Star Wars Purge: Seconds to Die – Comics Review

Star Wars: Purge - Seconds To Die One-Shot
by Ostrander, Hall, Lei/McKenna
Dark Horse Comics (November, 2009)

Star Wars: Purge - Seconds to Die
This slim (22 pages) volume based on the script by John Ostrander attempts to provide a somewhat novel perspective of the events from Revenge of the Sith as part of the relentless effort of the Star Wars franchise to presents a coherent narrative for adults while remaining within the limits of an overblown children story.

It looks like one of the main purposes of Seconds to Die is to remind the readers of the iconic portrait of hooded-gorgeous-Anakin-gone-bad from Episode III, which appears at least three times.

The yarn about Sha Koon, the last Jedi that survived the onslaught at the end of Clone Wars and then decided to incite a suicidal duel with Vader would have been interesting if her femininity was not totally inconsequential. She’s depicted as a member of species with a head akin to the Predator (without the cool gear), and her body most resembles a very tall human male. The application of gender mainstreaming in this case means blotting out any gender specifics. This comes as no surprise, as lack of sex has been the staple of the franchise since the Phantom Menace (i.e. the removal of the dynamics between Harrison Ford's Han Solo and Carrie Fisher's Leia).

The final battle is quite lame. The Cthons, “primitive” people who help Sha Koon against Vader have “some useful bits of technology” like an “electroshock net.” However, they first attack the lightsaber-armed Sith lord naked and weaponless, and he cuts them to shreds. The utter absence of projectile weapons, especially firearms, within the Star Wars universe has always seem perplexing, and can only be explained by the notion that these stories remain within the framework of fairy tales for kids that need not develop critical thinking skills.

At the end, the conclusion raises this comics to a new level of lameness. The stabbed Sha Koon has a two-page “flashback”—a vision—with a short recap of the adventures of Luke Skywalker, including the death of the Emperor, and dies “at peace.”

This “comforting” epilogue brings to mind the lucid analysis by David Brin in his legendary essay "Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists, objecting to absolving Vader from guilt of destroying billions lives during his career because he showed repentance by not killing his own son.

Fortunately, Seconds to Die is just a one-shot. Even though the technical execution of the script and the drawings by Jim Hall (pencil), Alex Lei, Mark McKenna (ink), and Ronda Pattison (color) is of quite high quality, one can only go so far chewing the cud instead of injecting some logic, or creativity into the stale blood of Star Wars.


Ruslana’s Science-Fiction Escapade

RuslanaUkrainian music star Ruslana gained international fame using Hutzul folklore mixed with barbarian style reminiscent of sword and sorcery subgenre in her Wild Dances project, a strategic approach crowned by winning Eurovision song contest in 2004. Her following album Wild Energy(2007) showed a move towards science fiction.

For instance, the Wild Energy video allegedly was based on the book Wild Energy.Lana by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko. Its current Wikipedia article presents the plot involving a person who works as "a pixel" in huge public entertainment shows, reminiscent of immense choreographed performances in North Korea or China, even though the same style of acts has been used in the West since at least the Olympics in Los Angeles.

The environment in the video shows clear influences of The Matrix, with high quality special effects and perfectly executed costumes and choreography. The video mainly deals with an escape sequence from futuristic agoraphobic architectural structures, similar to depiction of Neo's rescue in the first part of the trilogy.

The book's plot also seems to reflect the main motive of the Matrix: protagonist exploring the artificial reality imposed on the system and finding the truth about the inner workings of the economy, and constrains placed on the members of the society.

These values are present in the second video from the same album, The Moon of Dreams, with a storyline that returns towards general fantasy. The video uses natural phenomena on an epic scale as metaphor for the emotions of the protagonists, including climate changes and turning two dead moons into glowing stars.

The costumes seem to build upon some of the motives from Wild Energy, like the bat-people who do not personify evil per se. The video presents a long-distance conversation with the American singer T-Pain, who seems to play the role of benevolent spirit/remote conscience, and does not actively participate in the love life of the main protagonists, played by enchanting Ruslana and her dashing blond counterpart. The long-distance effect is stronger in the Ukrainian version of the song as each singer using her and his mother language.


The League of Un-Copyrighted Gentry

I just enjoyed watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (includes a woman), a comics-based tale of adventure and action, whose wonderfully rendered computer effects often have visual sensibility reminiscent of the best days of ID Software.

The movie is worth watching, in spite of heavy propagandistic shading & displayed misogyny. The story revolves around a group of 1899 ragtag characters who attempt to stop some arms merchants from 'promoting increased return of investment' by starting a world war. So far, progressive enough.

Sadly, the movie also glorifies imperialism, both British and American (its 'heir'), endorsing the idea that even though an individual person might not like an empire (disenchantment allowed for family reasons) s/he has to support it, since the interest of the (current) world empire coincides with the best interests of humanity and world peace. The movie portrays colonialism as benevolent and protective, especially in Africa (!); totally ignores the contemporary Balkan situation; and avoids considering the fact that, just as Washington warned, empire/alliance-building was the primal reason for the World War I.

Of course, the really extraordinary feature of this movie is that all characters come from works of art & entertainment with expired copyright, and are now in public domain. In order to fully understand the significance of this fact, here's a short excerpt from the site of the U.S. Copyright Office, from the document "Copyright Basics":

A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's life plus an additional 70 years after the author's death. In the case of "a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire," the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Similar conditions refer to works created before the stated date. In short: the copyright (the privilege to prevent free use of certain product) may be extended up to 70 years after the death of the individual author, or up to 95 years since the publication if the copyright holder is a corporation.

