Peter Clines’ 2010 debut novel, Ex-Heroes, had a simple, pitch-friendly premise: superheroes meet zombies! Too often, such catchy marketing angles are reductive, but in the case of Ex-Heroes, it was pretty much a dead-on summary of Clines’ double-decker “What if . . . ?” contemporary fantasy sandwich. (What if people with superpowers started to appear in our world? And what if that was almost immediately followed by the zombie apocalypse?)
Given the waxing popularity of superheroes in film, and zombie fever pretty much everywhere, there hasn’t been a more inevitable combo since Jim Butcher dipped detective noir into “wizard!” for his The Dresden Files series (the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup of genre mashup success stories).
Still, a simple premise with built-in popular appeal doesn’t mean easy to write. For his part, Clines had to create his own version of not one but two fantasy staples so well-worn the ruts in them are basically trenches. Wisely, the author kept it simple: Clines’ undead are pretty much “zombie classic”—slow-moving, cognitively challenged, “swarm ya” machines that are deadly thanks to sheer numbers and a bite-to-infection success ratio that can’t be beat. His heroes are also pretty standard fare—a “Batman” type (Stealth), a “Superman” (Mighty Dragon/St. George), a giant/robot (Cerberus), an energy manipulator (Zzzap), etc.
More importantly, with Ex-Heroes Clines faced the overarching challenge of his genre mashup—telling a compelling story that kept readers, many of whom are “experts” in the genres, interested and guessing. For the most part, Clines succeeded, providing what amounted to a gritty comic book series in novelized form.
With Ex-Patriots, Clines returns to the world of his superhero-flavored zombie apocalypse. The heroes of the Mount—the film studio turned undead-thwarting fortress—have weathered the brutal assault of a truly horrifying supervillain and his zombie hordes. But a return to “normal” in a zombie-ravaged world is still a danger-fraught existence, and as the community of the Mount returns to the daily routine of scavenging and surviving, contact is made with a top-secret branch of the U.S. military. Will this contact turn out to be a good development for the human population of the Mount and its superhuman protectors?
As any reader familiar with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics knows, few “promising developments”—be they surviving humans or prospective safer locales—come without hidden peril, and Clines’ sequel is no different. For fans of either genre (be it heroic or zombie), determining the nature of the threat represented by these new players is half the fun of Ex-Patriots. (The continuing character arcs of Stealth, St. George and crew, the other.) Overall, Ex-Patriots continues the novelized comic series feel, minus the original comic series, of its predecessor. If the superheroes and zombies mix of Ex-Heroes was your cup of tea, sit down, crack open Ex-Patriots, and let Peter Clines pour you another cup.