A Curdled Disappointment: The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, Parts Two and Three

TLOK - Ruins of the Empire 2TLOK - Ruins of the Empire 3










This will be much shorter than most of my usual reviews. While the subjects of this post both disappointed and frustrated me, the feelings they provoked were sadly not of the creatively productive kind. For months I was actually thinking I would write nothing more about the final two parts of The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire, as I felt there was nothing I could say that would not simply rehash earlier criticisms I’ve made on this blog. Still, this comic roused enough bile that I decided I would write a short piece just to flush it out of my system before I move onto something more enjoyable. So, with a quick link to my more hopeful review of Part 1, let the healing begin.

After having read Part 2 (2019) and Part 3 (2020) of Ruins of the Empire, I’m afraid that I have to report that DiMartino fumbles badly. The comic goes all-in on the brainwashing technology, largely forgoing any sort of political discussion in favor of having Korra and Kuvira team up to save the reprogrammed Mako, Bolin, and Asami. Additionally, the comic’s depiction of brainwashing also does very little with the concept. The brainwashed characters act like little more than monotonous drones, rather than, say, maintaining their familiar personalities while radically changing their loyalties. As a result, Guan and his revived Earth Empire army never rise about the level of stock antagonists, and as such their inevitable defeat fails to rouse on any level. At the end of the comic, Wu announces his intention to remain as the Earth King in order to implement a more gradualist plan for the Earth Kingdom’s transition into a confederation of democratic states, allowing DiMartino to avoid engaging with any of the political questions posed by his setting by maintaining the status quo.

As for Kuvira, DiMartino treats her abysmally. By the end of Ruins of the Empire, Kuvira has essentially come to accept that not only was her project of creating a modern unified Earth Empire fundamentally corrupt, but that most of the problems in her life were her own fault. At the end of the comic, she happily pleads guilty to all of the charges laid at her feed by the United Republic’s judges and goes into house arrest in Zaofu, reunited with Suyin and her family through her contrition. To further drive the point home, the few frustratingly incomplete flashbacks we get of Kuvira’s childhood further lay the blame for her problems solely at her feet. In due course, it is revealed that little Kuvira was a hellion whose attack on her own mother prompted her birth parents to send her away to Zaofu in the hopes Suyin could impose some discipline on her. Suyin, meanwhile, had the patience of a saint, even when Kuvira bullied the other children. Any sort of complexity or sympathy is stripped away, leaving Kuvira as a bratty little kid in need of a good spanking.

Speaking as someone who was sympathetic to Kuvira’s character as it was presented in The Legend of Korra, and who has a few female friends who found Kuvira’s idealism and anger to resonate with them, this depiction of Kuvira comes across as character assassination. Between this and Korra’s arc in Book 4, it’s hard to avoid the impression that DiMartino does not care for “troublesome” women, and has a talent for using honeyed words to put them in their place.

Suffice to say, I will not be engaging with any further Legend of Korra material either Bryan Konietzko or Michael DiMartino produce. I may come up with ways to talk about Kuvira here and there, but from now on there is nothing in the “official” canon for me anymore.

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