Book Review: Peter Clines’ Ex-Communication

Oh hey, there’s a movie coming out this weekend, isn’t there?

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I think it’s a VeggieTales spinoff. 

If I was feeling theme-y, I would’ve read a Star Wars novel for the occasion. But, the hype has been so exhausting I’m just gonna be a nerd iconoclast and stuff. That, and most Star Wars novels are pretty awful. This isn’t going to stop me from going to catch a showing of The Force Awakens tonight, mind you, but that’s mostly ’cause a friend of mine had an extra ticket.

Really, the timing here is double-off, as I wish I’d read Peter Clines’ Ex-Communication back in October, but I hadn’t stumbled across a copy in a bookstore until recently, and, well, here we are. And while I’m complaining I wish Clines had set the series in Houston instead of L.A. That way I could’ve made an “all my exes live in Texas” joke. Seriously, wasted opportunity here!

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Ex-Communication, as you would expect from the title, deals with questions of religious authority and- ha ha, just kidding! It’s a superheroes vs. zombies punch up. Ex-Communication is the third in Clines’ Ex-Heroes series, so Clines already has already established the setting and characters pretty well, with only a few flashback chapters in comparison to the earlier books. And on a side note, this is also the book where we learn Stealth (gun-toting lady Batman, essentially) is a black woman, so yay diversity.

With the basic worldbuilding out of the way, Ex-Communication is arguably the most comic book-y of the series so far. The zombies themselves almost become more of an environmental hazard than a real opponent. Well, for some of the characters, at least. There’s not much Not-Superman has to worry about from your average Romero style shambler, but Not-Batman might be a little more concerned, with a lack of invincibility and all.

This is also the book where Clines starts going in more of a comic-booky, kitchen sink direction. The first two books kinda-sorta just went with a vaguely science fictional vibe, with vague ‘mutation’ being the reason for the sudden development of superpowered individuals. In Ex-Communication, it’s shown that a character gets his powers from straight-out finger-wiggling magic. In a different book, I’d probably roll my eyes, but Clines is definitely working in the spirit of superhero comics, in which you can have Dr. Strange and Iron Man on the same team without batting an eye.

By including magic, Clines is able to throw in some antagonists that can actually pose a challenge to the post Apocalyptic Not Justice League. Super punching ensues. Luckily, Clines knows how to write a slam bang action scene, so things don’t drag down too much. Clines also adds in a new superhero, Corpse Girl, a teenager who’s dead but not a zombie. It’s … complicated.

While I enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t say Ex-Communication is entirely perfect. For one, while Corpse Girl is a fun character, I couldn’t help but feel a bit skeeved out by the way she was constantly getting scoped out by pretty much all of the side-characters she met. At best, using “guy unpleasantly leering at a protagonist” as literary shorthand gets a bit old, a bit fast. Also, Clines trots out the old ‘post apocalyptic religious cult that basically worships flesh eating zombies’ trope. And of course one of the major figures in said cult is the bitchy lady who wants to run things inside the zombie-free compound. My guess is she’ll wind up doing something stupid that nearly kills everyone in a book or two.

Oh, and speaking of stupid, a good deal of the book’s action depends on Zzzap (a Not-Silver Surfer, more or less) being kind of an idiot. To be fair, it’d be a pretty boring book if Zzzap didn’t get the ball rolling, but still. On top of that, Zzzap is the token ‘nerdy’ character who keeps making various pop culture references. Or, well, at least he makes the most of them- other nerdy bits are peppered throughout here and there. Sure, it shows how Clines loves the source material, and he ‘gets’ it, but it can get a little grating here and there. I get the feeling Zzzap is Clines’ favorite character, but he’s certainly not mine. That’d go to Cerberus, the woman with a robot suit … who doesn’t get much screentime (well, page time) in this one. Then again, I suppose certain characters taking a backseat to others is pretty common in superhero team comics as well, so there ya go.

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You’d think the lady with a mecha suit would get more attention since she’s on the cover. 

Still, all of these are minor quibbles, and I’m looking forward to tracking down the next book in the series (even if it seems to be centered around Zzzap) one of these days. And a fifth one’s coming out in February, to boot, so bonus!

Stay tuned, folks. I’ll have something to say about Star Wars tomorrow. Probably.

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