The Ex-Heroes novels by Peter Clines are one of the best high concept books which are presently out there. The concept is a simple X meets Y sort of setting. “What would happen if the zombie apocalypse happened in a world with superheroes?” I’ve also seen it described as “Land of the Dead meets The Avengers” and that’s not a bad description. A bunch of low-powered heroes based loosely on popular archetypes are in the midst of the zombie apocalypse and do their best to save as many people as they can by creating a safe haven in a Los Angeles movie studio.
I’ve enjoyed all of the books and I’m in good company as Nathan Fillon has given them his recommendation too but the last volume, Ex-Purgatory, showed there was a bit of wheel spinning going around. Now that the superheroes have successfully secured their homeland, it doesn’t appear there’s much else to do. I also felt the relationships among the characters were rather stalled as we saw Saint George and Stealth get together a couple of books ago but what they’re doing is left ambiguous. Likewise, I was surprised by some of the relationships mentioned in this book but mostly handwaved. Still, I was interested in seeing what Peter Clines would come up with.
Ex-Isle follows Zzzap finding an artificial island created from a dozen cruise ships and tankers fused together. Eager to get involved with another group of survivors, Saint George, Zzzap, and Corpse Girl journey there to make contact. Unfortunately, the locals are not only suspicious of outsiders but have a half-insane superhero ruler. Meanwhile, Cerberus is coping with PTSD even as she struggles to rebuild her armor. The Mount’s survivors are opening a new farm for themselves so they can keep ahead of their rising population and it seems very likely someone may want to take it over as their own private kingdom.
This is pretty much a popcorn adventure in the grand scheme of things, making no big significant changes to the status quo and just introducing some more minor characters. I confess, I find this a little disappointing as I was hoping the introduction of Nautilus, basically the setting’s Aquaman, would have resulted in another member of the team joining them. Unfortunately, Nautilus appears to be just another petty dictator and a foe for our heroes to face rather than a potential rival or ally.
I liked the depiction of the Islanders and their society as well as how everything functioned. Peter Clines has rectified some of the earlier accusations against him by expanding the diversity of the cast considerably. We also get an Arab superhuman named Marduk referenced who I hope will make an appearance in future books. I don’t know if the island will continue to be a location in the series or if it’ll be a one-off location.
The big stand-out of the book is Madelyne a.k.a Corpse Girl who gets a chance to shine in the book by showing off her regenerative powers as well as the tragedies of her condition. For those who don’t remember, Corpse Girl can only remember the previous day clearly and facts beyond that. It’s a bit like a less severe version of Memento. Watching her cope with a life and death situation without the help of the other heroes is very entertaining.
I also liked the handling of Cerberus. We’ve seen some great character development from her and there’s some hints about her at the end which I really want to see followed up on. Cerberus is suffering from understandable trauma at having nearly been killed multiple times by Exes and confronting this issue without therapists is a tough one. I also liked the subversion of the “evil military” which is a prevalent trope in zombie fiction.
One area I’m going to complain about is the handling of Saint George and Stealth. After they hooked up in Ex-Communication, I was expecting some more information in how things are working out between them. Sadly, there’s no hint as to what’s going on there and it would have been nice to continue analyzing the differences between them. After all, it is a romance between the equivalents of Superman and Batman.
Ex-Isle drops some hints for upcoming books about threats from other survivors as well as potential non-zombie related threats. We also had it confirmed there are also groups of survivors out there other than the Mount and Island. I look forward to meetings between them and how the non-insane, non-dictatorial communities interact. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough of that to really make things shine.
In conclusion, this is a decent entry into the series but not a “can’t miss” episode in their adventures. The character development for some overlooked members of the team is appreciated as is the introduction of some new villains. Sadly, there’s not enough attention paid to the series mainstays of Stealth and Saint George. I still recommend the Ex-Heroes series to anyone who loves both superheroes and zombie fiction as they’re two great tastes which go great together.