“We’ve had our female Doctor before it was the topic of the day,” the Star Wars fans could easily say.
Doctor Aphra is one of the few Star Wars heroes who have become quite popular despite not existing in other media than one: comics. She was the secondary hero of the recent Darth Vader comics series, and at times overshadowed even the great Sith Lord himself. She was often dubbed “female Han Solo” or “Indiana Jones of Star Wars”, and both of these comparisons are quite fitting. Aphra is a spirited character and no wonder she has gathered enough fan support to receive her own, personal comic franchise.
The comics named simply “Doctor Aphra” started coming out on 7th December 2016 and so far includes the complete Book I (“Aphra”), Book II (“The Screaming Citadel”) and as we speak, Book III (“The Enormous Profit”) is underway.
Heroes Come Back
“Aphra” brought the main heroine back, this time not in the service of Darth Vader, but doing her own independant artifact hunt. Or mostly independant: the plot of Book I is basically that she is coerced into searching for the ruins of the ancient Citadel of Rur, once a home to a forgotten Jedi sect, the Ordu Aspectu. The quest has its own perils, as nobody knows for sure who the Ordu Aspectu were. (The narration of the possible pasts of Ordu Aspectu in vol.2, by the way, is one of the most hilarious things I have read in a while.) The search for the citadel’s location takes Aphra also to Yavin IV shortly after it has been abandoned by the Rebels, and there she has a run-in with an old Imperial captain who is eager to prove herself.
Aside from new characters, the fans surely welcome the return of Beetee and Triple Zero, the two murderous droids who accompanied Aphra also in Darth Vader. Black Krrsantan, the Wookiee bounty hunter, is also present. Aside from them and Captain Tolvan, we get to meet Aphra’s father, which is most interesting. The comic also includes a glimpse into Aphra’s youth during the years of her archaeology studies. For the fans who have wanted to learn more about Aphra’s background, this comics certainly provides much.
The Screaming Citadel
Book II of Doctor Aphra is an interlude of sorts. In the aftermath of her trip to the citadel of Rur, Aphra teams up with the one known living Jedi - Luke Skywalker - and offers him what she has learned in exchange for his aid. Trying to make profit, Aphra attempts to get an audience with the Queen of Ktath’atn. She offers the audience only once per year to an “interesting organic lifeform” - which a young Jedi certainly is. But nothing is as easy as it seems and the story takes a dramatic twist as the Screaming Citadel turns out to hold terrifying secrets.
“The Screaming Citadel” has been dubbed “a SW gothic horror story” by Marvel’s writer Jason Aaron, and one has to agree with that. Aphra and Luke are also an interesting duo. They have a nice dynamic, but two things in this particular comic I am not sure about: first, Aphra’s borderline flirting with him at times (however rare) and Luke calling her “friend”, with generally too strong underlining of the message that Aphra is good at heart after all.
More Fun And More Violence
The atmosphere of Doctor Aphra is overall considerably more lighthearted than that of Darth Vader. That doesn’t mean it lacks in the element of adventure and danger. Especially Beetee and Triple Zero are also both more fun and more murderous than before (sometimes a bit too much for my taste).
The art is very good. Books I and III are chiefly illustrated by Kev Walker, a legend among fantasy and sci-fi illustrators (aside from comics, he has been one of the illustrators of Magic: the Gathering since its beginnings). Book II is illustrated by Marco Checchetto and has more of a “pulp” look.
Overall, I think Doctor Aphra is worth it. Kieron Gillen’s writing continues well in the spirit of Darth Vader (which he is also an author of) and the story expands Aphra’s character in ways her fans will appreciate. The comics is perhaps a bit more on the ridiculous side at times (similar to the bits of Darth Vader with super-weird bio-cyborg villains) - I would have prefered a more “sober” adventure, but hey, it could have been worse. The knowledge of Aphra’s past, the plot dynamic, some of the secondary characters and the occasional good joke make up for the weirder parts in it.