Written by Peter Clines
Narrated by Audible Stuidos
Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes. Vigilantes. Crusaders for justice, using their superhuman abilites to make Los Angeles a better place. Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Despite the best efforts of the superheroes, the police, and the military, the hungry corpses rose up and overwhelmed the country. The population was decimated, heroes fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland like so many others.
Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions must overcome their differences and recover from their own scars to protect the thousands of survivors sheltered in their film studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. The heroes lead teams out to scavenge supplies, keep the peace within the walls of their home, and try to be the symbols the survivors so desperately need. For while the ex-humans walk the streets night and day, they are not the only threat left in the world, and the people of the Mount are not the only survivors left in Los Angeles. Across the city, another group has grown and gained power. And they are not heroes.
A friend recommended this book to me some time ago. I feel that creators have fully exploited both the zombie and superhero genres, so the premise of a book the brings both together held little interest for me. However, he mentioned it again and again over the course of a few months. When Audible informed me that I had to burn a credit or lose it, I decided to give Ex-Heroes a try. Boy, I am glad that I did!
Even as I read the description above, I can see that it still reads a bit of “been there, done that.” However, the author does a great job bringing together the darkness and hopelessness that accompanies typical zombie stories with the high hopes and fantasy feeling that comes from most super-hero stories and characters. This is despite the fact that the individual characters feel woefully unoriginal. The Might Dragon substitutes for Superman’s role in DC Comics, albiet a bit less powerful than the Man of Steel. The gun wielding Stealth is clearly a female version of Batman. If you read far enough in the book or series, you will find a replacement for Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and many more. Yet, the interaction between these heroes, the remaining humans, and their desperate situation with the millions of zombies provides much of the interest here.
The story follows a past/present/past/present approach each chapter; providing us back stories for each of the characters, as well as some background information for how the zombie crisis came about. The heroes struggle to not only protect the remaining remnants of humans, but also work together with them to scavenge for supplies needed to survive. On top of that, the heroes identify a new threat adding to their huge list of challenges. The final conflict feels epic, and manages to incorporate all of the players. One might worry that with the awesome powers of the heroes and main villian(s), that the zombie threat would take a back seat, but the writer does a great job of making sure they all play an equal role in the plot and final fight.
While the story has many strong points, the lack of depth in some of the characters may certainly turn off some readers. Notably, some of the heroes feel like a callback to the earlier days of DC Comics, where the characters felt very two-dimensional. This would later be replaced by deeper characters, and is the reasons why Batman eclipses Superman comics in sales. With that said, those who enjoy good, straightforward super-hero stories will find much to enjoy here. The depth and wrinkles come more from the zombie apocalypse setting and villains than from strong, internal turmoil on the part of the heroes.
I should note here that the narration, provided by an group from Audible Studios, does a great job here. Often, Audible books have one narrator, who reads each character using a different voice or accent to help the listener differentiate who speaks. I believe that nearly every main character has a dedicated voice actor here, and that helps to immerse the listener into the story.
Overall this story does a great job of introducing the reader to the series, while providing a memorable, stand-alone adventure that I can easily recommend to any fan of the zombie or superhero genre.