While I was rummaging through Goodreads for more books to read, I stumbled across a review of Ex-Heroes written by Mihir over at Fantasy Book Critic that convinced me to look into a book I would have otherwise set aside. 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 the book, but Mihir convinced me otherwise, so I contacted Crown Publishing who obliged my request for a review copy and sent me the lot.
Zombies and superheroes – two themes that are everywhere in modern film and literature. Man of Steel, The Dark Knight, the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, World 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 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. Another trend I’ve noticed in modern sci-fi and fantasy is increased use of splitting the narrative into a past and present section. When done right, it fills in critical backstory and makes the story much better as a whole, but often it can go wrong, leaving the reader confused. Clines splits Ex-Heroes into two parts, then and now. Past and present. Then fills in that critical backstory, telling us about how the specific 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. Clines hits the bullseye in 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 will appeal to almost anyone who reads the genre, especially with its constant pop culture references. The inclusion of so many references has been hit-or-miss with most reviewers, and while I enjoyed many of them, ones along the lines of “is that the chick from Heroes?”, sometimes Clines went overboard with them. 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-inclusion of pop-culture references, Ex-Heroes is a fast, gritty and action-packed tale that should be read by any fan 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.
Find Ex-Heroes on:
and find Peter on his blog.