Literature: Ex-Heroes

I'm pretty sure you already know who I am. As for everyone else... I don't think there are enough people left to make a secret identity worth the effort. - St. George, Ex-Heroes

Ex-Heroes is a novel published by Permuted Press. It combines superheroes, post-apocalypse, and zombie into novels written by Peter Clines. A series of superheroes appear during the 21st century, each possessing a variety of superpowers and abilities. They make a brief splash, curing all sorts of ills in the Los Angeles area (amongst other places).

Unfortunately, they don't get to enjoy their success long before the entire world is struck by a Zombie Apocalypse of epic proportions. Now, a year later, they have to defend their tiny enclave of human survivors from a seemingly endless horde of undead monsters.

A sequel, Ex-Patriots, was released in 2011. It follows the continuing adventures of the original heroes and adds a second group of survivors seemingly saved by the military.

A third book, Ex-Communication, was released July 9, 2013, and deals with the return of Max Hale and Cairax Murrain.

Book four, Ex-Purgatory, was released on January 14, 2014. It sets off on a slightly different path, following George and Company in an alternate reality.

An unnamed fifth book is planned, but still no word on if it's in the cards.

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The entire series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Bi the Way: Stealth, sort of. She experimented with both genders in college before giving the whole thing up as a waste of time. She eventually begins a relationship with Saint George.
  • The Cape: The Mighty Dragon, known more commonly as St George by the time of the main events of the book.
  • Cape Punk: Of the Reconstruction variety.
  • The Cowl: Stealth.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Stealth is a statuesque knockout of a woman who made a significant amount of money as an underwear model, but she's also a genius polymath. Much of the reason why she's a masked superhero in the first place is because she had a great deal of trouble getting anyone in academia to take the ex-model seriously.
  • Expy: Tons of examples.
    • Saint George for Superman.
    • Stealth for Batman.
    • Captain Freedom for Captain America (it's his actual name, though).
  • The Virus: Of course.
    • A unique example in that the virus itself is not lethal. What is lethal is the bacteria and viruses present in the human body, especially in a walking corpse. Initially, there were cases of people surviving a bite if they were in a hospital and immediately pumped full of antibiotics. Now, with every zombie mouth stuffed with hundreds of infectious diseases, there's practically no chance of survival without superpowers specially geared for disease immunity, or immediate amputation of the bitten limb.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: One of the big examples of it, humanity being on the verge of extinction.


