REVIEW: “The King’s Dragon” by Jon Mollison

Monday , 14, November 2016 15 Comments

It’s positively baffling how hard it’s become for anyone to make a straight ahead adventure story these days. First classic Westerns like Rio Bravo and El Dorado evaporated and the old school leading man with them. An echo of that sort of thing lived on with Luke Skywalker, Alex Rogan (The Last Starfighter), and Billy Peltzer (Gremlins), but it was never really the same. And before long even that seemed to be too much to ask for.

It got worse, though. At some point we lost the traditional “heavy” as well. Rather than establishing him as someone worthy of a comeuppance at the hands of a hero figure, he instead became a figure worthy of sympathy: someone that was merely mistreated as a child or somesuch. The yin and yang at the heart of millenia of storytelling was twisted even as it was muted.

Then came the strong female characters that seemed to follow an entirely different story arc altogether. Extended casts had to be reworked to accommodate a dozen ethnicities and “lifestyle” choices. Each of these changes seemed maybe reasonable on their own, but after a while… it was as if a new type of storytelling had emerged in which conformity to the narrative trumped the depiction of human beings with human motivations.  In a world where heroism and romance were already unimaginable, this was just too much. There was nothing else to do except start over.

What’s the alternative look like…? It looks like this novella from Jon Mollison. It’s got likable characters that read as if they are actual human beings. It’s got protagonists that could maybe stand to see things a little differently and antagonists that maybe have a point. It’s got unvarnished heroism, believable emotional beats, and the exact epic showdown that is promised on the cover.

Most importantly, it is a story that can be enjoyed by fathers and their daughters. And as I write that line, I have to say I am both shocked and angered by how little there is to fill that niche. Nobody, at any rate, consulted with us for what we might have wanted that way in the most recent Star Wars film. I think all of that’s changing now, though. And not a moment too soon.

If you want a preview of what’s coming, short fiction like this is the thing to watch.  It really is where the action is.

15 Comments
  • Anthony says:

    I’d argue that the type of fiction you talk about in your first couple of paragraphs is still around. It just migrated to superhero films.

    Think of, say, “The Winter Soldier”, probably my second favorite MCU film. Badass leading man and about as traditionally “Good” as hero as you could get? Check. Traditional “Heavy”? Check, and with a great twist in the Winter Soldier himself.

    Female and minority characters? Amazingly enough, a check that does nothing to affect the story. Black Widow and the Falcon don’t make the story worse; if anything they make it better. And both of them work as sidekicks to the lead.

    There’s heroism. There’s the hint of a romance. There are good guys and bad guys and legitimate moral questions and badass fight scenes and an emotional core that elevates things to the next level.

    And while it’s one of the best examples, it’s ultimately a standard Marvel film.

    So this type of film exists; it’s just that it’s no longer westerns and no longer fantasies. It’s superheroes.

    • Jeffro says:

      While the Marvel movies are substantially better than their superhero television show counterparts, I have to say that the sort of thing I’m looking for as far as heroism and romance goes is pretty well unthinkable today. It’s like the difference between movie Aragorn and book Aragorn. This generation may not know what all that entails, but they sure know they hate the old way.

      Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I saw a positive and real-to-life depiction of a father doing some significant parenting. The goofball they’ve inserted into the Flash’s lore is downright bizarre. I don’t see how anyone in the Superversive scene sits through any of that stuff.

      • Anthony says:

        “The Incredibles” does a pretty great job portraying family life, which is one of many reasons it’s the greatest superhero film of all time.

      • Anthony says:

        Also, the key to “The Flash” is embracing the over the top comic book-y aspect of the show. It’s a ton of fun, and I think for that reason the (as you correctly note) terrible relationship aspects, romantic and parental, can be forgiven if we get to see the Flash go up against Gorilla Grodd, the Weather Wizard, and a Joker ripoff played by Mark Hamill.

        • Jeffro says:

          Given an alternative, I don’t have to forgive those sorts of grating flaws. I don’t have to pretend like they are new normal, either. They aren’t. They are an imposition of narrative in the exact place I went to escape from it.

          • Anthony says:

            I’m not really sure if any other adaptations of comic book media offer what “The Flash” does, though. It fills a genuine niche – it embraces silver age corniness in a way that we probably haven’t seen since “Spider-Man 2” (the Sam Raimi one). Where all the other adaptations are trying to move things in a more serious direction – even Marvel, though it’s managed its task exceptionally well – “The Flash” embraces the silliness of the silver age without mocking it. That makes it something different, in a good way.

            The relationships are one poor part of a generally well done show.

            (“Spider-Man 2” is superior precisely because the love story between MJ and Peter is handled superbly. I loved that MJ only became interested in Peter when he stopped trying to suck up to her and focused on being his own man.)

          • Gaiseric says:

            I can’t forgive it either. The first season of The Flash was both offensive (why did they keep changing white characters to non-white characters?) and just painful. Barry was such an unlikable, stupid protagonist that even when I tried to tell myself that his beta-male nerdiness was part of the character, I just couldn’t get over it. Iris was so unlikable as a supposed romantic interest, that the whole show fell apart.

            And it’s one thing to say, well, yeah, ignore the relationship stuff and just watch the superhero action, but the relationships are the whole point of the show. The Flash was rapidly migrating, as Arrow had done before, into becoming just another nerdy soap opera where the protagonist wore a costume and had a super power. Poorly drawn relationships in an actual action/sci-fi movie is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but when the show is actually a soap opera, it absolutely is.

          • cirsova says:

            Unsurprisingly, Caitlin becomes an uninteresting garbage character with nothing to do once they dump her as a romantic lead for Barry.

        • cirsova says:

          The only thing worse than making Golden Age flash an insufferable and whiny prick was making him the main bad guy of season 2.

          I feel like the main reason I’m watching the Flash is because Netflix has slashed its content so much that there aren’t many other good PG shows to throw on in the background.

  • Anthony says:

    Now “Supergirl” I refuse to watch.

  • JonM says:

    As a new writer, I don’t know what the protocols are for this sort of thing. As a revolutionary, I don’t particularly care what the protocols are for this sort of thing.

    Thank you for posting this review, Jeffro. It’s extremely gratifying to know that others are enjoying my work.

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