Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1 Review
Written by - Micheal Dante DiMartino
Art by - Irene Koh
Colours by - Vivian Ng
Cover Art by - Heather Campbell
Cover Colours by - Jane Bak
Letters by - Nate Piekos
Published by - Dark Horse Comics
After a very long wait we finally have the first (Second if you count the "Friends for Life" free comics) Korra comic, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the release of this book, so now that it is out, does it deliver on that hype?
For me it is a bit of a mixed bag, I like the book, but I feel it has some clear issues. The Korrasami relationship naturally gets the majority of the focus here which is both a positive and a negative for the book, good in that it addresses the main issue that most people have with Korrasami, the lack of set-up/focus from the show. The negative is that the plot ends up suffering quite a bit as it just doesn't get the page count needed to get you invested in it. So the overall effect is that the big continuation comic for the Legend of Korra ends up feeling quite small, when it could have been so much more.
I feel for most people how they feel about this book will depend on how invested you are in Korra and Asami's relationship as well as how much you care about the exploration of same sex relationships in media. If you are invested, you will get a lot out of this book as you can really tell a lot of care and attention has gone into exploring how the Avatar world views same sex relationships. If you are neutral or don't care massively about these topics then the book may feel like the focus is misplaced. Myself I am more on the neutral end of things, I for the most part like how Korrasami was explored, but I do feel it ended up taking up too much of this part 1 that it really did impact on the effectiveness of part 1. Of course we still have part 2 and 3 to come, but Turf Wars Part 1's plot is definitely on the weaker end of things.
The plot of this book is incredibly light, though I will say it has potential. We are introduced to 2 new characters, Tokuga, who is the new leader of the Triple Threat Triads and Wonyong Keum who is the developer who is building an amusement park around the new spirit portal. The core of the plot is that with their new Leader the Triple Threats are fighting the other triads for Turf, Wonyong says he has bought the land around the portal, but the airbenders claim it is now sacred land and are standing in his way so he off panel hires the triple threats to force the airbenders away from the portal. The result is that Team Avatar forces them away by the end of the book with Tokuga taking a heavy defeat which he takes out on his employer, Wonyong.
There is a tiny amount of human spirit conflict involved, which is definitely some of the most interesting aspects of the book, as little focus as it gets. I hope this becomes a much bigger focus in the next 2 parts, because the triad stuff just doesn't feel important enough to get invested in as a main plot. I would also be critical of the book for not clarifying what the situation with the triads is. Because most people reading this book will not be aware of the triads involvement in the Korra video game plot which does add some context to why the triads are not around in Book 3 and 4. Which triads are still active? What about the Terra Triad, the Red Monsoons, the Agni Kais. The Triple Threats are still around as are a new triad mentioned in this book, the Creeping Crystals.
It feels like the book just forgets that for most people the last we saw about the Triads was back in early Book 2 Spirits. It is one of a few points in this book where the writing feels like very little thought was put into it.
Another issue which may end up being only with Part 1 is that outside of Korra and Asami, we don't really get a chance to explore many other characters. Mako and Bolin get a bit of attention as they are connected to the triad plot, but it feels like any hope of the brothers getting actual development are low. Especially Mako who is in dire need of some focus after the direction the writers chose to take his character in in Book 3 and 4. What we get of them is fine, but it is very light. Similarly with characters like Jinora and Tenzin, they get a bit of attention, but for the most part it is fairly inconsequential.
The only other plot is that they make it very clear that Raiko is basically useless as president. he is completely focused on getting reelected that he is giving no attention to the various issues the city is facing post Book 4. I appreciate that the book is pointing out something fans have been saying for years, that Raiko has not been a very good president. That said I feel the book presents him in such a bad light here I feel they may at some stage try to balance out our perspective on him and perhaps show why he was elected in the first place. It of course leads to some familiar Korra and Raiko interactions and what seems to the the set up of Zhu Li as a potential opponent to Raiko for the presidential race.
As I said I am interested in most of the plots, but they get such little focus, you are barely presented with enough of them to form any opinion on them.
Now to address the main focus of the book, what all of the marketing and hype has been about, Korrasami. Overall it is good, nothing blew me away, a solid enough exploration of their relationship, most of it is very well done, but it is not perfect and I have some issues with the writing. Part of the issue I have with the exploration of this relationship is that I feel they spend so much time on establishing how the Avatar world views same sex relationships and how the 2 girls will approach revealing their relationship with these views in mind that I don't feel we quite get enough attention on the dynamics of Korra and Asami's relationship, how their personalities interact, what they do well together, the potential issues they may face and so on. The focus is a bit too much on WHAT their relationship is when I wanted to know more about their individual relationship. Again we have 2 more parts to cover more ground with these 2, but like the plot I felt like part 1 left off Korrasami with us not quite knowing everything we need.
The issue I have with some of the Korrasami focus/development is in how thoughtless the writing is at times with regards to using retroactive continuity. There are a couple of moments when they reference scenes from the show or characters from the show and reveal something new about it and it just feels like it was not fully thought out whether that new angle really fits. Some of these moments work well to give some needed retroactive context to their relationship, but some had me frustrated with the heavyhanded additions. Overall I feel like the approach should have been to keep the retroactive explanations to a minimum and just have most of the development be from the present onwards.
