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Literature / Ex-Heroes

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"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 originally published by Permuted Press. It combines superheroes, post-apocalypse, and zombies 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 saved by the military.

A third book, Ex-Communication, was released July 9, 2013, and deals with the return of a hero long presumed dead.

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.

Book five, Ex-Isle, was released on February 2nd, 2016. Ex-Isle follows the heroes investigating a newly-discovered group of inhabitants living on an artificial island.

Please put any character-related tropes on the characters page.

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     The entire series 
The entire series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Cape Punk: Of the Reconstruction variety.
  • Expy: Tons of examples.
    • St. George for Superman.
    • Stealth for Batman.
    • Cerberus is one for Iron Man.
    • Captain Freedom for Captain America (it's his actual name, though).
    • Zzzap generally fulfills the role of the Flash, though his name and powers evoke the Marvel villain Zzzax.
  • Once an Episode: Every book's epilogue consists of St. George musing on the events of the particular book and its aftermath atop the Mount's water tower with another hero:
    • In Ex-Heroes, it was him and Stealth.
    • In Ex-Patriots, it was him and Captain Freedom.
    • In Ex-Communication, it was him and Zzzap.
    • In Ex-Purgatory, it was him and Stealth again.
    • In Ex-Isle, it was him and Corpse Girl, then with Stealth again.
  • The Remnant: A few military units survive the zombie apocalypse.
    • Cerberus is the inventor and pilot of a DARPA suit of Powered Armor and, along with the survivors of a platoon of marines that were escorting her (including Mauve Shirt Billie Carter), take part in the defense of the Mount and the fight against nearby zombies.
    • The Unbreakables are a unit of Super Soldiers in training, accompanied by lots of regular soldiers, including another Cerberus-trained pilot. They have evacuated thousands of civilians, but only in a regional area, and are also taking orders from a presidential bunker. Actually, they're only being brainwashed into thinking that their corrupt superior is saving civilians and taking orders from the president. Once the brainwashing is shaken, the remaining soldiers join the survivors at the Mount.
  • Spanner in the Works: The ex-virus outbreak is this to pretty much everyone's plans. It forced Danielle to assume the role of Cerberus's pilot (she was a civilian and was never supposed to be the pilot), it halted Project Krypton (and by extension, it broke Smith's meticulous web of schemes), and it prevented Max from properly resurrecting himself, trapping him with Cairax in a zombie body.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The majority of people in the Mount have major What Have You Done for Me Lately? mentalities. This is arguably subverted (in a Rewatch Bonus way) though, as the regular survivors' (minus Christian's) worst ungrateful moments either take place in an illusory world, are caused by Christian's mind control, or are caused due to understandable misconceptions from the regular people being caught off guard by the seemingly game-changing Hope Spot of Max Hale returning to life.
    Danielle: Nick always had these people pegged. They were glad for us when we were here, but they never liked us.
  • The Virus: Of course. It's simply called the ex-virus. 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.
  • Zombie Apocalypse Hero: Most of the protagonists have been actual heroes (including a ''Superman Expy) since before the zombie apocalypse, but one of the main characters is a non-powered scientist who only started killing zombies because there wasn't time to train anyone else to pilot the Powered Armor she built. A car thief who can possess vehicles and a teenaged girl who can regenerate due to nanites also join the experienced heroes later on. There are also lots of Badass Normal Disaster Scavengers and perimeter guards such as a man who was collecting unemployment checks.

