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Comic Book / The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire

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Ruins of the Empire is a graphic novel trilogy set in the Avatar universe, following the events of The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars. The second graphic novel trilogy based on The Legend of Korra, it is written by franchise co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino, with art by Michelle Wong and Killian Ng. The first issue of the series was released on May 21, 2019, with the second released on November 12 and the third on February 25, 2020.

The Earth Kingdom prepares for its first elections, but finds itself threatened by its past when remnants of the Earth Empire seek to undermine the nation's democratic efforts, even as Kuvira stands trial for her crimes. When Korra, Asami, Mako and Bolin don't see eye-to-eye on the situation, Korra must decide who to trust as drastic measures are taken to halt a new march to war.


The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire provides examples of:

  • Accentuate the Negative: Kuvira accuses the judges at her tribunal of doing this after the charges against her are read out, arguing that they're eager to condemn her acts of tyranny in the Earth Kingdom while ignoring the fact that she stopped it from being overrun by chaos and anarchy. Suyin, however, argues that Kuvira's just refusing to take responsibility for her crimes.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Korra brings up the idea of having Kuvira assist against Commander Guan, everyone present lists off her crimes, including threatening Bolin's life, Mako nearly blowing off his arm zapping the Colossus's core, wrecking Republic City, killing Hiroshi, and ruining Wu's coronation. Wu admits he should have led with that.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: Guan decides to field himself and candidates loyal to him for the Earth Kingdom elections, legitimizing the Earth Empire through democracy. Since the elections are open, all he has to do is present the proper paperwork to apply. Given the lackluster candidates he's up against, it's a serious concern that he could pull it off.
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  • Big Bad: Commander Guan, an Earth Empire officer whom Kuvira put in charge of the southern part of the Earth Kingdom, and who refused to surrender after Kuvira's defeat.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Regarding Kuvira and bringing her to Gaoling. On one hand, she may be the best way to avoid a bloodbath. On the other, she has committed extremely serious crimes and is almost impossible to trust. It becomes rather moot since Kuvira failed to convince Guan to see reality, and all Kuvira could give was one piece of advice that the heroes need to beat Guan at his own game.
  • Brainwashed: Guan uses brainwashing to create voters for the Earth Kingdom elections that are completely loyal to him. This same process is used as a form of reconditioning for soldiers who prove too weak to serve the Empire, or who falter even slightly. He then does the same to Mako, Bolin, Asami, and Wu as part of a plot to catch Korra, though Korra and her remaining allies manage to grab Asami and escape.
  • Bread and Circuses: Hou-Ting's spirit/hallucination reasons to Wu that the people don't really care about change or progress, they just want stability.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • After being absent for an entire trilogy after the Grand Finale, Wu finally returns with a major role.
    • Baatar Jr. also joins in trying to reverse the brainwashing.
    • Long Feng and Earth King Kuei are shown in a flashback to the episode "The Earth King".
    • And Toph, of course, since she walked away at the end of Operation Beifong.
  • Call-Back:
    • The consequences of King Wu's decision to allow democratic elections in the Earth Kingdom are going to be focused on here.
    • The latter half of Part 1 takes place near Gaoling, the town where Toph lived before joining the Gaang.
    • While the method is different, the research at Commander Guan's camp is not too dissimilar to what Jet was subjected to by the Dai Li. Part 2 outright confirms that the brainwashing was a more refined form of what the Dai Li had done; but unlike the original which can be broken free of by a strong enough will or time, the newer method is much more permanent.
    • Toph mentions Long Feng and the Dai Li's brainwashing techniques over 70 years before, and a flashback panel of Long Feng and Earth King Kuei from the episode "The Earth King" is shown.
    • Kuvira's prison seems to be the same complex that Zaheer was seen in during Beyond the Wilds.
    • Subtle one: In the spirit world at the end of Turf Wars, Korra offered to heal Mako's arm with spirit water. Here, we see that while Korra was able to undo most of the damage and Mako can firebend with that arm again, she was unable to heal his scarring, indicating Katara would not have been able to heal Zuko's scar with her spirit water.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: Similar to Zaheer before, except this time Korra is asking for insight on her foe.
