Andy’s Read Pile: Doctor Aphra Volume 1
Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the Place,
Not a comic was Flipping,
Not even ones about Space.
Yeah, that’s because I cheated and wrote this article a couple days ago in hopes of giving myself the actual Christmas holiday off from GotS activities. Yep, instead of being in front of my computer tapping away into the bloggy abyss, you can instead find me enjoying the Yule tide festivities with my wife and two young children, Jakob and Johanna.
Most likely I’ll be found fighting off the mountains of questions about Santa Claus and when he’ll be arriving, what reindeer he’ll be bringing with him, whether it actually eats all the cookies we leave out for him etc. But I will say, that I’ll be loving every minute of it, as truly Christmas Eve is probably one of my favorite days of the entire year!
I’ve always been a much bigger fan of it than actual Christmas, simply because once Christmas is over…it’s over. It’s like all the air is let out of the Christmas season and it’s 364 days until another one. As many people that know me will attest, I hate endings. They are downright depressing, and I do everything I can to avoid them.
But Christmas Eve, that’s like the penultimate episode of a series, where everything has building and building and you can cut the suspense with a knife. And of course it ends with a cliff hanger in that: What will happen on CHRISTMAS?!? Will you that Spider-man themed inflatable bath pillow you put on your list way back in July? Stay Tuned!!
In any case, though, I did want to deliver another Star Wars related review as I promised I would all this month, just in case Santa is watching me as well and making sure I’ve been a good Ghost Host.
So a couple weeks back when I talked about women characters in the Star Wars universe, I couldn’t believe in retrospect that I forgot about one of the coolest, slickest females in recent memory to strap on a blaster and join the pantheon on of awesome Star Wars related rogues. I’m talking about Dr. Aphra, who was first introduced in the amazing 25 issue run of Darth Vader. A space archaeologist by trade, Aphra is somewhat of an amoral Indiana Jones, almost more like René Belloq for those of you acquainted with the famous movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I say that because although she does have a bit of a moral streak at times, she’s definitely more cutthroat, crafty, and manipulative than Dr. Jones would ever be, and as a result is more of a villain at times than a hero.
However, she is a very cool “villain” and regardless of her questionable moral code at times, she’s the protagonist and in the end we really do like rooting for her. Remember these are dark times for the galaxy what with the Empire ruling it, so true heroes are hard to come by. Sometimes shifty yet charming mercenaries is the best we can hope for (Princess Leia can attest to that).
Dr. Aphra and her signature brand of cutthroat treasure hunting first appeared in the 25 issue run of Darth Vader written by Kieron Gillen who just happens to also write today’s book as well. In that story, she pretty much acts as Darth Vader’s Gal Friday, doing a variety of dangerous odd jobs with the sole purpose of helping Vader track down all the information he can on his son, Luke Skywalker, before the Emperor can.
She’s joined on these missions by pretty much evil versions of Chewbacca in Black Krrsantan, R2-D2 in BT-1, and of course my favorite the sinister version of C-3PO in Triple-Zero (which I’ll go into greater detail later in this article). Of course, by the end of the Vader series, Dr. Aphra knows so much about Vader’s schemes that she’s viewed as a serious liability and he takes steps to eliminate her, and almost succeeds. But you just can’t keep a good con artist down for long, so here we are with the first collection all about those continuing adventures of Star Wars version of Lara Croft and her band of murderous accomplices.
After surviving her employment by the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, Aphra is back to business as usual with the crew of her ship the Ark Angel searching for the lost artifacts of the Star Wars universe in hopes of selling them to the top bidder for fame and fortune. Of course, the need for some monetary compensation is a little more pressing at the moment given the criminal gang from which she bought her ship has decided to call in their loan and Aphra needs to scare up some quick cash or face the consequences.
