A little more than three years ago, the popular and critically acclaimed animated series The Legend of Korra — the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender — ended with a bang. Well, two, if we’re being fair. The first was an actual boom in downtown Republic City, the series’ main setting. The second was the explosion of excitement from fans and critics alike when the show had its title character, Korra, begin a romantic relationship with her best female friend, Asami. Over three years since the show ended, the pairing’s dedicated subreddit is still active.
The same-sex relationship between the bisexual women (both had previously dated the same guy, Mako) was a landmark moment for American and family animation. Korra and Asami’s relationship also just made sense as a couple — Korra’s hotheaded and sarcastic tendencies were nicely balanced by Asami’s calm, collected nature.
As a result, fans have long craved for more Korra and Asami. Enter Turf Wars, a trilogy of comic books from Dark Horse that has explored the beginnings of the women’s relationship, as well as consequences of the events from the show’s last episode. The first volume was released last August, and the wide release of Part 2 is today. Vulture spoke to Korra series co-creator and Turf Wars writer Michael Dante DiMartino about the process behind writing and drawing the second volume in the trilogy.
The Legend of Korra ended about three years ago. What made you want to return to write about these characters with this trilogy?
I know it has taken a while for these books to be released, but I began outlining this story back in July of 2015, so for me, not much time had passed between the show ending and graphic novel starting. Like with the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels, [Avatar co-creator] Bryan [Konietzko] and I felt that Korra and the new Team Avatar characters would have more adventures after the show ended. And with the state of things such as they were after Book 4: Balance — a new spirit portal in the middle of Republic City, displaced civilians, and Korra and Asami’s new relationship — there was a lot of material and ideas to explore.
One of the great appeals of this trilogy of comic books is that we get to see the beginning of Korra and Asami’s relationship fleshed out. Vol. 1 was essentially the coming-out part for their immediate friends and family. Is there a different aspect of their relationship you wanted to explore with Vol. 2?
The relationship story puts Korra’s sympathy for her enemies to the test. One thing that’s always been interesting to explore with both Aang and Korra is the area where their job as the Avatar intersects with their personal lives. And for Korra, she’s reached this place of having compassion for her rivals, but now Tokuga comes along and poses a threat to her friends, and to Asami. Can Korra still maintain her newfound levelheadedness or will she resort to her old way of charging in full bore?
Over the course of Vol. 2 and Vol. 3, we’ll see Korra and Asami open up to each other more as they come to realize the depth of their feelings for each other. But their relationship isn’t without some interpersonal strife. Asami is just as capable of taking care of herself as Korra is, so conflict flares up when Korra — driven by her desire to keep Asami safe — becomes overprotective.
How has the pairing changed the Avatar fandom? Anything you can trace from the show to anything about television today?
In person and online, I still hear from fans who want to express to Bryan and me how consequential it was in their own lives to see Korra and Asami come together at the end of the series. In 2014, I was aware we were doing something different, but I’m still gaining new insights as to how vital it is for people who are underrepresented in media to see themselves on TV or in movies, or in comics. This lack is not a minor thing, and hopefully, The Legend of Korra has played a small part in encouraging media companies not to shy away from depicting LGBTQ characters on children’s TV and elsewhere.
One of the things I liked most about Vol. 2 had nothing to do with Korra and Asami, but with a Korra side character, Zhu Li. She decides to run for president. Can you tell me how that decision came about? I had never considered that arc for her but the moment I read about it in the comic book’s summary I was like, “Oh yeah. That totally works.”
Yes, Zhu Li has been underestimated one too many times! Again, Bryan and I conceived this story back in 2015, so the U.S. election was in full swing and very much on our minds. We had discussed the fact that at some point there would be an election for a new president of the United Republic, and with all the changes going on in the city, this seemed like a good time to give Raiko some much-needed competition. In Vol. 1, we see Zhu Li’s leadership skills in action as she manages the evacuee crisis with little to no help from Raiko. And as Asami points out in Vol. 2, Zhu Li would have no problem running the Republic after keeping up with Varrick’s outlandish demands for years. And while we have yet to have a U.S. female president in the real world, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the United Republic’s election turns out better for Zhu Li.
I really liked the ending of this part. Without going into spoilers, could you tell me how you arrived at a cliff-hanger? Was it planned this way or did it evolve organically? Vol. 1 was more open-ended.
Since I conceived of the three volumes as one story, I designed the end of each volume to be similar to an act break in the show or the end of an episode. So while there is some resolution to the events in a particular volume, I was also introducing more danger to come. The nature of a three-act structure is that the end of act two commonly ends with a dramatic moment and the feeling that the situation is dire. You want to leave the reader wondering: How are they going to survive? Will they triumph or fail?