  • Crossing The Burned Bridge: Kuvira needs a lot of help from the Beifongs here. When Asami, Mako, and Bolin are captured, she calls Suyin to come back her up, she asks Toph to vouch for her as a Living Lie Detector, and she asks Bataar Jr. to help her with the anti-brainwashing machinery.
  • A Day in the Limelight: The trilogy is pretty firmly centered around Kuvira and her ongoing quest for redemption with even Korra taking a backseat this time around.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: The comic deals with the Earth Kingdom's attempt at adopting a democratic system, which is easier said than done. The Earth Kingdom lacks any experience in democratic governance due to their society being used to monarchical rule, and Guan immediately exploits the fledgling system as a stepping stone to legitimately reform the Earth Empire under his rule.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: After being captured by Guan's forces, Kuvira fights her way free, hides, then escape by taking a soldier's uniform and joining the search party sent after her.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: This is the default look of all the people brainwashed by Doctor Sheng's technology.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Kuvira confesses to all her crimes by the end of the trilogy, learning humility and showing actual sincerity in wanting to heal the hurt that she caused. As a result, Team Avatar and the Beifong family have taken steps in forgiving Kuvira, with Suyin convincing the tribunal to let Kuvira live out her days under house arrest in Zaofu. Opal, being the most vocal critic about Kuvira's position, actually says out loud that Kuvira is considered part of their family, something that Kuvira has wanted for all of her life; a place to belong. Opal also hints that Baatar Jr. may forgive her in time too, given that the rest of the family was willing to do so, giving Kuvira hope that their relationship can start anew.
  • Enemy Mine: Bringing Kuvira to help at all is seen as this, a sentiment that Kuvira does not really blame.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kuvira did and authorized a lot of bad things during her time as ruler of the Earth Empire, but she makes it clear that she always considered brainwashing inhumane, and that she would have never allowed it while she was in power.
  • Fatal Flaw: Kuvira's unwillingness to accept responsibility for her actions with negative consequences. The entire trilogy addresses Kuvira coming to terms with this trope and ultimately overcoming it when she owns up to her crimes at long last, earning everyone's respect and forgiveness.
  • Flashback: We see three to Kuvira's childhood:
    • In the first, her parents accuse her of breaking a vase, which she denies, so they take her toys and lock her in her room. She responds by Earthbending a hole in the wall and running off.
    • In the second, her father takes takes her to Zaofu and leaves her at the gates, having agreed to give her up to Suyin beforehand. Suyin does her best to welcome her.
    • In the third, Kuvira storms into Opal's room, demanding to play with her metal dollhouse. When Opal refuses, stating it's still her turn, Kuvira loses her temper and crushes the dollhouse with her bending. Opal calls for her mother and Suyin reprimands Kuvira, asking why she did such a thing. To her surprise, Kuvira can't answer but storms away. Opal voices out loud that she deserves a harsher punishment than just scolding but Suyin tells her to cut her some slack, given her rough childhood. Opal then compares Kuvira to a stray dog that nobody wanted, not even her parents. Unfortunately, Kuvira hears this outburst, the emotional hurt etched across her face.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Opal as a kid had this response to Kuvira being a Big Sister Bully to her about crushing a dollhouse they both liked. She said Kuvira may have been abandoned but that doesn't mean she should get treated mildly all the time.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: After Asami is unbrainwashed, she and Korra are later shown to be sharing a double bed while in Zaofu. And if that alone wasn't enough, Korra at one point takes Asami's hand and climbs onto the bed as both women smile at each other, and then she gets irritated upon hearing Suyin knocking on the bedroom door. The whole scene implies that the couple are now sexually active with one another, and that Suyin interrupted them when they were about to make love.
  • Heel Realization: While Kuvira did surrender to Korra at the end of the series and seems regretful for the harm she caused she refuses to take responsibility for the crimes she committed while running the Earth Empire and believes that her actions were just hence why she declares herself not guilty during her trial. At the end of the comic, after seeing how her actions alienated her from the people she considered family, and seeing how far the Empire went to reeducate people, Kuvira fully owns up to her mistakes during her tribunal and changes her plea to guilty.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Kuvira tries to hit Guan with his own brainwashing tech, only failing because he was smart enough to have Mako and Bolin on standby in case she tried anything.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Suyin knocks just as Asami and Korra are about to get into bed, much to Korra's annoyance.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Kuvira pretends to defect to Guan and asks to be brainwashed to forget her past, only to try to turn the machine on him.
