Ex-Heroes, or a novel about a graphic novel about a comic soon to be a movie coming to a theater near you!
I have only two problems with Ex-Heroes.
Characterization and theme.
I understand that this is a book about superheroes, which lend themselves to stereotypes. Except in a genre full of them, Cline seems determined to use them all. There is the ‘Boy Scout,’ who is working for the greater good; the ‘Anti-hero,’ who is the bad boy that flaunts authority; the ‘Radioactive,’ who developed powers after being exposed to radiation (actually, Cline explains a couple superheroes this way); the ‘Gifted Female,’ whose sexuality is her dominant image; the ‘Demon,’ who has bonded with evil; the ‘Teenager,’ the normal kid who develops superpowers; the ‘Bestial,’ who has part animal in his nature. In a nod to Ironman, there is a female engineer in an iron suit. Whoops–I almost forgot the ‘Woman in Refrigerator’ character–the dead woman that moves the superhero’s plot forward through grief/guilt/etc.(1) Oh, and for those who are aggravated by such things, at least two Supers are Mary Sues.
Extra negative points for stereotypes–first, the bitchy Asian council-woman; second, transforming a Korean girl into a Japanese hero; and third, making a Latino gang into the antagonists. What, you couldn’t find any Nazis or Russians from 1960? Oh wait–the nickname of the Latino gang was abbreviated ‘S.S.,’ which almost counts. (For mark’s insightful commentary, see (2))
Faint attempt to give cookie-cutter superheroes depth by giving introducing a ‘past’ and a ‘present’ narrative were insufficient. ‘Nuff said.
The zombie apocalypse is about a loss of organized society as the individual struggles against the horrific; they become about survival, transformation and the meaning of humanity. The best apocalypse stories focus on rebuilding order out of chaos while struggling to survive. Ex-Heroes is pretty much the exact opposite.
After retreating to a movie studio, the supers essentially form their own oligarchy, or perhaps dictatorship, since Stealth makes all the decisions. The supers don’t call it that, of course. But they are the ones strategizing, setting goals, deciding, protecting, and leading. Sure, normal humans help in some of these roles. But you don’t hear humans participating in the process, except to fulfill the stereotypical role of antagonistic-suspicion-of-well-intentioned-superhero. The humans are the mirrors for the heroes, the pets, the sheep to lead and direct; the only agency they have is that of poor decision-making. Ultimately, while that may be a prevalent theme in superhero mediums, it is the antithesis of zombie apocalypse fiction.
What did I like? It was quick and readable. While the language was not ornate, it was coherent and focused. The “Then” narratives that gave background on the heroes were interesting and told well, even if they weren’t particularly unique stories (ah, to be a beautiful genius–the troubles I would have!). The section I enjoyed the most is the one few zombie books concentrate on–recognizing the outbreak and attempting to curtail the viral invasion. Cline’s analysis was likely spot on in the official reaction, and was creative when Stealth was sending Zzzap out on a mission to locate the living dead. Although some of the explanation of the virus was eye-rolling pseudo-science, but at the end it was combined with an impressive twist that made it worth the effort.
On the borderlands of my normal reading material, I appreciated the challenge. In regards to rating, it hits squarely in my 2.5 zone, but I imagine it is decently done for its genre.