Imagine that super heroes are real. And that, whatever gave them powers also seems to have created zombies, or the equivalent. Humanity has been wiped out, but there are bastions where super heroes protect them from the advancing zombie hoard. That is the world of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.
I really liked how Clines makes super heroes maybe just a bit more realistic, a bit more relatable. He even gives them a credible origin. While many of the heroes are based on standard archetypes, they have unique personalities that give them a bit more depth:
- St George is the Superman character.
- Stealth is the leader, a Batman-like character who happens to be an ex-lingerie model.
- Gorgon can absorb the powers and strength of anyone who looks him in the eye.
- Cerberus is the Iron Man character, a former military scientist, she feels at home in her armor.
- Zzzap is essentially energy personified.
There are many others, but the plot revolves around these central characters. In the first book (Ex-Heroes is the first of at least six books exploring this zombie world), the heroes are pitted against a ruthless gang of ex-humans and must defend their home, a converted movie studio, from their constant advances. The ex-humans include some former heroes and villains that have become zombies.
As opposed to the more sanitized Marvel and DC universes, the heroes here are more like real people. They swear, they have sex, they kill when they think they must, and they die. Permanently (at least, in the first book). Given the grand scope of characters and the fact that Clines is willing to kill some off, you never know who might survive. This provides the tension needed to keep the plot rolling and to keep you engaged. Book 2 is certainly on my read list.
My favorite line from the book references one of my favorite characters, Sherlock Holmes. In one scene, Stealth is dwelling on the ex-humans and their sudden appearance in the world. Thinking to herself, she says:
In one of the earlier Sherlock Homes mysteries, Arthur Conan Doyle (not yet a Sir) made an observation on logical deduction. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
There is, however, a specific flaw in that maxim. It assumes people can recognize the difference between what is impossible and what they believe is impossible.