Dark Horse’s The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, part 1, written by Michael Dante DiMartino and illustrated by Irene Koh, is the first comic continuation of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra animated show. This comic picks up where the show ended, and expands into many new subplots.
The new spirit portal, located in Republic City’s center, has caused new problems for the city and its people, and avatar Korra is tasked with handling the city’s reparations after Kuvira’s siege. Korra and Asami cut their Spirit World adventure/date short when Korra decides to introduce her new girlfriend to her parents in the Southern Water Tribe. From there, both girls return to Republic City, where avatar Korra contends with an industrialist named Wonyong Keum, who wants to build an amusement park around the spirit portal, as well as Tokuga, a vicious new gang leader of the Triple Threat gang, and the problem of supporting the citizens in the evacuee camp.
None of the three main plots are particularly compelling on their own, and even when put together, they fail to be more than the sum of their parts. At the volume’s end, there is some convergence of the Tokuga and Wonyong Keum plots, but the three plots all feel too low-stakes and mundane to match the adventures in the animated show. The comic rapidly shifts from one narrative to another while giving little development to any of them, aside from reintroducing characters such as Mako, Bolin and Opal. The Dark Horse comics for Avatar: The Last Airbender all had more focused plots, comparing favorably to Turf Wars‘ first volume. Finding Zuko’s mother and the clash of tradtion vs industrialization in the Southern Water Tribe, for example, are both better comic plot material than what is found in Turf Wars.
Turf Wars introduces a new theme to the Avatar universe: LGBT representation, mainly through Korra and Asami’s romantic involvement. Through exposition, Kya explains that the Avatar world’s LGBT community is fairly well off, such as the complete tolerance among the Air Nomads in the past, as well as the Fire Nation’s historic tolerance. However, Kya also states that Fire Lord Ozai, the arch-villain of Avatar: The Last Airbender, criminalized all same-sex relationships. This begs the question: why? To make him even more villainous? To give the Fire Nation citizens something to fight to reclaim in a future story? No explanation is given, and in the context, it feels like a cheap development, merely to contrast with the more tolerant Air Nomads.
Turf Wars also bluntly makes parallels between the Avatar world and real life, with Asami stating that “A lot has changed since then. I feel like people are more accepting now, at least in Republic City.” This sentiment fits the context, but one wonders if it could have been expressed more subtly in the comic, whether in this issue or a later one. There is also a “coming out” scene with Korra and Asami visiting Korra’s parents. Korra’s behavior is completely contrived in this scene, possibly to generate more conflict and tension, but none of it is organic. Spin-offs seem to rely a lot on this, making the lead character rush to a defensive conclusion for the sake of ratcheting up the conflict, and in this comic, the scene falls flat.
The art is adequate for a cartoon-to-print adaptation, with a rougher and more organic look, compared to the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics. The characters all look true to their cartoon iterations, and the action scenes convey motion well and are clearly drawn, but overall, the visuals fall short of those in the earlier comics. The dialogue is also accurate to the characters and lore, but is never particularly poignant or memorable. It only does its job.
As a whole, Turf Wars breaks new ground with new plot lines beyond the animated show’s events and the brand-new LGBT theme, but the narrative is watered down with a scatter-brained plot and an unpolished theme of queer communities in the Avatar world.