Monday, June 03, 2019

Dark Horse's 'Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire' Embraces Political Roots with the Return of Kuvira

A new arc of Dark Horse’s Legend of Korra graphic novels from series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko is on the horizon – one that returns Korra’s big bad Kuvira to the story, and offers her a shot at redemption.


With the new arc, which kicks off with Tuesday, May 21’s Ruins of the Empire, artist Michelle Wong joins the Korra creative team to explore the situation in the Earth Empire as it transitions from monarchy to democracy.

Newsarama recently had a chance to talk to Michael Dante DiMartino and Michelle Wong about what fans can expect from the upcoming graphic novel, including the series politics, the return of Kuvira, and the development of Korrasami.

Newsarama: Michael, What can you tease about this upcoming arc that kicks off in The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire?

Michael Dante DiMartino: At the end of the series, King Wu talks about abdicating his throne and turning the Earth Kingdom democratic. I started wondering what that would look like in real life. It's one thing to have a noble ideal of democracy, but the Earth Kingdom's history is entrenched in tradition, bureaucracy, and monarchies, so the challenges to making free elections a reality would be enormous. In the real world, people aren't always keen on upending the status quo, so it seemed believable, and quite relevant to our times, to tell a story that dealt with an old regime refusing to yield to progressive politics. That conflict forms the spine of the story through the three-volume arc.


Credit: Dark Horse

We also get to see Zhu Li in action as the president and Bolin performing a new job. We'll also return to some familiar locations from the series and revisit some old friends.

Nrama: Michelle, how did your collaboration with Bryan and Michael come about?

Michelle Wong: You know what, I actually never asked about the specifics behind how I was chosen for this job! I just received an email from Dark Horse one day asking whether I was interested in drawing the Korra comics, which, yes of course, sign me the hell up. Dave Marshall, the editor who contacted me at the time, mentioned that the team at Nickelodeon were fans of my work -- which was flattering and mildly terrifying at the same time. I did some style tests, they liked it, and now here I am. It’s been a great honor and a great learning experience.

Nrama: How did you get into the Avatar franchise?

Wong: Toph was the character who pulled me into the original series -- I remember seeing her character design and thinking, wow she looks awesome, I have to see where she’s from. I loved her story and her attitude. She remained my favorite in ATLA, and I’m really happy I get to draw her in Ruins too.

Nrama: Do you have a favorite character from Avatar/Korra that you like to draw?

Wong: Toph! But also Asami, Wu, Kuvira -- I’m cheating and just listing a bunch of characters but it’s difficult to choose. Asami is beautiful, who wouldn’t like drawing her? And Wu is fun because he can be so ridiculous.

Nrama: What’s your favorite style of bending?

Wong: Waterbending. I’m completely biased about this, having taken those online quizzes in the past that told me I was a waterbender. But I also just think it’s got the most interesting range of sub-skills, and I love how graceful it is.


Credit: Dark Horse

Nrama: What can you tell us about Korra and Asami’s dynamic this arc?

DiMartino: They are an established couple, who would do anything for each other. But when Korra proposes working with Kuvira (who killed Asami's father), it definitely creates some strains in their relationship. They aren't always on the same page when it comes to how to approach the conflicts in the main story, but they admire and respect each other so much that they can work through those disagreements. In the later volumes, outside forces end up putting unexpected pressure on their bond.

Nrama: Korrasami has been such a huge part of these graphic novels. How do you approach drawing their relationship?

Wong: At this point in the graphic novels, Korra and Asami are a solid couple -- they’ve been together for a bit, and were friends for years before that, made their love confessions in Turf Wars -- so a lot of their interactions in Ruins just show how comfortable they are with each other. I love being able to depict the quieter moments between them. Whenever there is a group scene, I try to draw them together. I know it will make the fans happy, and I also just want to show that even if they’re at a point where they need to work through some conflict, they still naturally gravitate towards each other.

Nrama: What made you want to bring back Kuvira for this storyline?

DiMartino: Kuvira was one of my favorite antagonists from Legend of Korra. I wanted to explore whether or not someone with her past, who had done a lot of terrible things, could be redeemed. I thought it would be interesting to see Kuvira stand trial for her war crimes and join forces with Team Avatar to combat a group of Earth Empire loyalists who try to reassert their power. And although Kuvira had surrendered at the end of the animated series, she had caused a lot of mayhem, both in the world and with her adoptive family, the Beifongs. I knew there was a lot of great character moments to be mined between Kuvira and Su, as well as the other Beifongs, and see if a family could heal after such a terrible rift.


