We’re back for a brand new year with a brand new comics series! Following on the successful heels of their Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels Dark Horse Comics introduces the official Legend of Korra continuation series. The first story arc is called “Turf Wars” and it’s written by original series co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino with art by Irene Koh. To go along with all the new we here at The Avatar Returns are trying a slightly new format in that we’ll be reviewing these books as they are initially released rather than waiting for the hardcover Library Edition collections. So in this episode we tackle Part One (of Three), and I confess that we struggle just a little bit. Picking up immediately where the animated series left off we follow Korra and Asami on their getaway into the spirit world, and while it’s wonderful to see these characters again the return isn’t quite as smooth as we may have hoped. Paul and Arlo are worried about a seeming return to Book One hotheaded impetuous Korra; Koh’s art is a significant change from Gurihiru in the ATLA books; there’s talk of the Dumbledoring of Kya; and Eric will not condone a course of action that will lead us to Turf War. (That’s a joke, he actually loves this book.)
We’re baaaaack. But there’s no cause for celebration as we’re forced to bid a sad farewell to our beloved comics creative team. One last time writer Gene Luen Yang and art duo Gurihiru spin a tale of Team Avatar for the official tie-in graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics. Vol. 5: North and South sees Sokka and Katara return home to the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since setting off with Aang to end the Hundred Years War. But what they find may not be the quaint, egalitarian village they remember. As each volume before it, North and South explores issues of modernization, nationalism, societal and technological development. But for the first time our hosts don’t all necessarily agree on the quality of the story and/or art. One of them may or may not spend much of the podcast talking about loving the book while consistently nitpicking practically everything about it. Which one of them is being an Arlo? Press play and find out!
Also, there’s talk of “therapybending,” David Lynch’s inevitable contribution to the World of Avatar, spoilers for Lion King(?!?), and Tattoo Watch is officially over as someone earns their ink.
Next: there’s a change coming as the boys talk about how to continue the podcast in light of the glacial pace of new comics being released. There’s quite a bit of discussion at the end of the episode about what to do about that, but I’ll go ahead and spoil some of it for you now and let you know the next thing we’ll be discussing will be the first individual volume of the Legend of Korra graphic novel series Turf War. Date TBD.
This week on The Avatar Returns, it’s a Badass Bender Beatdown as The Legend of Korra Book Four continues. In this corner, wearing the simple green tunic, the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Avatar (we still have one of those?), Korra! And in this corner, sporting a stylish Earth Empire ensemble of death metal, dancin’ and singin’ and movin’ to the groovin’, the Great Uniter herself, Kuvira!
But first we take a road trip with the Air Kids in chapter 404, “The Calling” as Aang’s grandkids finally get the spotlight. And Toph proves why she’s a master storyteller. Then in chapter 405, “Enemy at the Gates,” Zhu Li does the mecha suit thing better than anyone else, and poor dim Bolin slooooooowly starts to figure stuff out. And finally, in chapter 406, “Battle of Zaofu,” Kuvira smacks the taste right outta Korra’s mouth. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!
Paul murders Cousin Oliver after only one week. Eric murders a decades-old Brady Bunch meme. And Arlo murders any sense of even the most basic professionalism and respect for our audience. (Turn off your damn phone notifications, you ass!)
Next: for hopefully the very last time we take a week off to catch our breath. You guys just don’t understand how difficult it is to sit still for two hours once a week and talk into a microphone about things that we love passionately. It’s exhausting and just way too much to expect us pampered podcasters to pull off with any kind of consistency. So we’ll take one last pause in the action to prepare ourselves for an uninterrupted run through to the end. Back the week of April 12th we will be discussing The Legend of Korra chapters 407, “Reunion,” 408, “Remembrances,” and 409, “Beyond the Wilds.”
