"Ex-Patriots" Book Review
Written by Peter Clines
2013, 424 Pages
Released on April 23rd, 2013
Super heroes and zombies are two great tastes that go great together. They're not unlike chocolate and peanut butter, only I wouldn't want to put either of them in my mouth (the super heroes and the zombies). Peter Clines is in the middle of a trilogy of books exploring the mash up between these two. He introduced us to this world in his debut novel, Ex-Heroes and continues the adventures of the heroes protecting Los Angeles from the undead in Ex-Patriots.
When we last left our heroes, they had just defeated a super villain named Peasy, who claimed to be Patient Zero of the zombie epidemic. He had the power to control the undead, marching them towards a former movie studio that has been turned into a refugee camp called the Mount. It's been a few months since then. The survivors have been living in a world where the dead have been walking the earth for two years now. Then the military shows up. Soldiers from the Army's Project Krypton discover the camp. For the first time in a while, the heroes might be able to take a break and let the armed forces do their job.
Of course, this is a post-apocalyptic story, which means you can't trust people in authority. They put on a good show, but they don't have the survivors' best interests at heart. Ex-Patriots brings up a great subject, which is voiced by the would-be leader of the heroes, Stealth (think a super sexy lady Batman with no real personality). She tells the soldiers what they consider to be the country that they're fighting for as the United States of America hasn't functioned as one for awhile. This group of refugees has existed on its own for some time, without any government involvement. For all intents and purposes, they've seceded from the union. The army doesn't see it that way. They bleed red, white, and blue and there's still a country to protect here.
Clines introduced the super heroes in Ex-Heroes, but he really expanded upon the characters with Ex-Patriots. The relationship between Stealth and St. George (the Superman-like figure who can breathe fire and sports a beat-up flight jacket) grows, despite the fact that the former sees no need for love or sex. It's clear that George has feelings for her and he's struggling to figure out what that means for her, if anything.
More interesting is the growth of Dr. Danielle Morris, the creator and pilot of the Cerberus battle armor. She was originally painted as a tough but intelligent woman, like a smaller version of Stealth but with a bit more humanity. After the loss of one of the heroes at the end of the previous novel, she's grown afraid of open spaces, preferring to stay inside the suit where it's safe. When she's forced to take it off, she sleeps in a small space under a table in her workshop. This is a nice twist to the character, making her vulnerable despite the fact that she's surrounded by a ton of steel and weapons when she's on the battlefield.
The army folks are the perfect example of what you would expect in the present day if the dead started to walk around. As with most zombie stories, Ex-Patriots has a bit of political commentary in it. The military industrial complex continues to churn even when the world has seemingly ended. This small group of soldiers were part of Project Krypton, the army's answer to the super heroes that popped up all over the place. They feared a revolution when people with these kind of abilities were roaming around, taking the law into their own hands. Project Krypton is not unlike the super soldier serum found in Marvel Comics that turned wimpy Steve Rogers into Captain America. This is on a larger scale though, creating a whole battalion of incredibly strong grunts ready to go toe-to-toe with whatever might be threatening truth, justice, and the American Way.
Leading the charge amongst the army group is Captain Freedom, named as such because he's a Captain and his last name is Freedom. Seriously. He's a by-the-book soldier that has some respect for the super heroes but is still going to take orders from his superiors first and foremost. While these recruits are far stronger than your average servicemen, they're not quite up to par with St. George and the other heroes when it comes to strength and abilities.
Clines has a way of telling a story that leaves you constantly guessing. Every time I thought I knew where the book was going, a new aspect would be revealed that would change everything. This is the kind of writing that we need in modern day comics. Ex-Patriots could easily be broken up into single-issue funny books and released on a regular basis. I would read that in a heartbeat. Anyway, I got sidetracked a bit. Clines breaks up the chapters with flashbacks. Every time he drops a new bombshell, he instantly provides you with the scene from the past that helps shed more light on it. He teases some things, but for the most part it's instant gratification. You're not waiting chapter after chapter hoping that a thread gets picked up again soon. Instead you get the resolution for the cliffhanger quickly and are diving in for more.
Ex-Patriots is a step up from Ex-Heroes. The characters have grown. The story has expanded. Clines is marching towards the finale of the trilogy with Ex-Communication and I cannot wait to see what happens next. This is a realistic portrayal of super heroes in a world overrun by zombies and it's damn good.