– Spoiler Review –
I did my best to check my expectations and excitement at the door, but even though I mostly didn’t, Doctor Aphra #1, written by Kieron Gillen, art by Kev Walker, and colors by Antonio Fabela, does not disappoint, kicking off the series in as delightful and humorous fashion as one comes to expect from anything having to do with the good Doctor. It establishes the series’ more intimate focus, builds on Aphra’s many great characteristics, and gives her co-stars a chance to shine as they are want to do. And to sweeten the pot, there’s a flashback one-shot delving into the tale of how Aphra got her doctorate, brought to life by Gillen and Darth Vader series veterans Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado.
Fresh off surviving her time working for Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra is back to plundering the galaxy for items to help her pay off her debts, but this time she’s got “pals” like the murderous duo of droids Triple-Zero and BT-1 and less-than-friendly Wookiee Black Krrsantan. With her latest find in hand, which she gets in the most Aphra-way possible, she heads off to the nearest archaeological association to get her reward only to find out her doctorate has been suspended and she’ll get a fraction of the price for the item. Is Vader on to her and trying to cut off her life line? Is an old rival or crime syndicate making her pay for a previous double-cross? Actually, it’s none of the above; Instead, it’s Aphra’s father, who uncovered her less than ethical way of getting her doctorate in the first place.
Unlike any series before it, Doctor Aphra is the first to be headlined by an original character and is in no way, at least for now and possibly for a very long time, tied to events from the films, something issue #1 spares no time settling comfortably into. It starts off on one planet, jumping around to various locales, but never leaves. No galactic consequences come from any of the events within. The twist at the end doesn’t shattered our world, just the protagonist’s. And the anti-hero casually commits murder, steals a rare artifact, and does her damnest to weasel herself out of paying a crime syndicate she owes money to…and succeeds. It’s refreshing really, as every moment our character’s actions don’t affect the fates of billions but rather only the ones she surrounds herself and interacts with. We’ve not really had a comic at this scale before, especially an ongoing series, and Doctor Aphra sets that new, intimate tone without hesitation, which might throw people off a bit, being so used to planet-hopping adventures and many being’s fates constantly in the balance. It’s a bold direction and I’m totally behind it, mainly because I’m already a fan of Aphra and that even if you hadn’t read the Darth Vader series she originated in, this issue is a strong continuation of everything that makes her beloved by many in the first place and should easily recruit new fans.
What has made Aphra such a favorite of mine and many others is how ‘real’ she is, for lack of a better term, in this sci-fi-fantastical universe. She reacts like many of us would learning our position has been revoked, like banging her head on a nearby wall in frustration, she talks more than usual while nervous, like most Americans (myself included) who feel an urge to fill in an awkward silence, etc. At the same time, her being an anti-hero allows her to fall into and act within a gray morality, highlighted by the issue’s opening sequence where she backstabs her backstabber and kills him for the find they had been working together to uncover. It’s a quick and concise way to bring readers up to speed on her characterization, especially followed by her delighted retelling to Triple-Zero on how she managed to out backstab Ulbik Tan. Her humor is ever present throughout, as is her commitment to sophistry, even if she knows the party she’s trying to fool knows she’s fooling them. In particular, her scene interacting with gangster Soo-tath, out to collect on her debt, was thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the witty dialogue, as she kept up her pretense of politeness and he had no issue calling her out on it. Knowing we’re going to keep getting that quality of interactions and consistency with Aphra thanks to Gillen writing this series only makes me even more excited to see how he pushes and pulls this character in the coming issues. Because as terrifying and bossy as Vader was to Aphra, sometimes family can be even more annoying to the point one would wish to be back with someone like Vader instead (we all have that in-law or cousin, don’t lie to me) since at least we can avoid them if we’d like. The series’ intimate tone and focus on Aphra as a character has the potential to benefit greatly from putting her at odds with someone who isn’t as outright evil as Vader or the muderbots, as now she’ll have to tackle the problem a lot more delicately than her usual flippant attitude would like.
This series co-stars murderous protocol droid Triple-Zero, his just as devious companion BT-1, and Wookiee bounty hunter Krrsantan. I had no doubt the murderbots would be in fine form this issue and they do not disappoint one bit since Gillen never struggled to find a perfect amount of their black humor to have per issue of Vader. I was a little surprised Triple-Zero’s reasoning for killing the crime syndicate boss was due to enjoying his time with Aphra, but I’m sure her antics provide plenty of situations for he and Beetee to commit murder indiscriminately (just the way they like it). Since I was already fans of them, I was wondering how Krrsantan would be in this issue and his situation was altogether more surprising and intriguing. The droids are with her because they are programmed to be, though Triple-Zero does seem to imply that might not always be the case, but Krrsantan only stays with Aphra because he’s trying to keep watch over his investment. She owes him money and he knows she’d find a way to keep out of his reach if he didn’t stick around and help her get the money he’s owed, but the bigger debt is one not mentioned here but one I’m eager to see explored: she promised him she’d help him uncover the people who performed tests on him and get revenge. As colorful and unique as Aphra is, she needs to be surrounded by equally expressive characters and there’s no shortage here in her costars.