Credit: Dark Horse

Nrama: What are you most looking forward for fans to see with your artwork?

Wong: There are some brief flashbacks that show Kuvira’s backstory, and I get to draw her being an absolute terror of a child. Very, very excited to share that.

Nrama: Kuvira is damaged after her battle with Korra. What went into drawing this broken down version of her character?

Wong: I always liked the moments in Book 4 where her usually put-together appearance came loose after a fight. She was unafraid to get down and dirty, and to be ruthless to her enemies. At the start of Ruins she no longer has her carefully maintained dignity and control, and I tried to focus on this more feral part of Kuvira that I imagine was always lying under the surface.


Credit: Dark Horse

Nrama: Are there any new character designs you were able to introduce? Any favorites?

Wong: Yes! Some villains, some side characters. A lot of the cast are already established, this series being quite closely tied to Book 4. The new villain, Commander Guan, was not designed by me, but he’s got a bunch of smug villain moments that have been very fun to draw.

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From CBR:

The Legend of Korra's New Evil Empire May Be Its Most Sinister

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire -- Part One, from Michael Dante DiMartino, Michelle Wong, Vivian Ng and Rachel Deering, on sale now.

As much fun as it's been watching the elemental tribes of Air, Water, Fire and Earth groom warriors in Avatar: The Last Airbender and then on The Legend of Korra, the franchise's most important aspect is the philosophy of how nations should coexist rather than war.

Following the end of the latter Nickelodeon series in 2014, a new trilogy of graphic novels has begun plotting the way forward for Earth Kingdom starting with The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire. And while the in-canon comic embraces the idea of democracy, we're quickly finding out the series' newest villain is weaponizing that concept en route to shaping the most dangerous empire ever.

[...]


This perversions of the series' main lesson comes courtesy of the sinister Commander Guan, in Gaoling. He's taken over the Earth Empire from Kuvira, who gave up as the series ended after the Avatar, Korra, talked her out of her wicked ways. Guan, however, doesn't believe the Earth Empire Kuvira started as a tool of evil, and decides to repurpose it for his own nefarious means -- to win an election.

While we first see Guan possibly looking to seize power with the remnants of Kuvira's military and technology, it turns out he's all about the brainy approach. With King Wu making it clear each state can elect a governor now freely and fairly, Guan isn't forcing his way to power in Gaoling through military might -- he's actually going to run for office. The kicker is, he's planning to steal the election through mind-control technology.

Guan saw the error in Kuvira's endgame, and he's course-correcting the approach of the Earth Empire. Politics, after all, is even more powerful than guns and tanks, even if cheating is his strategy. He knows the king, Korra and all the heroes can't stop him, as it'll look like a dictatorship if they bar him from attaining his goal. In other words, he can turn the people on them for good if they oppose him too strongly. Korra, however, pulls a Hail Mary solution out of thin air by suggesting their old friend Toph stick up for her homeland and oppose the wannabe ruler.


Guan's new direction is even ticking off Kuvira, who wants him to stop what she basically started. But as he feigns the cutting of ties with war and arms, the people are playing right into his hands, lapping it all up. They, too, believe Korra's warriors are instruments of mass destruction, who if unchecked could lead to disaster and civilizations crumbling again. Guan is cleverly playing on their fears, embarking on doctrines and principles we'd find with Nazis or other fascist regimes, but he's doing it subtly enough that most people won't notice.

Brainwashing the populace like this is true testament to the ruins Kuvira left her rebellious empire in. These people are so close to the tipping point, it's not hard to knock them over. They're mentally susceptible and easy for Guan to reprogram after being collateral damage in years of war between nations. If he fully converts them, Guan could have a shield similar to what Cersei had at King's Landing, with a fleet of innocents in front of him and stopping Korra, Kuvira and Co. from throwing him off his high horse. We may not like Guan's direction, but credit where credit is due, he's perfectly manipulating the system to his advantage, becoming a politician who's stacking up artillery on the down-low for when things get out of hand.

The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire -- Part Two goes on sale Oct. 8, 2019.

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Originally published: Friday, May 10, 2019.
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