In Review: Doctor Aphra #8

"The Screaming Citadel" ends on a whimper, soundless and full of confetti.

The covers: There are eight covers for you to scream about as you try to collect them all. The Regular cover is Marco Checchetto and it’s a stunner. Luke is in the foreground, lightsaber in his right hand, while his left hand reaches out to the reader. In the bottom right corner title character Aphra can be seen with her blaster ready, though her eyes are closed. The evil Queen is above the pair, seemingly levitating to the right. The maelstrom around her seems to be effecting the Millennium Falcon which is blasting its way forward. Good illustration and beautiful colors. The first variant is a Textless Variant of the same image. If one likes the regular cover, one will like this version. There’s a Variant by Ashley Witter which is a close-up looking down at Aphra that’s just awesome. She looks great, love the image in her goggles, and the coloring is perfection. The Star Wars 40th Anniversary Variant is by Jen Bartel, which features Darth Vader about to interrogate Leia using IT-O. I’m really enjoying these familiar scenes shown from different points of view and this one is neat. The Mile High Comics Variant is by Mike Mayhew and continues to connect to previous covers in this saga. This time Han Solo gets the focus, as he raises his blaster to kill the parasites that are making their way to him, with several on his legs. Lightning blasts behind him, leading the reader’s eye to gaze upon the Screaming Citadel. Nice. The Brain Trust has three variants: first is the Regular Variant, which is the same as the Witter Variant, though a Denver Comic Con Exclusive; second is the Pink Variant, which is the Witter Variant, with only the title (in pink) and her goggles (in orange) colored, and third is the Textless Virgin Variant, which is the Witter Variant, colored for the top three-quarters of the image and textless. Overall grades: Regular A, Textless Regular Variant A, Variant A+, Star Wars 40th Anniversary Variant A, Mile High Variant A-, Brain Trust Variant A+, Brain Trust Pink Variant A-, and Brain Trust Textless Virgin Variant B-  

The story: This is the concluding chapter of “The Screaming Citadel” by Kieron Gillen and it opens with two fires burning: Han has been swayed over to the Queen’s side and is ready to blast Leia and Sana, while Luke has had a parasite attach to him, which is the “King” parasite, so he feels he/it feels he must beat the Queen of Ktath’atn into submission. As Luke and the Queen stare each other down, the two subordinates to the Queen realize they’re now in charge of all the infected/bonded subordinates since she’s no longer controlling them, until one of them realizes that Solo also has the same ability, so they run off to take him out. As the only witness to the impending major battle, Aphra realizes she can tip the scales by slipping “blondie a winning hand,” and she glances at the recently reactivated Rur crystal. Meanwhile, Han orders his men to fire at his former friends. Out of nowhere he stops and says, “Wait…I’m in charge of me. Of everyone beneath me. So many lessers I…” Leia yells at him to fight it, the Corellian shakes his head, and tells everyone to lower their weapons. That’s it: Han is free of the parasite’s influence. This was way too easy and too quick a return to the Han that readers love. Worse still is that he makes a demand of his former underlings in the fourth panel on Page 5. It doesn’t look like they’re complying, as the action occurs because of another’s strength. Shouldn’t this have happened earlier? It’s difficult to believe this character was restrained in the first place by the men. Luke’s battle with the Queen is better, as the fight is more internal than external, and the farm boy proves his mettle to Aphra. All is made well, them Aprha and her crew part ways with the rebels, with Luke getting some excellent final words with the title character. However, the final two pages go too far. Is it plausible that those two characters would go there to do that? Absolutely. But the last page falls into cliché. The story is mixed: Luke’s scenes are pretty good, but Han’s turnabout is too easy, plus for a Doctor Aphra comic, the title character doesn’t get much time. This would have been better suited for a Star Wars issue. Overall grade: B-

The art: I enjoyed the previous issue, which was also illustrated by Andrea Broccardo, but this issue isn’t as strong. The first page is excellent, with Luke and Aphra being stared down by the Queen and her attendants. The second panel shows how different Luke and Aprha feel about the impending battle. The full page splash on 2 has Luke and the Queen floating towards each other, but neither leveling a blow. There’s black tendrils of dark energy/matter surrounding each, as well as a lot of confetti — I have no other word for this material. What it’s actually supposed to be is never stated, but it looks like space filler. Yet the next time these two are shown, they’re standing feet from one another. The two subordinates shown on Page 3 are really roughly rendered, especially the bald individual — look at his head and hand in the first panel for proof. Aprha looks great in every panel she’s in, but streamers are now coming out of the Rur crystal. Between the confetti and these streamers, it seems like a party has broken out between Luke and Queen, more so than a fight to the death.  When the story focuses on Luke, Broccardo gets to go cosmic with the confrontation, and for the most part if works, but the confetti is killing the intensity and the seriousness of the situation. The conclusion of the conflict I have nothing but praise for, and Page 9 is my favorite of the issue. Han, Leia, and Sana are well rendered characters, but there is a question of spacing in the second panel on Page 4: how are Han and his minions missing their prey if Leia is that close? Especially Han? Has he acquired the accuracy of a stormtrooper since he’s become possessed? The settings look strong, with the interiors of the Citadel and the Falcon being really well done. The panel containing Aphra’s ship had me thinking it was exploding due to the exhaust it’s given; some speed lines could have fixed this. The last panel ends on a down note, with the character looking flawless, but space filler again returning. Overall grade: B-

The colors: There’s no faulting the colors of this book, which are good. From the get go, Antonio Fabela uses color to identify the villains, with the Queen and her cronies getting red, which is the same color as possessed Luke’s eyes. A dark green is used to highlight Aprha in the second panel and set off the Queen in the bottom panel. The second page adds squares of sickly orange to fill the image, and since they’re not outlined it makes them look creepy. The Rur crystal has a brighter green, deserving of its supernatural nature, and it stands out each time it appears. When the action moves to doubtful Han, the backgrounds are off violet, which is a smart choice: purple does symbolize royalty, and making it a faded shade ages the citadel’s interiors. When Luke’s battle is shown on 6 – 8, the background goes ivory, allowing the character and parasites to pop. Page 12 goes outside the citadel for three panels and Fabela uses cool blues and greens and to show the people in the night. Overall grade: A

The letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna creates this issue’s scene settings, dialogue, a Wookiee roar, some yells, some cheers, Triple Zero’s droid speech, BeeTee-One’s beeps, and the single sound on the penultimate page.  There are two yells on Page 5 that are not strong enough to be yells, only identifiable because they end in exclamation points. The cheers, though, work well because of their size and the font used. Like all Star Wars comics, the sounds are non-existent: blasters are mute, lightsabers are silent, and the Wookiee is voiceless in his final panel. These omissions are not Caramagna’s fault, as such sounds are chosen by the writer or editor, but they, sadly, fall under his contributions. This franchise screams, silently, for sounds. Overall grade: B-

The final line: “The Screaming Citadel” ends on a whimper, soundless and full of confetti. There are moments to enjoy, but they are only moments. Overall grade: B-

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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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