  • The Apunkalypse: The street gang called the Seventeens more or less conquers Los Angeles after the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Big Bad: Peasy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 A. Romero Living Dead Series. 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.
  • Recruit the Muggles: Before the Zombie Apocalypse, George and the other superheroes would have never dreamed of having civilians risk their lives by fighting alongside them. Since then, they need and welcome the help of a large, armed Men of Sherwood force of normal humans to prevent zombie Zerg Rushes from succeeding while the heroes go on scavenging missions or defend the walls of their city.
  • 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 It's 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.
  • 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 was already too late to stop it.
  • Wham Line:
    • The heroes discover that the leader of the street gang menacing their territory is a sentient zombie called Peasy (formerly known as Rodney Casares), who brags about being on the news. There is a Mass "Oh, Crap!" reaction once they figure out that he's calling himself 'PZ' and not Peasy, and then grasp what that's short for.
    Regenerator: Patient Zero.
    Stealth: When we were discussing the recon mission, you said you have had the virus hanging over you for two years. You were bitten less than fifteen months ago ... The first definite sighting of an ex-human was twenty-two months ago. An unidentified woman assaulted a group of Seventeens in a parking lot. The attack that infected Rodney Casares. Your wife died two years ago, didn't she, Regenerator?

  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Despite getting his own powers from a meteorite that just so happened to hit the university lab he was working at (and getting doused by chemicals as a result), George expresses disbelief at Cesar's own origin story - which is that he got struck by lightning on a clear sunny day while working on a car alternator. Cesar calls him out on it.
  • Badass Longcoat: In the epilogue, Gorgon's duster and star are passed on to a new owner.
  • Back from the Dead: PZ survived the events of the first book.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Smith and Legion.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Though Freedom and the remains of the military base join the Mount, Smith gets away, Colonel Shelly and Doctor Sorensen die, and they still have no way of dealing with Legion, who can't be defeated now that he can Body Surf between exes.
  • 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.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: When Stealth suggests Smith has been using his powers to enhance the base's numbers, Freedom and Kennedy are dubious. Kennedy asks that if this was the case, why would Smith go to the trouble of finding so many refugees, taking them in, training them and... Her words drift off as she realizes there is no reason for that. The realization causes Smith's spell to break as she and Freedom realize those numbers never existed and the base actually fell long ago around them.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Smith sure seems to enjoy asking questions.
    • During the introduction to the base and afterward, the heroes ask about the manpower and are told there are hundreds of soldiers under the base and "on patrol." When Legion attacks, the soldiers can't understand why the support teams haven't shown up. This all leads to the revelation that Smith has been making everyone believe there are far more people at the base then there truly are.
  • Gone Horribly Right: To maintain control of the base, Smith uses his powers to create the illusion that the base is fully staffed with hundreds of trained civilians; in truth, the entire personnel is only a hundred people. This comes back to bite him when Legion attacks and Smith realizes the heroes are going to fight back, thinking they've got hundreds of support troops when they're really hopelessly outnumbered. Naturally, Smith decides to just cut and run on his own and let everyone else get slaughtered.
  • 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.
  • 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 that St. George was holding back, and proceeds to lay the smackdown on Freedom and his entire squad.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: Captain Freedom, the Driver, Corpse Girl (in a Chekhov's Gunman role that takes until Ex-Communication to pay off), and Agent Smith all debut in book 2, Ex-Patriots, but quickly fill in important, seemingly permanent roles in the series.
  • Kick the Dog: Project: Krypton gets one when they kidnap Zzzap.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Smith openly says this, preferring to be behind the scenes to get more power.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Emil Sorenson. 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: Several, including:
    • 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 is a fountain of pop culture references. Easily the best is when he summarises the plan to rescue Stealth, which involves raiding the armory first:
  • Super-Soldier: The whole point of Project: Krypton. Most of the flashback chapters are even dedicated to these soldiers and what they went through in the process of becoming super.
  • Wham Line:
    • It turns out that the villain of the last book is Not Quite Dead when a crowd of ex-humans all speak to Danielle in unison with clear hatred.
    "IF I'D KNOWN IT WAS YOU," said the chorus of Exes, "I'DVE RIPED YOUR HEAD OFF YESTERDAY!"
    • Agent Smith's mind-control powers are revealed when Stealth is about to give him a well-deserved No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and he suddenly asks if she wants to hurt him.
    The first froze inches from his head. It trembled for a moment as she tried to force it through the air.
    • When the Cerberus armor goes out of control and Lieutenant Gibbs hears a strange voice, it turns out that a character with seemingly insignificant powers stowed away on the mission and is poised for a Big Damn Heroes moment.
    The Driver: I'm called the Driver, and this, esse is the coolest carjacking ever.
    • A series of wham lines that slowly reveal how Smith brainwashed everyone into thinking that there are thousands of soldiers and refugees at the base rather than just a handful of people he kept alive for his own uses begins with this exchange between Captain Freedom and Stealth.
    Captain Freedom: You haven't seen everyone.
    Stealth: I believe I have.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Averted. Day Of The Dead is an obvious inspiration, though the addition of superheroes changes things drastically.