  • It's Personal: As the plot thickens, it's evident that the emotional wounds between Kuvira and Suyin's family is deeply personal, far beyond the disagreement over principles that caused Kuvira to leave. This is especially prevalent with Suyin and Opal, the former for her role in raising Kuvira and the latter for dealing with Kuvira's actions towards her and the family, growing up and presently.
  • Mind-Control Device: Guan figures the best way to win the election is to have everyone mind controlled to vote for Guan or fight for his behalf.
  • Must Make Amends: Baatar Jr. works to undo the brainwashing as part of his atonement for trying to make the Earth Kingdom a dictatorship.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Suyin accuses Kuvira of this when Kuvira refuses to take responsibility for crimes out of the belief they're downplaying her achievements just so they'll have someone to blame. Kuvira's flashback seems to hint she's had a problem with this since a young age.
    • Part 2 has this as well. Guan's reveal that his intent to brainwash people into subservience is Not So Different from Kuvira's means of brute force subjugation. While Kuvira claims it was a means for her strength and leadership to inspire her people, she leaves out the re-education camps and various deaths that would follow those who were rather...less than impressed with her leadership, so to speak.
    • Kuvira finally learns to subvert this trope on her own in Part 3 when she admits to the tribunal and everyone present at her trial that she DID get power hungry and HAS to own up to the consequences of her actions. This gets everyone to believe Kuvira's sincerity at long last and begin the path to forgiveness.
  • Properly Paranoid: Asami builds remote-activated electrodes into Kuvira's belt so she can shock her unconscious at a moment's notice, which comes in handy when Kuvira starts a fight with Guan that threatens to get out of hand fast.
  • Psychic Strangle: Kuvira uses the metal shoulder pads on Guan's uniform to choke him, just like she did to Varrick in "Enemy at the Gates". Guan won't back down, however, so Asami shocks her unconscious before things spiral out of control.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Even though Kuvira may have seen the error of her ways and surrendered, it doesn't mean that all of her supporters will do the same. She also still defaults to her previous methods when talking doesn't work, as Guan gets a first-hand taste of.
    • Related to the above, three months is not nearly enough time for the members of Team Avatar to consider forgiving and/or trusting Kuvira again. Especially Asami, whose father was killed by Kuvira, and whose girlfriend nearly went the same way multiple times. They do warm up to her at the end, but only after Kuvira helps stop Guan, shows genuine remorse for her crimes, and risks her mind to help create a fix for Guan and Dr. Sheng's brainwashing. And even then, Asami makes clear that she won't forgive Kuvira for "a very long time", which could mean anything up to multiple decades.
    • Also, the reason Korra's the first one willing to give Kuvira a chance to atone is that she's had the most interactions with Kuvira in the moments leading up to and after her surrender, so she has more experience with Kuvira, and more reason to buy her Heel–Face Turn than the others do. But that doesn't mean she'll just forget all the times Kuvira's wronged her friends, or ignore the possibility of the other woman betraying her trust.
    • In the past, Kuvira could threaten and bully others into submission because she was the one in charge. When she tries it as a prisoner in Korra's custody however Korra immediately moves to try and stop her, and Asami electrocutes her into unconsciousness soon afterward, neither of them approving of her chosen course of action. It doesn't help that unlike Kuvira's previous victims, Guan has a small army at his command, who would have attacked had Kuvira not stopped assaulting their commander.
    • Because of Kuvira's actions as stated above, none of Team Avatar is willing to set her free to help against Guan’s forces, even though she was absolutely right to request it.
    • Any kind of political reform on a national scale will take time to implement; it's at least three months since Kuvira's defeat before the first election is held, and the process is expected to take around a year to complete, which is considered to be an unrealistic timetable given the scale involved. Wu ultimately admits that he was pushing his nation into becoming a democracy too hard, and too fast.
