Title: Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication
Author: Peter Clines
US Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Candy Lit, Zombie Apocalypse, Comic Book in Disguise
Personal Score: 6/10
My Take on the Series:
A few weeks back I binge-read the first three books in the Ex-Heroes series by Peter Clines. I ultimately averaged a book a day, with some story fatigue setting in about a quarter of the way through the third book. The series falls into a special category I like to call “candy lit.” That is, they’re not overly serious and aren’t trying to raise any heavy questions. They want to get your pulse pounding a bit and would probably make great movies. Basically, they are 100% unapologetic fun, a sweet morsel of escapism to kick back and enjoy zombie slaying with. And in this goal, Clines is hugely successful.
The story features the two cultural phenomena that seem impossible to escape: zombies and superheroes. Between Marvel powerhousing the theaters, DC wrecking it on TV, and The Walking Dead taking home runs in TV, comics, and video games, people are hooked. Combining the two was a natural jumping off point. For extra insanity, Clines even includes superpowered zombies. As a result, the series reads like a comic-book-turned-novel, replete with heroic archetypes and standard comic tropes. We’ve got the armored Cerberus, essentially Iron Man without flying capability, and the Mighty Dragon / St. George serves as an expy for Superman, even being weak to magic when it eventually enters the story. Stealth is not only a counterpart to Batman, but fills the role of “cliché over-sexualized heroine.” There is literally a super-soldier named Captain Freedom who is one shield short of being Captain America.
To make it better, Clines is highly aware he’s riffing off pop culture, so he includes an army of pop culture references, everything from Dr. Who to The Matrix. The hero Zzzap is an intense movie buff and constantly spouts trivia and connects events in the series to popular movies and franchises. These moments often turn out to foreshadow events later in the book and the series as a whole, so the series is basically Clines’ homage to geek and pop culture.
The greatest weakness of the series is what I refer to as story fatigue. Just like eating too many sweets can result in stomachaches and sugar crashes, binge-reading the first three books forced me to become aware of the narrative and stylistic foibles. While the references are clever and the fight scenes exciting, the stories are predictable and lack depth. There are moments fueled by contrived coincidences and necessitate uncharacteristic idiocy from the characters. In small doses, these issues are easily overlooked and accepted as just part of the genre, but taken together they are increasingly difficult to look past. Nonetheless, the series is still a delight to read and highly recommended for anyone looking for a bit of fun escapism. Note that a fourth book is also out, Ex-Purgatory, with the fifth in the series, Ex-Isle, set to release in October.