Monday, July 15, 2024

Turf Wars Desperately Needs a Spark

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Warning: FULL SPOILERS for Turf Wars Part 2

Turf Wars is back! The second of the three-part comic sequel to The Legend of Korra hit comic shops on January 17 (digital release January 31st), and you can bet fans flocked to pick them up. More Korra, more Asami, more of Team Avatar fighting the new villain, Tokuga, and trying to rebuild Republic City in the process.

Though reception to the first entry had been mixed around here, we’re still really excited to dive into this newest entry. Like any middle entry in a trilogy it faces an uphill struggle.

Let’s break it down and see how Turf Wars handled it. But first, take it away Shiro with a quick recap!

A new spirity face arrives to ruin Korrasami’s spirity fun! Following the battle at the spirit portal that left new big bad Tokuga deformed by everyone’s least favorite dragon spirit, Korra and the airbenders return to the portal in hopes of patching things up with the spirit world. Tenzin gives his approval of Korra and Asami’s new relationship and it looks like a bright, beautiful morning for our heroes!

That is until they reach the portal to find a bunch of wilted flowers which were cruising to do some bruising. Matters only get worse when Iroh II lives up to his name with a two-second cameo establishing a United Forces barricade around the spirit portal. Korra tries and fails to convince him to leave, and the Avatar storms off to confront President Raiko and do a little bruising of her own.

Meanwhile, Mako and Bolin make their report on the Tokuga incident to Chief Lin Beifong, and tell her they suspect Wonyong Keum of sending Tokuga to muscle the airbenders. Ever the cunning cop, Beifong forbids them from going after Keum without hard evidence. Mako and Bolin pay a visit to their twelve-toed prisoner friend Ping to that end, and Bolin realizes the Triads may still be using child messengers, just like the good old days.

In construction news, Asami Sato and Zhu Li Moon overlook construction on their miracle apartment building! Yet President Raiko and his skyscraper-haired campaign manager are quick to arrive to take credit. Ever the brilliant PR man, that Raiko! His good fun sours quickly when the Avatar arrives to argue about the spirit portal, but Raiko convinces the on-looking crowd to turn on her instead.

Who could defeat such a brilliant politician? Tenzin thinks Zhu Li stands a solid chance and the longtime assistant to Varrick decides to take the idea under consideration. Raiko’s sharp-witted barbs leave Korra reeling and her girlfriend tries to cheer her up, but even the beautiful CEO’s charms fail to lift the Avatar’s funk.

Mako and Bolin argue acting range until they find good ole Skoochy and question him about Tokuga’s current whereabouts. The lovable rapscallion resists until the two brothers surprise each other with their good cop/bad cop acting and get a location. Your days are soon to be numbered, Tokuga!

In other Triad news, the Creeping Crystals pay a visit to the lovely Ms. Sato to “offer” their services against Tokuga’s expanding influence. Asami brusquely refuses their services. Was this the smart move? Maybe not, as Tokuga ambushes a poker game to quell all remaining Triple Threat resistance and lay out his plan to take Republic City.

First target: Chief Beifong and her officers, who pay a visit to the warehouse Skoochy told them about only to walk into an explosive ambush. Another brilliant bit of policing by our favorite police chief! In the aftermath, Mako decides to pay Wonyong Keum a visit despite Lin’s orders, only to find out the mogul has been missing for days. Seems the Avatar and friends aren’t the only ones who don’t like Keum if this went unreported!

A new Future Industries security force awaits Korra when she makes a visit to her girlfriend at her construction site. Asami tells Korra about the creepy visit by the Creeping Crystals, prompting a predictably passionate and punchy response from the Avatar. Korra takes offense to Asami’s pleas not to chase down these felonious rock formations, but a tender embrace and promise of a dinner date quickly cheer her up.

Things aren’t going so well over at the refugee camp, where a delayed food delivery has the evacuees in an uproar. Zhu Li suspects Raiko of holding the food back to spite her, and after a magic massage from her husband Varrick throws her hat in the presidential ring! On Air Temple Island, Meelo’s genius tactical mind comes up with the idea of marching the airbenders in peaceful protest on the spirit portal to pressure the president to withdraw his troops. Look out, Raiko!

Another star couple suffers through a worse night as Asami never shows for her date with Korra. The Avatar has Mako and Bolin meet her at the construction site. Mako and Bolin sit outside the obviously destroyed trailer-office until Korra shows up and they find Ms. Sato missing. Korra immediately suspects the Creeping Crystals and rushes off to crack some skulls. However, a tense search of their hideout reveals zero Asami Satos and a mystery.

