In Review: Doctor Aphra #34

It's depressing to look at what this series has become visually.

The covers: Two very different covers to track down if you have to own everything Star Wars. The Regular cover by Ashley Witter is a humorous piece and it continues to crack me up every time I look at it. Aphra has a frown on her face as she’s being carried to parts unknown in a net on the back of Wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan. Both her legs are sticking out and poor Vulaada is upside down next to her, with her legs straight up in the air. This image so sums up the title character: in trouble and embarrassed by her situation. I love this! TheĀ Greatest Moments Variant by Caspar Wijngaard features Luke upside down as well, but he’s hanging underneath Cloud City from the climax of The Empire Strikes Back. Hanging by his knees, Luke looks forward into an infinity of an orange sunrise. Behind him the Millennium Falcon speeds to his rescue. This isn’t for me because Luke is too blocky and the Falcon looks as though it’s hanging in the air rather than speeding along. Overall grades: Regular A and Greatest Moments Variant C

The story: This is a story from writer Simon Spurrier goes between the past and present showing Aphra’s time with her mother on Arbiflux and the situation she now finds herself in since she’s returned to this world. The past has her bored by her mother and her teachings, realizing “…she buried us in a place so insignificant nothing would ever, ever change.” In the present she and Vulaada are hiding out in her former childhood home from the Rebellion and her ex, Magna Tolvan. A return to the past has marauders disturbing the peace her mother has tried to create for Chelli and she urges her child to run. In the present, a transmission gives the title character terrible news. “Get out now. We intercepted Imperial comms.
They tracked you to Arbiflux. And listen, news has spread about that system cell getting taken out at the livestock market. They’ll play it cautious this time.” As Aphra tries to wake Vu, a trio of bounty hunters have arrived in view of her home. The description of one of the antagonists has her running from her residence. A conflict ensues with a surprise, yet welcome, reveal. Soon the women and a familiar furry face are making their way back to some characters that can provide them protection. I knew as soon as Aphra was at this location what she would attempt to do, and she does, but I was not prepared for the reveal on the final page — that was a terrific surprise. I like the story in the present, with the flashbacks only serving to interrupt it. Nothing in the past adds anything to Aphra’s characrter, except a reader can now say they know her origin. Half the story was interesting. I was happy to see the return of one character to this book. Overall grade: B-

The art: The artwork is not working on this book. There are five artists: Wilton Santos, Cris Bolson, & Andrea Broccardo with inks by Marc Deering & Walden Wong. The artwork in the flashbacks looks the best, but it’s the least interesting story of the issue. Not helping is that the credits do not list who is responsible for what pages. C’mon, Editor Mark Paniccia, can’t you do the readers a favor and state who does what? The first page is made up of five equally sized horizontal panels that show the first twenty-four months that little Aphra spent on Arbiflux with her mother. It’s a great way to show the transition of time and what life is like for the imp. Her dissatisfaction is obvious, foreshadowing what her life will be like. A turn of the page and things look terrible. The first page is full of details, the scenes in the present are not. The large panel that opens Page 2 is flat looking with a rote dwelling and the backs of the characters, also looking flat, to the reader. In the distance are sketchy structures obscured by fog/clouds — a telltale sign covering artistic inability. The panel that ends the page shows Aphra from an angle that’s repeated three times on the third page! Page 4 is just as bad with another artist showing the attack in the past on Aphra and her mother. Is that Aphra? Plus, there are no backgrounds. The arrival of the bounty hunters in the present is also sketchy. Is that supposed to be rain at the top of Page 6? I couldn’t tell until seeing the drops in the final panel on this page. The characters in the second panel on 7 are shown from a terrible point of view. The full-paged splash on 8 loses much of its power because of the distance from the character, its surroundings, and the coloring. When the action moves to space, things don’t improve, with ships looking as if they are hanging listlessly rather than speeding through the void. The first panel on 16 has a tremendous amount of wasted space at the top. There’s a bizarre amount of wasted space on the left for the full-paged splash that ends the issue. It’s like the page was scanned improperly. What the heck has happened to the visuals on this series? They’ve been stellar on previous storylines, yet this now looks like submissions to the Marvel Try-Out Book. It’s depressing to look at what this series has become visually. Overall grade: D+

The colors: Not helping the visuals are the colors by two colorists, Chris O’Halloran & Stephanie Paitreau. And as with the art, there are no details in the credits as to who did what. The flashbacks have bright colors that allow all of the art to be clearly shown. That’s a good thing when whoever the artist is on the first page is colored. The fourth page’s colors are an orange and yellow mess that overpowers the visuals. The scenes in the present, though primarily at night, begin as rusty and then become so dark as to make the visuals pointless, with 8 being a prime example of this. Even TIE Fighters’ blasts are a dull green, rather than a vibrant beam of destruction. The large panel on 16 is so dull and gray as to be a blob on the page. The final page’s colors are incredibly muted that keep the reader from finding a focus. I’m so disappointed in this book’s colors. Overall grade: D

The letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna creates this issue’s scene settings, dialogue, transmissions and droid speech, sounds, Black Krrsantan’s speech, and weakened speech. The scene settings are not great because their colors have their text blending into the visuals on the page. This has been a long running problem with this font and it must be stopped. The dialogue is wispy, rendering any speaker’s speech as too lithe. The transmissions and droid speech looks fine with both forms of mechanical speech separated from organic speech. The sounds are fine, too. I continue to have issues with the placement of Wookiee speech within dialogue balloons. There’s no rhyme or reason why it expands beyond the front or back of the balloon or is perfectly centered. It seems to be dependent on what the visuals will allow rather than what the character’s stress is in his speech. The lettering in this book is also lacking. Overall grade: DĀ 

The final line: This book seems determined to get itself cancelled. The story is okay, though the flashbacks contribute nothing to the story in the present. The visuals are a fiasco. They are too dissimilar and only draw attention to whichever artist is doing a lackluster job. The colors are also not good. This was the strongest Star Was title published by Marvel, but has fallen to the worst. This series cannot survive looking like this. Overall grade: D+

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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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