The Galaxy in Comics: Doctor Aphra #22 Balances Levity and Darkness

The archaeologist cant's escape her past (or Bor Ifriem) in the latest installment of the comic book series.

The Galaxy in Comics is a deep dive into the events and themes of one recent Star Wars comic. In this installment, checks out Doctor Aphra #22.

Spoiler warning: This story contains details and plot points from Doctor Aphra #22.

Aphra is held captive by a tentacled being on the cover of Doctor Aphra #22.

At first glance, Doctor Aphra appears to be a relatively light-hearted comic book about a rogue archaeologist who keeps getting into trouble and somehow getting out of it again. And don’t get us wrong: the book certainly has its fair share of laughs. But beneath the obvious humor of Aphra’s mess of a life is a far darker undercurrent. After all, this is a woman who willingly worked for Darth Vader. This is a woman who does what she has to do to survive even when it includes sacrificing others. This is a woman who shares a lot of similarities with a homicidal droid (even if she’s been lying to herself about it). And that’s not even taking into account everything that happens around her. The contrast between levity and darkness has never been more apparent than within the pages of Doctor Aphra #22, an issue which has you giggling one page, recoiling in horror the next, and then laughing again a few pages later.

While each arc tells its own distinct story, the series has been building up so that Doctor Aphra #22 reinforces that Aphra can’t escape the consequences of her actions. She may not realize it yet, but being in an Imperial prison hasn’t actually granted her a reprieve from the side effects of her time working for Triple-Zero. The bounty hunter Tam Posla still wants revenge for what she did to his partner Caysin Bog, and General Hera Syndulla really wants to get her hands on the archaeologist. Meanwhile, Triple-Zero continues to monitor communications for any news of Aphra.

Still, the most dangerous threat lingering over Aphra’s head is the possibility of Darth Vader learning that she’s still alive. No matter how hard you try, you can’t outrun your past forever. It’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down. Her philosophy of “get rich and survive now, deal with the fallout later” can only continue for so long.

Aphra gets her mind probed painfully by an alien, revealing she knows about a Hookspore infestation in this series of comic panels.

All of this helps make it fairly obvious that Doctor Aphra’s not really a good person and she’d probably tell you as much herself. Tam Posla deemed her an “insane deviant” and compared her to Dr. Cornelius Evazan (who absolutely fits that description).  Even Tolvan called her an “evil idiot” in the same breath as saying she loved her. These descriptions may not be entirely accurate, but good people probably don’t tell someone they care about a secret that could get them killed. And then they definitely don’t get distracted in the middle of being rescued because they see a chance for profit. Aphra does both. Ultimately, she tells her interrogators there’s an infectious colony of hookspores in the jail in order to save her own hide… even though it’s potentially doomed everyone. It’s lying with the truth.

As horrifying as it might be, it’s a good thing that writer Si Spurrier doesn’t shy away from the savagery of Mairan-assisted interrogation. Like Bor Gullet in Rogue One, Bor Ifriem digging through Aphra’s mind is a violation of her very being, painfully yanking memories out of her brain for review, or to rewrite them or remove them entirely. Past experiences inform who we are and what kind of person we become and Aphra is no different. Who would she be without the memories of what she’s done or the crucial people in her past? Speaking of her part, Doctor Aphra #22 puts a curious amount of emphasis on Aphra’s mother, Lona. Up until now, we’ve rarely heard about her outside of Aphra’s conversations with her father. In this issue, the officer leading the interrogation specifically threatens to “change her into a devil” within Aphra’s memories.

On a lighter note, Doctor Aphra balances these painful moments with humor. Maybe having “Captain Snuggles” Tolvan and Sana “the ex-girlfriend” Starros unexpectedly meet is a nightmare for Aphra, but it’s a much-needed moment of levity in an otherwise heavy story. Kev Walker’s art perfectly illustrates the trio’s surprised reactions to the revelation in a way that words alone can’t quite capture. And I think Lopset speaks for all of us here: “Awkward.”

That’s the fun thing about Aphra; these are the sorts of stories you can only tell with a character like her. We’re used to examining right and wrong within our Star Wars stories and having our good guys and bad guys. And Aphra is neither.

Bria LaVorgna is a writer who doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t love Star Wars. She also really loves Alderaan, Doctor Aphra, and Inferno Squad. You can follow her on Twitter @chaosbria.