Team Avatar (sans Sato) ponders this mystery while leaving the Triad hideout, only to receive a call over the police radio about an attack on the police depot. They find Republic City’s finest hard-pressed by Tokuga and company, who have stolen Kuvira’s tanks and mini-Mega-Maids to use in their bid to conquer the city. Team Avatar confronts the terrifying Triad leader.

Unfortunately, it turns out he has Asami Sato captive! While the Avatar looks on helplessly, Tokuga begins his march on Republic City. How will the Avatar get out of this one! Can she rescue her girlfriend safe and sound? And what about the spirits, Raiko, and the rebuilding of Republic City?


Obviously our two badass bisexuals are the main reason many wanted these comics, and the first thing a lot of people will focus on. While they certainly an active part of Turf Wars Part 2, their relationship does not receive nearly the same focus. They have some cute scenes together, and Thirsty Asami has never been more canon. There are no kisses but there is a tender embrace.

If you want Korrasami fluff, then Turf Wars certainly delivers on that aspect. Not as often as the first comic, but there’s plenty.

Unfortunately…well, the Korrasami relationship kind of suffers for some major complaints I have about the characterization of the two awesome women that make it up.

As the main character, the biggest disappointment for me lies with Korra. I LOVE Korra. No matter what issues I had with The Legend of Korra, I always loved her character. That includes her punchy, angry days in the first two Books, back when many people didn’t like her so much. By that logic I should really like her in Turf Wars Part 2, right?

Well, no. Because Korra should not revert back to Book 1 Korra like she has.

I’m not sure why she was defaulted back to the same girl she was in season 1 like this. It’s just plain strange. Korra went through substantial growth throughout the course of the show, and especially during Books 3 and 4. She walked into that spirit portal far removed from the punch-first Project Voicebend version of her character she used to be.

Looking at the Korra in this volume, I’d swear this takes place in the middle of Book 1 or 2. And that’s a problem.

Yet again she just goes looking for fights. Basically this entire comic is Korra wandering from fight to fight. Gone is the Avatar who found an inner balance with her role in the world and the new path she was blazing and had matured from fresh-to-the-city Korra smashing shops. And what’s worse is how you can see the opportunities for something better. Having Korra solve tensions between humans and spirits as Republic City rebuilds around the new spirit portal could have been fantastic.

Instead she’s running around threatening to punch everyone. I fully admit Korra would immediately spring into action to find a kidnapped Asami, but the impact of that anger and punchiness would have been much stronger if it hadn’t been how she was reacting to everything else. Why revert her this way? I don’t understand.

turf wars where's asami

As a result, you get these weird Makorra-esque moments between Asami and Korra where Asami reasonably decides not to do something Korra’s way and Korra reacts angrily. They don’t last the way the Makorra fights do, but they still exist where they probably shouldn’t. What made Korrasami so healthy a relationship was how they didn’t fall into stupid petty fights like that, and how Korra didn’t react that way to Asami—a point explicitly made in “Reunion.”

I truly don’t get why Korra was scripted this way for Turf Wars.

Asami was a disappointment of a different kind; a disappointment of absence. There is so much fertile ground in the setup for Turf Wars. A resurgent Triad led by a new boss? Her mother was murdered by a Triad firebender, leading her father to become an Equalist. Republic City destroyed yet again? Guess who already headed a transformative project in the aftermath of Avatar Korra introducing the spirits into everyday life? Or, I don’t know, how about the fact her father was freaking murdered?

She could have taken a number of active, engaging roles in this narrative, any of which would make me incredibly happy. Instead she gets to design a single apartment building before playing the role of Avatar Korra’s helpless girlfriend to kidnap. I can’t believe this is all Turf Wars gave her. She barely feels like herself for most of this. I’m still not sure why she “woo-girled” Zhu Li like she did. I guess sometimes we all need to woo-girl.

Asami had her moments for sure. Her attempted seduction of Korra was amazing. Her unflinching rebuke of the Creeping Crystals was awesome. I totally buy that she would avoid using Korra as protection and instead go with her own security. I’m so glad they had her do so.

It just wasn’t enough to overcome all the squandered potential or the way they relegated her to little more than “the Avatar’s girlfriend”.

One of the most exciting things about a comic sequel focusing on Korrasami was the chance for Asami to shine more. While I loved her in LoK, too often she was sidelined in situations where she shouldn’t have been. I didn’t expect the same thing to happen again here.

