Archive for the ‘Sidekick’ Category

How to build a real life superhero costume on the cheap


Writing superhero fiction is a tricky thing. The tech possessed by heroes tends to need to be more fantastic than what we have in real life, simply for convenience in storytelling. After all, why worry about realism in a world where people can fly and shoot laser beams out of their eyes?

But you also have to keep things somewhat grounded in reality. The suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and eventually you can reach a point where a reader’s mind calls bullshit on you. I push that limit a lot with Bobby’s gear in the Sidekick series and have been called on it. Readers will accept anti-grav boots, but bulletproof boxer shorts? Get real.

The idea of a costume to conceal a crime fighter’s identity dates back to 1936 when Lee Falk created the Phantom, arguably the first modern “masked man” vigilante. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented the modern superhero with Superman in the 1938, they dressed him in a sideshow strongman’s outfit to stress his strength and added a cape to allow fluidity of movement in their art. Then with Bill Finger’s designs for Batman in 1939, the idea of a functional themed costume became reality. These costumes served their purposes and set the standards for creators like me to this day.

So I was thinking recently, what if I wanted to create a superhero outfit today? Something that would make it easier for a person, should he or she be so inclined, to go out and fight crime in their spare time. Granted, intense training would be required and a budding superhero would be most effective in peak physical condition, but there would still be weaknesses that the costume would need to help.

DISCLAIMER. This post is for entertainment purposes only. I am not suggesting anyone out there actually try being a superhero. It’s dangerous. Do not sue me if you do something stupid.

The Head

Most superheroes wear masks, thanks to Lee Falk, but a mask alone is not sufficient protection today. We don’t have comic book tech to help us, so we need real life possibilities.

Let’s start with a helmet. The Premier Crown JCR100 Riot Duty Helmet offers a lot of neat features and will withstand some pretty nasty blows. It also offers enough room for some of the features we will be adding to it.

opplanet-armasight-dark-strider-night-vision-scope Instead of a mask, why not go with something functional as well as disguise worthy? I chose the ESS Profile NVG Military Goggles from Safety Glasses USA. Good eye protection, and the tinted lenses will also keep your eyes from being recognized. Eventually, however, you might want to replace these with the new Israeli Lightweight Night Vision Goggles when they become available. Until then, if you need night vision, try the Armasight Dark Strider Gen 1+ Night Vision Binocular (pictured), which seem to be the least bulky option.

north-7700mask You’ll also need something over your lower face. The North 7700 Half Mask will hide your nose and mouth, provide some protection against pepper spray and tear gas, and also help distort your voice if you need to speak. Remember, the bad guys you will be up against will not have any delusions of being honorable and obeying laws against certain anti-personnel weapons, so get the most protection you can.

Finally, there is room under the helmet for earphones, so try something like Kinivo BTH220 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones linked to a cellphone stashed safely away so you can stay in constant communication. And since you won’t want to call the cops with your real number, go with the Burner app!

The Body

Why does Batman have a big yellow target on his chest? Because that’s where he’s the most protected. Yeah, the super-cool lycra suits artists like to draw might look good, but unless you are nigh invulnerable, they’re worthless. Body armor is the way to go.

The best bet is to get everything you need in one handy kit: the M2100 Disturbance Control Kit. It provides you with a vest, shin pads, forearm guards, and groin protection with a nifty carrying bag. Its vest isn’t bulletproof, however, so you’ll want a ProMAX Concealable bulletproof vest to go underneath everything. And when it’s warm outside, you may want to add a personal cooling system to your gear.

The Feet

I’m going to assume speed is of the essence, instead of some specialized need like climbing, so I selected the Timberland PRO Mudsill Low Steel Toe from Zappos. Steel toed protection, lightweight, and traction. Good running shoes for when you’re chasing down the bad guy.

Weapon and Tools

You will need some kind of weapon when facing down a supervillain. The one I decided upon doesn’t come stock, and will need some gadgeteering on your part to work perfectly.

taser-c21 Start with a Taser. You’ll probably want two: one with cartridges that you can stash in your utility belt (see below) and one that you are going to jury-rig into your glove to deliver a trademark Knock-Out Punch!

