Top positive review
Clines, How You Spoil Us
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 15, 2013
Ex-Communication marks the third entry in the Ex-Heroes series written by the creative madman that is Peter Clines; a man who continues to astound me with every new release. The guy is absolutely insane yet so deviously brilliant at the same time. He's the only author who perfectly captures the essence of the zombie apocalypse, while combining it with a heaping of superhero fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and a slew of clever pop-culture references into one finally honed package that pays homage to them all. It's insane, over-the-top, and absolutely ludicrous in every possible manner, yet I wouldn't have it any other way. This latest novel from my favorite mad scientist takes everything that worked from the first two iterations while trimming away the issues that hindered their greatness. In other words: Ex-Heroes just got even more awesome.
I'm at a bit of a disadvantage unfortunately because I can't explain why the plot works without spoiling it, which is something I refuse to do. However, I will say that it avoids the usual by-the-books zombie survival tale that we've all heard a thousand times over, which was an issue the first book suffered from. Ex-Communication on the other hand features an excellently paced story that quickly diverges into a path people probably won't be expecting. The overall book benefits substantially since it isn't entirely relying on the awesome factor of superheroes fighting zombies, but is rather benefited from it. Ex-Communication also manages to avoid the serious pitfall of the second book by trimming out many of the superfluous characters that dragged the story to a crawl: the Project Krypton Super Soldiers. Though Captain Freedom is a solid addition to the Ex-Heroes roster, his comrades were bland, generic, and completely forgettable. Even worse, they detracted from the original cast of characters, which every fan, myself included, fell in love with the first time around. Ex-Communication in comparison is tightly focused on what matters the most in the series: the superheroes, who they are as people, and the immense responsibility and burden they face in ensuring the survival of Los Angeles's last bastion of humanity against an overwhelming onslaught of the dead. It's great stuff all around.
If there's one thing the explosive opening chapter makes blatantly apparent, it's that the stakes have risen substantially from the previous books. The exes are no longer mindless husks; they've become the puppets of a greater foe, a turn-of-events that has made the exes unpredictable and ever-changing to the heroes' tried and tested methods of the past. The villain, Legion, adds a great deal of anxiety and danger to the narrative due to his ability to control the seemingly endless hordes of exes. The heroes are no longer dealing with the simple-minded undead, but rather a psychopath who wants nothing more them to watch them die. Yet where there is despair, there is also hope. Humanity has expanded beyond the Mount's walls and has begun rebuilding their previous lives. It gives the notion that life may one day return to normal without the constant fear of the roaming dead hounding them at every turn. The reader is constantly reminded that while humanity has grown stronger and expanded, so has their enemy.
Peter Clines is not just the most bizarre author I've ever had the pleasure of discovering, but also one of the funniest. He succeeds in instilling a great deal of black humor into his series due to several clever pop-culture reference regarding movies, comics, and celebrities, while combining them with Cline's signature sardonic wit. The man is simply twisted in all the right ways, though I imagine some people will get his jokes more than others. What's most impressive about his humor is how it never detracts from the book's urgency. Clines's knows how to illustrate a story with high-stakes while presenting a great deal of laughter and fun into the mix. It's a difficult balancing act that very few authors can accomplish, yet Clines nails it with flying colors.
Of course most fans of the previous two books can agree that the greatest aspect of the series comes in the form of its various superheroes and their unique personas. St. George, Stealth, Zzzap, Cerberus, they've become some of my favorite characters in literature, which is why it's fortunate that Clines focused the narrative around them rather than a large cast of newcomers. This again, was the aforementioned issue with Ex-Patriots. Minor characters have also been a recurring issue with the series due to their minimal characterization and lackluster presence within the story. I won't claim that Clines nails it here, but the issue is significantly mitigated this time around. The series benefits this time around from a welcome new addition in the form of Madelyn, a character that is easily the most emotionally engaging out of the entire cast. As was the case with the plot, I'm at a disadvantage. I can't explain why this character is such a welcome addition without spoiling who she is and why the reader will care. Yet she's a welcome addition to the series and I look forward to seeing her again.
And of course we come to the real meat of the series; the reason why readers were galvanized by the superb first novel and continue to read Clines's work to this day. This of course is the mind-blowing extravaganzas of awesomeness that are Peter Clines's action scenes. He simply knows how to take two of the most popular genres in pop-culture and mash together in a way that leaves everyone in awe. The fight scenes are some of the most intense, visceral, and astonishingly detailed ones you'll ever find in any genre of literature. The amount of detail Clines places on the effect the heroes have on the environment truly sells you on their plausibility, making superheroes and superpowers actually seem like a possible scenario. And of course, Clines always ends his books with an epic finale that showcases the heroes working together to combat a seemingly overwhelming force. It's the kind of situation you'd expect to see from a summer action flick, with every hero given individual attention to show off their unique powers and abilities as one cohesive unit. It's akin to the Justice League or Avengers movies and comics. Needless to say you'll be glued to the pages during the epic showdown at the book's climax.
What else can I say except: read this book and support this brilliant man, you will not regret it. Nearly every issue from the previous books is addressed in this sequel while honing on what the series does best. The focus is on the heroes, the plot is deeper than a typical survival tale while still incorporating key aspects of the genre, and the action and characters are some of the most memorable you will ever read about. Now please hurry and write book four Mr. Clines.