When it comes to zombies and superheroes, Fandible is no stranger. For the last two years, we’ve played Paradigm Concepts’ survival superhero horror RPG Rotted Capes. I haven’t been shy about saying how much I adore the mash up of the two genres, and I believe that Fandible does the Rotted Capes setting well! I enjoy the game. I enjoy the setting. I enjoy the story.
So you can imagine how excited I was when our fans started telling us about a book series that shares a similar setting with Rotted Capes. This series takes a bunch of superheroes, throws them into a zombie apocalypse, and explores just how human even our best heroes can be. This is the premise of the Ex-Heroes series by Peter Clines. I read all five books within a three week period and loved every minute. So, much like a hero trying to distract a horde from a group of survivors, let’s dive right in.
The best thing about the series is the main characters. For each book, you get to see the perspective of about five heroes, and each one has their own unique perspective and voice. While you get to see them as heroes, you get to really focus on them as human beings. Some of these people still don a mask, all of them try to act the part, but they all are just humans trying to keep it together. Peter Clines makes these superheroes feel like real people – which is something that comics sometimes have a trouble doing. Instead of reading about capes and spandex, you are reading a zombie survival novel where the main characters just happen to be able to fly or turn into energy or control a demonic entity. Yes, on paper, the main characters seem to be overpowered. But in a world where there is barely any surviving population left, overpowered isn’t going to save the day. A character might be invulnerable to any physical harm, but what does that matter if an entire horde of zombie kills the people they are trying to protect? Ex-Heroes explores this, and explores it well.
The structure of the book is also something I enjoyed. The way it usually works is you get a chapter or two of the characters in the present day, and then you get a single chapter of a character in the past. These flashbacks are first person, in contrast to the rest of the book which is third person, but it really fits. It sort of feels like a Lost episode when they’d cut to a scene from a character’s past. While not every flashback really means anything to the overall story of the present, it still gives you some great insight into how the character thinks and how far they’ve changed from their past selves.
Finally, what I really appreciates is that Peter Clines takes chances with the stories he tells. This isn’t just ‘Walking Dead Meets Spandex.’ Each book focuses on a particular superhero trope. Be it mind control, alternate realities, or magical powers. While I can’t say I like every story that has been told, I do appreciate that the author has made the world feel like a superheroic setting. There are super soldiers. There is strange science. There is magic and magical tattoos and demons. Each book tells a different genre of superhero story and I gotta offer props to the writer for doing that.
Again there are things I could go into where I think the series didn’t get right. The series does fall in line with the Marvel Cinematic Universe when it comes to bad guys; it hasn’t been able to make a truly great bad guy yet. Nor do I think they’ve made some of the secondary characters anything beyond cardboard. However, at the end of the day, I read five full-length books in a span of three weeks. And that’s with having to wait for some of them to arrive via mail because I’m one of those oddities who likes to read with a book in my hand. It not only kept my attention through the first book but pushed me to read all the rest of them as soon as I could. So, that’s saying something.
Ex-Heroes is solid for those who enjoy our Rotted Capes game. And while I don’t see our characters ever being as powerful as the characters Peter Clines wrote in his book, I would be proud to have the man GMing a game of Rotted Capes for us at any point in time. I really feel that he gets how these two genres can compliment each other.
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