Yet here we are. At least Thirsty Asami was made undoubtedly canon.

Good Cops and Bad Cops

With such a heavy focus on Tokuga and the triads, of course our friendly neighborhood Spider-Lin and her collection of Keystone Cops would play a large role. And you know what? I really liked them. I thought Turf Wars did really good with everyone involved.

I went into Turf Wars iffy about Bolin as a cop. I’m still not sure how much sense it makes for him as a career move. After reading, I find myself completely not caring. Mako and Bolin were the best part of this volume. Where Asami’s history with the Triads feels like a missed opportunity, the two brothers have had their past brought back and utilized well. Maybe without as much conflict as could potentially exist, but come on. There’s too much going on to delve too much into it.

It’s cool to see their knowledge of the Triads come into play. I liked seeing their relationships with old friends. It’s awesome to see how their own relationship has evolved, even if their dynamic seems the same. Bolin still plays something of a second fiddle younger brother to Mako, but only because he is new to the job. Where Mako used to often be dismissive of Bolin, now he very much treats his thoughts and suggestions seriously.

Neither felt like they regressed the way Korra did. I’m just really loving the familiarity of their dynamic because of how it incorporates the growth they’ve undergone as characters. Bolin is more confident, Mako is calmer and supportive, and I enjoy their time on page.

Also, Bolin has emerged as the biggest Korrasami shipper? I’m not completely surprised, but I figured someone else would surpass him.

Through them we’ve gotten a classic LoK cop story that, much like Korra, reminds me a lot of season 1 or 2 but without the disappointment. Now some people might groan about that since LoK has never handled the competency or logistics of its police force very well. Me? I enjoyed it.  Maybe it’s because of how adorably incompetent Lin Beifong is at her job?

turf wars lin
She’s the best.

Honestly, look at her job performance here. Yet again she ignores an obvious connection Mako brings to her that would solve a crime. Yet again she walks her officers into the teeth of an ambush. Oh, and you know the highly advanced military equipment Kuvira used to conquer the Earth Kingdom and almost conquer Republic City? Apparently Lin had some token task force Tokuga and company beat the crap out of.

Never change, Lin. Never change. Well, maybe change a little. Hopefully this ends with Lin getting an awesome individual moment in Turf Wars Part 3, as is tradition.

I also love the addition of Indian-coded characters with Jargala and her Creeping Crystal underlings. And Jargala herself has me interested in her limited appearances so far. She’s more compelling to me than Tokuga. Maybe I’m just a sucker for morally questionable characters who can team with the heroes one day and fight them the next. I’ll be a bit disappointed if Jargala doesn’t help fight Tokuga and his new army in Part 3.

More Jargala, please.

Triads, Elections, and Apartments, Oh My!

Turf Wars Part 1 set up a lot. Tokuga’s introduction, Raiko’s campaign and unpopularity, Republic City’s displaced population, the rebuilding of the city, and finally even new tensions between spirits and humans. I thought it might be too much for three volumes at the time. With Turf Wars 2 come and gone, I now wonder how much of this might be setup for potential future LoK comics.

I sure hope most of this was seed-planting. To be frank, there’s no way whatsoever to settle half of this in a satisfactory fashion anymore. The only plot moved forward in any substantial way was Tokuga’s. He consolidated his power, kidnapped Asami, took the depot, and is now marching on Republic City. I guess you could also say Korrasami’s eventual “coming out” is on track as well.

It’s too bad every single other plot is left with too little time.

How in the world will the presidential election end in any satisfying manner in volume 3? Republic City is about to come under attack, so I doubt there will be much in the way of campaigning. Is this going down as Zhu Li playing some active role while Raiko cowers, and then we see her elected with nothing else to it? I know politics has never been a strong suit for Avatar, but I still hope for something more. Especially when this had been made a selling point of Turf Wars.

And while we’re on the subject…I was actually excited for Zhu Li running. If for no other reason than sheer fascination. Only now we’re heading into a final volume that will have to focus on many other things besides her, and this one offered even less about her than the first volume of Turf Wars did. Zhu Li was an odd choice and too little has been done for her.

Really, the whole presidential election has been a flop, and I don’t understand why it exists. Not with this story.

I feel the same way about the tensions between the spirits and humans. Now, there is more room for a satisfactory ending here. The airbenders will march on the portal and Tokuga’s heading for the city. There are three converging forces in the city, who will almost definitely have to fight. The spirits may be drawn to the violence or have some other role.

