“Star Wars: Doctor Aphra” (2020) #1

By | May 14th, 2020
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Your favorite space archaeologist is back, thanks to a treasure hunt to end all treasure hunts. But is she going to be in over her head?

Cover by Valentina Remenar

Written by Alyssa Wong
Illustrated by Marika Cresta
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna

NEW CREW, NEW MISSION! With the Rebel Alliance back on the run after their defeat at the Battle of Hoth, it’s never been a more dangerous time for outlaws, scoundrels and the errant rogue archaeologist to make their way in the galaxy. But after a string of bad luck and near escapes, DOCTOR APHRA is back on the job! She’s been keeping a low profile – jobs are scarce and credits scarcer. But the promise of the score of a lifetime is a chance too good for her to pass up. And to find the cursed RINGS OF VAALE, Aphra will need a crew of treasure hunters the likes of which the galaxy has never seen before! But RONEN TAGGE, heir to the powerful Tagge family, also has his eyes on the prize. Do Aphra and her team stand a chance at fortune and glory?

Many point to The Mandalorian (or let’s be fair, Baby Yoda) as a gateway for those new to the Star Wars franchise to come on board without having to worry about wading through endless canon.  It tells a simple self-contained story that has deeper connections to the franchise for the hardcore fans without leaving out those who really are just in it for the cute little green one drinking bone broth. How did they do it? That balance of context: simple enough to bring new readers on board with subtle, layered references and Easter eggs that will not escape the mind of the most devoted. (Naturally, having something cute and cuddly also helps.)

As someone who had heard of Doctor Aphra but never read the original series, I went into this with a little trepidation.  My experience with Star Wars comics was limited, out of concern for coming on board at the wrong place and time and being hopelessly lost. (You may recall that was the reason I hesitated on Doctor Who comics prior to last year’s Summer Comics Binge.) I needed just what The Mandalorian gave viewers: that balance between easy to follow story for newcomers, but just enough of that canon to hook in the devotees.

Does “Doctor Aphra” do this? Absolutely.

Alyssa Wong’s script builds the world without a massive exposition dump, using dialogue to introduce characters and their backstories. This may be the second volume of the series, but it’s a full on reboot.  (In fact, only one character, the Wookie Black Krrsantan, comes from the previous series.) It doesn’t dwell too much in that world building, giving you what you need to know to move forward, with the promise of more to come.  Nowhere is that more clear than in our meeting with Aphra’s rival of the moment, the rich, powerful, and petty Ronen Tagge.  Up until the final panel, you’re convinced he’s just a rich brat who doesn’t care how, he wants it now.  But that final panel sets up what his real motivation for the prize – – a set of rings that promises eternal life and riches to their owner – – is: a history between him and Aphra that they must resolve.

There are some chinks in the armor, particularly as certain characters lean into stereotype. Grad student Detta Yao, who tempts and wins over Aphra with the story of the mystical rings, has that excessive eagerness for working with her idol that’s fine at first, but annoying a day or two later.  Wong tempers that with some Greek chorus commentary from Aphra, reminding us of the enthusiasm of youth.  Former colleague and perhaps rival Eustacia Okka doesn’t hide her bitterness on her sleeve, but Aphra does well to win her over.  The good Doctor is set up to be the glue that holds the team — and the series — together. My only hope is that it doesn’t come at the expense of any new character development. This looks to be a fun dive into the world of academia (what is the state of research funding and tenure on the Outer Rim? Do adjuncts have better labor and employment rights?) but not at the sacrifice of some good ol’ blaster fun.  The intellectual in me rejoices.

Continued below

Now I did take a look at the first “Doctor Aphra” from 2015 just for quick comparison, which led to one artistic aspect above the rest: the color. The 2015 debut, while not monochrome, was muted.  This series has a brighter literal tone to it, which also plays well with the lighter tone and mood of the script. No doubt things will get dark and scary pretty fast, so let’s enjoy the fun while we can.

Marika Cresta pivots well from drawing action scenes to close up character moments, even though there are times where faces are just a bit inconsistent in execution. It’s noticeable but not enough to provide serious distraction.  The action scenes later on do seem to peter out when compared to the opening of the book on Hoth with a Stormtrooper showdown.  But let’s not pay that too much mind; no doubt there will be more epic battles later.  There’s one character moment I particularly loved: our introduction to Ronen Tagge. In his first scene, he stands arms outstretched in front of an abstract red and gold painting.  As the gold resembles wings, one wonders if this is slight foreshadowing or commentary.  Will he be an Icarus whose hubris leads him too close to the sun?

I love that this is a female-centric Star Wars series.  I love that this creative team is 3/4 women, ready willing and able to expertly mix badassery and femininity with just a little bit of moral ambiguity. But perhaps the highest compliment I can give this debut is that it not just kept my attention for the second issue, but inspired me to check out that original series, something I will certainly chronicle here as we look to have another year of our Summer Comics Binge.  Pass me the trowel and let’s get digging.

Final Verdict: 7.3 – Second verse, could be better than the first. (I’ll let you know after I read the previous 40 or so issues.)

Kate Kosturski

Kate Kosturski is your Multiversity social media manager, a librarian by day and a comics geek...well, by day too (and by night). Kate's writing has also been featured at PanelxPanel, Women Write About Comics, and Geeks OUT. She spends her free time spending too much money on Funko POP figures and LEGO, playing with yarn, and rooting for the hapless New York Mets. Follow her on Twitter at @librarian_kate.