Zombies are awesome. Superheroes are awesome. Mash them together and you’ve got awesomeness squared, right?
First published by a small press in 2010 and now receiving a wider release, Peter Cline’s tale of a post-apocalyptic LA community defended by caped heroes is shameless pulp escapism. Follow-ups Ex-Patriots and Ex-Communication are coming out simultaneously, with a fourth book, Ex-Purgatory , due in October.
The setting is neat, with survivors holed up in Paramount Studios, having converted sound stages into housing and put pikes from the prop store to good use. The cast of heroes is interesting, featuring the likes of the fire-breathing St George; Gorgon, who can suck life force with a glance; and Stealth, the female leader with ninja moves, genius IQ and the dispassionate speech patterns of a computer, who also just happens to have a secret past as a Victoria’s Secret model.
Through flashbacks to the past, we learn more about both their superhero origins (often funny), and the early days of the outbreak. Nerdy pop culture references provide further amusement: this being LA, people have “celebrity kills” to boast about, including Sulu, Scott Bakula, and “the Asian Cylon from Battlestar Galactica ”.
It’s a gimmicky concept, but the two genres mesh rather well, sometimes in ways that feel surprisingly natural: when you urgently need to remove an infected limb and cauterise the wound, what could be more appropriate than to have a hero who turns into a glowing ball of energy to hand? And in a world of superpowers, you can provide an origin for the outbreak that’s considerably more leftfield than a dreary old virus, but which still feels like it makes perfect sense.
If there’s one problem it’s this: while it’s impossible to deny the appeal of a zombie being hurled into a tree or swung around like a club, the slugfests Ex-Heroes is crammed with play better when presented visually; in prose, page after page of action can become a little wearying. Any Hollywood producer emboldened by World War Z’s box office success could do worse than snap up the rights to the story – although they’re gonna need skiploads of dollars to put it on the big screen.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman