For every fan of The Legend of Korra, ‘Ruins of The Empire’ is a must-read.
Over five years ago, Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra ended with its fourth and final book ‘Balance.’ As Korra and Asami ventured off together into the spirit world, it was obvious that the journey may have concluded on the small screen- or rather on the network’s website after being yanked off the air- but series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were likely not going to allow their narrative to come to an indefinite close. In the same fashion as its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics.
I probably do not have to tell you this, but Dark Horse Comics has had an overall strong history with the Avatar universe. The Avatar: The Last Airbender comics from over the course of almost the last decade are nothing short of exceptional and are the next best thing for those wanting to see more of Aang and the gang. While they certainly may not always be able to achieve the best aspects of the show we grew up with due to the limited medium it has been adapted into, each arc published has both visually and textually felt like a direct follow-up to the original series in many regards with even some comics such as Team Avatar Tales filling in fun gaps during the show’s continuity. They are faithful sequels- or rather prequels in Korra’s case as the comics do connect the two shows- that every major fan of this franchise will tell you are well worth your time if you are just dying for more stories from the world of the four nations.
That being said, once The Legend of Korra was set to hit store shelves in its newly adopted format it seemed like another guaranteed hit was on the line for Nickelodeon and Dark Horse. The Legend of Korra’s first comic story arc Turf Wars, however, was not the followup most fans wanted from this show. It was undoubtedly a comic series that fans expected a lot more from as the post-Earth Empire world had tons of narrative points to explore. I’m certainly not in the minority when I say that Turf Wars was a trilogy that let me down due to its story’s focal point. Turf Wars often falls flat as it treads on a narrow line attempting to fill a justified relationship rather than focusing on telling a story well suited to the established mythologies of Avatar and Korra. The new villains that you could not sympathize with or even just enjoy for a three-book story, some odd character dialogue, questionable decisions to help move the plot forward, and ignored consequences of the show’s finale did not help the reception of these books from fans either. It is certainly a story with substantial themes and moments, but it is not what you would want from a followup tale to Book 4’s incredible closing moments.
The Legend of Korra had so much more to tell with its story that was not being explored in the comics- or at least with its first run. The writers have listened though and they have gotten themselves back on track with their newest series Ruins Of The Empire. This comic series is exactly what fans of this show wanted since the last episode aired. Not only is it the best Legend Of Korra comic so far, but it might just also be one of the best Avatar franchise comics currently available. In the same way that The Promise and The Search were real followups with answers to questions posed in Avatar: The Last Airbender’s finale, the latest story arc in The Legend of Korra’s post-finale is exactly that. Ruins Of The Empire not only explores the transition into the Earth Kingdom’s attempt at establishing a democratic system of government, but it smartly highlights the shaky aftermath of Kuvira’s surrender from both character and worldbuilding standpoints as those who hailed the great uniter quickly fell into organized chaos.
Right off the bat, the story of Ruins Of The Empire is not spotlighting one character relationship or slowly building up a new villain that is set to be dismissed with no real consequences. Korra and Asami’s lover dynamic is explored in this story arc but more appropriately in a blended storytelling fashion comparable to the source material. It unfolds exactly as you would expect an episode of the show to play out- not forced or made plot-driving as what had previously been mistakingly done. It is now implemented as something on the sidelines that has a dangerous toll on the narrative which ultimately leads to character decisions that have real consequences. Turf Wars chose to ignore the entirety of the Beifong family and the collapsing Earth Empire, despite the fact that those two subjects practically revolve around every plot point you would expect a followup of the finale to explore. The shift in focus inevitably makes for a properly developed story that is able to draw a spotlight on several subjects.
It is not just the narrative that has been correctly altered either. When it comes to the way in which the cast talks with one another and the overall look of the book, everything feels properly adjusted. For one, each character is actually here this time around and not blatantly missing. Michael Dante DiMartino really stepped up his game with Ruins of The Empire’s script that aims to draw closure with the show. It is not perfect, but it is a major step up that pushes the narrative forward rather than being stuck in still water. The questions you probably had about where characters went after the finale are tackled here. Everyone is overall done justice. As I said previously, the Avatar comics were written as well as if you could hear the characters talking and the same can be said here. If you had not read what was going on in the photo above, have a look again here below!
Ruins Of The Empire feels more akin to its source material than its predecessor run thanks to more so the art then its speech though. The art quality jump between the two is unmistakable- beyond noticeable when put side by side. It is a massive improvement that needless to say has already enhanced the post-television comic run and given it back the life it needed. Turf Wars’s covers are a complete deception to what lies inside each graphic novel. While the face value may look as appealing as the television show, adopters will quickly realize Irene Koh’s art lacked character details, expressions, and even backgrounds. It accumulated into an experience that felt more like a fan project than something from the original creators. Koh’s artwork was unbearable by any means, but it never hit a certain point of quality fans expect- especially from Dark Horse Comics, and at times it shamefully felt thematically disconnected with the Avatar universe.
The new runner-up artist Michelle Wong has done a fantastic job adapting Korra into the comic book medium. Wong’s work is miles ahead of everything Koh previously drew in Korra’s first Dark Horse outing. The jump in improvement artistically is undoubtfully perceptible based on a mere first glance at the two. Every character here feels more animated, the action is more engaging to look at, and the backgrounds are no longer completely flat and detailless. Wong deserves serious credit for her work on these books. Her dedication to the source material is something that generally falls behind in other television to comic adaptations, but she did the absolute best she can do here. The fact that she personally went out of her way and rewatched the entire series before starting to draw the artwork for this story arc just shows her dedication and care for the fans. Wong has successfully made this comic run feel as if you are watching the show again, something Turf Wars should have achieved first.
For those interested in reading the complete set of Ruins Of The Empire, Dark Horse Comics will be releasing a hardcover library edition of the full story arc on September 22nd. If you are dying in reading Korra’s latest story now, however, you can go ahead and grab volumes one through three separately in either a digital or softcover format today. For any fan of The Legend of Korra, it is without a doubt well-worth your time and money. After your television binge of both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, you will not be disappointed with this story.