  • 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:
    Zzzap: You guys thought I was crazy, didn’t you?
    Stealth: Yes.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Averted when Max used Madelyn as one against Stealth, forgetting that as a walking corpse bullets can't kill 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.
  • 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 Versus Evil: While waiting for an opportunity to get to the Mount, Cairax tortures Legion For the Evulz. Legion does try to fight back, useless as it was.
  • Evil Virtues: When Legion makes a promise, he keeps it. Even when he was manipulating Doctor Sorensen, he kept his promise to look for Sorensen'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!: Played for laughs when the gang finds out that Legion can't see Madelyn, so Cerberus suggests that Madelyn assault one of the zombies he was controlling. "For science".
  • From Bad to Worse: It's bad enough that Legion can possess multiple zombies, thus letting them attack the Mount with greater efficiency and tactics than before. Then he gets the idea to start putting helmets on them, preventing head-shots. And then he finds the guns and ammo from the National Guard depot...
    • Cairax returning to the mortal world via possessing Regenerator is also described as this by Max.
  • Functional Magic: This book confirms that real, working magic exists in this setting. Fitting, since magic powers and characters have traditionally been a major element of both Marvel and DC comics.
  • 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.
    • And in the epilogue, he pretends to embrace his "destiny as an archangel" and zooms off into the heavens - only to come rocketing back down just as St. George has time to let the loss sink in, gleefully admitting that he was just kidding.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Averted when St. George confronts Cairax's host body - Regenerator was long gone before he even got there.
  • 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. Specifically, he'd been everywhere in the Mount as a ghost... so how did he not know about Regenerator?
  • 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.
  • Off with His Head!: Stealth suggests this when the heroes were discussing what to do about the newly-escaped Regenerator.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Hale got the original tattoos that would allow him to contain Cairax, he mentions to the magic tattoist why he needed them, and who it was he had sealed away in his little pendant. The tattooist 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 kill millions of people if he escaped.
    • Also Max's reaction when he found out that Regenerator left the Mount with his powers, though this was an act.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Stealth does this to Max.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Played with - Cairax Murrain completely subsumed Regenerator's soul upon claiming his body, but it's heavily implied that Regenerator had crossed the Despair Event Horizon and wanted this to happen.
  • Rule of Symbolism: A lot of symbolism 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.
  • 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. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: According to Max, Stealth can’t think outside the box. The box she does think in is admittedly gigantic, but she can’t put her brain outside it even just for a moment.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: Played with: before Christian Nguyen 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.

