Her Hobbies Include Restoring Deadly Weapons
December 7, 2016 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Today marks the release of Marvel Comics' Dr. Aphra #1, the first ongoing Star Wars comic to be headlined by an Asian character. Created by Kieron Gillen for the highly praised Darth Vader title run, Aphra has been described by her creator as a morally "inverse Indiana Jones" and represents the rare breakout character with no connection beyond the comic universe. After all, who wouldn't love someone who makes it a hobby of finding and restoring weapons of mass destruction? WARNING: Links and below the fold contain spoilers for the Darth Vader comics!

Introduced in Darth Vader #3, set shortly after A New Hope, Dr. Aphra was recruited by the Sith Lord to help him learn the identity behind the X-wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star. In the course of her coerced and excited service to Vader, Aphra traveled to the ruins of Geonosis to the nighttime vistas of Naboo, to unravel the secret that is Luke Skywalker, all the while accompanied by two murderous droids, Triple Zero and BT-1. In the course of her travels, Aphra learns more about Darth Vader than virtually anyone else, and in doing so, places her life in jeopardy once her usefulness to the Sith Lord is over.

On her own, always under the threat of immediate death should Vader find her, Aphra sets out on her own course, fresh with new problems and opportunities.


For More on Dr. Aphra:
posted by Atreides (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's great that the lead is an Asian woman; less ideal that she's being written by a white dude.

I've got nothing against Gillen per se (though his stuff doesn't hit me hard in the tumblrs like it seems to some people and he strikes me as falling into the Neil Gaiman category of believing his own myth a little too much), but I don't believe there weren't any talented & qualified women and/or Asian (or heck why not both) writers who could have worked on this.
posted by terretu at 7:55 AM on December 7, 2016


I need to catch up on the Darth Vaders so I can catch up on this. The ones I have read have been great, with Aphra a highlight.
posted by Artw at 8:09 AM on December 7, 2016


Where did she get the idea that Indiana Jones has ethics? He seduces an underage girl; he steals artifacts for their prestige value; he aims a bazooka at one such artifact to try to free a hostage (who he's supposed to be "in love" with), but when his bluff is called he admits the artifact is more important than the love interest. And that's just from the first film (last in timeline, when he's supposed to have "reformed"?)!
posted by rikschell at 8:10 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


"It belongs in an armory!"
posted by infinitewindow at 8:12 AM on December 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


I haven't read all of the Darth Vader run, but what I did see had me instantly fascinated with Aphra, Triple 0 and BT-1.

Where did she get the idea that Indiana Jones has ethics?

"It belongs in a museum!"

I honestly think that is the beginning and end of Dr. Jones position on ethics in archeology.
posted by nubs at 8:17 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


So a queer woman of color is getting her own series, great! She's a fascist sympathizer...how...timely? She's going to help make the galaxy great again I guess?
posted by gusottertrout at 8:22 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


The woman on the cover of Doctor Aphra #1 sure doesn't read as Asian to me. It wasn't until the "Dr Aphra Goes Solo" link that I saw drawings of her that did.
posted by egypturnash at 8:33 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


how can she be asian if she is from a galaxy far, far away though? surely she is correllian or coruscantian or something
posted by entropicamericana at 8:49 AM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


So a queer woman of color is getting her own series, great! She's a fascist sympathizer...how...timely? She's going to help make the galaxy great again I guess?

Villains can become the more compelling characters in stories for a lot of reasons; Darth Vader started as one henchman of the Empire amongst many in the first film, and became such a presence that Lucas eventually decided to try to make the six film arc about him, his fall, and his "redemption" (and even leaving that aside, Vader in general is a great character in the original trilogy who captured the audience imagination in ANH, whose presence in ESB is amazing, and serves to heighten just what a threat the Emperor is in RotJ if Vader is on his leash, although Vader's role gets diminished in the third film as a result). Vader, in short, was/is a popular character in his own right even if some of his best moments are unrestrained evil (Hannibal Lecter is another example).

So the fact that the comic series about this compelling villain has spawned another compelling villain (or, at least, a morally suspect character - another area that Star Wars - for all it's general good/evil dichotomy in the main story - is often good at creating) is interesting in its own right, I think. The fact that the character is diverse in a lot of ways from the usual (in the Star Wars 'verse especially so) is significant in many, many ways. Perhaps most important from my perspective is that this is the character that Marvel/Disney is starting the first "untied to major arc" storyline around (Rogue One is still quite tied into that arc). And the socio-political timing of this is interesting and I think will be worth some unpacking as the series progresses; I think any piece of pop culture has a reflection of the times and context in which it is created, and I will be interested to see what that looks like here.
posted by nubs at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2016


I honestly think that is the beginning and end of Dr. Jones position on ethics in archeology.