  • The Apunkalypse: The street gang called the Seventeens more or less conquers Los Angeles after the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • The Atoner: Regenerator.
  • Badass Bookworm: Stealth, Cerberus.
  • Badass Crew: The Heroes, but also the regular Joes that guard the Wall and do the scavenging runs.
  • Badass Normal: Stealth
    • Not to mention the non-empowered people who guard the Wall. It takes some balls to face hundreds of zombies everyday (remember, there are always hundreds of exes milling around the Wall) without going insane.
  • Big Bad: Pee-Zee.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Gorgon and Regenerator had a hand in creating Pee-Zee. And in a wider sense, Regenerator is responsible for all of the exes.
  • Death by Sex: Cairax dies due to getting a blow job from zombie Jessica Alba. No one is sure how to react when told about this.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Stealth gets a mild example of this.
  • Flying Brick: St. George. It makes him the best to fight the exes since their teeth break instead of his skin.
    • Flying Firepower: In addition to the above Flying Brick powers, George also has the nifty ability to belch fire. You know, like a dragon.
  • Foreshadowing: Not the events of this book, but of book three. Zzzap mentions once that he has been mistaken for an angel. Invoking this is how they defeat Cairax in book three. Clines apparently likes to weave in foreshadowing several books ahead.
  • Freak Lab Accident: In St. George's backstory it's either this, a meteorite with strange radiation, or a combination of both that gives him his powers.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Random gangbanger to superzombie.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: Rodney Casares AKA Pee-Zee or Patient Zero. He randomly turns up with the power to control the zombies, to survive the zombification with his own intelligence intact, and with enhanced physical abilities and stature he never had in life. The most that's ever explained about him is that he used to be a random gangbanger and that he was one of the first victims of the disease, but he is otherwise completely unique and exists for no reason other than to present a massive threat to the main cast. Though he does get some backstory in the second book, it doesn't really explain all that much...
    • At the same time, subverted, since his plan isn't global destruction or to wipe out all the heroes, and he tells them several times that he would welcome everyone except Gorgon to his side. He just wants two things, revenge on Gorgon, who beat him up several times prior to the Zombie Apocalypse, and to take total control of Los Angeles. The only reason he hasn't taken over the world so far is due to the fact that he just isn't smart enough to make the most effective use of his powers.
  • Genki Girl: Banzai. Before she's killed and turned into a zombie.
  • Genre Blind: Most of the world. No one is willing to recognize that the Zombie Apocalypse is in fact a genuine zombie apocalypse until it is too far gone to stop. Only Stealth and the heroes are from the get go able to recognize the threat, and once they realize what it is, act appropriately to try (if fail) to stop it.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Regenerator used to be able to heal anything, but after being bitten his healing factor is confined to containing the infection. This becomes Blessed with Suck since he is tortured with the fact that not only was he the cause of the end of the world, but he can’t even help anyone with his powers anymore.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Rodney once in awhile.
  • The Hero: St George but several others.
  • Heroic Build: Averted. None of the male heroes are described as being particularly bulked up - St. George is explicitly said to be lean built due to the rigors of survival After the End.
  • Hot Scientist: Cerberus. Stealth also qualifies.
  • In a Single Bound: Rather than true flight, St. George has a version of this.
  • Kick the Dog: Peasy's most disgusting moment is undoubtedly when he reveals he's been using Banzai's zombie corpse for sex.
  • Most Common Superpower: Averted. Stealth stands out among the heroines. Banzai posed as a man to keep her secret identity secure.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Stealth seems to explicitly invoke this, which is odd considering her backstory of not being taken seriously because of how pretty she was.
  • Not Using the Z Word: Discussed. People use Exes (as in ex-people or ex-human) because it's easier to accept than Zombie.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Seemingly averted. The zombies in the Ex-Heroes universe are direct homages to the George Romero universe. Later, of course, they show they are shown to be products of a disastrous attempt at reanimation.
  • Personality Powers: Played mostly straight. Stealthy gal Stealth is often described as ninja-like, Flying Brick St. George is a symbol to the people, and speedster Zzzap is quite the Keet.
  • Punny Name: A guy called the Mighty Dragon starts using the name St George After the End. St George in Catholic iconography is frequently depicted as slaying a dragon.
  • Ragtag Band of Misfits: The Heroes, especially in later books when you add in Captain Freedom, Corpse Girl, and the Driver.
  • The Reveal: The reason for the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Shout-Out: Subtler ones than most.
    • Stealth seems to be an homage to Batman.
    • St George has elements of Superman. In a more obvious way, his real name is George Bailey, the main character of Its A Wonderful Life
    • Gorgon has elements of Doctor Midnight and the Question.
    • Cerberus seems to be a War Machine and Tony Stark homage.
    • Zzzap has the powers of the Living Laser.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Stealth borders on this, though never quite crosses it.
  • Stealth Pun: The Dragon's real name is George, and they start calling St. George after the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Survival Horror: A rare non-game example, it follows the tropes basically to the letter. The Mount is all about survival.
  • Stripperiffic: Averted. Stealth's form fitting outfit is sexualized by outsiders but practical. Cerberus sexualizes her decidedly Iron Man-esque costume.
  • Stuffed In A Fridge: Banzai. A lot of fans took a shine to her in the short time she's in existence.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The majority of civil authority. In spite of government advisory stating that the exes are in fact walking corpses, the police, the army, everyone except Stealth and the other superheroes, refuse to recognize that YES, the exes are dead, with no way of stopping them except headshots, and no way of reasoning with them, and no means of curing them, since they are just corpses. By the time that people start recognizing the threat for what it is, it's already too late to stop it.
  • Vampiric Draining: Gorgon's superpower is pretty much this.