Wire the leads into the glove that you will wear on your dominant (punching) hand. Wire one lead to a steel band lined with a ceramic center worn over your index finger like a ring, and the other to an identical band around your little finger. This way it’s unlikely the two electrodes will come into contact accidentally, and the ceramics will provide extra insulation to protect you.

Then wire the trigger into a button you can easily reach with your other hand. When you go to deliver your punch, squeeze the trigger with your other hand as you deliver the blow. Pow! Incapacitated villain for about 30 seconds; more than enough time to secure the evildoer.

Speaking of which, you’ll want some disposable zip-tie handcuffs to secure your villain while he waits for the police to arrive. Always keep a few on you.

Add in the usual necessaries like a flashlight, first aid kit, and an energy bar or two all held close to you by a freakin’ Ninja Utility Belt!

Finishing it off

Over top of all this, you’ll want the actual costume. Sure, you can be gaudy and decorative, but if you’re more into function than style, you can’t beat some flame-retardant coveralls. If you must, add on a cape, too

The Bottom Line

So how much will all this cost? Not as much as you might think! I’ve been keeping a running total, and everything in this entry can be purchased today for under $2,500.00. That’s allowing you $200.00 for the outer costume and cape. If you want to pick up a prepaid burner cell phone that you can swap SIMs in, add on an extra $30 to $700 depending on how nifty you want it to be. I suggest cheap because going into battle with the baddies will tend to take its toll on electronics.

Again, I don’t recommend going out and fighting crime on your own. But from a writer’s standpoint, it is nice to know it’s possible, and not just for a millionaire playboy!

Something for the Fans


I’ve gotten a couple of tweets sent my way from parents whose kids enjoyed Sidekick. It still boggles my mind that there are people out there who are not only reading the words I wrote, but are apparently hooked on it.

Right before Sidekick came out, I posted a Prologue here on the blog to set the scene for readers, offering some action that took place in the days leading up to the start of the book.

As we wait for Brothers in Arms to come out some time in the new year (sorry, it took me longer to finish than I would have liked), there are going to be some readers who will get antsy waiting. There are probably a few who are already antsy because the first chapter of Brothers in Arms was included in Sidekick.

I had considered writing a new prologue for Brothers in Arms and posting it here, but there are some problems with that idea. First off, the prologue for Sidekick already existed; it was a scene that was drastically cut down from the first draft that I did a quick polish on to post here. I don’t have anything like that for Brothers in Arms, so I’d have to write something from scratch.

And if I’m going to write something from scratch, I want to make sure it gets into the hands of those who appreciate it, and are willing to work for it. In short, I want to make sure it gets into the hands of the book’s fans.

So here’s what I’m proposing. If you want a sneak peek into what’s happened to Harbor City in the 18 months Bobby’s been away, write me a letter. No, not an E-mail, not a Facebook message, an actual letter. Send it to me care of my publisher:

Pab Sungenis
c/o Month9Books
4208 Six Forks Road Suite 1000 10th Floor
Raleigh, NC 27609

Everyone who writes will, I promise, get a personal letter back from me with something special: a drabble I plan to write in the next couple of days featuring a scene from the point of view of the kid who will become the Squire. That’s right. Bobby’s getting a sidekick of his own, and you can be one of the first people outside of my publisher and critique partners to get to know this character, and do so in a unique way.

And while I love and appreciate my adult readers (since I’m also an adult reader of YA fiction), I especially want to hear from actual kids who have read the book. So if you’re under 21 and you write me a letter, I’ll include a signed autograph sticker you can put in your copy of Sidekick, and maybe something else cool, too.

Some fine print for those who are as paranoid about their privacy as I am (or more): I may share some of what you say along the line, but I will never, ever, ever reveal your full name or address to anyone. Ever. I swear. All I will ever use your address for is to send you swag. It will not be sold, given, or even whispered to anyone else.

So I hope to hear from you readers out there. Happy New Year.

“Sidekick” Audio Commentary: Chapter 7, “Retrenchment”


In which Bobby has a fight with a supervillain, then with his guidance counselor. He also finds a new weapon and a new/old nemesis.

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“Sidekick” Audio Commentary – Chapter 6, “A Never Ending Battle”


Bobby has a heart to heart with Mister Mystery about his responsibilities (especially to himself) and has an interesting interlude with Sarah in the gym.

