Review: Ex-Heroes

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It would be great if this book was written with the least bit of irony… with some notion that Peter Clines knew he was writing a cliche ridden, sexist, clunky book and was using it to make a statement about… well… anything really. Instead, we get a superhero/zombie mash-up so full of earnestness and the wish fulfillment of the adolescent that it’s almost unreadable.

And this is too bad because at times, Clines actually has some fun ideas. Like always, though, ideas are easy – execution is hard.

The basic premise, that superheroes exist (somehow – we never do find out why all of a sudden super powers are being bestowed upon seemingly ordinary, random folks) and, when our story starts, are fighting a zombie menace isn’t a bad place to open. Even setting it in Los Angeles, in the Paramount lot, is nice. And when we finally do discover the secret of the zombies, it’s a nice reveal. If only it had been used to some greater effect.

And this is the central problem of the book. There’s almost nothing below the surface. The characters are all drawn with thick, Jack Kirby lines and have as much depth as the drawings they’re based on. They are all walking stereotypes (one nice gender flip, putting a girl inside the armor suit, has one moment of external sexist conflict after which, no one thinks twice about it – great if this was the real world, but here it comes off as such a calculated ploy that again, we lose any deeper meaning this could have had). Of the main heroes, there’s St. George who, naturally, is the best of the bunch and speaks in heart-warming, if over-used platitudes. Then there’s Stealth, a girl so beautiful she must cover her face lest it be too distracting to the male populace who will judge her based on her looks instead of her overwhelming intellect (never mind she has an incredible body which gets displayed through skintight clothing). Even then, she’s still used as a sexist punchline (ironically, by George who really should know better). There’s Gorgon, who can drain people by looking at them… or when they look into his eyes, or something like that. Cerberus, the aforementioned girl in the combat armor and then a few more, none of whom, despite using  Watchmen template of giving us individual back stories spaced sporadically throughout the book, never really come to life.

By the time we get to the final battle with the level boss (because, after all, this IS a video game we’re reading), he has several powers (again, never explained) and a motivation based on a 13 year old’s view of the world. Sure, he’s the leader of a street gang, who was embarrassed by one of the heroes and his only reason for existing is to seek revenge, but that doesn’t go very far in this new world. There’s no growth (well, Stealth has a moment at the very end where she reveals a little bit and shows she might be able to change, but that’s it) and no real acknowledgment or understanding the world isn’t operating by the same rules it once did.

At the end, all I really wanted to do was re-read Watchmen and George R. R. Martin’s wildcards series, obvious source material for this derivative work.

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