So. You just read Turf Wars. You’re probably wondering how it is that those wars over the turf fits together with the larger picture. And if you weren’t, now you are, because we just called attention to it. You know what this means? It means we’re going to have some fun, and you will like it.
That’s right, it’s time to crack open the new Legend of Korra comics that finally hit digital shelves last week. “But wait,” you might be saying, “the two of you (being Griffin and Kylie) already cracked it open, and dumped the contents over our heads with a ten thousand word rant on the worldbuilding. What more is there?”
We’re glad you asked, Jeffrey! See, while Korra and Asami were busy indulging our shipper feels, there was something nefarious brewing in the background. Or…the foreground? It is the title here. But we have to ask: who was the one person absent from this comic. The onneee person who we’ve seen chew on the scenery consistently since Book 2. Who has served as the puppet master for as many long games as there have been long games. And a few short games as well. The one man—nay, the legend—who always makes himself known. Unless he doesn’t want to make himself known.
That’s right, we’re talking about Iknik Blackstone Varrick. And he is behind EVERYTHING you just read.
See, the two of us were having some trouble making heads and tails out of the triad-developer-political-homophobia parallelogram that is the plot. It’s not that any of the individual vertices didn’t work on their own level, but what were they all doing hanging out together? Then it hit us, like an old man ordering soup at a deli. It all makes sense, if you think like someone who doesn’t care about sense, or someone who doesn’t want us to think he cares about it. And that’s Varrick, to a V.
Before we can take you through how he did everything, we must first tackle the why.
It’s no secret that the solicitation for Part 2 of Turf Wars mentions that none other than Zhu Li Moon will be running for president against the currently unopposed Raiko. Everything we know about anything suggests she will win, because if she doesn’t…then why does this story exist? We don’t imagine an immaculate redemption arc for Raiko. He’s finished politically, and frankly should be after appointing Kuvira (and then surrendering to her). And Varrick knows it!
But shouldn’t this mean that Varrick wants to be president? No, not really! The presidency is obviously a wedding gift to Zhu Li, and he’s more than happy to be First Lady.
Except there’s another reason he wants Zhu Li to be president, rather than just contributing to Raiko’s campaign and “the other guy’s” again. The reason involves someone he has wronged in the past. Somebody who really, just plain straight-up hates the guy. And someone who has no idea Varrick is doing anything. Can you guess who?
That’s right! Unlike Raiko, Varrick did have a bit of a redemption arc when he chose not to make weapons of mass destruction, and when he apologized for years of inappropriate workplace behavior with Zhu Li. We have to think given how impressed he was with Asami’s hummingbird mecha suits, and his displayed eagerness to work her on those, that part of his turnaround includes reparations with her. Specifically that time he lied to her, tried to steal her company out from under her, hired gang members to distract her while he took her entire inventory, and then threatened her sort-of boyfriend at the time to shut up about everything. Just a small disagreement, really.
Well, what is it that Asami might want, but cannot have? A conversation with her father (oh snap). But besides that, there’s really not much you can get for the woman who runs Lockheed Ford Motors Industry. Except wait…remember that homophobia? Remember how it’s an integral part of Korra and Asami’s plotline? It’s for a reason. Because the one thing Asami can’t get for herself? Equal protection under the law!
Wait, only Kya knows they’re together! Or is that just what we’re supposed to think? Because we seem to recall Varrick inventing Gaydar™. Sure, it was by accident when his airbender detector went wrong, but this is the guy who built a fusion bomb before ever having successfully built a timer, by his own assertion.
The point is, he knew Korra and Asami were together before they even knew.
Therefore, Zhu Li’s presidency is for one main purpose: marriage equality. Well, also because Raiko is terrible and the country needs someone competent to lead it. But that’s secondary for Varrick, of course.
However, Varrick is not one to just let his wife run and hope for the best. He’s basically Lex Luthor, but with mostly good aims. And possibly intentions? It’s confusing. Even his war profiteering days were based primarily on the idea that he needed to save the Southern Water Tribe from subjugation, since nobody else seemed interested in helping. Hey, look! Yet another reason to unseat Raiko!
So let’s break down the how this supergenius set out to accomplish everything.
“I can smell a conspiracy when I see one!”
The first thing that tipped us off to this immaculate plan was Raiko’s campaign manager, who is dressed suspiciously like Varrick. Is this some kind of cosplayer?
