Canon Comic Review: Doctor Aphra #16

Doctor Aphra #16

– Spoiler Review –

It’ll be a day long remembered in the ethos of Star Wars as Doctor Aphra #16 does a big, wondrous thing fans of Aphra, and LGBTQ+ fans, have been rooting for a while now, all while wrapping it in a fun, action-packed, but heavy issue.

Look, I’m going to skip straight to it because I won’t be able to contain my excitement and joy any longer: DOCTOR APHRA AND INSPECTOR TOLVAN KISS!!!!! This was basically me while reading it:

via Marvel/Lucasfilm

Teased only an issue ago, when Tolvan dreams Joystick Chevron, aka Aphra, is about to kiss her after coming to rescue her from a firing squad, we finally get the real thing! This is a rather momentous occasion for Star Wars comics and the saga as a whole, as this is the first canon representation of an LGBTQ+ event of this magnitude in a visual medium. I already know this will not only go down as one of my top 5 moments of 2018’s comics, but also of all the comics for the rest of eternity, and a top moment from the saga overall. As an unequivocal fan of Aphra, it’s great to see her finally get to connect, if only for the briefest of moments, with a woman she’s genuinely interested in, and one that isn’t actively trying to kill her every chance she gets (side eyes Sana Starros). It’s a complicated moment however, as neither woman gets to rejoice in the shared expression of interest, spurred on by a near-death experience, as they are at unique places in their lives where they can’t quite commit to what their attraction means. Aphra is still in a funk from being under Triple-Zero and Bee Tee’s murderous servomotors and, to keep Tolvan safe, she believes the best thing to do is keep Tolvan at arm’s length. For Tolvan, her fixation on duty combined with her newfound position, after nearly losing her life, has made her interest in Aphra problematic if she wants to both keep the new job and her head, but of the two characters she seems the most willing regardless. From Tolvan’s quick comment about Aphra’s hat to their shared laughter over the sparkly pointy thing in Tolvan’s back, there were plenty of wonderful, funny little moments shared between these two, but the kiss was obviously the big, unforgettable moment it all culminated in. This is the Star Wars canon’s first truly big, queer moment, worth cheering with unbridled excitement for, and it will forever be tied to Doctor Aphra. Woot!

After surviving the giant worm monster (more on that in a bit), Aphra pushes Tolvan away so that none of her handpicked crew will see the Imperial and want to kill her, but Rexa, the direct connection to the murderbots, finds them before Tolvan can get away. There are two interesting moments that come out of Rexa’s discovery: first, Rexa’s off-screen death and second, Tolvan’s off-screen sneaking aboard Aphra’s shuttle after they flee the planet. For starters, I find it curious and specific that Rexa being shot, and very likely killed, happened off-screen. We’ve seen Aphra kill before, in cold-blood a few of those times, so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if we saw her do it here to save someone she’s interested in, even if such an action would have grave consequences if the murderbots found out. I don’t believe Rexa wasn’t killed, but instead I took them having the moment being off-screen to mean it could’ve been either Tolvan or Aphra who fired the shot. Sure, Aphra was the one with the blaster, and there was only one shot sound made, so for Tolvan to grab it and Rexa not to get a shot off herself seems improbable, but crazier things have happened. I could be thinking too much about the moment, but something to ponder on regardless. The second moment is the reveal Tolvan is a stowaway on Aphra’s shuttle, though how she got there comes with interesting questions and queasy answers. Tolvan is seen hiding inside the wolf woman’s (Glahst Ombra) skin, so did she manage to sneak off, kill the cowering Ombra, skin her, and don her fur just in time to escape? Or was Glahst Ombra actually a different species wearing a pelt as a disguise already? Either answer is dark, but rather fitting for the world Aphra is always wading in.

Doctor Aphra 16 Full CoverOh, is there stuff other than Aphra and Tolvan to talk about? Yes, yes there is. Got to breathe first. And simmer down from this awesome moment. Phew. Okay, let’s get to it.

The characters on Aphra’s crew all got a chance to shine a bit this issue, as they were put under literal fire and showed their true colors. The strength of Caysin Bog and Tam Polsa’s relationship comes to light when Tam is lead to believe his boyfriend is dead and reigns hellfire from all sorts of unexpected places on his armor (he has guns on his knees! And Wolverine-like claws!), while Polsa’s lawman history is front and center as he debates the lawfulness of aiding the rest of the mercenaries in destroying the giant worm creature. Sister Six is the only somewhat sane one of the group. Glahst proves to be a coward, though dead now thanks to Tolvan. But the sneaky scene-stealer of the bunch happens to be Aphra’s refurbished droideka, Dek-[Nil], who makes a bizarre connection with the song of the universe and takes a Rube Goldberg-esque shot that brings down the giant worm monster in a hilarious manner. I’m not kidding; it’s awesome.