Things go from bad to worse though when the questionable methods she used to earn her archaeological doctorate that allows her to sell these artifacts for top dollar is discovered and her license revoked. It’s at this point that we are introduced to Aphra’s father, who is also an archaeologist of sorts, and was responsible for Aphra’s current predicament, in both terms of the license issues but as we discover also Aphra’s entire somewhat callous and self centered mindset.
Obsessed with finding the final resting place of this lost Jedi cult that was searching for the secrets of immortality called the Ordu Aspectu, Aphra’s dad shows that he’s more than willing to use his daughter’s special skills for his own quest and manipulates the manipulator into helping him. Unfortunately, their first stop on this quest is to collect a special crystal from the former Rebel base on Yavin 4, which is crawling with Imperials. Although through sheer luck and determination they manage to secure one of these crystals, they end up invoking the ire of one tenacious Imperial captain named Magna Tolvan who pursues the band with a squad of Storm Troopers to capture her.
This leads to a huge showdown on the lost planet containing the Citadel of Rur, this last resting place of this secret sect of Jedi. Turns out that the secret of immortality was actually the uploading of the Jedi Master named Rur into an Artificial Intelligence that became sentient calling itself the Eternal Rur and then proceeding to take over all of the droids at the Citadel before murdering all the Jedi to stop them from ever turning the AI off. Aphra’s presence reawakens the Eternal Rur and the murderous rampage begins again in earnest, with Aphra having to join forces with the Imperials to escape, which they do barely.
In return for her help, Aphra’s Dad helps her get back her license, and it’s back to a life of wheeling and dealing for the galaxy’s most notorious relic seeker.
Things I Liked:
Well, I think it’s stupid to start this section with anything other than the fact that I really do love the character of Dr. Aphra! I mean what a fascinating woman! Grounded in realism, well rounded and competently written, she’s definitely a worthy character to add to the annuals of fantastic people that make up the Star Wars universe.
Although she often times has questionable to downright nefarious moral choices, it’s hard to paint her as villain and equally as hard to not root for her in the same way as you would a hero. That’s mainly because of her grit, determination, and never say die spirit is truly inspirational. She’s a survivor, a woman that’s had to make it on her own by hook or by crook for so many years that bending the rules to her advantage in a universe getting darker by the second is not only forgiven, but applauded in it’s ingenuity.
And with this story as the introduction of her father, more pieces of her backstory are revealed which again reinforce the reasons of why she acts the way she does, which in some ways are justified by her crappy past. I mean some might argue that just because you have a terrible childhood doesn’t justify doing awful things, but I would say that in the end Aphra really doesn’t do truly awful things. Just a lot of ambiguously gray ones. She’s not like a mass murderer or some sort of super criminal. She just bends the rules a lot similar to other rogues we’ve known in other Star Wars stories, such as Lando, Han, Beckett, and even some of the bounty hunters.
In closing, I also want to point out that all of her victories and characterization are particularly hard fought and won fair and square. This is to combat any haters out there that might categorize her as a “Mary Sue”, someone that’s the best at everything and wins just because she’s written to have no flaws. Dr. Aphra, is almost the opposite of that in that Gillen goes out of his way to write Aphra as nothing but flaws at times. But she’s true to herself and honest about those flaws which again endears you as a reader. Plus, if anything her only real “best at everything” superpower is just being incredibly lucky to survive some of the messes she gets in to, but even that I can’t even call it luck because she is pretty damn smart and with an incredible knack for improvisation and thinking on her feet, she often stacks the odds in her favor.
Yep, this is a character I would love to see an animated movie or TV series about. Especially if they made it a bit more for the teens or adults where they could explore again these questionable morals to the degree they should.
Man…I could just gush all day on just Aphra, but I should give a shout out to the art by Kev Walker too. Very good stuff. Definitely fit the motif and made for an enjoyable read.