I think this book really did highlight an issue I have been seeing as we go through Korra again on the podcast, that Asami as a character still feels somewhat undefined. Her arc in the show was so focused on either romance drama or Hiroshi that she rarely got a chance to show her personality so a lot of the interactions between Korra and Asami kind of feel like Korra dominating the scenes with her character which we know so well and Asami just going off that without adding all that much to things herself. This is where I feel we needed a bit of an issue to be presented to highlight their differences and similarities. This is shown when they highlight Korra's weakness as a character, her being impatient and a bit too intense, but Asami doesn't really get a similar moment, it feels like all we know about Asami is that she has a variety of awesome skills (Good fighter, engineer, businesswoman, Pilot), but we know none of her flaws as a character. The relationship feels a bit lobsided, where we know one character (Korra) so well, we know everything about her and the other is still a bit of an enigma.
The scenes I loved on this side of the book were when Korra and Asami went to visit Korra's parents after their vacation and also the scene the two have with Kya. These are 2 of the most well written scenes in the book that got me invested in their relationship and how they would approach revealing their relationship to others. It is also through these scenes that we get the exploration of the worlds view on same sex relationships. Kya runs down each of the nations and how each culture views these relationships, it is overall well done minus one of those heavyhanded additions I mentioned earlier on, nothing too frustrating, just one where I was saying to myself "Mike, you should have thought about that line a bit more, I feel you took the easy route with that direction". I thought Kya played a very important role in this book for Korra and Asami, being a calming influence of sorts and helping them both as they question how open they should be about their relationship.
The scene with Korra's parents is great from 2 angles from my perspective 1 which the book clearly presents and one which may be intentional or could just end up fitting in nicely with my thoughts. Before the two head back to the city they decide to go and see Korra's parents and tell them about their relationship first, what immediately jumped into my head was that Asami at this point in doesn't have any family of her own, Yasuko is killed before we ever meet Asami and we of course witness the death of Hiroshi in Book 4. The scene doesn't ever bring this up or even allude to it really, but I think it works to a degree the sense of Korra bringing Asami into her family, that Korra's parents are there for Asami too. As I said it is not really presented in this way, so I suppose this is a bit of a headcanon for me. The scene is well done as I always love getting to see Tonraq and Senna get some attention and it also serves to set up what Kya reveals later on about how each nation views same-sex relationships with Tonraq and Senna suggesting a bit of caution as they reveal their relationship to more and more people.
This creates a bit of an incident as Korra wants to just tell the world about their relationship and doesn't care if others accept it or not. The issue is that she doesn't really bring Asami in on this idea and while Asami does also want to be open about their relationship you can tell she would prefer a more gradual reveal to everyone. It is not really much of an issue as both are past it within a few pages and they move on. This scene highlighted the idea that we know Korra so well that we understand her flaws and get that she is impatient and all action, but also that we really have yet to see a flaw from Asami which I feel would really help her character to give her more depth. Perhaps this is something for part 2 and 3 to do, present a bigger hurdle for Korra and Asami to overcome in their relationship to see where they differ on things and how they approach these differences. This is kind of what I mean when I said earlier that the focus is a bit too much on what their relationship is rather than the focus being on Korra and Asami's dynamic.
Overall I am pleased with the development presented to us in part 1 despite a few issues, I feel they are past the establishing moments and now it is time to get into the character focus. Korrasami fans will be very pleased with what is presented here and I feel it does just enough to get those on the fence about the relationship invested, though it probably doesn't do anything to get many doubters on board.
The other key feature of this book would be the new artist on Avatar Universe comics. Irene Koh with colours by Vivian Ng. Overall I enjoy the art, it manages to be Irene Koh's own style while still feeling like the characters we know and love. I feel many will immediately jump to compare her art to Team Gurihiru's art from the ATLA comics, which I get to a degree as the ATLA and Korra comics have the same format, but I do feel is ultimately unfair as they are different artists with different approaches. Part of it is that as Avatar fans we are so used to Team Gurihuri and have not seen many other artists on the official material, they are the standard in a way for comic art for the Avatar Universe.
The only issue I have with the art is that it seems a bit inconsistent panel to panel, page to page, where we are used to metronomic consistency from Team Gurihuru. It is not aweful by any means, but you do notice at times that the shapes of the faces and the layout of facial features changes a bit depending on the panel and the angle. This and a sense that she never quite got a grasp on being able to consistently get Mako right when he in present are the only issues I have.
The strengths of Irene Koh's art are that her art for bending and how she draws the action scenes is very impressive and when a panel is good, it is very good. Also when she is required to do detail in the backgrounds, I think she really gets it right, detailed and nice looking.
So in conclusion I liked Turf Wars Part 1 and would recommend it to Avatar/Korra fans. I think it has some clear problems mainly with balancing presenting the plot and exploring the key relationship and a few smaller issues related to each of these aspects as well, but on the whole it is an enjoyable book and another case of always being able to say "It is just fun to get any new content with these characters in this universe". I feel part 1 can only go up in my estimation depending on how Part 2 and 3 go, I think the plot will be more of a focus and that it will present challenges and opportunities to delve deeper into the Korrasami relationship.
If you forced me to give a score out of ten I would say that right now it is either a 6.5/10 or 7/10. The book has just come out, I need a bit more time to fully compile all of my thoughts together. I think by the time we get to the podcast review on Sunday I will know exactly how I feel about the book and what score I would give.
Check out my video review here