  • Awesome McCoolname: Captain Freedom. His great-great-grandfather was born a slave, but slavery was repealed when he was four. At age 18 he changed the family name to what he thought was the greatest word in the English language.
  • Badass: Captain Freedom.
  • Badass Driver: The Driver, naturally. Though he doesn't get much chance to do any real driving, he can take control of machines and control them better than any normal driver ever could. Machines like a certain suit of Powered Armor...
  • Badass Longcoat: In the epilogue, Gorgon's duster and star are passed on to a new owner.
  • Back from the Dead: Pee Zee survived the events of the first book.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Smith and Legion.
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: Though Freedom and the remains of the military base join the Mount, Smith gets away and they still have no way of dealing with Legion, who can't be defeated now that he can Body Surf between Exes
  • The Cape: Saint George, again.
  • Charm Person: Agent John Smith is able to control other people by simply asking them questions.
  • The Cowl: Stealth, again.
  • Death Activated Superpower: Legion only discovered/gained his ability to body surf after the destruction of his original body.
  • Evil Army: Discussed and Averted. The soldiers are not friendly to the heroes but are portrayed as cool professionals as opposed to psychopaths.
  • The Good Captain: Captain Freedom.
  • Good Versus Good: Both the army and the Mount survivors want what's best for humanity. Of course, the Project: Krypton survivors are wrong due to how completely they've been bamboozled by the villains.
  • Heel-Face Turn: The Driver is a reformed gang member.
  • The Hero: Obviously.
  • I Am Legion: Rodney changes his name to Legion after his powers get stronger.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: When he first appears Captain Freedom puts up a pretty good fight against St George. later on in the book it's revealed St George was holding back and proceeds to lay the smackdown on Freedom and his entire squad.
  • Kick the Dog: Project: Krypton gets one when they kidnap Zzzap.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Emil Sorrenson. Averted. He actually doesn't have any talent at controlling zombies. He's just being used by Legion.
  • Morality Pet: St George for Stealth.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Averted. The zombies of Project: Krypton are supposed to be tamed but are actually just controlled by Legion.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Averted to some degree. Thanks to his powers, every girl Smith has ever had sex with was doing so under coercion, but this isn't portrayed as SUPER EVIL, just another example of what a general shitbag Smith is.
  • Ship Tease: Saint George and Stealth get some more of this.
  • Shout-Out: The name of the military project is Project: Krypton.
    • Captain Freedom is an obvious one for Captain America.
    • There's also one to The Purple Man.
    • Barry, being One of Us, is a fountain of pop culture references.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Stealth mentions that she used to be a lot like this, but her association with St George led her to change her way of thinking somewhat.
  • Super Soldier: The whole point of Project: Krypton.
  • Theme Naming: All of the super soldiers are named for Presidents from the more famous ones like Washington and Adams to the ones nobody remembers like Polk and Hayes.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Averted. Day of the Dead is an obvious inspiration, though the addition of superheroes changes things drastically.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Well, duh.


  • Agent Scully: Stealth and magic. Despite this she is willing to follow its rules even if she doesn't believe it's actually magic
  • And I Must Scream: When he was turned into a zombie thanks to his magic, Max Hale remained fully aware. Unfortunately for him, so did Cairax Murrain, who was trapped in there with him, and forced him to relive every painful experience he ever had all at once, more or less continuously for three years.
    • The worst part? Whatever sort of limbo they were trapped in let time move with excruciating slowness. When Hale first tries to get back at Cairax regarding his torment, he states that Cairax has been torturing him for months, and no one has killed them yet. Cairax responds by saying that they've been at it for less than a day. Now, imagine what three years must feel like.
  • And Then What?: This was how Max got Cairax Murrain to stop torturing him.
  • Bad with the Bone: To escape prison the Regenerator tore out his own bones and muscles to make weapons and tools. He even tore out his sartorius muscles and braided his molars into it to create a whip.
  • Blunt "Yes": This conversation
    Zaapp: You guys thought I was crazy, didn’t you?
    Stealth: “Yes.”
  • Body Surf: How Hale comes Back from the Dead.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Averted when Max used Madelyn as one against Stealth, forgetting that as a walking corpse bullets don’t affect her.
    St. George: What the hell?!
    Stealth: She was already dead,
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Madelyn first found out that her memory only lasted a day her first thought was that she missed Valentine’s Day.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Stealth, as might be expected. She even keeps a spare mask in her belt.
  • Enemy Mine: Legion shows up in the final battle to help the heroes against Cairax Murrain, and subsequently gives them an hour to get back to the Mount without attacking them.
  • Evil Virtues: When Legion makes a promise, he keeps it. Even when he was manipulating Doctor Sorenson, he kept his promise to look for Sorenson's wife and daughter, and he allowed St George and the others to get back to the Mount after promising he wouldn't attack them for an hour.
  • For Science!: Cerberus’s defense for getting Madelyn to attack Legion.
  • The Gadfly: Barry / Zzzap. After the final battle:
    Barry (who has been paraplegic for years prior to the story): I can't feel my legs. I think...I think I'm paralyzed.
  • Human Notepad: Hale.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Averted, Regenerator was long gone before St. George even got there.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Stealth rivals Rushuna Tendo
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Played with it was Maxwell claiming to not know something that clued Stealth into the fact that he was lying.
  • Nano Machines: Madelyn Sorenson. Originally, they were only supposed to repair her wounds until her body could catch up, but after being killed by zombi...uhh...Exes they had to replace basically everything. End result, she's still Madelyn, but she's also a shitton of nanites.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Stealth knocking out Max, while it did free St. George it also disabled his barrier that held the Exes at bay. Of course it also allowed Legion to help.
  • Official Couple: St George and Stealth got a Relationship Upgrade in between books.
  • Oh, Crap: When Hale got the original tattoos that would allow him to contain Cairax, he mentioned to the magic user why he needed them, and who it was he had sealed away in his little pendant. The magic user gives a massive Oh, Crap, because unlike most people, he knows who Cairax is, and what he is capable of... and they were in the middle of Paris, where Cairax could easily hurt a whole lot of people if he escaped. Max's reaction when he found out that Regenerator left the Mount with his powers.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Stealth does this to max
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Played with Cairax Murrain never performed his part of the deal to begin with
  • Rule of Symbolism: A lot of symbology is invoked to help combat Cairax Murrain, and it ultimately proves to be the deciding factor in the battle. Max Hale off-handedly claims that they'd need an archangel to defeat Cairax; a creature composed of radiance and will, shaped in God's own image. When he's Zzzap Barry is little more than a star held in the shape of a man by his mind. A man made of light and thought, as it were.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Subverted, Cairax to Captain Freedom by slamming him into the ground and flinging him away
  • Superman Stays out of Gotham: Before the outbreak the heroes followed this mentality. Mighty Dragon generally worked around Hollywood, Los Feliz, a bit of Koreatown. Midknight was out in the Valley, Burbank usually. Gorgon was over on the west side, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. All except Stealth who went anywhere she wanted.
  • Tongue Trauma: How Hale as Cairax died, despite cruder rumors.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The After Death movement believe that souls still reside within the Ex’s despite the fact that it was that very mentality that caused the virus to spread so fast in the first place. One member actually walked straight up to an ex she knew thinking he wouldn't hurt her
  • Weaksauce Weakness: According to Max Stealth can’t think outside the box. The box she does think in is gigantic, but she can’t put her brain outside it even just for a moment.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back: Played with before Senator Christian founded the After Death movement she hated the heroes and fought against anything they suggested or any action they took. She was troublesome, but she was predictable. St. George mentioned that since she’d found religion, talking to her always gave him the sensation of walking in a minefield.