Gillen’s character work is what drove my enjoyment of Darth Vader and he brings the full brunt of that ability to his work on Doctor Aphra. It shouldn’t be a surprise since he created her, but making Aphra the focus also could’ve ruined what made the character magical in the first place but issue #1 doesn’t run into that problem nor does it make it look like it’ll ever be a problem. It’s also nice to see he can handle a slightly more intimate and less operatic story, doubling down on his character focus with the smaller scale. Kev Walker’s art is new to me, and while I wasn’t a fan of how much white space there seemed to be throughout, his style allows for some really fun, emotive faces from the very emotive Aphra. It also has a less clean, less sleek look than Salvador Larroca’s art in Vader, accentuated by Antonio Fabela’s diverse but darker colors here, helping it fit more with the smaller, less grandiose tale within Aphra.
Bonus Flashback Story, written by Kieron Gillen, art by Salvador Larroca, and colors by Edgar Delgado: If anything, this brief flashback made me realize no matter how much I came to enjoy Kev Walker’s art this issue, what I wouldn’t give for Larroca and Delgado to be back for the full series. It’s a true delight to see a younger version of Aphra looking a lot like I’d imagined from always having Larroca’s earlier art of the character and it just felt like he was having a blast getting to draw her one more time. Let’s hope they bring him back for some more flashbacks in the coming issues…
As for the flashback’s story, it was almost a little more entertaining than the main issue’s, as it’s a short, succinct look at how Aphra cheats her way into a doctorate (and hey, she admits she cheated in the main issue, so don’t get mad at me for saying she did!). Everyone’s had a professor or teacher they just didn’t get along with (I mean, I always did but that’s because I was typically a class clown), but Aphra’s teacher is a Sava with an express hatred for her and she decides to get even with him, essentially stealing his work and making it look like her own discovery (as he had been hiding a highly illegal stash of deadly symbiotes). There’s tons to love about the story: Sana Starros, who we know Aphra’s had an interesting history with and eventually a relationship, gets a name-drop here; I’d love to see the tale of how these Abersyn Symbiotes took out empires in the past; Aphra just goofing off and being Aphra, no matter her age; and how I both feel sorry for her ‘friend’ Susina and how her final line could be a fun setup for a potential appearance later in the series proper. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with the short flashback added onto this issue.
Here are a few other things:
- I found it to be pretty neat how they essentially established the rules of archaeology in the Star Wars universe: if you don’t have a doctorate, you’re not likely to get as much money for a find, helping prevent anyone and everyone from scavenging the universe for trinkets to sell.
- This is the second Sava we’ve met, the first being Sava Korin Pers in the always recommended Lando series. Could Sava Toob-Nix be referring to Sava Pers when he says he got rid of a pervious Sava because he simply didn’t like her (she had been banished shortly after the Empire took over due to her Jedi-focus)?
- Popsicles are canon now!
- Kieron Gillen released his Spotify playlist for writing the Doctor Aphra series! There’s a lot to love in the playlist, from familiar tunes like Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways to less known (to me at least) songs like “Frontier Psychiatrists” by The Avalanches (you seriously need to watch the video) or “Oh bondage! Up yours!” by X-Ray Spex. This playlist is right up my alley and I’ve added a couple bands to must-buy lists after hearing them for the first time here.
- Last week I published an article with several reasons why I felt you should be excited about an Aphra comic series. Already, her moral ambiguity got a highlight in the opening moments, her archaeological profession took center stage and opened up the galaxy (like seriously, I want to learn how those symbiotes took out a galactic empire or two back in the day), the supporting cast didn’t disappoint (and even surprised), and Kieron Gillen continues the master character work he started in the Vader series.
- No one has been more supportive and a bigger fan (that I’ve seen at least) of Doctor Aphra and her series than Bria. She’s got a fantastic piece on the personal importance Aphra’s continued existence has for her, a glowing review of the first issue, and pretty damn great cosplay gallery as Aphra. I highly suggest checking all three items out!
- Not everyone was as impressed or enjoyed Aphra‘s first issue as me and I wanted to link to Bendix’s review at Jedi-Bibliothek because while I might not have had the same reaction (obviously) I’m always interested in differing opinions. If you didn’t enjoy this issue as much as I did, maybe his review is something you should check out.
- Kev Walker gives a little commentary on art from the series’ upcoming second issue over at the official Star Wars site.
Doctor Aphra‘s first issue sets an intimate tone, revels in its characters, and sets up a personal conflict I can’t wait to see one of my favorite characters struggle to tackle as the series continues.
+ Intimate, character focus
+ Confirmed: More Aphra, the better
+ Side-kicks don’t disappoint and even surprise
+ Fun flashback sequence (hello Larroca and Delgado again!!)
– A little too much white space in the art for my liking
– Main story almost gets overshadowed by one-shot flashback
STAR WARS CANON COMIC REVIEWS:
#2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6
Vader (#1-6) | Shadows and Secrets (#7-12) | The Shu-Torun War (#16-19) | End of Games (#20-25) Annual: #1
Vader Down (crossover of Star Wars and Darth Vader on-goings)
Skywalker Strikes (#1-6) | Old Ben’s Journals | Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon (#8-12) | Rebel Jail (#16-19) | The Last Flight of the Harbinger (#21-25) | Yoda’s Secret War (#26-30)
Annual: #1 | #2
The Last Padawan (#1-6) | First Blood (#7-12)
Black Squadron (#1-3) | Lockdown (#4-6) | The Gathering Storm (#7-13)
Darth Maul (mini-series)
Han Solo (mini-series)
Obi-Wan & Anakin (mini-series)
Shattered Empire (mini-series)
Princess Leia (mini-series)
Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir (mini-series)