2017
07.31
She's here

I can help!

I don’t like the Avatar comics. Everyone I read had so many large issues and little nitpicks that made Book 2 of Korra look pleasant by comparison. The Search was so bad that I wished they kept the story of Zuko’s mom an unanswered riddle if this was going to be their explanation. I could forgive them if they were just regular tie-in comics written by nobodies I had never heard of, but these were written by Gene Luen Yang, a comic writer whose works I’ve enjoyed. Were The Last Airbender comics just a years-long accident that not even an award-winning author could make readable? Because by comparison, Turf Wars wasn’t that bad. Doesn’t mean it’s great. If you hated the storytelling in Legend of Korra, this won’t change your minds one bit. But Turf Wars at least felt more like Korra than The Search or The Promise felt like the first series. I could at least recognize character interactions as natural progressions from the show, instead of weird dialogue written by people who had seemingly never heard of the Avatar franchise before starting their script.

And I suppose that’s damning with faint praise when it’s Bryan and Mike writing this comic. I will commend them for building a couple character moments for Korra and Asami at the beginning, making their relationship look more fluid than the last-minute hookup in The Last Stand. But immediately after when Korra breaks the news to her parents, well at least they still remember Korra’s headstrong personality. Her calling out Tonraq as narrow-minded and unaccepting just for telling her to watch out for people who might not approve of her relationship and nothing more was aggravating, but predictable. Yeah, another scene where Korra’s an asshole to one of her loved ones just because they’re advising her on what to do. That’s our Korra! But after over five years of plotting and figuring out how to pin down her character, Mike and Bryan seem like they’re still on step one. She’s still this headstrong idiot who jumps to conclusions and constantly has to fix problems she caused herself. If they don’t know what else to do with Korra’s character beyond that, then what’s the point of this comic beyond keeping a franchise from complete dormancy?

Not even the new villains have that same spark that Amon or Zaheer had. Like Wongyong Keum, the capitalist business tycoon who wants to turn the spirit-inhabited parts of Republic City into an amusement park so he can bilk money from tourists. He’s that corrupt business villain you’ve seen in hundreds of other cartoons, except you can’t even get the joy of hearing a voice actor give a smarmy, over the top performance. Even when Asami chews him out for walking out on a deal with her father years ago, he doesn’t even have the sense to remark that her father was a terrorist at the time. He’s just a bad guy we’re supposed to boo because he likes money more than others’ well-being, and does nothing to justify his behavior or actions. I liked him better when he was Book 2 Varrick.

Then we have Tokuga, the ruthless young upstart who’s taking over the gangs in Republic City. He has those curved swords that Jet used back in the day, so maybe the next issue will say he’s his great-great nephew or something. And he’s a chi blocker too, in case you missed Ty Lee or the Equalists too. You might be thinking “But neither Jet nor Ty Lee were serious threats by themselves. What does Tokuga have that they don’t?” Cunning? Savvy that previous Avatar villains lacked? Well guess what? He gets infected by a spirit and grows a tentacle arm and a fish face. And his fish face looks a little like burn scars, so he’s Zuko too! That’s your new main villain of the story. Fuck you. Be happy he doesn’t have some secret fifth bending ability that’s never been seen before. At least, I hope not.

Oh yeah, Zhu Li is hinted to be running against Raiko for Republic City president. I assume Bryan and Mike will find a way for him to say “Make Republic City Great Again” or “bigly” or some other wink to the readers. Perhaps he’ll literally drain the Swamp? I’m sure we’ll all remember this subplot when the next part comes out six months from now. On the kind of bright side, at least Bolin joins the police? Depends on what you think of Bolin though. Even if you liked Bolin, his bit in this comic isn’t much. They could have said he was away trying to resurrect his film career and no one would have noticed he was gone. Ditto for Mako. He was a nonentity too, and I wonder what place he has in the series anymore. Book 1 painted him as Korra’s central love interest, but that’s completely gone now, and he hasn’t any real character arc since then. We already have Lin if we want a crime subplot, so what can you do with Mako? For all its worth, at least the comic treats him better than Tenzin, whose role as Korra’s mentor dissipated early into the show and never resolidified since. They don’t even need him as an airbending master now that Jinora and Zaheer are around. He may as well have died during that fight with the Red Lotus in Book 3. I would have preferred that since it would have drastically increased the emotional stakes in that season.

But let’s get to the main point, and the reason why anybody’s talking about this comic: Korra and Asami’s relationship. While I like that the comic gives them some relationship moments, many other scenes feel too on the nose. The first nine pages are dedicated to reminding us that Korra and Asami are in love, and then we’re treated to exposition regarding the Avatar world’s stance on gay rights that feel dissonant in light of Korra’s relationship with Asami back in the show. I liked how subtle that last scene in the series where Korra and Asami express their feelings to each other was, and Turf Wars feels like it wasn’t to 180 and make it as obnoxious to watch as Korra’s previous bouts with love. Like the writers want to make up for lost time by shoving in as much relationship drama as there was for Korra and Mako back in the show. Romantic subplots have never been Bryan and Mike’s strong suit. Maybe if they made some strides in furthering Korra and Asami’s individual personalities first, so when they’re together it creates all sorts of chemistry. But for now, it just feels like the book congratulating itself for making Korra and Asami a couple instead of showing why they’re in love and how this changes them both as people. As if the comic itself were a gold star the show patched onto a paper because it was so proud of its efforts. But in doing that, the story itself feels like it’s retreading old ground instead of going to new journeys. If this is what we’re going to get from Korra, maybe Bryan and Mike should have started an entirely new comic about an Earth Kingdom Avatar to let some new air flow in.

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