Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ex-Heroes (Ex-Heroes book 1) review

    Having recently purchased Ex-Heroes on Kindle, I tore through it and decided to post my review of the work. I'm a big fan of both superheroes and zombies, so I figured this would be a natural fit. I admit, however, I was leery of the combination.  

    Marvel's Zombies was a story I felt never reached its full potential (in fact: I preferred the Army of Darkness/Marvel comics crossover for zombies + superheroes). Ex-Heroes is much better Marvel's Zombies and is well worth the cover price. It did, however, have some areas which could have been improved.

    The thing I enjoyed most about Ex-Heroes is the use of archetypes. One reason I never got into Heroes or many independent productions is that appeal of superheroes for me is actually the stories told about the most famous of them: Superman, Batman, Iron Man, the Question and so on. Ex-Heroes doesn't just insert copies of these characters but it does have enough analogues the question of "How would superheroes react to zombies?" is answered.

    The answer? Pretty well, but not perfect.

    The heroes are not nearly so flawless as the ones in DC comics, though some of them come close. This is also a world where superheroes are a new phenomenon, none of the heroes being active for more than a few years. I'm not sure if its believable a dozen superheroes of varying origins all appeared in Los Angeles right before the Zombie Apocalypse but I've suspended my disbelief for worse things over the years.

    I appreciate that Peter Clines also avoided making his superheroes too dark. The majority of them are selfless, noble, and self-sacrificing people who are doing their best to keep humanity safe through the worst circumstances imaginable. While they're flawed, in their own way, most are worthy of the mantle hero. I liked that. The situation was bad enough without the heroes acting like the protagonists of Watchmen.

    The premise is similar to Land of the Dead in the heroes are based in an isolated fortress-like community (a refurbished Paramount Studios) surrounded by endless numbers of zombies. The heroes have to make routine raids into hostile territory (in this case the greater Los Angeles area) in order to get supplies.

   Ex-Heroes shows the heroes are doing their job, even if they are faced with overwhelming odds. I never much cared for the "individual survivors" premise because I liked being able to see the bigger picture. We get insights into how the heroes interact with one another, what they think, and how they relate to the "normal" humans underneath them. The biggest part of the book's appeal is its lead characters: Gorgon, Saint George, Stealth, and Cerberus.

   I'm especially fond of Stealth, who is an amusing case of being a heroic sociopath and a Defrosting Ice QueenTM at once. My second favorite character is Cerberus, who I hope will have an equally prominent or larger role in later books. While the only romances in the book are highly dysfunctional ones, the story of Banzai and Gorgon being especially interesting, I hope that we'll see more hook-ups in Ex-Patriots.

    The book neatly avoids the problem that many zombie movies possess, which is that such stories rarely have intriguing villains. Zombies, being mindless, require a Herbert West or an Umbrella Corporation to provide drama. This book has the Los Angeles Seventeens, a street gang possessed of no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I'm not sure if I quite bought that any street gang could be quite as deadly as this one is depicted as. Still, our heroes needed someone to fight and they served their purpose well.

    Peter Clines deserves credit for managing the superheroes' power levels. Saint George, the Superman analogue, is invulnerable and can jump very far but he's not nearly as strong as Spiderman. Even so, the ability to lift three or so tons makes him a powerhouse in the Post-Apocalyptic world. Thus, zombies remain a threat which they have to struggle against--whereas DC's Superman or Flash could clean up the world in one night.

    In summary, I was very interested in the world and pleased by the fact that the Zombiepocalypse is not resolved by the end of the book. There's plenty of stories left to tell in the universe and ones that I am eager to see. I hope to see more of the characters and more hook-ups within new volumes. So, I suppose that is the best measure of a story review that can be shared.


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