“I stepped up. I provide stability and equality. Tell your world leaders to stay out of Earth Empire business. We won’t accept their handpicked dictator.” —Kuvira, Great Uniter of the Earth Empire
I’ve mentioned before how much I love a smart, well-written villainess. Even more, however, I love smartly-written warlords and dictators. Competent evil is hard to find in cartoons, however; regardless of how serious the cartoon, pretty much all of the villain characters I remember growing up with were universally incompetent—in many cases, I felt like the heroes were able to defeat them by virtue of having double-digit IQ points. Watching Legend of Korra for the first time a few weeks ago, I was immediately struck by the overall level of competence displayed by the villains throughout the series. Overall the villains do a convincing job of staying a step ahead of Korra and her friends, and even their faceless minions are skilled and competent.
The villainess I fell most in love with, however, was the dictator Kuvira, the Great Uniter. Kuvira first appears in Season 3 as the right-hand and protege of Suyin Biefong, ruler of the metalbenders. The death of the Earth Queen in Season 3 creates a power vacuum fragmenting the Earth Kingdom into warring factions. Frustrated with her mentor’s decision not to take charge and reunite the beleaguered citizens, Kuvira takes a detachment of loyal soldiers and engineers to fill the void and shut down the anarchy. While she’s massively successful in her venture, by the beginning of Season 4, Kuvi starts grabbing more and more power to herself, crushing and oppressing those who oppose her.
A metalbender, Kuvira has the ability to shape most types of metal at will, using them as weapons or shields or tools depending on the situation. In the midst of battle, she can pick up any sheet of metal and wrap it about her torso like a cuirass for instant armor. Her armor itself is actually made up of thin layered plates that she can peel off at will to use as weapons or restraints without affecting the armor’s appearance or integrity. Additionally, I suspect these additional layers can be wrapped around her sides and chest for additional protection. Interestingly, all of Kuvi’s subordinates wear metal shoulder pads—ostensibly as a badge of office, but they also function as a makeshift choker, something she can wrap around their necks if she needs to go Darth Vader on some insubordinate or incompetent lackey.
It’s interesting to me that Kuvira’s uniform is no more decorative than the rest of her soldiers. While her officers have chevrons on their sleeves, Kuvi has no such markings. Her uniform is smart and utilitarian, a long coat with front tabard. It should travel well and hold up under combat conditions. Additionally, it functions as an arming tunic for when she layers on additional armor.
I always appreciate a leader who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Trained as an elite fighter, Kuvira more than once assures her soldiers that she would never send them to fight a battle she would not fight herself. When her train is attacked by bandit earthbenders, the Great Uniter steps from the train and subdues them by herself. When challenged by Avatar Korra, Kuvi faces the most powerful bender in the world and battles her to a standstill.
Though Kuvira’s obsession with peace and unity leads her to subject and oppress the very people she’s attempting to unite, I deeply respect her as a soldier and military leader. While the rest of the world leaders debate and argue, Kuvi rallies her supporters and gets shit done. I respect that in any sort of character, especially a villainess.
Huge thanks to MeTaa for letting me borrow his fan art for the blog. Please take time to check out his online galleries on Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram. Costume design by Brian Konietzko’s brilliant artistic crew. As always, thanks so much for reading, folks! Take care, stay awesome!