’ is set in the immediate aftermath of The Legend of Korra’s final episode, the broad scope feels entirely appropriate. As you say, no one got lost in the shuffle, but no one felt tacked on either. Still, I miss Naga.
Paul: YES! We do get a bit of Tenzin’s Sky Bison Oogi, but I’m also with you on #BringBackNaga the polar bear dog.
Mark: The thing is, ‘Turf Wars’ is a bridge series, wrapping up loose ends from the TV series while setting up threads for future comics. This series has so much to shoulder as a transitional story, it would’ve been easy to lose track of its core, and yet the Korra–Asami relationship remains the focus, even with the two characters separated for most of the book. (Man, Tokuga did not make the right move when he put himself between those two. He just got his butt kicked from both sides.)
There’s clearly so much more for “The Legend of Korra” to explore. One thread I particularly liked that could potentially open up a lot more story avenues is what Tokuga has become. In Avatar Wan’s time, we saw other people that had been altered by spirits, but we didn’t see much how it affected them beyond the cosmetic. Here in ‘Turf Wars,’ during the gas sequence, we see the way the gas doesn’t affect Tokuga, and later he survives a fall that would certainly have killed a regular person. It’s not just his appearance that’s changed—he’s become something else. I can’t help but wonder if there are further changes to Tokuga beyond the physical. And what did this change cost the spirit that did it to him? This opens up all-new avenues for the Avatar Universe, ones this world hasn’t seen for over ten thousand years, and what knowledge remains is likely reduced to garbled legends and myths.
Plus humans just crashed an airship into the Spirit World, so I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more conflicts with spirits in the next “Legend of Korra” arc too. I get the feeling our Airbenders are going to be kept busy.
Paul: Agreed. This volume wrapping nicely certainly doesn’t close off many future avenues for these stories to keep expanding, which I’m excited about. While we’re on the subject, let’s shout out other things we’ve said we love that continue to work out nicely here: #KeepIreneKohDrawingKorra because she is amazing at it. She’s really melded her style with Korra’s look and feel, and its own kind of intentional roughness is actually a great stylistic contrast to the polish of Gurihiru’s style on the Avatar comics.
Mark: Sadly, Koh’s leaving the book after ‘Turf Wars.’
This will be the last Korra book I am on, but there will be more (Mike will continue to write)! The library edition for TURF WARS is also happening, but I’m not sure of release date. [Mark: It’s February 13.] TURF WARS consumed a year and half of my life, my blood, sweat, and tears, and it kicked my ass into shape. I am so grateful for having been given the opportunity to work on these books with the support and wisdom of the team, and it’s time for me to move on and do my original stories … And I’m a storyteller at heart – I’ve got a ton of queer, magical, heart-wrenching, action-packed stories I want to get out of my system and share with y’all! Hope you enjoyed my run on the books, and I hope you continue to follow and support my work. ♡
Overall, I can’t be too sad about that. It’s great seeing an artist I love working on a series I love, but creator-owned is where my heart is. If Irene Koh’s going off to do more work like “Afrina and the Glass Coffin,” that’s awesome. It’s easy to forget that these stories are 200+ pages and we were really lucky to have Gurihiru stick around for five arcs. That’s such a huge volume of work. (I get the feeling we’ll see a similar thing with Peter Wartman on ‘Imbalance.’ He’s already writing and drawing “Stonebreaker,” so I imagine he’ll likely just be doing that one arc of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” especially since “Stonebreaker” is set to resume in 2019.)Continued below
Paul: Yes, really happy for Irene Koh to pursue that line of her work, and it’s evident on the page how ‘Turf Wars’ got and gave the best of her art. With creators like these, and Faith Erin Hicks and Peter Wartman at the Avatarverse creative helm, we’re in good hands.
Final verdict: 9 – An excellent conclusion to the ‘Turf Wars’ arc, and an intriguing set-up for future stories in “The Legend of Korra” comics. DiMartino and Koh handle the Korra and Asami relationship beautifully—it’s truly the defining aspect of this arc.