After surviving employment under the Sith Lord Darth Vader, it’s time for Doctor Aphra, the galaxy’s most roguish archaeologist, to chart her own course through the galaxy. Written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Kev Walker, this is the beginning of Aphra’s journeys through the wide, wide galaxy of a long time ago. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Read on below for our full review to find out! Be warned, I do discuss some spoilers down there!
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Kev Walker & Salvador Larocca
BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT!
Following the blockbuster finale of Darth Vader #25, the fan-favorite character begins a new journey in STAR WARS: DOCTOR APHRA #1 – the new ongoing series coming this December! From superstar writer Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader) and fan-favorite artist Kev Walker (Marvel Zombies) comes Marvel’s first ongoing series starring an original character created in the comics!
Following her time in the clutches of Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra has barely escaped with her life. If he ever learns of her survival, he’ll hunt her to the ends of the galaxy. But for now, it’s time for a return to what she does best. With the droids 0-0-0 and BT-1 in tow, she’s off in search of rare artifacts from the galactic center to the Outer Rim and everywhere in between. Aphra’s got debts to pay after all. Just as long as she can stay one step ahead of the Empire, some Bounty Hunters and just about everyone else in the galaxy!
Something that has been clamoured for, by myself especially, from Marvel’s line of Star Wars comics is something that feels fresh, that feels new. Despite having two years of comics under their belt, Marvel has rarely broadened its horizons past spotlighting characters from the movies in adventures that take place between certain movies while taking care not to rock the boat and upset the balance of the Canon. Now, finally, we’ve gotten an ongoing series that features an original character from Marvel’s comics in the lead. Doctor Aphra should be recognisable from Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s “Darth Vader” series as the plucky-yet-roguish archaeological sidekick to Vader who resoundingly dunked on two Sith Lords at the end of that series by faking her death in order to survive into her own series.
The core problem with “Doctor Aphra” #1, for me, is Aphra herself, specifically the unsure tone of the story surrounding her. It’s hard to get a grasp on whether we’re actually supposed to like her. Aphra is essentially like if Han Solo and Indiana Jones were the same person and also a woman and Gillen and Walker riff on that from even the first few pages as they recreate the opening sequence to Raiders Of The Lost Arc with a bait and switch at the last second that involves Aphra committing straight up murder. This is clearly a “root for the bad guys” kind of story with murderising archaeologist Aphra being accompanied by the homicidial and all-black versions of C-3PO and R2-D2 and the dark-furred version of Chewbacca. However, the tone doesn’t really bely any reason to root for them as they lie, cheat, steal and murder their way through the galaxy.
Let me explain: the reason you like Han Solo isn’t because he was a self-centred, but roguish smuggler, it’s because he had a change of heart and put the safety of his newly found friends and the galaxy itself first in taking down the Death Star. The only reason Indiana Jones isn’t seen as an exploitative colonialist stealing from indigenous peoples (make no mistake, he is very much that to a lot of people) is because he fights against Nazis, the universal symbol for evil. Here, without much to contrast Aphra’s behaviour, it almost feels like we’re expected to laugh along with the way she lies, manipulates, steals from and outright murders anyone who gets in her way. It’s not until the very last page we get some contrast in a way that feels like we’re meant to sympathise with Aphra after all, but none of it feels earned.
Grey morality generally isn’t becoming of Star Wars, which has operated in a pretty stark morality since the moment George Lucas had the idea that blue meant good and red meant bad. Here, the tone is kind of all over the place. It seems to want to be a light-hearted adventure where our roguish, underdog protagonist is hounded across the galaxy by those they’ve swindled only to run into bad luck after bad luck before a last page reveal hooks readers into coming back for the next issue by revealing more about Aphra’s past. Along the way, though, that lighthearted tone is interrupted by instances of cold-blooded murder as our characters feel no remorse in eliminating anyone who gets in their way. It’s such a strange experience that doesn’t quite meld the tone of the story with the actions of the characters.Continued below
Hell, there’s a moment that punctuates the end of the backup story where Aphra has not only destroyed someone’s career out of spite, but leads to someone who seemed ostensibly like a friend to her going to waste the rest of her life over nothing and instead of feeling remorse or guilt over it, the story ends on a note of “Oh, that Aphra!” It reads like the adventures of a sociopath in space without actually acknowledging her behaviour.
If “Doctor Aphra” was trying to be a noir in space, that could probably work, but as it is, there’s a tonal dissonance between what we’re seemingly supposed to feel for the characters and what their actions make us feel. It likely doesn’t help that while this is Marvel’s first Star Wars comic focusing on an original character, every character here feels like an expy of an established character. At the end of the day, this just like “What if Han Solo was Indiana Jones and everyone was an asshole?” And as much as Gillen fills the dialogues with quips and witticism, there’s nothing to stop this from feeling like well tread ground. This first issue’s story offers little outside of Star Wars characters archetypes that we’ve known for close to 40 years now with minimal changes.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Kieron Gillen is joined by Kev Walker on artwork here, with “Darth Vader” alum Salvador Larroca providing art for a backup story. Walker’s linework has a ton of personality to it and his characters are an amazing example of the power of visual storytelling through body language and facial expression. On a number of pages, Walker is able to capture the emotional reaction of a character purely through their expression, something not a lot of comics have enough faith in their artist to do. As you would expect by this point, Walker is able to perfectly capture the look and feel of the Star Wars universe through the smaller details of the world while capturing a run down and well worn feeling.
This is a very different aspect of the Star Wars universe than we’re used to seeing, full of archaeological digs and waiting rooms and Walker is able to make even these small locations feel like Star Wars. We don’t get much of a sense of location, though, as much of this issue’s story is focused on a lengthy dialogue scene and Walker has a tendency to white out the background of those scenes in order to focus on the characters. There’s a strange grittiness to Walker’s lineweight, feeling something like Star Wars by way of Moebius. It takes a couple pages to get used to, but it captures the offbeat tone of the story a lot better than some of the writing.
This is possibly the biggest missed step in Marvel’s Star Wars line. In trying to keep with the rather light hearted tone that marks many of Marvel’s other series, Kieron Gillen has undercut his own story with a sense of weird tonal dissonance. It’s hard to get a read on how to actually feel about the characters and the story because the quips and witticism read like we’re supposed to be laughing along with them even though they’re the galaxy’s biggest bunch of assholes. There is definitely time to turn this around with subsequent issues that focus things down more and expand on the characters beyond the archetypes they’re presented as, but this first issue is sadly lackluster.
Final Verdict: 6.1 – As much as I hate disliking Star Wars stories, this was just too all over the place for me.