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When being questioned by the NSA, the agent mentions that George’s parents must have been Beatles fans due to his name. George replies that they were actually Star Wars fans and his middle name was almost Han, causing one of the guards to bite back a snort.
  • Alliterative Name: Lampshaded by George when he tries to recall Zzzap’s secret identity.
  • All Men Are Perverts: According to Madelyn’s therapist Sylvester, no matter what is wrong with her or how complicated it makes that process, college guys would still want to sleep with her.
  • 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.
  • An Arm and a Leg: This was how they defeated Gibbs in the Cerberus suit; he saw it as penance for falling under Smith's control.
  • And I Must Scream: This seems to be what happened to Christian Nguyen.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: After Stealth calls him and asks if he could meet them in Los Angeles, Barry thinks about all of the things he has to do. The casual meeting he was supposed to have with Mike from maintenance about the smell. Jerry and Vanessa talking about component testing schedules. Keith asking for reports. His weekly Warhammer game with the guys down at the store.
  • Back from the Dead: Played with. A few previously dead characters, including Gorgon, Banzai, Dr. Sorensen, and Jarvis show up in the alternate reality, but as the entire thing is in the heroes' minds, it's technically only their mental projections of those characters.
  • Berserk Button: After a minor Heroic BSoD Danielle gets PISSED at Smith for forcing George to destroy the Cerberus armor.
  • BFG: Barry compares his blast to this.
  • Big Bad: Christian Smith, the strange, body-snatched version of long-time pain in the ass Christian Nyugen.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Everyone is saved, Smith is defeated, but Cerberus is destroyed and Christian Nguyen is either dead or trapped in a nightmare world.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Smith does this to Gibbs, causing him to be willing to kill anyone who stood in his way.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Even in the "normal" reality, Stealth is still a super badass Action Girl with the same combat skills and Awesomeness 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.
  • Buffy Speak: Madelyn devolved into this when trying to explain to George who Barry is.
    George: That’s not really helpful.
    Madelyn: Give me a break. I’m just a sophomore.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Stealth has to make sure St George isn’t doing this.
    Stealth: Are you attempting to kidnap me?
    George: What?
    Stealth: You are driving in an evasive pattern, to throw off followers. You have not told me our destination. I would be worth a considerable ransom if this was your plan.
    George: The car’s stopped. Your door’s unlocked.
    Stealth: I am aware of that.
    George: I think if you thought I was kidnapping you, I’d be unconscious in the backseat or something like that, right?
  • The Cameo: Madelyn’s roommate turns out to be Banzai.
  • Cassandra Truth: Madelyn attempts to convince George that his nightmares were real and reality was all a dream went downhill as her story became more and more implausible, ending with her being dead and him dating a supermodel.
    • It's contagious: after George and Stealth get their memories back, they try to convince Freedom and Cerberus to (initially) no avail.
  • The Chew Toy: St. George is put through a lot of abuse throughout the series, though it seems to be taken up to eleven in book 4. George himself illustrated it perfectly.
    St George: Is it just me or do I get the crap beat out of me a lot for a guy who’s supposed to be indestructible?
    Stealth: Considering the battles you become involved in, it is not that surprising.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: St. George vs the Cerberus armor.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After jumping out of a sixteen-story window, Stealth asks George for his jacket so as not to attract attention.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Danielle wrote a subroutine into the Cerberus armor to save time and so that it can’t be used against her.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Every now and then, Nguyen’s odd muscle memories start to show up in Smith.
  • Didn't Think This Through: George going to Stealth’s hotel room.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When Smith found out that the Mighty Dragon was still alive and kicking, he thought it was going to be the big chance he’d been waiting for only to discover that after all George had been through he still had a moral code.
    Smith: It would’ve been so much easier if you’d just stayed in your happy place and starved to death, but you’re such a goddamned Boy Scout you make Freedom look bad. And he actually was a Boy Scout. He got his Eagle badge from a senator and everything.
    • There was also him wondering if George is sleeping with Madelyn because she had a crush on him.
  • Evil Is Petty: The NSA ransacks George’s apartment. They also clear the browser history and bookmarks on his computer.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Clines left a set-in-plain-sight clue that Agent Smith and Christian Smith were somehow going to be up to no good together.
  • For the Evulz: It is speculated that this is why Smith killed Doctor Sorensen’s wife and daughter; he doesn't seem to have had anything to gain from allowing them to die.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Christian Nguyen was this to the heroes as seen with the fact that none of them outright killed Christian Smith, but merely disabled her after she took over Nguyen's body.
  • Genre Savvy: The first words out of Madelyn’s mouth when Stealth suggested everyone split up is if she had ever seen a horror movie.
  • Grand Theft Me: Smith did this to Christian Nguyen.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: George (at least subconsciously), not Karen, was the first one to realize that everything is in their heads.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Stealth's father has long since perfected this, which is how he can stay in a hotel surrounded by paparazzi.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Barry attempted this as a joke to Stealth.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: Barry to George when he offered to relieve Freedom.
    George: Want me to carry him for a while?
    Barry: Hey, Him is right here in front of you.