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North Carolina Comicon!


Ill be atWe’re just a couple weekends away from North Carolina Comicon, and I’m thrilled to announce I will be attending and signing books!

I’ll have plenty of copies of Sidekick for those of you who haven’t gotten your copy yet, as well as a slew of my other stuff. I’ll be happy to chat, answer questions, pose for pictures, and so on.

As a special treat for readers of the blog, the first several (depending upon how many copies I can burn before then) people who tell me “Bobby sent me” will be surreptitiously slipped a copy of the Sidekick Soundtrack. And if you’re really nice, I might let you read the first couple chapters from Crush Story.

youarehereI’m not going to be the easiest person to find at Comicon; I’m stuck way in the very back of the very back of the venue. I will be in Hall “A,” the smaller of the two exhibition halls, at table A4 as indicated in the picture to your right. I will try to make it worth the trip. Promise.

As for signings, here’s my basic policy. If I wrote it (or part of it, if the paperback edition of Very Superstitious is available in time), I will sign it. You do not have to have bought it from me. You do not need to buy it at the table. I will sign it. If I did not write it, I will not sign it.

I’m looking forward to this visit! Please come on out and see me.

The War on (Fictional) Marriage


It seems like one can’t type the words “DC Comics” without having to use the words “stupid idea” close by. But the latest stupid idea from DC is getting media attention for all the wrong reasons.

This morning the two writers on DC’s Batwoman book announced they were leaving the title because the editorial staff forbade the title character from marrying her female lover (the much more interesting character, Maggie Sawyer). The revelation of this decision by the Powers that Be has started the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the majority of complainers have it all wrong. Homophobia didn’t enter into it. DC Comics is just against marriage.

All marriage.

Before the series of reboots, starting in 2005 with Infinite Crisis and culminating two years ago with the “New 52” the DC Universe was full of happily married people. Superman finally married Lois Lane in the late 1990’s. Three generations of Flashes all had wives to whom they were devoted. Ralph and Sue Dibney were a comics version of Nick and Nora Charles: a married couple who solved mysteries together. True, there were some exceptions. Batman showed no interest in getting hitched to anyone but that’s just the way Bats is, and Green Lanterns in particular had less than spectacular histories with loved ones but at least they made an attempt.

No longer. With history wiped (almost) clean in this last reboot, Clark and Lois are no longer together. Barry (Flash) Allen is not married to Iris West. Every long-standing romantic relationship is turned on its head unnecessarily. And DC hardly deserves all the blame for this trend. After all, Marvel started it.

But comics aren’t the only culprits in this war on fictional marriage. I myself have been a willing participant.

When Sidekick was picked up by its wonderful publisher editorial changes were obviously going to follow, and the first change that was made by mutual agreement was that of Bobby’s marital status. The original ending to the book included Sarah accepting a marriage proposal from Bobby, and the epilogue showed them almost a year later as a married couple. When the publisher told me they wanted a sequel to be published a year after Sidekick hit the shelves, I immediately told my editor that I wanted to rewrite the last two chapters to take out the marriage so I could keep the romantic entanglement between the two characters as a plot thread in later books.

Imagine my surprise when I found out the marriage was at the top of the lists the publisher wanted changed, but for different reasons. Their argument was that teens would have a hard time identifying with a married character. I truly had never thought of that, and I don’t necessarily agree with the idea. If it hadn’t been for the needs of a second book in the series (which also led to the decision to de-age Bobby by a year) I might have fought the decision. In the end, it was the right choice, and it did open up new avenues for the characters as the story continues.

But now I wonder what if I hadn’t made the decision, or agreed with an editorial change, to wipe out Bobby’s marriage? True, most of the plot of Brothers in Arms (no spoilers) would have worked out differently but I couldn’t honestly say it wouldn’t have been possible. The plot complications that I threw into their romance wouldn’t have been as simple but married couples have complications all their own. In literary terms, it’s no more a challenge to have a married couple cope with challenges in their home life than to have two lovers face romantic entanglements. And it would probably involve fewer sex scenes, which would keep the books from getting banned as often.

