In Review: Doctor Aphra #20

Doctor Aphra continues to be the consistent gem of Star Wars comics. Absolutely recommended.

The covers: A pair of frontpieces for you to add to your collection for this installment. Aphra is a prisoner and forced to fight for her jailers on this cover. She’s got on her suit to fight in the vacuum of space and she’s followed by her hubdroid, a fighter droid assigned to her section of the jail. Debris falls behind her as she and the droid continue on their path to destroy any survivors on a Rebel ship. This is the Regular cover by Ashley Witter and it’s a solid bit of foreshadowing for this issue. The reader can see she’s got a big gun, is in a different kind of outfit, and she’s accompanied by a big droid. Nice, though Aphra’s age looks really young in this illustration. The Galactic Icons Variant is by Rod Reis and is another profile picture of a character from the recently released Solo film. This is an image of a Range Trooper who appears all too briefly in the film. I really like this, as I’ve liked most of the other variants in this series. This was the cover I purchased. Overall grades: Both A 

The story: Si Spurrier takes over as the sole writer of this series with the first installment of “The Catastrophe Con”. After the events of the previous arc, Aphra is in Accresker Jail, a mobile jail composed of “eighty thousand tons of wrecked warships held together with an attractor node, hauled about by a cruiser on strings.” There are no cells, no curfews, and no spotlights. Their jailers are hubdroids, monstrous mechanicals that order them to participate in clearing ships they encounter. A Rebel vessel has been crippled, so Aphra and the others are issued guns and have to accompany their hubdroids to clear it. Things get interesting when the battle begins because the narration mysteriously has a second person interject into Aprha’s retelling of the boarding of the ship. One reveal is that she’s not using her real name, instead employing Joystick Chevron. The new voice is trying to decide if Joystick’s tale is truthful. The story that the reader sees is much different from what the narration tells. Aphra makes a new ally and has an old friend return. For two pages big bads Triple-Zero and BeeTee-One show that they’re at large, with the taller droid fixated on what Aphra did to him in the last issue. Back on the Rebel ship, something happens to one of her friends, caused by a mysterious figure that makes a fleeting appearance on Page 14. The meaning behind what this character says will have the reader guessing until the next issue of this series. How Aphra avoids further interrogation is fun and who appears on the final page will have Star Wars fans screaming. This is an excellent solo debut from Spurrier. Overall grade: A+

The art: Kev Walker does the pencils and Marc Deering the inks on this issue and they’re a great team. From the first page readers know this book is going to look slick: the jail is incredibly detailed with the point of view moving around its corridors to show the inmates beating one another for food. Pages 2 and 3 have a partial double-paged splash showing the exterior of the prison as it makes its way through space and it looks fantastic. When the sides meet on 4 the action is terrific — and pay close attention to the Aphra’s reaction to the violence before her. The new ally she makes looks great; he’s not a complicated design, but he resembles others of his species from the films perfectly. The individual that arrives on 8 is wonderful. I love the look of this character, but will admit that it’s the color scheme that I recognized. The two pages focusing on the killer droids are also excellent, with the slow pull out from 0-0-0’s eye awesome. The full-paged splash on 10 is a stunner. The details are fantastic in this illustration. Plus, see if you can tell what the statue used to be for a bonus visual sick laugh. Aphra’s visual reaction to a pair of characters on 12 is funny and violent, though completely expected given whom the twosome resemble. The large panel on 14 is solid view of what Aphra sees, leaving the reader with as many questions as the questionable archaeologist. The reveal on 16 is great, with the doctor’s situation cool and the two new characters delightfully threatening. The final page is a full-paged splash that shows who is about to be involved with the doctor, with the character in a dire situation. Somebody nail down Walker and Deering so they can illustrate this series forever. Overall grade: A+

The colors: I’m also extremely pleased with the colors by Java Tartaglia on this issue. A majority of this book is on a ship that’s falling apart, so Tartaglia had every right to use nothing but grays to color this book. Thankfully, Tartaglia uses a huge palette of colors to make all the visuals clearly seen and entirely appropriate for what is shown. This is noticeable from the first page with a slick job done with the colors in the first four panels. Look at the tremendous work done on the jail when shown in its entirety on 2 and 3. The reds, oranges, and yellows used in the battle sequences are beautiful and deadly. The pinks that appear later in the book are comical that turn deadly by the closing. The eerie greens that appear on 13 and 14 are perfectly suited for the moment that occurs. The rusty lighting and the green skin of one character on the final page instantly show the reader that a new setting is being shown. Great work by Tartaglia. Overall grade: A+

The letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna creates this issue’s dialogue, droid speak, scene settings, sounds, and a mysterious figure’s speech. Though it’s only italics, I do love that there’s a differentiation between droids’ speech and that of the humanoid characters. There’s also a lot more sounds in this issue than other Star Wars books. That said, there are still several times when blasters make no noise and explosions are sadly silent. One of my favorite sounds is on Page 12 with Aphra making a sound that’s not been heard in a Star Wars comic before. The dialogue, unfortunately, is still too slim to command any punch when characters speak. Overall grade: A-

The final line: A sensational start to a new story with incredibly fun and thrilling moments and visuals that are superb. Doctor Aphra continues to be the consistent gem of Star Wars comics. Absolutely recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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