  • Indy Ploy: Stealth’s plan for getting out of the dream world was to have Captain Freedom sucker-punch St. George and throw him out of a window.
  • Innocently Insensitive: The first time Barry and Captain Freedom met upon hearing his name the former mentioned how unimaginative the army was.
  • Insistent Terminology: Madelyn had memory problems, not mental problems.
  • Jerkass: A lot of the parents at the college George works at, much to their children’s embarrassment.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: The climax had George (with some assistance from Zzzap) fight against a brainwashed Lt. Gibbs in the Cerberus suit. The former won and Gibbs lost a leg while the suit was destroyed.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: Due to how hard it was for them contain him the NSA thought George was on something.
    Agent: A lot more of a fight than a guy your size and build should be able to. Especially against guys like these. My friend here thinks you’re on steroids.
    George : No. Absolutely not.
    Agent: You’re way too skinny to be on steroids. My bet was meth.
  • My Greatest Failure: Freedom’s guilt over Project Kyrpton transferred over to the dream world.
  • Never My Fault: George’s Jerkass co-worker Mark nearly killed him due to his carelessness then blamed him for being clumsy.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Played with: if Smith never had Doctor Sorensen’s family killed, Corpse Girl would never have been created, and there wouldn't have been anyone who kept their memories while in the mental prison.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Yes George is Nigh Invulnerable, but he doesn’t know that so he instantly went into shock when Madelyn shot him.
  • No-Sell: George in the rematch between him and Freedom.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Something of a plot point, as no one in the dream world are even capable of identifying zombies by name, which is a major clue that something is wrong.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Averted: Madelyn mentioned having posters of him in her bedroom while telling George the Cassandra Truth causing him to nip their conversation in the bud.
  • Oh, Crap!: George’s reaction after being arrested by the NSA after realizing there is no logical explanation for his actions over the past few days
    • Danielle and Freedom’s reaction when George threw the box with the Cerberus armor in it.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Driver spends most of the book in George's Hyundai trying to communicate using the radio.
  • Police Are Useless: Played with given the fact that no one saw Madelyn shoot George and their training didn’t account for the fact that he was invulnerable, they figured the shooter while shooting multiple times only struck once.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: These start showing up as the heroes start fighting the first level of the alternate world.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: It turns out Smith accidentally did this to Christian Nguyen in Ex-Patriots.
  • 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.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Even George was shocked that his Indy Ploy to get into Stealth’s hotel room worked.
    • Madelyn decision to shoot George, given that until that point she never actually witnessed him being super strong in the alternate world.
  • Right Behind Me: Due to the fact that she wasn’t wearing her mask Christian didn’t recognize Stealth as she was bad mouthing her until she spoke.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Barry did this when he shifted while in a cab.
  • Skewed Priorities: Barry realized he was in a dreamverse after shifting while in a cab his first complaint was that he lost his Weyland-Yutani shirt that was in the trunk.
  • Sex Dressed: After recovering their memories when Stealth went back to her hotel one of the paparazzi mentioned the fact she was wearing the same clothes she’d left in the night before.
  • 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. George even brings up Sherlock Holmes in that conversation.
    • She later combined this with Blindfolded Vision allowing her walk backwards down the street and even stop at the crosswalk by looking at the flow of traffic as she walks.
  • Required Secondary Powers: As Stealth stated, increased strength would be of little use without an epidermis and skeletal structure which could support additional mass.
  • Running Gag: Pistol-Whipping the Magnificent Bastard seems to be Stealth’s go-to move.
  • 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.
    • The Driver trying to communicate using the radio and Morse code is a shout out to Transformers.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Now that Stealth has been brought down to normal it back to this in her on words in the past eight years, she has received over one hundred marriage proposals of a semi-serious nature. Close to seventeen thousand men and women have professed their love for her in e-mails or on various web pages. There have been substantially more declarations of a strictly sexual nature. So she usually stays holed up in the hotel because of this.
    • This in addition to finding out she was saying his name in her sleep was why she became interested in George, because even though he was attracted to her that was secondary to what he wanted to tell her.
  • Spanner in the Works: Madelyn wasn’t affected as much as the others due to her nanites constantly wiping much of her memory, meaning that she forgot she was supposed to forget the real world.
  • Super Gender-Bender: Agent Smith took over Christian Nguyen’s body and combined her abilities with his own to create Christian Smith
  • Tailor-Made Prison: One of these shows up, but instead of a physical one, it's a mental one.
  • Tyke Bomb: Stealth reveals that her father raised her to be this.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This was what helped the heroes figure out they were in a Tailor-Made Prison as all forms of technology from phones, movies, books, songs, cars were at least 5 years old.
  • What Does She See in Him?: This is why Stealth's father let George into their hotel room because he wanted to know why his daughter was saying his name in her sleep.
  • 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.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: This is how Smith got Stealth under his control.
    Smith: I don’t want to die! I don’t! I don’t think you can hold that gun, do you?
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: This how Smith created his Tailor-Made Prison through the combination of his and Christian Nguyen’s powers.