Book Four: Balance begins as we move into the final season of The Legend of Korra. Time jumps in fiction tend to be something of a mixed bag, but as our story picks up three years after the end of Book Three it quickly becomes apparent the device works like a charm here, in what Arlo dubs the strongest start to any season in the entire Avatar Universe. In chapter 401, “After All These Years,” Korra is missing and former Zaofu Captain of the Guard Kuvira has become “The Great Uniter,” using military force to bring order to the chaos in the Earth Kingdom in the wake of the Queen’s death. Chapter 402, “Korra Alone” answers where exactly the Avatar has disappeared to, and why. (Hint: it involved Nega-Korra.) And finally it’s Toph love in chapter 403, “The Coronation” as the O.B. Original Beifong returns to go all Yoda on Korra’s ass.
Paul introduces the podcast’s version of Cousin Oliver. He and Eric both wax rhapsodic about Star Wars Rebels. And Arlo compares Mako to Vin Diesel. Not in a good way. (IS there a good way?)
Next: the next three chapters of Book Four; 404, “The Calling,” 405, “Enemy at the Gates,” and 406, “The Battle of Zaofu.”
This week, a break between seasons of The Legend of Korra means a return to the days of old as we look at the fourth collection of the Dark Horse Comics Avatar: The Last Airbender series, Volume 4: Smoke and Shadow. Having reunited with his long lost mother Ursa, Zuko returns with her to the Fire Nation Capital City (which really needs a name) and wackiness ensues, some of which serves to remind us that Avatar has actually really always been The Zuko Show. Even with Mom back in the picture, daddy (and uncle) issues continue to dominate the story. Mai, Ty Lee, and Suki finally get some much-needed page time, even as we lose Katara and Sokka (and the comic relief that Sokka provides). We discuss how relevant this volume feels today with its look at totalitarianism and the struggle to balance security and freedom. And Azula is back and feelin’ good with a brand new Sisterhood of Evil Mental Patients in tow.
Speaking of character development, Arlo finally achieves his own Avatar State as a podcaster. And Eric makes a Hamilton reference! I’m Paul Smith and you’re listening to All Benders Considered on NPR.*
(*) Not really, but…yeah.
Next: the end is coming. This is it, we begin our exploration of the final season of The Legend of Korra with Book Four: Balance. We’re kicking it off with chapters 401, “After All These Years,” 402, “Korra Alone,” and 403, “The Coronation.” (And we are so deeply, deeply sorry for Arlo’s predictions on what those episodes will be about.)
This is a big one, kids. Team The Avatar Returns assembles to breakdown their thoughts on the final four chapters of The Legend of Korra, Book Three: Change. There’s a lot to cover, starting with the typical children’s television tropes of on-camera assassinations and Boxer Rebellions when Zaheer proclaims “Long Live the Queen” in chapter 310. In 311, “Ultimatum,” he may possibly have bitten off more than he can chew when he challenges Tenzin to a slap fight after airbending school. Bolin learns that the answers were inside of him all along in 312, “Enter the Void.” And Korra She-Hulks out all over Zaheer’s face in the final showdown of 313, “Venom of the Red Lotus.”
Paul gets weepy over the incredible fight choreography this season. Eric is positively giddy with anticipation for Book Four: Balance. And Arlo drops the knowledge we’ve all needed about Shadow the Hedgehog.
Next: as always the break between seasons of Korra gives us another opportunity to revisit old friends by exploring the official Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics. This time we reconnect with the Aang Gang as they face Vol. 4 – Smoke and Shadow.
The first two volumes of Dark Horse Comics’ Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series both dealt with the difficulty of change, the cost and confusion that comes with transition. Volume 3: The Rift is no different as Aang continues to struggle with letting go of the past and learning to live in the present. The young Avatar slept through an entire lifetime while frozen in that iceberg, and in this time of peace following the end of the Hundred Years War he wants nothing more than to recapture the traditions of his culture now a century gone, but the world has moved on. And speaking of moving on, Toph must come face to face with her own past as she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, and both must come to terms with what, if anything, has changed between them. Writer Gene Luen Yang and art duo Gurihiru continue to impress with their masterful translation of these characters and themes from screen to page.
And is there anything more fun than podcasting with one third of the crew under the influence? (Rhetorical question. There are lots of things more fun.)
Next: The Avatar Returns takes another brief hiatus, this time to allow one of the hosts to go on a walkabout or something. (A booze-about is more likely.) But we’ll be back late-September to kick off our run through The Legend of Korra Book Three: Change.