Today, Taylor and Michael are discussing Dr. Aphra 1, originally released December 7th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: Last month the outstanding Darth Vader series penned by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca wrapped up after 25 stellar issues. In its short run Darth Vader skillfully contributed to the myth of its titular character in a way that previous Star Wars titles couldn’t quite pull off. But for all the fantastic work done on the character of Vader, what really stands out about the series is the creation of so many interesting and fully realized ancillary characters. Of these, Vader’s hired accomplice Doctor Aphra stands out as one of the most interesting, and so she is getting a chance to lead her own series. With the always entertaining Triple-Zero and Beetee in tow can this series possibly live up to the story that spawned it?
Having deceived Vader into thinking she is dead, Dr. Aphra is free to roam the galaxy in search of ancient artifacts to sell to the highest bidder. While that might sound like a simple enough plan, remember this is the Star Wars universe and danger is always around the corner. In pillaging ancient sites, Aphra kills, is almost killed, and battles evil gangsters. It’s a hell of a back drop for a story and it makes for an immediately fun and thrilling adventure.
The only knock against this premise is that it feels suspiciously like the plot of Indiana Jones. Replace “outer space” with some exotic location on Earth, space gangsters with Nazis, and Aprha with Harrison Ford and it’s basically the exact same story. Even though this set-up does lack originality, it works though. Maybe it’s because George Lucas also made Indiana Jones, so the world of Star Wars meshes and/or overlaps well with archaeology, but there’s just something exciting about the way things are panning out in this issue. And then I’ve already talked about how much I love stories set in the Star Wars universe which aren’t part of the main saga, and I think there’s good reason to think that’s why this initial issue interests me as well.
The way the universe is presented here by artist Kev Walker is a big reason why this particular story in the Star Wars universe holds promise. Ever since the world laid eyes on the cantina in Mos-Eisley in Episode 4, Star Wars has been known for its innovative character design. Walker continues in this tradition, as can primarily be seen in the design of the gangsters who are after Aphra.
Taken in isolation, there’s nothing about the design of these characters that necessarily screams Star Wars! Heck, Soo-Tath’s oversized hat feels especially out of place for this story. The only thing that does have that familiar Star Wars look are the chest plates on whatever those hairy creatures are. But that’s kind of the genius of their design. These aliens are startlingly unlike anything seen in the Star Wars universe before but retain just a hint to remind us what story we’re in. Later it’s learned that Soo-Tath’s hat hides a huge head (which is genius) so even though he at first appears human, he too is unique in his own right. And yes, you could quibble that these hairy aliens look like Wookies but something about their straight hair and various apparatus makes them look completely different. These fun new characters, while different, deepen this Star Wars story in a great way.
Speaking of fun characters, perhaps the most exciting parts about this issue is the reappearance everyone’s favorite murderous robots Beetee and Triple Zero. It’s apparent that Gillen loves writing for these mechanized dealers of death, as he’s sure to give them plenty of page time. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Triple-Zero making some clever quip right before he kills yet another helpless rube.
What’s even more exciting is that Gillen has full license to make these characters extremely likable despite their evil ways. In Darth Vader these two robots were often pulled between good and evil and one master over another. That’s great for building tension in a series, but sometimes it had me rooting against these characters I love because I didn’t want their boss to win the day. In this issue there is nothing convoluting my appreciation for their mayhem. I know I want them to help Aphra and even though I know it’s wrong, it’s satisfying to see them take care of a pretty villainous character like Soo-Tath.
Michael, I had a good time reading this issue and I’m excited to see where the series goes from here. How did you enjoy this issue? I didn’t talk much about Aphra in my write-up, do you have any thoughts on her character, since it is her series? Also, I love how Aphra is kind of turning into a bizarro version of Han Solo what with her smuggling of shit and having a giant wookie at her side. Do you see this resemblance too?
Michael: Taylor, with your Han Solo and Indiana Jones comparisons, what you’re basically asserting here is that Doctor Aphra IS Harrison Ford, right? There’s a lot of archetypal shorthand when it comes to modern fiction, and a lot of that is Star Wars shorthand. The “Han Solo type” could be used to describe Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Chris Pratt as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy for example. Arguably one of the reasons Guardians works so well is that it has a bunch of different Star Wars shorthand/archetypes.
Now we’re at a point where we have Star Wars archetypes within Star Wars itself. We’ve got our Han Solo and Chewbacca in the form of Aphra and Black Krrsantan and our C-3PO and R2-D2 archetypes with Triple Zero and BT-1. Whenever I read Triple Zero I have Anthony Daniels’ voice in my head – I know I’m not the only one. The scene with Soo-Tath hounding Aphra for his money also rang some Jabba the Hutt bells – for you Special Edition fans that is. Whether it’s intentional or not, these archetypes allow us to more easily slip into the narrative and sympathize with characters we don’t know as well as we do the archetypes.
It’s funny that Taylor compared Aphra to Indiana Jones, because that was a point that we made about the character back in Darth Vader 3. In the opening pages of that book, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca introduce us to Aphra with the visual motif of Indiana running from the giant boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think it’s completely intentional on Gillen’s part that the character continues to hold this Indiana Jones vibe. She is an archeologist after all – and in pop culture archaeologists tend to be elevated to the role of hyper intelligent swashbucklers. Despite her constant brushes with death, Aphra reiterates that she is a doctor to a few characters in Doctor Aphra 1. Of course we learn at the end of the issue that she cheated her way into becoming a doctor but still. She wants to let people know that she is someone who should be treated with a certain level or respect.
Following the exploits of a hero is relatively easy, as they typically have a moral code that they follow. I can write all damn day about why I don’t think that something that Batman or Superman did is in their character (and I have). Characters that fall on the other side of the law are a different beast, however. When you can’t exactly trace a character’s moral code it’s hard to predict what their next move might be or how they might react to a given situation. Despite having read 20+ comic book issues about her, Doctor Aphra is still very much a mystery to me.
Doctor Aphra 1 opens with our protagonist murdering a man and stealing his archaeological prize. Though Gillen suggests through subsequent dialogue that this man backstabbed her she still killed the dude in cold blood. Compare that to her dealings with Soo-Tath a few pages later where despite Triple Zero’s involvement she believes she left that situation with the tall-headed-man’s life still intact. Sure she sics her “big and furry” on his but she still leaves him alive, intent on selling her artifact and maintaining her end of the bargain. I know that you can’t just go around killing whomever whenever. Maybe she’s just trying to keep up good business relations?
In the grander scheme of things Doctor Aphra was one of the ancillary characters – like Triple Zero and BT – who were there to offset Darth Vader and provide some liveliness and comic relief. When you take those characters away from that black hole of negativity and darkness what do they become? I remember when Aphra had to team up with Princess Leia and Sana Solo in the pages of Star Wars, she became the untrustworthy villain – the cornered animal, ready to strike. There are shades of that character in Doctor Aphra 1 but overall she feels like the lively Han Solo archetype more than anything. Kev Walker’s style is a little more animated than Salvador Larroca’s, which causes underlines Aphra’s amicability and overall charm. I suspect that we’re going to mostly be seeing the Han Solo archetype throughout this series but we should remember that when she’s backed into a corner, Doctor Aphra will bite.
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