  • Alliterative Name: Lampshaded by George when he tries to recall Zzzap’s secret identity.
  • Alternate Universe: The heroes, including Gorgon, Banzai, and others, are in a world where there never was a zombie apocalypse. However, clues start popping up to suggest that this world is more than it seems.
  • Berserk Button: After a minor Heroic BSOD Danielle gets PISSED at Smith for forcing George to destroy the Cerberus armor.
  • Big Bad: Christian Smith, the strange, body-snatched version of long-time pain in the ass Christian Nyugen.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Even in the "normal" reality, Stealth is still a super badass Action Girl with the same combat skills and Awesome by Analysis.
  • Brought Down to Normal: All of the heroes are living normal lives as they would have if they’d never developed superpowers in the first place. Zig-zagged, as it turns out that the desire to live a normal life was the trap Christian Smith was trying to create in the first place, but they never actually lost their powers.
  • Exact Words: Stealth uses this as a technique to bypass Smith's mind control powers. When he tells her to guard him against any potential threats, she allows Danielle to shoot him, reasoning that Danielle couldn't possibly pose any real threat to Stealth if she actually wanted to protect Smith and once she had fired the gun, she had ceased to be a potential threat and become an actual threat, and Smith only ordered her to deal with potential threats.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Driver spends most of the book in George's Hyundai trying to communicate using the radio.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: These start showing up as the heroes start fighting the first level of the alternate world.
  • The Reveal: It was all in their heads.
    • Not to mention the fact that Christian Nyugen not only had a form of psychic power, but that power plus Agent Smith's allowed for a cloned Smith personality to take over Christian's.
  • Sherlock Scan: When George and Karen meet up, seemingly for the first time, she instantly deduces he's a janitor based on a couple of spots on his sleeves.
  • Shout-Out: Tons, given Barry's affinity for popular culture, but in particular the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Ship in a Bottle" is referenced when the group escapes the fake world where there's no zombies, only to realize that the "real world" is just another illusion to keep them from waking up.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: One of these shows up, just, instead of a physical one, it's a mental one.
  • Tyke Bomb: Stealth reveals that her father raised her to be this.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Legion gets one passing reference, but no explanation is given for what he was doing in the four months the heroes were trapped in Smith's illusion. Justified in that they weren't really gone for four months; that was just another illusion. They've actually only been trapped for two days.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The book is The Matrix with superheroes instead of machines from the future. Much of the book is spent thinking that the Big Bad is a guy named Agent Smith.

Alternative Title(s):

Ex Heroes