Additionally, he seems to be completely incompetent, almost to the degree that it must be intentional. -3% polling? Ensuring Raiko doesn’t make a single appearance to the temporary housing camps full of thousands of constituents? That’s the exact opposite of what he should be doing.
No, there’s simply no campaign manager, no matter how green, who would think that a shirtless poster (not to mention a blatantly misleading one) is a more effective approach to securing reelection than face-to-face time with the people, especially given the dismal (and impossible) polling. And the fact that he’s not facing any opponent. The only logical explanation is that the man this campaign manager styles himself after…is his employer. He’s being paid to waste Raiko’s time—not the most difficult feat.
What is difficult to believe is that -3% approval Raiko would be running unopposed. Like Tenzin said, even a flying lemur would be able to run against him and win.
So wouldn’t every random yokel be trying to toss their hat into the ring? Especially the ones who lost the first election when they first started this newfangled democracy? Well, not if Varrick paid them off, bribed them, or threatened them. This might seem like a stretch, but Future President Zhu Li will have some prime cabinet appointments to make; we’re certain Varrick wouldn’t have hesitated to offer a position to any of the loser candidates from way back when, along with other political up-and-comers. Others would have been easy to bribe. As for the threats, well, this is Varrick. We saw his heavy-handed methodology of keeping Mako off his war-profiteering plan.
Only one question: what would a recently pardoned, recently defected inventor/engineer/shipping merchant use to threaten people when he’s still in the midst of rebuilding Varrick Industries International? Well, this is where the plotlines begin to come together.
“Oh yeah, I guess that was a bad thing…”
Varrick hired the triads!
Yeah, we know this is a rather lofty accomplishment, even if Varrick had canonically hired triads in the past to do his bidding. Even more, we were given Tokuga’s backstory, about how he took advantage of the chaos from the attack on Republic City to rise to power and get every gang member to “fall in line.” But…doesn’t this seem just a bit hyper-ambitious and disturbingly effective for some random chi-blocking kid?
The timeline is, quite frankly, nothing short of ridiculous. It’s been a matter of weeks since Kuvira’s invasion, and we’re supposed to think that some sword-wielding punk took over everything to stake out claim in a city where the basic infrastructure is probably badly damaged. Why fight now? Would this “turf” he carves out even have a chance of sticking once the thousands and thousands of citizens evacuated are moved back in? Or once repairs are made on a block-by-block basis? There has to be something more strategic at play.
These turf wars have two major effects: they prevent the police from helping with the housing crisis too much, and they make Raiko look utterly terrible. Both these things benefit Varrick! Raiko’s polling will never even climb to 0% with such safety concerns in the city, and the housing crisis continuing gives Zhu Li a platform to be authoritative. Wonder why she was randomly in charge? Because Varrick wanted her to be in charge.
There’s also some money to be made here. After all, if you can’t make money off of war, then you flat-out cannot make money. See, while Asami is an established do-gooder who throws her money at all social injustices (and love interests), we’ve only seen Varrick open up his purse in a situation that will benefit him. Which makes this bit stand out to us:
She was ON that, almost as if she expected it to happen. Because she probably did, since Asami is kind of predictable with her, well, tendency to dump piles of cash on things that need fixing. Now, as amusing as it might be to think of Asami and Varrick like the Waynes and the Kanes (WHICH IS WHICH???), each buying half the city because they can, we do have to acknowledge that this is such a ridiculous thing for two private companies to be doing. We’re talking about a multi-billion yuan investment, which should be a major infrastructure project for the city. This is exactly what taxes are for, not donations.
But wait, what if the property values were cheap—like, really cheap? So cheap that Varrick and Asami wouldn’t be committing financial suicide to their bottom lines with that? Well, think about what drives prices down: that’s right! Triads warring and stabbing each other in the middle of streets!
So now we see why Varrick *must* be behind the Turf Wars. Tokuga is suspiciously organized, we’re shown everything happening just before we witness Zhu Li in charge and offering to help fund the reconstruction project with Future Industries, plus, isn’t it odd that these wars also seem to be happening in places where nobody is living? Varrick is Mr. Chaotic Good in many ways (and yes, we are calling the South’s fight against oppression the side of ‘good’ here), and we can think of no other reason why the triads would be going full-force for land of questionable, if not entirely worthless value.
