If you love superheroes, and zombies, and end-of-the-world survival scenarios, you must read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. Even if you don’t love those things, you must read this book.
I took a brief detour from reading my way through Star Wars (I’m through Into the Void and Lost Tribe of the Sith and Revan, which I’ll review shortly). The sun had finally come out, after all the rain and gloomy skies of Thursday and Friday, and I planned to drop myself onto a blanket in one of Valley Forge Park’s grassy meadows and read something quick and light while relaxing before a busy week of work. So I browsed through the library shelves and spotted Ex-Heroes, by Peter Clines. The blurb on the back said the novel featured super-heroes fighting zombies. I figured it would be a fast-reading, but ultimately forgettable, book.
And it is — fast-reading, that is. Forgettable, it is not.
I assumed the book would follow the standard comics plot: Danger appears. Superheroes answer the call. Superheroes save the day, stopping the danger and preventing the collapse of civilization. Life returns to normal.
I was so wrong in my assumptions.
IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET — SPOILERS AHEAD ——>
A virus begins spreading in Los Angeles, the location for the story. The virus turns dead people into zombies — or exes, for ex-humans. Naturally, the superheroes respond, but slowly –a number of them are only a year or so into their powers and they don’t know each other really well. Before they can even mount an effective defense — the plague overwhelms the City. And the world. Our heroes aren’t concerned with that, though; they’re just trying to save the City of Los Angeles.
Surprise Number 1: These superheroes do not save the people or the City of Los Angeles.
Surprise Number 2: Some of them can’t even save themselves.
Yes, that’s right. Some of the heroes fall victim to the virus and become zombies themselves. Superpowered zombies.
The best these heroes can manage is to hold back the inevitable and preserve one tiny little corner of the City with a few hundred/thousand survivors.
And that’s what makes the novel so interesting.
You see, one of the things I love about so many of the comics superheroes is that they’re flawed. Yes, they have powers. Specialized equipment. Secret identities and hideouts and really cool vehicles from which to fight criminals and supervillains.
But underneath it all, they’re still human (well, the ones who aren’t extraterrestrial beings or deitites, that is). They have flaws. They experience fear, feel inadequate, lack confidence. They make mistakes, and they don’t always do the right thing even when they know what the right thing is. Despite those failings, they get back up — or are helped back up — and return to try again, and again, until they fix their mistakes.
And that’s what this book got right. We get into the heads of the heroes and find out how they become powered and more importantly, why they started into the superhero gig. And those insights feed into the events of the main storyline and how the characters react to a bigger threat than either zombies or supervillains.
I sped through this book at light speed, finished it, then went back and reread it. Because I was surprised how good it was, and how much I enjoyed it. Let’s face it — based on the plot outline, this book could have been so bad. So very, very bad. It could have pandered to the whole zombie apocalypse stereotype and filled the pages with gore and death and little to no character development or plot beyond ‘shoot the dead guy in the head.’ Instead, I read a book with believable people who happened to have superpowers. People who screwed up and yet continued trying to do what they could to help others. In the end, they manage to save their little corner of surviving civilization, but at a high cost.
The book isn’t perfect — for one thing, you jump back and forth between the past and present, and different characters’ viewpoints, but if you keep your attention focused, that’s a small problem that can be handled.
How much did I like this book? Enough to drive to Barnes and Noble on my way home and buy both it and its sequel, Ex-Patriots. There’s a third book coming out in July.
I’ve already pre-ordered.
Go and buy these books. You won’t regret it.
And now, I’ll return to Star Wars.