Faster than a staggering zombie! More powerful than the inevitable decay of civilization! It’s Peter Clines’ Ex-Patriots.
Zombies have become such a thing that it’s cliché to note how overdone they are (usually by making bad puns about how they just won’t stay down, or something). I’d say a lot of it stems from the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. And, given the popularity of The Walking Dead TV show, I’d say zombies aren’t going away any time soon.
It makes sense- zombies are a fairly easy monster to do, special effects wise- just get a bunch of extras, do them up in gnarly latex face applications, and have them stagger around moaning. On top of that, there’s the obligatory commentary on modern life, etc. I’m not going to get too academic on you here, mostly because a lot of this stuff has already been said far better than I could, and I don’t feel like figuring out how to add footnotes in WordPress.
Point is, in order to distinguish a piece of zombie fiction from the piles and piles of stuff that’s come before, you’ve got to come up with something new and original. Maybe it’s a weblog on youtube. Maybe the zombies aren’t quite as bad as we fear for whatever reason. Or maybe, in the case of Peter Clines Ex-Patriots your zombies start apocalypsing in a world that has superheroes.
It’s worth noting that Peter Clines actually wrote these novels partly in response to the Marvel Zombies, series, in an effort to show superheroes actually, y’know, winning against the zombie hordes. Admittedly, Clines’ universe has far fewer supers in it than Marvel does, so there are less super-zombies to worry about, but still.
In any case, Ex-Patriots is the second novel in Clines’ Ex Heroes series. Basically, the series centers around Batman, Superman, Silver Surfer, and Iron Man (or, well, their equivalents) fighting a zombie apocalypse. Ex-Heroes, the first book, is set in L.A., where they set up a walled compound to save as many people as they can. By the time Ex-Patriots rolls around, they’ve been set up in Los Angeles for awhile. When they’re contacted by the survivors of a military outpost, they’re elated to find other survivors. Of course, this military outpost happens to be where the government stationed their super-soldier project as well.
As a mashup of two different genres, Cline has two pools of tropes to draw from, and he does so liberally. He hits all the notes you’d expect him to: there’s a mad scientist, a weaseley government agent, alternating “now” and “then” chapters to fill in background- and, of course, everything invariably goes to shit. However, since this is also a superhero zombie apocalypse, you have the hero vs. hero “misunderstanding fight,” a team up at the end, and a generally optimistic tone amidst all the brain-eating.
To be honest, Clines books aren’t going to win any Pulitzers anytime soon. And that’s fine! These books are fun, fast-paced reads, much like the comics he’s obviously influenced by. Because sometimes, you just want to read about a hypercompetent ninja-lady kicking zombies in the face.
It’s also worth noting that Cline is a bit of a success story when it comes to being an author of a series like that. Not in the “going to sleep on my giant pile of money” sense (though I hope he’s doing alright). Rather, in the “listening to criticism and using it to fix things.”
See, Ex-Heroes was a pretty fun read- but it was a bit problematic (if unintentionally so). See, while the book was set in L.A., the cast of the book was predominantly white. Well, unless you count the one Asian hero who got relegated to “dead girlfriend” status via flashback, or the Mad Max-esque raiders…who happen to be a Hispanic street gang. Yeeeeah. Clines doesn’t appear to have done this on purpose so much as he was mostly a clueless privileged white guy.
Fortunately, when fans brought this to Clines’ attention, he didn’t get defensive and pretend that the problem never existed (coughcoughI’mLookingAtYouJimButchercough). Instead, he made it a point to address this in Ex-Patriots, introducing new superheroes who just happen to be Hispanic and Black. The latter, Captain Freedom, is a particularly cool character- and kind of amusing because he’s actually a Captain, and Freedom is his last name. He also carries a sawed-off assault shotgun as a sidearm- not quite as iconic as the shield, but it’ll do.
All and all, Ex-Patriots is a fine read, one I’d recommend to anyone who falls in the middle of a “Likes Zombies” and “Likes Superheroes” Venn Diagram. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series, once I get around to picking it up- though with my rapidly growing to-read pile, this may be a little while.