There’s also the matter of Varrick being the first person to discover that Spirit Vines are sort of not the best things to be messing with. And also the guy who vehemently refused to make a super weapon of untold destruction because the destruction was untold. Every test fire could have been blowing up comets in space for all he knew! So, with that in mind, we’d posit that there’s more than one reason (because nothing is ever that simple with Varrick) he wants to buy up all that “useless land”.
To make sure nobody stupid enough to build on it actually tries to build on it.
Varrick and Zhu Li saw the destruction the vines could cause first-hand, as it’s how they escaped prison in the first place! Plus, there’s no doubt in our minds that he was paying pretty close attention to what Asami was doing with the reconstruction efforts of Republic City after Unavaatu made the Swamp Benders look like slouches. That three year gap was long, and Asami and the city somehow managed to find a happy balance between the vines and every single form of infrastructure, so there’s only one thing Varrick, a businessman at heart, could take from that: You can’t build on the vines. You can only build around them.
Plus, there’s that whole thing where Spirit Vines are super easy to use for, again, jury-rigged fusion bombs so it’s probably in his best interest to try and limit people’s easy access to them. How is he supposed to make any money if everyone’s dead?
Now things are clicking…
“Mind blowing, right?”
Except. Wait. Tokuga got hired by this schmuck to attack airbenders:
How does Varrick fit into that one? That’s where things start to get all business-y. See, the only logical explanation is that Keum Enterprises is a deep, deep subsidiary of Varrick Industries International and quite possibly a recent acquisition. They’re so far down the chain that nobody would think twice about the several layers of parent companies that eventually trace back to Varrick. It also gives him plausible deniability for everything that Keum does, since how can he be expected to keep track of everything every employee of his does? That’s what other people are for!
But why did Varrick set Keum Enterprises on this path? The very same reason quite a few others are in this scheme: to make Raiko look even worse. See, Keum buys the land on behalf of Varrick due to the turf wars tanking real estate prices, arousing no suspicion at all since the city is broke and Raiko probably wasn’t the happiest of campers when a chunk of prime downtown property was rendered unusable for about three years. Which is most of his presidency, by the way.
Then, as the turf wars are being relegated almost entirely to that unuseable land, it paints Raiko in the light of someone who doesn’t support the private sector by protecting their interests and efforts in restoring his own city which is, again, full of healthy voters! And it certainly doesn’t help that, from the average person’s point of view, his neglect for this attempt at urban development and revitalization is frustratingly incompetent, not to mention apathetic.
We can’t imagine a whole lot of people actually know you can’t build on that land. Sure, there were witnesses to that time Korra pissed off the vines so much they ate an entire apartment building, but how would they know that’s what would always happen?
But here’s where the twist twists even more: Tokuga doesn’t report directly to Keum. He can’t, considering all of the hands on work he does to ensure the Turf Wars keep raging where they should be and don’t bleed over into other parts of the city. Nah, this mook is fully in cahootz with good ol’ Iknik Blackstone Varrick. He works with Keum, but for the most part he goes where Varrick tells him to go, and does what Varrick tells him to do.
Make sense so far? Great!
Oh, wait, that doesn’t explain how or why the attack on the airbenders went so badly…which was again to fracture Raiko’s support base even more since hating on the airbenders/ignoring the problems the airbenders face is like political suicide. See, we’re pretty sure it’s safe to assume that Varrick didn’t plan for Tokuga to get transmogrified into a lizard spirit abomination. That’d be crazy!
No, all he wanted was to further escalate the conflict and this actually works out even more in his favor! Tokuga might be a hideous freak now, but this just stokes fuel to the fire Varrick was already dumping gasoline on. So he does the only thing he can do to keep things on the right path: hands Keum Enterprises over to Tokuga so he can take a more hands-on approach from every angle possible. If Tokuga controls the company buying and “building” on the land that the triads are warring over, it’s a fraction of the risk with the potential of exponentially greater results of making Raiko look bad!
“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
So there you have it: everything you need to perfectly understand this comic. Varrick is sort of the Littlefinger that Benioff & Weiss wish they knew how to write, and boy is he climbing this ladder of chaos to his advantage. And Zhu Li’s. And all the LGBT characters of this world who want marriage equality. What could be better?
Tune in next time where we break open Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1’s other narrative secret: Asami Was Drunk The Whole Time!
Images courtesy of Dark Horse Comics and Nickelodeon