Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Super silliness and problems with nomenclature

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I probably should have judged it a little MORE by its cover than I did. Ex-Heroes shows a bold, central image of a sad-looking dude in a super suit holding his mask and moping. Sweet, I thought to myself, a book about heroes who lose their powers - that should be interesting. I used the book to round out my buy-two-get-one-free selection and wandered on my merry way.

What I should have examined more closely were the more pale, diminished figures surrounding my mopey hero - there are zombies in them-thar hills.

I used to be really into zombies. I got super-duper excited by 28 Days Later and managed to keep the romance undead at least until 28 Weeks Later came out: the first film was unexpected and wonderful and did $10 million its first weekend (not bad for a movie with a budget of 8 million), the second was underwhelming and overwrought and almost tripled the first-weekend US gross. It wasn't too long after the second film came out that I just got sick of zombies. Maybe it's just that I'm kind of a hipster - I liked it before it was popular - or maybe it's that popularity tends to make things noxious in the world we live in. After seeing 28 Days Later I read The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, saw Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and (much to my chagrin) Doomsday. Then, not too long after those books and movies came out, you could buy zombie targets at WalMart and zombie survival kits started popping up on Amazon and then there were zombie walks and zombie 5Ks and it just got to the point that EVERYTHING was zombies and everything was painted zombie green and everyone had a zombie survival plan and I realized that I was over it. The zombie story had been told so many times (almost always leaving the interesting rebuilding society and fighting the ongoing menace part out) that I couldn't stand to hear about it anymore. It feels like reading a comic book where every single issue is an origin story. World War Z is one of the few books that's made the subject interesting again, but when they made it into a movie they left all the good shit out. So if I had taken a bit more time to examine the cover of Ex-Heroes I probably would have taken the time to put the book down and back the hell away because I was looking for a book about cool stuff happening to superheroes, not a book that had anything at all to do with zombies.

Which brings up another point: don't make up new names for zombies. This is something that gets me about The Walking Dead - they call them walkers or biters or some shit like that. Zombies are so incredibly pervasive in our culture that there would never be an opportunity to call them anything else. When someone on bath salts eats someone else's face the media jumps in screaming "ZOMBIE!" There is no way we would call them anything else but zombies if zombies were to become a real problem. But in Ex-Heroes zombies are called exes, as in ex-humans. So the ex-heroes referred to in the title are zombie heroes (not an uninteresting concept in and of itself, but wrecked by putting a good concept in the middle of a mundane and too-often retold story). I call bullshit and also false advertising. If you want to write a book about zombie heroes call it Zombie Heroes and call it a day. Don't make up some bullshit would-never-be-used synonym for zombies and then use it to bait-and-switch your audience into thinking they're actually going to be reading about former heroes. Dick move, Peter Clines. Dick move.

The book itself is just sort of not very good. The story is alternately predictable and ridiculous, the truly ridiculous bits are never really fleshed out, the characters are stereotypical and boring. There's a Superman analogue who can breathe fire instead of having laser eyes. There's a guy who can become energy who doesn't just straight-up destroy all the zombies because it feels icky when he does (so instead he just lets lots of people die so he doesn't have to feel the terrible icky feeling). There's a sex interest for the Superman guy whose powers are never explained (I don't actually know that she has powers but her name is Lady Bee so maybe?) but who has funky-colored hair and a red bra (the color of her underwear is more thoroughly explained than anything else about her character). There's a REALLY sexist female Batman analogue called Stealth - she doesn't appear to have any super powers other than her super-model looks that she hides under a scarf; she wears a skintight catsuit and has a great ass and is very sneaky and I'm completely pissed about the way that she's written. If Spock and Batman had a baby and that baby had a killer rack and no ability to relate to other people it would come pretty close to what Stealth is like. She's the leader of the survivor compound and most of her conversations with the Superman guy focus on making sure that he doesn't have a secret boner for her in her specifically-designed-to-accentuate-her-tits-catsuit. The really irritating thing about Stealth is it's clear that Clines was specifically trying NOT to be sexist when he wrote her and just completely failed.

Anyway, that's most of the supers. The humans occasionally have names until they get killed, and sometimes they get in the way of a super and it's supposed to raise tension and just completely doesn't. You're marketing to geeks here, Clines. We know a red shirt when we see one.

It's pretty rare that I read a book and wish that I hadn't spent the money on it, but that's what happened this time. There's a sequel (because of course there is) that supposedly explains more of what's going on. I'm not going to read it, but if a stereotypical, boring, tension-less super-zombie story sounds interesting to you then there are at least two more books out there to feed that need.

     - Alli

Clines, Peter. Ex-Heroes. Broadway Paperbacks. New York: New York. 2010.

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