I'm trying to decide if the inverse of this position is robbing the museum and giving things back to their rightful owners, or keeping it for your private collection.
posted by pwnguin at 8:57 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


surely she is correllian or coruscantian or something

Right. And it turns out not everyone from correllian or coruscantian or something looks like caucasians, which I think is probably on balance a good thing.
posted by Artw at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


agreed. it was just a quip about semantics
posted by entropicamericana at 9:21 AM on December 7, 2016


Right. And it turns out not everyone from correllian or coruscantian or something looks like caucasians, which I think is probably on balance a good thing.

Right, but they're still not "Asian". Can we just stick to using words based on their meaning and not expand on that?

On preview, agree, but semantics.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:23 AM on December 7, 2016


For the purposes of, say, the second link I'm not sure there's a useful distinction.
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on December 7, 2016


Well, since we're on semantics, "character" != "actor"
posted by humboldt32 at 9:54 AM on December 7, 2016


If you draw a picture of a fictional Asian person, is the picture Asian? Is there a philosopher in the house?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2016


So a queer woman of color is getting her own series, great! She's a fascist sympathizer...how...timely? She's going to help make the galaxy great again I guess?

The background for her support of the Empire is explored, I believe, in Darth Vader #8ish. The short story is that the Clone Wars lead her mother to take her to live a life based on positive ideals on a remote planet, where the lack of law and order due to the war resulted in her mother being killed by bandits. She sees the Imperial establishment of order over chaos as a good thing, despite the fact that she generally operates in the fringes of legality.

It's great that the lead is an Asian woman; less ideal that she's being written by a white dude.

The lack of women writers is a major problem for Marvel's Star Wars titles. So far they have only employed two in a time period with approximately 75 or so issues under about a dozen different titles, and those two have only recently written for the comic producer: Marjorie Liu (on the great Han Solo mini-series) and Kelly Thompson (in the fun Star Wars Annual #2, which introduced Pash Davane).

As the Vader title has been the biggest hit so far of the Marvel run, my guess is that Gillen was given free reign to write whatever he wanted so long as he would keep writing a Star Wars title.

It's hard to classify Aphra as a true villain in the Star Wars sense of Vader, Palpatine or Tarkin, as she really kind of falls into the realm where one would find smugglers, pirates, or bounty hunters. The complexity of her character, one dipped in a vat full of shades of gray, is one of the things which makes her such a fascinating new addition to the Star Wars universe.
posted by Atreides at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's great that the lead is an Asian woman; less ideal that she's being written by a white dude.

He created the character. I don't understand what you want - that Marvel gives a writer's own characters to other people to fulfill some sort of quota?
posted by Spacelegoman at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've got nothing against Gillen per se (though his stuff doesn't hit me hard in the tumblrs like it seems to some people and he strikes me as falling into the Neil Gaiman category of believing his own myth a little too much)

I mostly agree, although I don't think that Gaiman has it nearly as bad as Gillen; in fact, I think that Gillen really wants to be Gaiman, really, really badly. (Young Avengers was pretty good, Phonogram is pretty insufferable, The Wicked + The Divine isn't bad but gets overpromoted, Über adds nothing to the already-crowded what-if-superheroes-were-weapons-of-mass-destruction subgenre, and Mercury Heat is an uninspiring space-opera-heroine-whose-suit-sure-shows-a-lot-of-skin book.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:29 PM on December 7, 2016


Halloween Jack,

Just curious about what series you think cover the themes of Uber better than Gillen has. Watchmen really doesn't cover that, Supergod plays with certain ideas, but really not on the same scale. (Oddly enough both larger and smaller at the same time.) Redson? Not really. Aspect of The Boys deal with the opposite end of the spectrum I guess.

The cold, calculated statistical inevitability of the destruction in Uber captures many truths about the government-level decisions on WWII.

I think Uber conveys the deep dread of WWII-scale destruction more fully than any other series I've read. I'd love to know if there are other works that come close to this.
posted by Telf at 8:53 PM on December 7, 2016


Just curious about what series you think cover the themes of Uber better than Gillen has.

If you're asking which comics series has done the themes that Über covers specifically better, then nothing that I'm aware of. But I'm still seeing it as riffing off of the themes presented in Watchmen and Marvelman/Miracleman, as the other series that you've mentioned have, and not nearly as well as those two series. YMMV, of course. (For a fantastical bent on the WWII arms race, I much prefer The Atrocity Archives, the first entry in the Laundry Files book series by MeFi's Own cstross.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:55 PM on December 7, 2016


Villains can become the more compelling characters in stories for a lot of reasons; Darth Vader started as one henchman of the Empire amongst many in the first film, and became such a presence that Lucas eventually decided to try to make the six film arc about him, his fall, and his "redemption" (and even leaving that aside, Vader in general is a great character in the original trilogy who captured the audience imagination in ANH, whose presence in ESB is amazing, and serves to heighten just what a threat the Emperor is in RotJ if Vader is on his leash, although Vader's role gets diminished in the third film as a result). Vader, in short, was/is a popular character in his own right even if some of his best moments are unrestrained evil (Hannibal Lecter is another example).