This cute and fun movie would have been much poorer without the ability to re-use the characters and plot ideas ("raw materials"). League's success provides excellent proof for the need to revise the current, oppressive, legislature on intellectual property.

The movie also has educational value, providing a cross-section of some of the most important early Science Fiction & Fantasy works. Here's a handy list of (some of) the characters and authors featured in the League:

In addition, an inquisitive question from Deckard:

Do the authors of the movie have the copyright on their new universe? Do I have the right to use the same characters and write a sequel of the movie?

[Originally published on Razvigor blog, September 9, 2003.]


Young Einstein - a reminder for steampunk lovers

It does not generally gets on lists of steampunk movies. However, Young Einstein (1988) can be rightfully considered a great genre movie, as it provides a hilarious alternative history of the Fin de siècle science and its top personalities.

You don't need to be well-versed in physics to enjoy this masterpiece by the Australian artist Yahoo Serious, but this comedy will provide much added value if you are.


First "Laptop" Discovered in Flash Gordon Comics

Probably the earliest depiction of a communication device resembling a laptop has been discovered in an ancient Flash Gordon comics by Mende Petreski of Prilep, Macedonia.

Browsing through his comics collection, Mr. Petreski stumbled upon a panel in Politikin Zabavnik weekly published June 14, 1974, featuring the forces of Ming the Merciless using a device which looks a lot like a laptop to talk to their leader.

Translation: "Our infantry will stay in the cover until the rockets silence the rebel armored cars, commander" - "Keep us posted about the flow of the operation, Major!"

This particular comics represents a Serbian translation of an episode drawn around 1937 by Alex Raymond. The title the magazine used is "Ming's Prisoners", while the contents probably covers part of the story "The Outlaws of Mongo" which the Flash Gordon Wiki attributes to Alex Raymond and Don Moore, originally published as Sunday comics from August 15, 1937 – June 5, 1938.

The Wiki mentions the spacephone as a "communication device used on Mongo," but makes no mention about the laptop-like apparatus.

The leading Macedonian portal On.net broke the news of this discovery first. It can be of interest to computer science historians and comics lovers.

Since 2004, Checker Book Publishing Group has been republishing the Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon comics in hardcopy edition (seven books in total).

Flash Gordon comics were a major hit in Former Yugoslavia, published by popular magazines such as Politikin Zabavnik and Stripoteka. While the former had a tradition of republishing both classic episodes and reruns, the later usually featured newer installments by Dan Barry.

Several scans from this historic episode are available bellow, courtesy of Mr. Mende Petreski.

Politikin-Zabavnik-naslovna Flash Gordon battle scene


Zoran Živković on utopian motives in "Childhood's End"

Zoran Živković has provided enormous positive influence on the development of science fiction in the lands which comprised the former Yugoslav federation.

As a publisher and translator from English to Serbian, he provided access to cutting the edge of contemporary sci-fi literature in the eighties and the early nineties, and as theoretician and screenwriter (Zvezdani ekran, 1984) he also used TV to provide great introduction to sci-fi cinematography.

An example of his work is the essay Utopia in Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, written in 1975 and republished in English in 2001.


Definition of reality by Philip K. Dick

In the speech "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" attributed to Phillip K. Dick (1978), he explains the motives that drove him to write, and a number of always current affairs:
It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories which asked the question "What is reality?", to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories, and still I could not figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." That's all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven't been able to define reality any more lucidly.


The Andromeda Strain in Macedonian

The previous post referring to Michael Chrichton's The Andromeda Strain prompted me to look up the ways this title has been translated by the Macedonian media. I reviewed several articles about Crichton, which appeared upon his recent and untimely death.

The novel has not been translated into Macedonian yet, and the translators who had no official yardstick to compare circled through various meanings of the English word "strain," failing to use the right one.

The word "soj" in Macedonian designates a breed, or lineage (of microorganisms). Thus, the proper Macedonian translation should be "Sojot Andromeda" (Сојот Андромеда). The book has actually been translated in Serbian several decades ago, as "Andromedin soj". The two South Slavic languages have the same word for this term, and Macedonia and Serbia were constituent parts of the Yugoslav federation then, making this issue accessible to Macedonian sci-fi fans at the time. But current translators display quite low level of general education, and probably have little experience with science fiction. Thus the translators from the Macedonian media translated "Andromeda Strain" as:


Fireballs, Satellites and Andromeda Strain

It turned out that the recent fireball that streaked across the Texas sky wasn’t debris from the satellite crash over Siberia, but a meteor.

In context, I recommend (re)reading The Andromeda Strain, a great novel by Michael Chrichton. The plot is about a cornered group of people trying to confront the danger due to a satellite crash. It's very quick read, fast-paced and up to the point.

A seasoned sci-fi fan can also view it as prototypical piece of work that influenced numerous copycats, to the degree of turning into cliché. The recently deceased Chrichton should be credited more often as a major influence on popular culture in general. Bellow: trailer for the 2008 TV-series based on the book.

The book was published in 1969 and it's also interesting to compare the visions and interpretations of some then-futuristic information and communication technologies, which are commonplace today, such as automatic biometric identification, voice recognition, and instant communication.