“Avatar” spin-off “The Legend of Korra” set to surpass predecessor

Over the weekend of March 24, fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” were treated to the two-episode web premiere of the new spin-off series, “The Legend of Korra.”

The original Nickelodeon show drew in fans with its rich animation, vivid characters, mature themes and unique combination of slapstick, wit and gravitas. Few doubted that “Korra” – set 70 years after the events of “Avatar” – would live up to the original, but if the premiere is any indicator, it may be set to surpass it.

“I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!” a toddler Korra proclaims in the first scene, Godzilla-stomping through a wall while throwing fire, water and earth in one of the best character entrances in recent history.

After garnering praise for the strong female characters in “Avatar,” series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko decided to take the next step and make a female protagonist. Since most action cartoons feature male leads, Korra represents an enormous step forward and is a welcome addition to the pantheon of Saturday morning heroes.

Where Aang (the main character of “Avatar”) ran away from his duties as the all-element-bending, balance-preserving Avatar, Korra is the hottest thing under the sun – and boy, does she know it.

The series starts as Korra runs away to Republic City to learn airbending from Aang’s son Tenzin, played with disgruntled excellence by JK Simmons. She clashes with a street gang and members of the anti-bending movement on her first day in town (getting herself arrested), and quickly realizes the political implications of being the Avatar may be more than she can handle.

With such a strong start, “The Legend of Korra” might actually outstrip its groundbreaking predecessor. “Avatar” took a while to get past filler episodes and find its rhythm, and while it juggled some heavy themes, the conflict was pretty standard stop-the-evil-tyrant fare.

It’s already obvious that Korra’s problems won’t be so black-and-white. She lacks her predecessor’s tact in an era when radio broadcasts can easily magnify her slip-ups, and the enigmatic anti-bending movement stands to challenge a society where only some people are granted powers. The new steampunk aesthetic and twangy soundtrack also elevate “Korra” to the next level.

While “Korra” seems to work as a stand-alone series, “Avatar” fans will have a greater appreciation for cameos by series mainstays as well as a cheeky aside about the fate of Zuko’s mother. “Korra” also spoils several “Avatar” plot points, so if you haven’t seen the original show, catch up on Netflix before tuning into the spin-off.

“The Legend of Korra” premieres on April 14 at 11 a.m. on Nickelodeon, though the first episode is already available for viewing on Nick.com.