Still, they went almost entirely ignored in Part 2. After Iroh and the United Forces arrive, basically nothing happens involving them. The airbenders make the choice to do something, but nothing actually happens.

Just like with the election, it’s hard to picture how this resolves satisfyingly in Part 3.

To be clear: I love the idea of all the subplots in Turf Wars. I just don’t think they should have all been included. Each could have supported their own arc in a LoK comic. I haven’t even gotten into Korrasami or the rebuilding of Republic City. I feel like we could have had Korrasami’s early relationship/coming out and the rebuilding of the city as one arc, the Triads as another, the election as another, or even some mix of this. Have a Triad leader run against Raiko so you cover both those plots, for example.

A smaller focus might have also helped with the numerous small inconsistencies throughout Turf Wars Part 2 as well. A lot of this is nitpicky, but are the kind of things that naturally happen with a scope the writing simply can’t handle.

For example, why is an apartment building being treated as a real solution to the refugee problem? The damage to the city was IMMENSE. Republic City is a metropolis laid to waste at the end of Book 4. That single apartment building wouldn’t house a fifth of the people left homeless after Kuvira’s invasion. And I’m being incredibly generous with that estimate.

Going to need a bit more than a single apartment building to make things better here.

You also have silly stuff like no one thinking to draw up housing plans in 3 weeks to a month before Asami came along, the fact Mako and Bolin stood outside Asami’s wrecked trailer for who knows how long until Korra arrived, Korra just blurting out that Asami is her girlfriend to a random security guard when they were supposedly trying to keep the relationship secret, and the whole thing just feel sloppy.

Final Verdict

Look, I’m so happy for everyone who loves this comic. Korrasami is a big deal, a groundbreaker in children’s entertainment that inspired a pretty substantial wave of LGBTQ+ characters in other cartoons and kid’s shows. Just the existence of Turf Wars is another victory for representation that should be celebrated.

I also admit that my interpretation of these characters—and the dissatisfaction I feel due to those interpretations—will not be the same as others. There’s nothing inherently making my view of how these characters should act any more correct than anyone else’s. If you think Korra should still be the punchy, spunky Avatar she is here, than feel free. You have the comic’s backing, after all.

However, for myself, I am dissatisfied. And really my biggest reason for disappointment isn’t Korra’s regression, Asami’s sidelining, or the overstuffed mess of the many plotlines. No, my biggest disappointment can probably boil down to one key factor that explains why all these choices were made in character and plot instead of the choices I would have preferred:

Turf Wars Part 2 just plays it too damn safe.

Middle entries in trilogies always have it hardest because they bridge the beginning and end without a clear beginning and ending of their own. Nailing it can make the hype for your finale soar through the roof. If you fall flat, well…you get this for me, where I’m not really looking forward to Part 3 like I hoped. It just feels like an uninterestingly cliché story I’ve seen a thousand times.

The Legend of Korra was outstanding for many reasons, but chief among them was the subversive nature of its characters and story and how both attacked the expectations born of The Last Airbender. Bryke made an effort to drift outside their comfort zone and tell a different kind of story. The very nature of the Avatar was deconstructed and reimagined. Korra was the first Avatar of a new cycle, a new Wan.

Fair or not, I expected Turf Wars to try and follow in these footsteps. I expected it to at least build on the idea of Korra as a new kind of Avatar for a new kind of world. I expected Turf Wars to take some risk—anything. The last thing I expected was pure blandness.

Instead everyone was boiled down to a couple easy characteristics and thrown in a highly uninspiring story we’ve seen a thousand times. The Avatar fighting gangsters who kidnapped her girlfriend. Korra revisiting internal and external conflicts she has already conquered. Where’s the risk? Where’s the story the writers felt NEEDED to be told?

Even Korrasami hasn’t seen the kind of potential exploration I expected. Part 1 at least had a significant focus on the response to their relationship, but the homophobia we heard about is nowhere to be found here and the whole subplot was ignored.

Maybe this is somewhat unfair of me. Maybe I’m in the minority here. After all, expecting anything to match The Legend of Korra is probably unfair. And I wouldn’t say I expected THAT, but I did expect Turf Wars to try something more.

Again, if you disagree with me then I’m sure as hell not going to call you wrong. I just wanted something different from a sequel story in this world. Here’s hoping Turf Wars 3 surprises me.

Images courtesy of Nickelodeon and Dark Horse Comics

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