Things I Didn’t Like:
I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole subplot about the history of the Ordu Aspectu. This was the supposed splinter group of former Jedi lead by Master Rur who were researching immortality. Although it was definitely the kind of stuff I normally do like what with it’s very “Knights of the Old Republic” vibe, and tons of lightsaber action, I felt like their story was relayed in such a way that it was really confusing. This was mainly because Aphra and Aphra’s Dad both tell the story to the audience on the heels of each other with conflicting points of view.
I mean sure the whole point was to show that the real facts of ancient history get lost over the centuries and all that’s left is really a collection of stories past down which may or may not be accurate because of the bias of the people retelling the tale, but exposition of this level is not something I would have liked left up to interpretation given it was an integral part of the plot.
I mean from the some of the first panels of the flashback, we see Jedi running around in black leather get ups holding red lightsabers, which is probably the most anti Jedi thing ever, and it quickly gets even more confusing from there.
I mean I serious had to reread this particular section 3 or 4 times just to get a some semblance of what heck was going on, and why the Jedi were acting like Sith or whatever, and in the end I still didn’t really get it.
And the worst part is the whole backstory was pretty much unnecessary as it didn’t matter who was the good guys and who was the bad guys in this conflict between the Jedi and the Ordu, because they all got straight up murdered by the Eternal Rur and its army of killer robots.
I mean maybe Gillen was making a larger meta fictional point about the fact that history really is all the eye of the beholder, and the reality of the situation is often times completely different, but for the overall plot, it really wasn’t needed at all.
Okay, so this is the section I’m going to take a couple moments and gush over my love of Aphra’s droids who were also first introduced in Gillen’s Darth Vader series as well. Yep, just as lovable as the droids from the original trilogy, the dark versions of C-3PO and R2-D2 in Triple Zero and BT-3 are just enormously fun as a concept in general, but even more so when you add in the incredible writing and dialogue given to them in these stories. Especially Triple Zero, as I don’t think there’s a star that shines brighter in all of Gillian’s ideas that he brought to the table than the notion of a murderous protocol droid, secretly assassinating playas all across the cosmos.
I mean some may say that Gillen was continuing the type of deadpan black humor that was started in Knights of the Old Republic with the introduction of the assassin droid HK-47 with his talk of “killing all the meat bags” delivered with pitch perfect calm and decorum. However I would say that Gillen takes that concept and really swings for the fences by putting his murderous ball of cyber mayhem in the delightfully polite and effeminate C-3PO body. It’s almost an oxymoron of sorts and works so brilliantly because it’s such a perfect marriage of two completely opposing images. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Gillen really saves some of his most bad ass dialogue for Triple Zero, who wanders around delivering death and destruction with complete charm and elegance as well as some truely great stone cold one liners.
Like Hanabal Lector or Heisenberg, we actually root for Triple Zero to deliver his murderous intents through out the series. Maybe its because the story only has him acting as a robotic angel of death to particularly bad guys that we don’t end up hating him, but regardless of the reason, I hope at some point we get a whole limited series just about the adventures of Triple Zero and BT-3, similar to that old “Droids” cartoon that used to be on ABC when I was growing up. Man, that had a catchy theme song….
What else can I say about this particular book other than I’m glad it got made. In a world were there haven’t been all that great female characters for Star Wars fans to love, Gillen continues to give us the adventures of Dr. Aphra who is truly one of the best to come around in the past 20 years.
Sure, this particular story isn’t like Empire Strikes Back great, but it’s definitely a strong vehicle to show off Dr. Aphra and allow her to carry a book by herself, with some quality back story and focus on deepening her motivations. And that’s what was really needed coming off a book in which she was only able to shine when Darth Vader wasn’t around to paint her more as a sidekick.
At the end of the day, it was a decent enough story to make me want to continue reading Dr. Aphra’s solo adventures in future and what else do you want from a comic book series trying to establish a new franchise character than that!?! I mean from that perspective, this book does exactly what it was supposed to, and at Christmas time, that should always be enough to put something or someone on your “Nice” list!
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B+