Book Review: “Ex-Heroes”
Zombies Plus Superheroes Equals Amazing
Like a combination of the Avengers and the Walking Dead, Peter Clines’ novel “Ex-Heroes” is about two things (well, three things, really, but more on that later): zombies and superheroes. The zombies are called “exes,” as in “ex-humans” or the “ex-living.” When things went down the drain, the President held a news conference stressing that the undead are just that—no longer alive. They are not your loved ones anymore. They aren’t even human any more. They’re just corpses twitching at a virus’s command. Unfortunately, not everyone can be that sensible about it.
For example, in one chapter we follow a Batman-esque character called Stealth and see things from her point of view (a narrative structure similar to one used in Max Brook’s “World War Z,” and one that works very well here). Stealth is a brilliant lady, no doubt about it, but she has trouble understanding why people won’t just shoot the exes in the head. “They’re still people,” says one police officer she comes across, pinned down by the undead. “They are not,” says Stealth. “That is why your partner is dead and you have a day at best.” Cold but true. Then again, Stealth’s coldness, her frigid intelligence is what keeps the survivors of the Mount alive. But what is the Mount?
Why Paramount Studios, of course! The novel is set in L.A. and Paramount Studios gets converted into a safe haven for one of the last bastions of humanity rather easily. Large walls, easily-sealed gates, nice big studios with steel doors, all of these features help keep people safe. Them…and the superheroes. Because there are superheroes in this book and they are really cool. I’m as big a fan of the DC and Marvel capes as the next geek, but it’s always refreshing to see new heroes. That being said, one can’t help but see the new ones in light of the old. For example, Cairzan the demon is awfully like Doctor Strange meets the Hulk (with a dash of Etrigan for flavor). Or the Mighty Dragon (super-strength, invulnerability, semi-flight, and fire breath) who fits the Superman mold. Cerberus is similar to Iron Man (if Iron Man was a lady and had a suit the size of a Humvee). And so forth.
Plus, like those from Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” these heroes are complex. They aren’t simply shining paragons of virtue—they’re just people, albeit ones that can steal people’s life energy with a glance or convert their bodies into plasma. And like people they can be short-sighted, make bad decisions and even, in some cases, turn into zombies.
Yeah. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) Because otherwise it’d be too easy, wouldn’t it? If we had zombies and all the heroes could just wade into the undead horde unscathed, there wouldn’t be any challenge. Mr. Clines thought of that, however and not only that, but a zombified superhuman keeps their superhuman powers. If the person is someone like Batman, that’s not terrible. The zombies aren’t smart (although something interesting on that front develops near the middle of the novel), so they can’t use their powers with finesse. But what if something like the Hulk was zombified? (ZOMBIE HULK WANT BRAINS!)
Also, like I said earlier, the story isn’t just mindless undead versus survivors and heroes. There is a third faction within L.A.—the Seventeens, a street gang. The Zombocalypse might have brought down the government, the military and the police force, but the Seventeens are still growing strong. Stronger, even, now that there aren’t many people left to oppose them. The survivors on the Mount are busy keeping themselves alive while their heroes protect them. Occasionally, groups of both (survivors and heroes) head into the city to scavenge. It’s there that they run into the Seventeens, either in their raiding parties or their booby traps, designed to force them to abandon what they’ve collected to be picked up by the gang later.
The heroes all feel differently about the Seventeens, which makes sense given the spectrum of their personalities. Some see them as fellow human beings in a world with far too few of the living. These heroes want to ally with the gang, at least partially, in order to combine their strength against the undead horde. Others see them as a threat to be thwarted, if not eliminated outright. In any case, decisions have to be made when it becomes clear the gang has developed an unusual relationship with the exes, one that threatens the safety of the Mount…
Clines’ “Ex-Heroes” is a good read. The way Clines focused a chapter on almost all of the major heroes let me get into the mindset of these vastly different people, and those chapters were very well-written. No two inner monologues felt the same. Plus, we see pictures of the world just as the heroes develop their powers, and how they use them during the first days of the Zombocalypse. Clines keeps us moving back and forth between “then” and “now,” but not in a way that felt distracting. We stay mostly in the present, but the bits in the past help flesh out the story. All in all, “Ex-Heroes” was a book I enjoyed reading, and one you should pick up.
“Ex-Heroes” is available from Amazon in e-book, paperback and audiobook forms.