Well, this is Star Wars, so, *AHEM*:
IT IS A DARK TIME FOR THE GALAXY. The evil EMPIRE, led by the nefarious warlord DARTH VADER, has dealt the heroic REBEL ALLIANCE a vicious defeat and driven them from their hidden base on the ice planet HOTH.
HAN SOLO has been captured by the sinister bounty hunter BOBA FETT and delivered to the malignant crime lord JABBA THE HUTT for use as a DISTURBING ALTERNATIVE TO HIS RATHER MEDIOCRE COLLECTION OF TAPESTRIES.
The young Jedi LUKE SKYWALKER has learned that Vader is his father. PRINCESS LEIA ORGANA and the REBEL LEADERS must plan their next move. LEIA herself is beginning to grapple with her connection to THE FORCE and the revelation that LUKE IS HER BROTHER.
THE GALAXY’S FATE IS BALANCED ON A RAZOR’S EDGE.
Amidst this maelstrom DOCTOR CHELLI LONA APHRA, trogue archaeologist/master thief/weapons expert, and a motley crew of FELLOW FORTUNE-SEEKERS OF DUBIOUS MORALITY descend to Hoth in search of A SCORE.
MEANWHILE, at THE SHADOW UNIVERSITY, a young graduate student named DETTA YAO plots to seek A LOST CITY…
AND NOW THAT WE’RE PAST THE OBLIGATORY PASTICHE, THE REVIEW:
Doctor Aphra, illustrated by Marika Cresta (Fearless) and written by Alyssa Wong (Overwatch) with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg (King in Black: Planet of the Symbiotes) and letters by Joe Caramanga is a delightfully twisty heist comic and a darn good Star Wars story.
Doctor Aphra’s been a compelling protagonist (though she’s far, far, far from a hero) since she was created by Salvador Larocca and Kieron Gillen for Marvel’s first Darth Vader comic after Disney acquired the franchise, and Cresta and Wong weave a tale worthy of her often-amoral brilliance and unquenchable wanderlust.
Fortune and Fate, which collects the first five issues of Wong and Cresta’s run, blends archaeological adventuring (of a piece with Indiana Jones, to who Aphra was conceived of as a foil), the terror of unnaturally empty places, and sharp character work. It’s a comic with a distinct feel and tone that’s at the same time pure Star Wars.
Doctor Aphra and her crew – the murderous Wookie Black Krrsantan, the amiable blastslinger Just Lucky, the ambitious grad student Detta Yao, Aphra’s fellow (if far less sketchy) archaeologist and former flame Doctor Eustacia Okka and her incredible adorable droid TA-418 are hunting for a pair of mystical artifacts – the allegedly cursed Rings of Vaale, named for a Lost City where they are said to reside. And they aren’t the only ones on the hunt. Ronen Tagge, the perpetually sneering scion of an infamous Imperial aristocratic family, also seeks the Rings.
Doctor Aphra wants the Rings for profit. Yao wants the Rings for her thesis. Doctor Okka wants the Rings for vindication. Tagge wants the Rings so that he can destroy them, the latest archaeological casualties of an ongoing temper tantrum born from his mediocrity compared to the rest of his vicious family.
Aphra’s crew are, minus Okka and Teeay, a scheming, ruthless bunch. But none of them like the idea of Tagge blowing up the Rings to make himself feel big. Nor do they want to get killed by his army of hired guns. All the while, the Lost City of Vaale whispers in the players’ ears. The type of whispers that give rise to screams.
Vaale and its secrets are Fortune and Fate’s greatest strength. Star Wars is a world flexible enough to be science fantasy as much as it is science fiction, and the long-abandoned city Cresta and Wong craft is a prime example of that. It’s an eerie, unsettling place that swiftly turns frightening.
Cresta designs architecture that is alien in its texture but far, far too familiar in its shape. Rosenberg skillfully captures the awful ambiguity of Vaale’s building materials with greys and whites that are probably stone. Probably. Hopefully.
The lore Wong crafts for Vaale and the mood she cultivates as Doctor Aphra and company explore the city, carry out their various plots and deal with Tagge’s gaggle of goons makes for an intriguing counterpart to Respawn Entertainment’s video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Both tales see their protagonists explore the remains of an ancient culture, part of a cosmos that has lasted far longer than the Empire, the Old Republic, and even the Jedi or Sith. Both turn on protagonists who are, (if in very different ways) deeply lonely people. But where former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis usually wanders alone and trusts in the Force, Doctor Aphra’s running alongside and against a whole caboodle of characters, none of whom trust each other – with good reason.
Doctor Aphra: Fortune and Fate is rife with back-stabs and double-crosses. They’re grounded in character and a ton of fun to watch play out. No matter how brilliant the plan and the planners, there’s always a chance that a heist will go sideways. Plus, this is Star Wars. It’s a vast and wild galaxy, so when things go sideways, there’s a good chance that there will be explosions, monsters, and possible cosmic terror.
Doctor Aphra, as written by Wong, is a professionally ruthless and frankly crummy person. But a crummy person isn’t the same thing as a wretched person. Aphra’s the former. Tagge is the latter. Wong builds a thrilling battle of wills between the two, contrasting Aphra’s skullduggery with Tagge’s crude brutality. One’s a villain who does care for a select few people and wants to see all the Galaxy has to offer. The other’s vicious twerp who’s twisted himself into a caricature. Their confrontation at the arc’s climax is thrilling, and the fallout promises good things for the next arc.
Doctor Aphra: Fortune and Fate is a strong entry in the ongoing adventures of one of modern Star Wars’ best characters. I’m eager to read the next arc.
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