Sure, but, without wanting to get into a big derail about it, I have a lot of issues with how "good" and "evil" is portrayed in popular culture, and given Star Wars has had an outsized effect on pop culture since its first release, it's, at best, something I'm more than a little ambivalent about. This though isn't really the right place for that discussion since I'm not up to date on Marvel's take on the franchise, my comment was more general based purely on what I read in the links.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:09 AM on December 8, 2016


The final half of Atrocity Archives was quite haunting. If you enjoyed that, then Ian Tregillis' Milkweed Triptych might be up your alley. I'd say that series comes closest to Uber if we're including non comic work about WWII, Nazis, and supermen.

Unfortunately, I'd have to respectfully disagree with your above statement:
"Über adds nothing to the already-crowded what-if-superheroes-were-weapons-of-mass-destruction subgenre"

I believe that it adds quite a lot and might actually be the best treatment of the idea. As the story evolves, it really leaves other interpretations in the dust. He's clearly thought about the implications and really analysed various scenarios in his head. The amount of research he's done to nail the truthiness while playing so much with the facts is quite impressive.

Anyway, some of his work is very good. I feel that his stuff reminds me much more of Ellis than Gaiman, thought I see where the comparisons come from.
posted by Telf at 5:26 AM on December 8, 2016


since I'm not up to date on Marvel's take on the franchise, my comment was more general based purely on what I read in the links.

I'm about as up to date as one can get, feel free to MeFi Mail me if you have any questions about anything.

Incidentally, Disney has awarded the newest form of trooper in Star Wars, the Death Trooper in Rogue One, an alternative title, A.W.R. Trooper, almost entirely, I think, so they can gain from having actors dressed as Death Troopers walking around the parks without constantly using the word "Death" all the time.

Star Wars villainy, though, is a fair topic for an Aphra thread because of her own place in it. In Darth Vader, she's an agent of Vader's, and under that umbrella, she personally orders the murder of an innocent man via droid. It's poignantly written, as it's not something she delights in, but conversely, in Aphra #1, she blasts an unarmed individual with glee because that person had tried to do the same to her earlier.

The Imperial style of regarding life as something of little value (at least the lives of those other than one's Imperial self) is alive and well, and framed as a counter point to how the rebels operate. A great example of this is the Princess Leia mini-series, in which a jaded rebel agent tries to force Leia into adopting a ruthless, kill all Imperials regardless of the situation, attitude, because that agent believes the rebels cannot win with their more moral perspective on the value of life.
posted by Atreides at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2016


Let's not forget Mary Jo Duffy who wrote a good chunk of Marvel Star Wars in the 80s.
posted by quibx at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2016


Star Wars villainy, though, is a fair topic for an Aphra thread because of her own place in it. In Darth Vader, she's an agent of Vader's, and under that umbrella, she personally orders the murder of an innocent man via droid.

My issue revolves more around the two mediums use of villainy more than just Star Wars itself really. Where Hollywood has in its blockbuster films tended to accept the Star Wars model of generic evil and thus make their films largely politically neutral in regards to anything more real than the symbolic archetype or make films vague enough in specifics so that they can be read as meaning opposing views simultaneously without actually illuminating much by doing so.

In comics, at least as of a couple years ago when I took a break from reading them, the issue was more over the way they've conflated perspectives, removing distinction to the point where villainy seems almost random or a whim on the part of characters, in order to make the stories more immediately pleasurable, but where all values start becoming something like a hat one would put on or take off on a moment's decision. It isn't moral ambiguity as much as it is an emphasis on effect driven narrative pliability. Characters adopt and discard values for the sake of story moments rather than character consistency, and the way these moments are shaped tends to favor "darker" values as more "true" and more interesting than more positive values, while retaining the superhero paradigm of excess individual importance, which is itself troubling. (Not all comics of course, too diverse a field for all encompassing generalities like that, though most Hollywood big budget movies do seem to fall in a pretty close grouping on their part.)

None of it is really Star Wars specific, other than the franchise serving as a model and continuing example for much that's come since then, which is why I figured it'd be a little much for this thread. I wouldn't mind hearing more about the comic side of Star Wars though, in any connected regard, since it was just getting fired up at the point I was taking a hiatus.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:54 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the current run of Star Wars comics would fall more into the areas you're looking to now. I'm pressed for time at the moment, but I'll post again with a more definitive response, but one which I don't think is necessarily a derail in a post about Aphra, either.
posted by Atreides at 2:12 PM on December 8, 2016


You say the empire is too cartoonish it evil, and yet...
posted by Artw at 5:41 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


egypturnash: The woman on the cover of Doctor Aphra #1 sure doesn't read as Asian to me.

I have to agree. The unambiguously WOC character drawn by Salvador Larroca seems to have been redrawn into someone who could be read as white. It's especially glaring on the cover and in the backup story at the end.

I love the character so I'll keep reading, but I hope the artistic team will take her look back closer to Gillen's and Larroca's original design.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:02 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


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