  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Tired of dealing with suspicious islanders Barry mentioned how Japan was fine due to their experience fighting giant monsters. When his guard said that giant monsters weren’t real, he responded that a couple of years ago zombies weren’t real either.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: George did this to Stealth upon first meeting her. Instead of asking where she lived he would talk about nighttime noise levels and invited her to share her own recollections of such issues. Asking about her favorite restaurant, or if she was prepared for the heat, attempting to divine where she lived by asking about things located around the area instead of directly. Though as Stealth notes, he did so without even realizing it, and it never worked regardless.
  • Brought Down to Normal:
    • Cerberus is this as long as she's without her suit of armor. There's even discussion over whether she should have the name or not.
    • This is also happening to the super-soldiers with the exception of Captain Freedom.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Javier thinks that they were sent up to Eden as Sacrificial Lambs, a belief that was enforced by sending Christian Smith out there as well.
  • Fantastic Racism: Madelyn is subject to this from the survivors the island who think she's an ex.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Nautilus rips Madelyn in half. She gets better though.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Nautilus' story starts to fall apart when he mentions that The Mount was built out a film studio. Since neither George, Barry, nor Madelyn had mentioned that, it was a clue that Nautilus knew that L.A. hadn't been nuked and was aware of other survivors.
  • Internal Retcon: Nautilus has rewritten history so he's best friends with the Mighty Dragon and the majority of the world's cities were nuked to contain the ex-virus.
  • Keeping the Enemy Close: Christian Smith works at the Mount. They even sent her to help set up Eden.
  • Kick the Dog: Nautilus uses the children on Lemuria as human shields to keep George and Zzzap in line, knowing that they Wouldn't Hurt a Child.
  • My Greatest Failure: For George it was during a rescue mission to Hancock Park. He came across a victim who panicked upon seeing him and attempted Shooting Superman only for the bullets to ricocheted off of him and kill her.
  • The Peeping Tom: One of the Islanders is a creep who watches Madelyn as she undresses despite the fact she's a teenager.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Cerberus has become one of these thanks to the events of the previous book.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Stealth observes that when they first started working together he unknowingly tried to find out where she lived, but instead of asking directly, he asked about restaurants she visits and stores she shops at, so that he could figure it out by proximity.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: After the first few chapters, the book is pretty neatly divided between St. George and company's adventure on the manmade island Lemuria and Cerberus and company's struggle to defend the Mount's off-site garden Eden. The two plotlines do not intersect at all.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Zzzap said this as they made there way to Lemuria. It was quickly lampshaded.
  • Younger Than They Look: George’s power causes him to age slowly. This is one of the reasons the people on Lemuria initially didn’t believe that he was the Mighty Dragon
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: After hearing that they named their island Lemuria Zzzap expressed his approval. However since the inhabitants didn’t believe they were who they said they were they just told him to shut up.