Hinted at in the last issue, the reason Triple-Zero has sent Aphra on a mission to Wat Tambor’s old lab is because the crazy Separatist scientist acquired the triple-zero matrix, aka the droid’s personality, some time ago and the murderbot would like to know if his previous memories are stored there. It’s revealed Tambor found the droid’s potential too frightening, shipping it off to quarantine, which put it in place for Aphra to stea….I mean, liberate way back in her introductory issue, Darth Vader #3; It’s very cool to learn some of the set-up that led to the galaxy, and readers, to be graced with Aphra’s presence. The memories were shipped off separately to a Tarkin Initiative archive, Hivebase-1, which doesn’t sound terribly friendly or easy to break into, though that’s exactly what Triple-Zero wants Aphra to do next. That we might see inside an actual Tarkin Initiative base is also another great full-circle moment, as BT-1 came from one some time ago and the initiative has been mentioned all over the growing canon.

Triple-Zero’s desire to uncover his past, lamenting “Half an artist is no artist at all,” is seriously on-point for a homicidal maniac droid like himself, and a diabolic reason to send organics to their deaths. Knowing he wants to re-experience his glorious, early days of slaughter both adds to the ultimate creepiness of the murderbots’ freedom, and provides writers Kieron Gillen and Simon Spurrier with delectable opportunities for some wicked dialogue from Triple-Ze (an Aphra nickname for him). How Aphra maneuvers the conversation, managing to prolong the inevitable moment the droids figure out her deception is another true delight, once again proving the muderbots to be the best new villain this series could’ve hoped for. While the kiss and other events were happy, exciting moments, the conversation between Aphra the Triple-Zero at the end really brings things back into perspective, as she’s not out of this yet.

Emilio Laiso (art) and Rachelle Rosenberg (colors) gave us an excellent full page of the amazing moment where Aphra and Tolvan kiss, and for that, this issue is gorgeous alone. While the action is a little hard to follow this issue, as it wasn’t clear where some characters were in relation to the chaos, but the chaos with the worm was excitingly placed throughout the panels, and little details, like the tiny ropes holding Rexa’s implants to the co-pilot chair or Polsa’s many armaments, are wonderful touches to Laiso’s particular style.

Here are a few other things:

  • In my review of the previous issue, I thought Rexa was actually being controlled by Triple-Zero remotely, but due to Aphra using the severed implants to connect with Triple-Zero and he doesn’t realize Rexa is dead, means that wasn’t the case. Another clue I was wrong: Rexa at one point admits Triple-Zero isn’t watching, which also means he wasn’t controlling her. Phew, because that would’ve been VERY creepy if true. Does make one wonder if he was watching when Rexa was killed though…
  • I appreciate how little explanation was given regarding how the shiny pointy thing called up a chthonic worm god from an ancient time and said worm was subsequently destroyed. I had hoped this series would explore some of the stranger corners of the galaxy and this might be at the top of list!
  • Aphra calls out to Bog with an incorrect name as he approaches the shiny pointy thing, calling him Polsa instead. Minor error, though I wonder if it can be fixed for the trade paperbacks.
  • Let’s get that Marvel Insider segment on ABC to cover this series rather than and/or in extension to the new Darth Vader one!
  • A recent interview with Jordan D. White (via IGN), the main editor of the Star Wars line for Marvel, talks about the process Marvel and Lucasfilm had to go through to understand each other’s needs and wants when it came to comic book storytelling. I bring this up because White admits they’ve come around to Lucasfilm’s way of thinking for a series, on how it needs to have a discernible end, but I’d hope this doesn’t apply to Doctor Aphra. Marvel usually is content with pumping out tons of stories based in the here and now of a character, seemingly keeping them at one age for a long, long time, and if any character would fit that rather than need a clear end, it’s Aphra. Her adventures offer limitless opportunities for stories, especially considering they’re low-stakes (in the sense the fate of the galaxy isn’t ever in her hands…yet), she’s a fan favorite, and look what just happened this issue, so hopefully the end they might have in sight for her is a little further off yet; Unless her comic adventures end to make room for her being the star of a live-action TV show or something, then I’d not object!

While the LGBTQ+ representation isn’t hitting the films yet, the books and comics have been bringing the representation in spades, with the biggest moment yet to come from Aphra and Tolvan kissing here in Doctor Aphra issue #16. That the rest of the issue was the usually chaotic, enjoyable fun this series is known for was icing on this big, wonderful cake.

+ Aphra. Tolvan. KISS!!!!!!!!

+ The complexity of said moment

+ Everyone gets a chance to shine

+ Final convo between Triple-Zero and Aphra

 Art got a little confusing in some places

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth. You can follow the website @MynockManor.

Doctor Aphra
Aphra (#1-6) | And the Enormous Profit (#9-13) | Remastered: #14 | #15 | Annual: #1

Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith
The Chosen One (#1-6) | The Dying Light (#7-12)
Poe Dameron
Black Squadron (#1-3) | Lockdown (#4-6) | The Gathering Storm (#7-13) |  Legend Lost (#14 – 16) | War Stories (#17-19) | Legend Found (#20-25) | Annual: #1
Star Wars
Ashes of Jedha (#38-43) | Annual: #3
One-Shots: The Last Jedi – Storms of Crait

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