The new volume of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (Which received a surprise digital release on Star Wars Day) combines the worlds of space adventure and academia into one entertaining package. The elevator pitch for Doctor Aphra is that she is Indiana Jones in space, but a queer woman of color. She also has a more dubious moral compass than Dr. Jones and is one of the best additions to the Star Wars canon since Marvel took over their comics license.
Alyssa Wong, Marika Cresta, and Rachelle Rosenberg do right by Aphra and focus on the archaeological side of her character as she teams up with a pair of female archaeologists to find the Rings of Vaale, which have great power, are cursed, and may not even exist. There’s an also an undercurrent of the conflict between intellectual curiosity and unbridled wealth in the comic’s antagonist, Tagge, a spoiled rich kid that thinks he can buy anything or anyone even an ex-tenured archaeology professor. But Doctor Aphra #1 isn’t all serious stuff. There’s also a healthy dose of gun play and intrigue to make the comic an even more enjoyable experience.
I haven’t read a Doctor Aphra comic since Kieron Gillen, her co-creator, left her solo title, but an action-packed cold open drew me into the story before the title page. Seeing Aphra in a snowtrooper disguise pulling double-crosses at Echo Base during the conclusion of the Battle of Hoth is pure fun and grounds the narrative in a time where the Empire thinks it has the Rebel Alliance on the ropes. Visually, Cresta and Rosenberg contribute smooth artwork to go with Wong’s quips, and it’s easy to follow every blaster bolt or sniper shot as well as surprise AT-AT’s. (It’s Hoth, what do you expect.)
In a bigger storytelling picture, Alyssa Wong and Marika Cresta resist the temptation to decompress and pad out scenes in Doctor Aphra #1. They provide the “great hits” of an action sequence, focusing on the coolest or most impactful moment like spending a single panel on Aphra and her crew’s flight from Hoth (Complete with speed lines.) after they spot the aforementioned AT-AT’s.
This economy of narrative extends to the quieter scenes too with Aphra, her former colleague Eustacia Okka, and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed grad student/fangirl Detta Yao laying out their character motivations and agreeing to team up to go after the Rings of Vaale in a single page. Aphra wants money, Eustacia wants her faculty position back, and Detta wants to write her dissertation and also has a kind of true believer connection to the Rings. Marika Cresta’s art is really what sells this pivotal page as she portrays Aphra as a pragmatist and poker player maneuvering to the side while she draws Detta with more open body language.
Alyssa Wong has done an excellent job crafting a core for these characters to build on throughout the series. This goes along with their distinct quirks like Aphra’s flexible approach to morality, Detta’s idealistic approach to the field of archaeology and academia in general, and Eustacia having a “TA” droid, which is this comic’s best joke. They are characters that I can really root for to accomplish their career goals and find the Rings, which will make their inevitable betrayal or moral compromise that much more painful. (This is usually the end result of running with Aphra; that or bumping into a certain Sith apprentice.)
Doctor Aphra #1 has all the hallmarks of a good Star Wars Expanded Universe story as it uses this rich world to tell an adventure story bursting with fun art from Marika Cresta and Rachelle Rosenberg and characters that are easy to connect to. Alyssa Wong also touches on deeper themes like faith and doubt and the connection between money and the academy. Fingers crossed that we see what an Outer Rim university tenure board review is like.
Story: Alyssa Wong Art: Marika Cresta
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg Letters: Joe Caramagna
Story: 8.2 Art: 7.8 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy
Purchase: comiXology – Amazon – Kindle – TFAW – Zeus Comics