fantasy and science fiction book reviewsEx-Heroes by Peter ClinesEx-Heroes by Peter Clines

I don’t really enjoy reading about superheroes. While it may be fun to read about Superman or Batman kicking ass and taking names against enemies far less powerful, I usually lean toward reading about flawed heroes or at least ones that can die. Having a hero like Superman, who’s nigh-invulnerable, removes the element of tension and the thrilling feeling you get when the hero is in danger. On that basis, I was hesitant to read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines, but Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic convinced me otherwise.

Zombies and superheroes – two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of SteelThe Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking DeadWorld War Z. When done right, you know you’re in for a boatload of fun. Unfortunately, with the sheer amount of zombie books, movies, and shows, many of them are bound to be bad. Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One, blurbs about Ex-Heroes on the front cover, calling it “The Avengers meets The Walking Dead,” and I can’t think of a more apt description.

The Mighty Dragon (aka St. George), Gorgon, Zzzap, Cerberus, Stealth, Regenerator, Lady Bee. Some have acrobatic skills like Stealth or Bee, the Dragon is a fire-breathing Superman, Zzzap essentially turns into a star that can think, all heat included, Regenerator is exactly what he sounds like. Cerberus is a woman inside of a giant battle robot, and Gorgon saps the life from humans who look into his goggles and uses it to boost his martial ability. These heroes, along with a few thousand survivors from the virus outbreak, are holed up in The Mount to defend against the exes. They’re called exes, as Clines says, because the world refused to accept that zombies were real.

St. George is the protagonist of the heroes, and he tries to fight the good fight. Killing, unless the person is undoubtedly an ex, is wrong and shouldn’t be done, always do the right thing, that kind of deal. The other heroes have an “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” mentality, and this makes for a group of people that is not cohesive. Tension rises and tempers flare as the people have been trapped in the Mount for quite some time. The heroes all have their own problems, their own scars from the past.

Peter Clines splits Ex-Heroes into two parts, then and now, past and present. “Then” fills in critical backstory, telling us about how each hero came to be. “Now” is the narrative of the real fight against the exes and the growing threat of the Seventeens, an LA gang that styles themselves the SS, no doubt after Hitler’s Schutzstaffel. Splitting the narrative into past and present sections often goes wrong, leaving the reader confused, but Clines hits the bullseye with this narrative style in his debut. Yes, I said debut. Even after reading Ex-Heroes I’m finding it hard to believe it’s a debut, as many of the mistakes that often mark a new author are nearly nonexistent.

Ex-Heroes is full of pop culture references. While I enjoyed many of these, sometimes Clines went overboard, such as with the line “is that the chick from Heroes?” When St. George is flying through the sky and lands on a rooftop or Stealth is leaping from rooftop to rooftop, you can count on Clines naming the building. Anything from Target to LA-native names that I didn’t recognize, he’ll throw the name in. Sometimes it felt forced, like he was trying to fulfill a bet to see how many references he could throw in.

Outside of the slight over-use of pop-culture references, Ex-Heroes is a fast, gritty and action-packed tale that should appeal to most fans of the genre. Don’t go in expecting super-deep characters, or a complicated plot, because let’s face it — it’s a zombie story with superheroes, though throughout the story the heroes are made to seem more and more human. Go in with an action movie mentality and you will love this story. Did I say movie? Ex-Heroes is the perfect premise for a blockbuster film, and Christopher Nolan needs to make it happen.

Ex-Heroes — (2010-2016) Publisher: Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place. Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Billions died, civilization fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland. Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions protect a last few thousand survivors in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. Scarred and traumatized by the horrors they’ve endured, the heroes fight the armies of ravenous ex-humans at their citadel’s gates, lead teams out to scavenge for supplies — and struggle to be the symbols of strength and hope the survivors so desperately need. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the city’s ruins. And just a few miles away, another group is slowly amassing power… led by an enemy with the most terrifying ability of all.

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