What We Talk About When We Don't Talk About Star Wars-- a review of Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker's Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Volume 1- Aphra

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Volume 1- Aphra
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Kev Walker, Marc Deering and Salvador Larocca
Colored by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics

In one of his recent email newsletters, Kieron Gillen wrote:

The first Doctor Aphra trade dropped when you were away, where Kevin and I dig (ahahahaha!) into the archeologist hero. While obviously it'll reward anyone who followed her adventures through Darth Vader, it's designed as a clean start. My approach with Star Wars comics has always been to make them Star Wars. They have to feel like the silver screen on paper, in all those immaterial ways. As such, we've tried to find something that merges the Indiana Jones structure with the Star Wars one.
So, yeah, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Volume 1- Aphra is a Star Wars book and it’s pretty much everything Gillen describes above. Since Marvel’s relaunch of this line of comics, Gillen has written some of the best comics in the Star Wars family. So, recognizing that Killen making this comic Star Wars with a strong belt of Indiana Jones, let’s try to put that information to the side for a bit. Let’s forget that Star Wars (and Indiana Jones) is a thing and look at the comic that Gillen and Kev Walker have put together.

Gillen and Walker’s story is about a daughter who is a disappointment to her father and a father who just can’t understand his daughter. In a galaxy where a mercenary archeologist can find all kinds of ancient artifacts that the right people are willing to pay the big bucks for, Aphra is just enough of a scoundrel to always be on the verge of the next big discovery without being enough of a ruthless criminal to ever land that big payday that would set her on easy street. All that ever really got her was a short walk out of an Imperial airlock after her time of service to Darth Vader at the end of his Gillen-penned series. So as her solo series begins, she’s escaped the choking yoke of a vicious master but gained the unapproving gaze of a disappointed father.

So while Aphra has been on the search for riches since she graduated school as shown here in a brief story drawn by Salvador Larocca, her father has been on the search for history. The elder Aphra has been looking for artifacts and wisdom that could reunite a galaxy torn apart by civil war. That galactic civil war provides the background to this story but Gillen writes a small story about a father and daughter wanting some reconciliation without having the first clue about how to do it. Any loyalty to anyone she has is basically a set of markers to be dealt out to potential allies and anyone she may owe her life to. And the elder Aphra seemingly has no problems blackmailing his daughter to gain her aid. Instead of getting the hugs and warmth of a family reunion, Gillen writes about the transactions that happen in financial and moral ledger books.

While the stories of heroes and villains are taking place elsewhere in this line of comics, Gillen and Walker take the opportunity to tell a smaller, more personal story that really has more stakes to it. Sure, the fate of the galaxy is up for grabs elsewhere but here Gillen is able to write the story of the battle for someone’s soul. Now that’s a heavier statement than what the comic wants to portray. Joining this daughter/father duo is a pair of murderous droids and a scarred Wookie. Gillen and Walker keep the tone light and easy over these heady conflicts between Aphra’s heart and mind.

Bringing a European flair to this familiar universe, Walker delivers just the right mix of action and introspection. His Aphra can be fuming one moment and then realize that she made the biggest mistake of her life in the next panel. Her father is an almost typical dad, saying and doing dad-like things but by blackmailing his daughter, Walker continually depicts a man who is obviously over his head. Walker’s drawings capture these characters at a point where they may feel like they’re at their more vulnerable but there’s always a new bottom that’s ready to drop out where Aphra is concerned.

Walker, inker Marc Deering, and colorist Antonio Fabela walk the fine line of making this book fit in with the larger mythology while giving it its own visual identity. Jumping from ancient temple to spaceships and then to different ancient temples, this balance of grandeur, grubby, and personal moments creates a large tapestry for these artists to create on And it all works for a character who is surrounded by these big, galactic forces but who ultimately is an extremely small speck in this epic story.

Aphra lives in this ambiguous space between good and evil. Looking at other characters that he’s written from David Kohl in Phonogram to Loki in Journey into Mystery and even Darth Vader in Gillen's last expedition into this galaxy, this is a band in the spectrum that Gillen is quite happy to explore. In this comic, Gillen explores where a relatively normal, if not a bit roguish, woman can fit into this grandiose battle of light and dark. With Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Volume 1-- Aphra, Gillen, and Walker get to take a look at the history of this universe even as they get to tell the personal story of a woman who ultimately is just trying to find a payday.

And murder droids. They get to write and draw stories about murder droids.