    • Furthermore, the two magistrates running for Gaoling's governorship are from "the outdated bureaucracy" (Wu's own words), and both look old enough they may have once served King Kuei. Just because democracy was being introduced does not mean that the old order instantly vanishes into the ether.
    • It's worth noting that while the Earth Kingdom is willing to give the Democracy thing a try, it's also difficult for a kingdom to try a new way of life after years of Monarchical rule. It's really hard to determine if the people's choices for leaders are really what they want or if it's just them reverting to old habits.
    • The ugly side of freedom and democracy rears its head with Guan; and while Korra and Wu believe in the good of a democratic system, people like Guan can just as easily use it for their own ends as well.
    • After Guan reveals his plan to run for Governor of Goaling Mako tells Wu that he should cancel the vote until they can sort this mess out. Wu points out that canceling the vote just because he doesn't like one of the candidates would set a pretty bad precedent for democracy going forward.
    • As a result of the above five points, and the fact that it was blatantly sabotaged, Wu decides to postpone the Gaoling election at the end of the trilogy. He then asks Toph if she'll be willing to participate next time, but she warns him not to get his hopes up. After all, she prefers to be alone, has little love for politics in general, and only took part in the previous election out of necessity.
    • Most of the Beifongs forgive Kuvira after she helps fight Guan to make amends for enabling his rise to power, showing that she has changed, and helps with undoing the brainwashing on Team Avatar. There's just one exception: Baatar Jr. She didn't just try to kill him; she tried to kill him when he was taken hostage by his own family and begging her to negotiate for his freedom. That is not an easy thing to forgive, especially since Baatar Jr. believes that their relationship was a lie if she was so willing to sacrifice his life for her ambitions. He's willing to work with her but is keeping their relationship professional. Opal hints, however, that Baataar Jr. just needs time to forgive his ex so that he can live with what they both did.
  • Refusal of the Call: Toph wants absolutely no part of the election and of politics in general until Wu convinces her, using his vision of Hou-Ting as proof that the swamp must be trying to tell him something.
  • The Remnant: Commander Guan commands a group of Earth Empire soldiers following Kuvira's surrender and the disbandment of the Earth Kingdom.
  • Secretly Selfish: Wu's hallucination in the swamp implies that he may be changing the Earth Kingdom to a democracy not just for the betterment of the people; but also that he doesn't want to or can't lead the nation effectively, choosing to dismantle it so he can continue to be lazy and carefree. He evidently takes this to heart after the crisis is resolved, promising to maintain an active role until the Earth Kingdom can properly transition into a democracy.
  • Villain Has a Point: Doctor Sheng, the person responsible for developing the brainwashing technology, notes that while Kuvira claims those methods were going too far she didn't care how she got results during her campaign.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The comic opens three months prior to the present day with Guan being informed by Doctor Sheng that Kuvira has surrendered to the Avatar and told the Earth Empire to stand down. He then declares that, while the Great Uniters time may be over, the Earth Empire will never die.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Guan's proving himself to be quite the crafty commander. His limited military force isn't enough to seriously challenge the United Republic, so he lies low until Wu announces elections in the Earth Kingdom. Sensing an opportunity, he decides to enter himself and those loyal to him in the elections, allowing him to legitimize a new Earth Empire through democracy in a way that prevents that Avatar from stopping him without undermining herself. He also knows better to accept any Trial by Combat, which he would lose. Finally, he has brainwashed voters like the Dai Li did to Jet back in A:TLA to further hedge his bets.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Discussed. Mako points out that Bolin has been a pro-bender, actor, soldier, police officer, and now secretary to the President in just a few years, accusing him of having commitment issues. It isn't lost on Bolin that he's proving Mako's point when he chooses to leave his current job in order to join Team Avatar for another adventure. By the end of the trilogy Bolin decides that, even if it isn't his calling, he doesn't mind having a boring, low stakes office job, at least for the time being.
  • You Have Failed Me: Wu hallucinates Queen Hou-Ting lashing out at him for refusing the democracy because he's too lazy and weak to lead the nation effectively.
  • You Killed My Father: Asami still holds Hiroshi's death against Kuvira.


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