"Ex-Heroes" Book Review
Written by Peter Clines
2013, 336 Pages
Published on February 26th, 2013
Every time I think I've seen the last spin on the zombie genre, I'm hit with another impressive take on the undead. There are still good stories to tell with the walking dead, but you have to work hard to make them. Folks like Peter Clines did the digging needed to revitalize the zombie super hero tale. Previously seen in comics such as Marvel Zombies and Blackest Night, it was largely a joke or a one note gag used to quickly bring back deceased characters. Clines took the idea and ran with it in his debut novel, Ex-Heroes and brings a serious dramatic tone to a genre that was severely lacking one.
Ex-Heroes picks up a few years after the zombie apocalypse has devastated the world. The human population is dwindling and the city of Los Angeles is one of the last bastions of hope in the US. They actually don't use the term "zombie," instead using "ex-humans" or "exes" which was a phrase coined by the President in a speech about the outbreak. A group of super heroes have converted the Paramount Studios lot into a safe haven for survivors to...well...survive. They're getting by, but things could be a lot better. Just when they think they have things figured out in terms of how to deal with the undead, their world is shaken by some startling evolutions to the walkers as well as their true origin.
Clines creates an entire universe of super heroes and villains and destroys it before you even start the book. The story picks up with these characters all but broken. The few surviving heroes are struggling to hold on to some semblance of their old lives in the face of death. St. George, formerly known as the Dragon, is the symbol of hope to so many. He's like your Superman character but with a more realistic power set. He can fly short distances, lift up heavy objects, and bullets bounce off his skin. In many ways, he's the moral compass of the group. While he's not in charge, everyone seems to look to him for guidance and to make sure they're doing the right thing.
Some of the other characters bear resemblances to popular super heroes such as Iron Man, Batman, and the Hulk, but Clines shows his strength in how he sets them apart as well as his totally unique heroes. There's Gorgon, the man with a gaze that steals the strength of anyone that crosses it. Regenerator (formerly the Immortal) can heal himself or others from just about any wound...that is except for the zombie bite he's got on his arm. Zzzap can turn into a being of pure electricity which is useful when you need something to power generators in a huge movie studio. Each of these characters has a fleshed out backstory and a reason for them to be there.
Ex-Heroes is broken up with a series of flashbacks, each providing a different character's point of view. Clines jumps back to various points in the past, moving forward from when the heroes first arrived to when the zombies first started appearing, to when the government began to fall. These chapters give the actions of each character much more depth, not to mention the fact that it makes each of them easier to relate to. I had my favorites from the start (Gorgon and Zzzap), but quickly found myself attached to all of them as the book went on.
Clines separates Ex-Heroes from most zombie stories in that he reveals the origin of the dead rising. It's a definite comic book style event, but it works on a human level. It comes down to a touching moment of weakness that led to the deaths of billions of people. The actions aren't excusable, but when they're explained you can understand why they happened the way they did. I can try to go back and make that even more vague, but you'd be better off just reading the book and finding out.
Ex-Heroes is the first of a trilogy with Ex-Patriots and Ex-Communication to follow. Clines provides a satisfying story on its own here, but there are questions that are left unanswered that I hope to see wrapped up in the next two books. Ex-Heroes is the kind of super hero zombie story that I wish would have come out of the disappointing Blackest Night. It's a sincere take on a genre that hasn't been taken seriously.
PS: I'd love to see this adapted into a comic. Can we get on that?