Review – A City of Ghosts and Scoundrels in Marvel’s Doctor Aphra #2
Quite a week for Doctor Aphra! Not only is the fantastic audio drama out in the world the second issue of the new series has finally arrived. As comic distribution slowly returns we can hope the gap between release dates gets a little smaller. It’s been a while, so if you need to catch up, here’s the review of the first issue. Just beyond the events of The Empire Strikes Back, Doctor Aphra has assembled a crew of new and old friends to go after the cursed, priceless Rings of Vaale. With all things priceless and cursed in the galaxy far, far away, they often attract the unsavory type, those being spoiled aristocratic playboys with a penchant for defiling rare art. SPOILERS AHEAD….
This issue opens with a flashback to Aphra’s early days, during her studies at the University of Bar’leth, the prestigious school of archaeology. We knew Professor Eustacia Okka and Aphra had a past but this is the first revelation it was a romantic one. From what we know of Aphra’s relationships with Sana Starros and Magna Tolvan it’s not out the realm to assume the present tension between them is likely due to however Aphra ended it. It will be interesting to see if this tension will be healed and how their unresolved feelings manifest.
While the crew discuss their imminent arrival at the planet Dianth, wealthy scumbag Ronen Tagge appears in hologram via Eustacia’s droid who’s been temporarily hacked. Tagge wants to give Eustacia a second chance to work for him in pursuit of the artifact, offering to throw all his resources behind her. Though in addition to his offer he threatens if she joins Aphra and her crew he’ll use those resources to stop them in as destructive way as he can.
The conclusion of the previous issue suggested Tagge and Aphra had a past and here we get a little glimpse. Tagge once hired Aphra to retrieve Alderaanian corral (yes, you read that right) all so he could play out his favorite ritual of destruction on one of the rarest pieces of ecology from a murdered planet. Even the ever malleable morality of Doctor Aphra couldn’t bend to accommodate a wicked request like that, so she sold him a phony, stole his other pieces of artwork, and made a small fortune selling them. Tagge’s mean spirited enough so his grudge amplifies his motivation to get the Rings of Vaale before Aphra.
The Lost City of Vaale, said to be cursed and composed of “living stone”, Aphra is more cautious about entering than Eustacia and her new friend, aspiring archaeology student Detta Yad. Don’t forget, Black Krrsantan and assassin Just Lucky are along for the ride, too. When the crew enter Vaale, a high-pitched nosie begins to affect Lucky. There’s an ominous energy in the empty city and everyone aside from Eustacia feels creeped out.
Living stone? Well, these facial impressions in the stonework of the city would be enough to turn most away. Aphra keeps the group together as they observe every structure in Vaale is covered in these horrific carvings. The artwork her by artist Marika Cresta and color artist Rachelle Rosenberg is perfectly eerie. It reminds me of one of my favorite banned Disney films, Return to Oz, when Doroty re-enters the deserted Emerald City, as well as the Gnome King’s minions. The crew realizes Eustacia has broken off from them.
Eustacia seems to have found the next step to locating the Rings of Vaale. Just Lucky discovers a staircase beneath the floor and they descend deep into the workshop. As they get deeper, the high pitched sound becomes worse for Lucky and Aphra begins to hear it too. They reach a massive door but suddenly discover they are not alone in the darkness.
Whoa! Not only does this zombie-like being appear, the faces in the stone begin to moan and move. I love it when Star Wars gets weird and we haven’t seen anything this creepy since “The Screaming Citadel” event. Aphra quickly puts the being out of its misery and they start to examine the stone movements. When Detta Yad thinks she’s found a way to open the door, Just Lucky and Black Krrsantan blast it out of frustration from the constant high pitched noise growing louder.
The floor opens up, taking Eustacia, Black Krrsantan, and Just Lucky with it. Detta catches Aphra, keeping her from falling but they aren’t safe.
Tagge’s mercenaries have caught up with them. Aphra and Detta are stuck but knowing our resourceful archaeologist she no doubt had three different back-up plans for the scenario. She’s gotten out of worse and she’ll get out of this but we’ll have to wait until the next issue to see how she does it.
Doctor Aphra is off to a strong start. As a fan of the character I love Alyssa Wong’s handle on her story. The flashback scenes used to introduce this issue did an effective job of conveying a new layer of tension between Aphra and Eustacia. Tolvan is bound to show up at some point down the road but while we wait this detour I look forward exploring the relationship between the two of them. The new crew is just great. After listening to the recently released audio drama my opinion of Triple-Zero changed but I don’t miss the murder-droid here. Just Lucky is a great addition and Aphra sees a lot of herself in Detta, who I think will reveal herself to be more like Aphra than we already know. The dark environment of the vacant city and the subterranean ancient workshop is a nice touch. I envision some great action sequences and art ahead. Can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.