Convergence of Character and Chaos In Marvel's 'Dr. Aphra #9'

by Jack Fisher

13 July 2017

Dr. Aphra continues to carve her own place in a galaxy far, far away.
 
cover art

Dr. Aphra

Andrea Broccardo

(Marvel)
US: 12 Jul 2017

Every now and then, a character comes along that fills a need that nobody even knows is there until it’s shoved in their face. It’s like there are all these blind spots in the world of popular culture and nobody bothers to look until something jumps out and surprises everyone for the best possible reasons. For a mythos like Star Wars, where endless debates rage over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first, it’s hard to imagine there are any blind spots left. Then, Dr. Aphra and her two homicidal droids, Triple-0 and BT, come along and suddenly everyone has a reason to forget about Greedo.

Ever since her debut in Darth Vader #3, Dr. Aphra keeps finding ways to be the most compelling character in Marvel’s evolving Star Wars universe. She’s part Indiana Jones, part Han Solo, part Lara Croft, and part Catwoman. For such a new character, relative to a mythos that has been around since the disco era, that’s an eclectic mixture, to say the least. However, Kieron Gillen finds a way to make Dr. Aphra work brilliantly. She’s a character Star Wars didn’t know it needed, but it’s that much better because of her.

What helps set Dr. Aphra apart from Luke, Han, Leia, and Jar Jar Binks is her ability to play both sides. She’s neither on the side of the Empire nor the Rebel Alliance. She’s very much on her own side, as seen in arcs like Vader Down and Screaming Citadel. She has no qualms with changing her allegiance on a whim whenever it suits her. She’s downright Machiavellian in her tactics, but somehow finds a way to be lovable.

These tactics are on full display within Dr. Aphra #9. While fans of all things noble and true in the galaxy may have a hard time rooting for her, it’s hard to deny her ambitious. Dr. Aphra is the personification of Mos Eisley in that she surrounds herself with the worst thieves, thugs, and deviants in the galaxy. Unlike Luke Skywalker, she’s exceedingly comfortable in their company. She gives the impression that she prefers it. For her, the scum of the galaxy are preferable to Jedi or Sith, if only because they have deeper pockets.

That’s another aspect of her character that sets her apart. Like Han Solo, Dr. Aphra is more concerned with paying off old debts and turning a profit rather than bringing balance to the Force. Unlike Han Solo, though, she’s not as inclined to step up and play the hero when the chips are down. If it means losing a payday or a valuable asset, she’ll generally brush it off. She’ll even screw over anyone who tries to nudge her in a certain direction. More than anything else, Dr. Aphra prefers to serve her own agenda and will employ any number of murder drones and renegade wookies to achieve it.

The agenda in Dr. Aphra #9 isn’t that complex, but the setup is pretty elaborate. For the past several issues, she’s been trying to make use of an ancient Jedi artifact that dates back to the Old Republic. Beyond satisfying her scientific curiosity as a renegade archeologist, she also understands that all things Jedi have greater value in a galaxy where most were wiped out. She may be a deviant, even by Sith standards, but she understands market forces.

Knowing the Empire is more prone to blow up planets rather than bargain, she invites some of the galaxy’s most accomplished thieves and criminals to bid on it. She even turns it into a party of sorts, one in which puts Dr. Aphra’s charisma and cunning on full display. She’s not some inexperienced farm boy. She’s not even some privileged princess. She’s very much in a category all her own. In a galaxy full of Death Stars, smugglers, droids, and Lando Calrissians, she finds a way to stand out.

That’s not to say Dr. Aphra is that efficient at pursuing her agenda. In fact, a good chunk of her nascent history is full of ambitious plans blowing up in her face, going all the way back to when Darth Vader first enlisted her help. It’s one of the reasons she finds herself in so much debt in the first place. She’s great at forging these elaborate schemes to acquire resources. She’s just not that good at adapting those schemes when something goes horribly wrong, which tends to happen a lot in a galaxy where even Death Stars are prone to blowing up.

In a sense, she’s very much the anti-Rey. Nobody can read Dr. Aphra #9 and claim she’s a Mary Sue-type character. Dr. Aphra is ambitious and skilled, but she doesn’t exactly endear herself to everyone around her. It’s also painfully obvious by the end that at least part of her plan is doomed to fail again. Unlike Han Solo and Princess Leia, she can’t expect to rely on the love of friends and allies to save her.

Dr. Aphra isn’t that kind of person. For her, friends and allies are expensive and potentially distracting. Granted, that puts her in many difficult positions, especially when her schemes go awry, but that’s what provides so much of the entertainment value in Dr. Aphra #9 and her story as a whole. She is very much a deviant and a renegade, but she’s no Jabba the Hut. She’s not cruel or vindictive. She’s not the kind of person who will Force choke anyone who disagrees with her. But that doesn’t mean she’s never willing to leave dead bodies and broken droids in her wake.

Those who’ve grown fond of Dr. Aphra since her introduction in Darth Vader #3 will find plenty to enjoy in Dr. Aphra #9. In a sense, Dr. Aphra #9 highlights all of the traits that make her story compelling and her character endearing. Those who haven’t been following her exploits since Screaming Citadel may be lost, though. Dr. Aprha’s story is difficult to just pick up and follow. There are also times when the flaws in her schemes seem a bit too obvious. Those hoping for a big revelation on par with The Empire Strikes Back will be disappointed. That’s not how Dr. Aphra works. It’s the little revelations that make her story so engaging.

That doesn’t prevent Dr. Aphra’s character from being any less endearing. She’s still someone that’s easy to root for. At the same time, she’s also someone that can slip up and not upset too many people. Gillen’s development of her character continues to be strong and Andrea Broccardo’s art adds visual appeal with that distinct Star Wars style. Dr. Aphra may not care much for the Force since it can’t pay her debts, but she doesn’t even need it to be a great character. Debts or not, the galaxy is inherently richer because of her presence.

Dr. Aphra

Rating:

//related
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.


//comments
//Mixed media
//Blogs

Anthologies of Serial Exposure

// Re:Print

"Serial anthologies challenge us to ask what constitutes a comic and consider the possibilities of what they can be.

READ the article