Doctor Aphra #23 Review

by Dennis Keithly

Aphra and her allies begin a desperate escape from Akkresker Jail in Doctor Aphra #23.

This review contains plot points for Doctor Aphra #23.

Doctor Aphra #23 Cover

Doctor Aphra #23

Writers: Si Spurrier | Pencils: Kev Walker | Inks: Marc Deering | Colors: Java Tartaglia | Cover Artist: Ashley Wittier | Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham | Assistant Editor: Tom Groneman | Editors: Heather Antos & Mark Paniccia

In Doctor Aphra #22, under interrogation, Aphra let slip to the Empire that a strain of spores infected the very penal ship on which she was a prisoner. In characteristic Imperial fashion, the Empire decided the best course of action was to abandon the ship and crash it into a world sympathetic to the Rebellion. Now, Aphra and her companions, Lopset, Sana, and Magna, must find an escape from the ship. There is a difference of opinion on how best to do this. Plus, Aphra’s growth as a person, or lack thereof, is highlighted as she debates with Magna and Sana what needs be done when it comes to fate of millions on an otherwise innocent planet in Doctor Aphra #23.

Character Growth

One of the issues with Aphra is whether she experiences any character growth. Throughout her appearances in the first volume of Darth Vader, and her own series, Aphra has been a self-interested rogue. She possesses intellect and scientific curiosity. However, she frequently lets that same scientific curiosity and greed get the best of her. “The Catastrophe Con” story arc is no different. Her primary goal is getting off the Akkresker Jail prison ship. But, that doesn’t stop her from jeopardizing everyone around her in the name of profit. Plus, to save herself, love interests, and allies, she willingly sacrifices countless prisoners on the penal ship.

Aphra’s lack of growth is highlighted by the changes Sana Starros and Magna Tolvan experienced. For instance, when Aphra outlines her plans to save them from a collision with the planet of Tiferep Major, Sana points out it dosen’t do much for the billions that live there and the likely thousands if not millions of casualties that will result from the impending crash. Aphra asks if Sana cares about that and notes that Sana changed when she realizes she does. This is immediately juxtaposed with Sana declining Aphra’s apology for their doomed romantic history and the present predicament. Sana knows Aphra is only really sorry because, and keeping within Aphra’s character, she got caught. Aphra never changed.

Then there is Tolvan. She is a woman that tried desperately to change. Against her better judgment, she rushed to Akkresker Jail to rescue Aphra. For once, she put love first. However, Sana arrived, and observing how Aphra broke her, Tolvan has had an epiphany. The same thing will happen to her. Therefore, she makes a difficult and dangerous decision. More on that in a bit.

Doctor Aphra #23 - Sana and Aphra

Acknowledging a Mistake

Amongst the bickering between Sana, Aphra, and Tolvan, Sana reminds, and not in a gentle way, Aphra of a few things. First, Sana doubts Aphra and Tolvan have any real chance at a relationship. She notes that Aphra has something of a discipline act going for Tolvan’s sake. Her observation is made amongst a larger observation that Aphra and Tolvan wouldn’t last “if the Rebels don’t kill [her]” when Sana brings them in. Aphra asks whether Hera Syndulla is still mad.

Of course, Hera would still be mad. Sana reminds Aphra that she put a bow on Hera’s head and how degrading that was to a Rebel or anyone. This happened in Doctor Aphra #17. Aphra literally tied up Hera and presented her to the Empire with a bow on her head. It was an exceedingly cruel thing to do, even for Aphra. So, either Si Spurrier is acknowledging that, or he is demonstrating that Aphra is just that thoughtless and cruel. Unfortunately, Aphra’s response lends itself to the “cruelty” explanation. She says all Hera has to do is pay up for the information she wants. She is completely unrepentant about what she did to Hera. Given that Aphra is frequently introspective and struggles with her conscience, this is a little disappointing. Then again, Aphra lacks any real development where her conscience is concerned. Either that, or she buries it deep.

The Spores Explained

Aphra finally puts the mystery of the “ghost Jedi” to rest in Doctor Aphra #23. It isn’t a ghost at all. The “ghost” is really the spores Aphra discovered in Doctor Aphra #22, and the same spores she told the Empire about under interrogation by the Bor. However, the spores are connected to the Jedi starfighter she discovered in Akkresker Jail. More precisely, in the past the spores bonded with a Jedi, and was mutated by the Jedi’s Kyber crystal. The Jedi long since perished, but the spores remain and look for a new host.

The explanation works for Doctor Aphra. There isn’t a particularly good reason an actual force sensitive ghost should haunt Aphra herself. This explanation, however, gives Aphra an opportunity to flaunt her archaeological and scientific expertise. It also provides a few moments of comedic relief. The first comes when Lopset describes the spores a ghost. Aprha responds, “It’s a sentient telekinetic fungus. ‘Ghost’ just sounds silly.” Of course, the irony is that her description is just as silly to anyone not living in the Star Wars galaxy.

The next moment comes towards the end of Doctor Aphra #23. In order to bypass the bulkheads preventing Aphra and company from reaching the escape pod, Aphra tinkers with the ship’s gravity to summon some “completely random junk” to tear a hole for them. Of course, she overstates what she did, and nobody is surprised when they find the Jedi ship waiting for them. Naturally, Aphra wants the lightsaber and any other artifacts she can get her hands on.

Doctor Aphra #23 - Ghost just sounds silly.

Tolvan’s Big Decision

As mentioned earlier, Tolvan makes a huge decision in Doctor Aphra #23. After observing Aphra and Sana’s relationship, she makes a clandestine communication. She reaches out to Darth Vader himself. She learned from Aphra in Doctor Aphra #21 about Vader’s search for the Rebel Pilot that destroyed the Death Star. Now, she is telling Vader that she knows. She frames it that she knows of Vader’s conspiracy to replace the Emperor. Her communication ends with Tolvan suggesting they meet in person to discuss this.

Tolvan’s decision has major ramifications for this series. For one, it brings Vader into the conflict once again. Vader once disposed of Aphra, or so he thought, only for her to escape. Since then, they have nearly crossed paths at least once. Aphra is an annoying presence Vader would rather not have roaming the galaxy. Aphra knows things Vader would rather she didn’t.

In addition, Tam Posla, a mercenary whose trust Aphra abused, and Triple Zero, who wants the encryption to his memories from Aphra, are on the way to the conflict. Not to mention, the Rebellion has an interest in finding Aphra as well. Things are about to get even more complicated.

Final Thoughts on Doctor Aphra #23

Doctor Aphra #23 succeeds on multiple levels. First, there is the art. Kev Walker, Marc Deering, and Java Tartaglia combine for some excellent illustrations and visuals throughout this issue ranging from the Jedi-spore “ghost” to the ships, and Aphra and company’s adventures. Second, there is the story itself. The escape from Akkresker Jail is compelling with plenty of plots and subplots to keep readers’ attention. Finally, the character discussion adds another element to this story. Aphra might not change, but her relationships do and there are repercussions. With Vader’s imminent return, things are likely to be shaken up again.

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