WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire -- Part One, from Michael Dante DiMartino, Michelle Wong, Vivian Ng and Rachel Deering, on sale now.
As much fun as it's been watching the elemental tribes of Air, Water, Fire and Earth groom warriors in Avatar: The Last Airbender and then on The Legend of Korra, the franchise's most important aspect is the philosophy of how nations should coexist rather than war.
Following the end of the latter Nickelodeon series in 2014, a new trilogy of graphic novels has begun plotting the way forward for Earth Kingdom starting with The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire. And while the in-canon comic embraces the idea of democracy, we're quickly finding out the series' newest villain is weaponizing that concept en route to shaping the most dangerous empire ever.
This perversions of the series' main lesson comes courtesy of the sinister Commander Guan, in Gaoling. He's taken over the Earth Empire from Kuvira, who gave up as the series ended after the Avatar, Korra, talked her out of her wicked ways. Guan, however, doesn't believe the Earth Empire Kuvira started as a tool of evil, and decides to repurpose it for his own nefarious means -- to win an election.
While we first see Guan possibly looking to seize power with the remnants of Kuvira's military and technology, it turns out he's all about the brainy approach. With King Wu making it clear each state can elect a governor now freely and fairly, Guan isn't forcing his way to power in Gaoling through military might -- he's actually going to run for office. The kicker is, he's planning to steal the election through mind-control technology.
Guan saw the error in Kuvira's endgame, and he's course-correcting the approach of the Earth Empire. Politics, after all, is even more powerful than guns and tanks, even if cheating is his strategy. He knows the king, Korra and all the heroes can't stop him, as it'll look like a dictatorship if they bar him from attaining his goal. In other words, he can turn the people on them for good if they oppose him too strongly. Korra, however, pulls a Hail Mary solution out of thin air by suggesting their old friend Toph stick up for her homeland and oppose the wannabe ruler.
Guan's new direction is even ticking off Kuvira, who wants him to stop what she basically started. But as he feigns the cutting of ties with war and arms, the people are playing right into his hands, lapping it all up. They, too, believe Korra's warriors are instruments of mass destruction, who if unchecked could lead to disaster and civilizations crumbling again. Guan is cleverly playing on their fears, embarking on doctrines and principles we'd find with Nazis or other fascist regimes, but he's doing it subtly enough that most people won't notice.
Brainwashing the populace like this is true testament to the ruins Kuvira left her rebellious empire in. These people are so close to the tipping point, it's not hard to knock them over. They're mentally susceptible and easy for Guan to reprogram after being collateral damage in years of war between nations. If he fully converts them, Guan could have a shield similar to what Cersei had at King's Landing, with a fleet of innocents in front of him and stopping Korra, Kuvira and Co. from throwing him off his high horse. We may not like Guan's direction, but credit where credit is due, he's perfectly manipulating the system to his advantage, becoming a politician who's stacking up artillery on the down-low for when things get out of hand.
The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire -- Part Two goes on sale Oct. 8, 2019.