Welcome to Queerness In Comics, a bi-weekly column by Avery Kaplan, which will explore queer representation in comics. This week, Avery is exploring Doctor Aphra, who first appeared in the pages of Darth Vader #3, released in 2015.
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Here’s the thing about Doctor Aphra: she’s in charge of her destiny in a way that most characters in the Star Wars universe can only dream about. Sure, Vader may wield unreal levels of power, but he’s caught in Emperor Palpatine’s sprawling machinations, and while Obi-Wan Kenobi may be a good man at heart, his vision is crowded by the encroaching dogma of the Jedi Order.
But while other characters may find themselves unable to move beyond their archetypes, Chelli Lona Aphra is a woman in control of her fate… even if she may use that control to find the edge and toe the line. Since first entering into the narrative of the Star Wars comics in Darth Vader #3, the services of this rogue archeologist have been in increasingly high demand. Never fear, intrepid explorer: the Beat can help you navigate your way through Doctor Aphra’s story!
After unsuccessfully attempting to locate a colicoidic pulse field modulator on the planet Dantooine (a misadventure documented by a short story written by Gillen for the From a Certain Point of View collection), Doctor Aphra meets Darth Vader for the first time on Quarantine World III (Vader’s reputation precedes him, of course, and Aphra is quick to pay her respects). The meeting takes place in the pages of Darth Vader #3, which is set in the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
As fans of the most infamous Sith Lord are already aware, Vader is no stranger to working with questionable assistants — after all, just look at the motley crew he calls in to help him track the Millennium Falcon during The Empire Strikes Back — and he recruits Aphra to his cause. Naturally, Vader’s assessment of Aphra’s abilities is astute, and thanks to Aphra’s mechanical expertise, she’s able to give him a hand.
During this era is the Vader Down crossover event, which includes issues 13 and 15 of Darth Vader, and incorporates the work of the main book’s creative team, as well: Jason Aaron, Mike Deodato, Frank Martin Jr., and Chris Eliopoulos. The Vader Down crossover gives Aphra the chance to cross paths with the heroes of the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time.
Doctor Aphra at large
Finished the Darth Vader series but still haven’t gotten enough Aphra? Fortunately, our favorite rogue archeologist still has plenty of adventures yet to come, as after the completion of the 2015 run of Darth Vader, she was spun-off into her own self-titled solo series.
The first issue, which boasts a creative team that includes Gillen, Kev Walker, Larroca, Caramagna, Antonio Fabela, and Delgado, picks up the adventure right where we left off: with Aphra barely a step ahead of Vader (and the rest of the Empire) and making new “friends” all the time.
As the series continues, other creators help tell Aphra’s story, including Si Spurrier, Wilton Santos, Caspar Wijngaard (who does a pretty good job of drawing Vader with his eyes closed), Marc Deering, Don Ho, Chris O’Halloran, and Stéphane Paitreau.
While Aphra’s solo series affords her plenty of space for exploration and character development, she remains something of a wild card: while putting a hero like Luke Skywalker into a particular situation essentially creates a foregone conclusion regarding the outcome, Aphra’s moral ambiguity means that it’s much more difficult to predict how the antihero will react to any given circumstances.
When Aphra’s romantic life comes into the narrative, the story becomes even more complicated. In addition to a former relationship with Sana Starros, a human woman from the smuggler’s moon of Nar Shaddaa, the supremely messy Aphra eventually develops feelings for Magna Tolvan, a captain in the Imperial military who has a thing for rules (how is that not a match made in whatever part of deep space that angels come from?).
Doctor Aphra Volume 2
While the first volume of Doctor Aphra has come to a conclusion, there’s more to come: in April 2020, the series will be relaunching with an all-new creative team, including Alyssa Wong, Marika Cresta, Valentine Remenar, Mark Paniccia, and Tom Groneman. And while it has yet to be confirmed, there are rumors swirling that the rogue archeologist may find her way onscreen, possibly through a series on Disney+. Hey, if anyone can track Yodito down, it’s sure to be Aphra, right?
You don’t have to go to a galaxy far, far away to find Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra! Grab a tracking fob synched to their biosignatures and locate them at your local comic book shop, or on the shelves at the nearest library.