It’s not even just a question of YA characters marrying, proposing, or even considering marriage. My buddy over at The YA Dogtown recently had a great article about how YA really gives parents the shaft. The YA landscape is littered with the remains of divorces, dead parents, or absent parents. There are logical reasons for not featuring parents too prominently in YA literature, but at least their presence should be acknowledged. And there’s no reason why a YA protagonist should be automatically be excluded from having two parents (of either gender, I’m not picky) in a happy, or at least functional, marriage.

No, as far as my own decision to keep Bobby single, je ne regrette rien. It was right for the character and it made for a better story. But looking at a larger picture, I do have to wonder what kind of message are we sending to teens about the institution of marriage? When people are fighting for the right to get married, are we perhaps discouraging teens from even thinking about making their relationships permanent somewhere down the road?

Something to think about.

“Sidekick” Audio Commentary – Chapter 5 – “Clothes Maketh the Man”


Picking up the pace a little here with the commentaries. In this chapter, Bobby gets ready for school, suffers through a talk with his guidance counselor, then suits up for action!

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“Sidekick” Audio Commentary – Chapter 4 – “Big Shoes”


Bobby contemplates his new role, and seeks advice from a good friend.

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“Sidekick” Audio Commentary – Chapter 3 – “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”


At long last, the audio commentary resumes as Bobby gets the job offer.

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Don’t “flatter” yourself


The other day I came across a blog entry from author P.T. Dilloway which all but accused me of plagiarism because I called my hero the Scarlet Knight, and so did he.

Basing the title for his entry on the old chestnut that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he proceeds to tear Sidekick a new one essentially because he’s annoyed that I dared use the same hero name as he.

“Anyway,” Dilloway gripes, “I think what annoyed me the most by the end is there’s no fucking reason he had to call his character the Scarlet Knight.”

Actually, yes, there was. I’ve discussed that before. The “Scarlet Knight” is an homage to a failed sitcom project I undertook with Kris Leeds back in 2004. When I started writing the book I knew I wanted Bobby’s powers to be technology based and not a result of mutation, meta-genetics, or some other weird origin. I wanted his powers to be relatively believable for a teenager. Plus I wanted him to have a big, honking sword. So I took a name that I’d used before for a hero.

My manuscript (then called Squire) was finished on November 29, 2009. Draft manuscript was picked up by my publisher in March, 2012. Final edits were done in the summer of that same year, long before Dilloway’s book hit the shelves. The appearance of both of our books in that short space of time is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence. And had mine hit the bookshelves before you, I wouldn’t have any right to gripe, either, because it’s a coincidence.

He continues: “[T]he name was just some random name the author picked that could have come from some superhero name generator.”

Not really. For this one you have to blame my buddy Jeffe Boats. When he read and critiqued our spec script in 2004, he suggested changing the hero’s name to “Scarlet Knight” from the original “White Knight,” because otherwise people might think he was a Klansman.

Anyway, the only people who have a right to bitch about either of us using that name are the Rutgers Athletic Department. They predate both of us.

Next: “It is slightly gratifying in an evil way to see it only has 1 Amazon review and a lower rating on Goodreads than mine.”

Well, I hate to say this, but Goodreads (while a wonderful social forum for book lovers) is not a way to judge quality. It’s too easy for someone to game ratings there. I’ve seen ratings for books that haven’t even been published yet, so it’s quite obvious that those ratings aren’t actually from readers. Goodreads can help you find your next book by helping you find people with similar tastes and seeing what they said about what’s out there, but you can’t go by star ratings.

As for Amazon, in the end it’s not reviews that matter but the bottom line. As of this writing, Dilloway’s A Hero’s Journey is ranked #416,374 in the Kindle store. Sidekick is at #158,487. I also have A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Columbine ranking in at #197,265. The only book of mine that Dilloway is currently outselling is the three year old Go To Hell. Those numbers will change and fluctuate, of course. But do not count number of reviews as the end-all-be-all.

Moving on, Dilloway says “Like pretty much all other superhero novels I’ve read, his is aimed at the mainstream people who still associate superheroes with Adam West’s Batman. He’s the Joel Schumacher to my Christopher Nolan in that I tend to take a grittier take on it.”

Actually, I prefer to think of myself as more Denny O’Neill to his Grant Morrison, but I’ll take the comparison as read.

The main problem with this comparison is one basic fact that too many writers overlook.

“Superhero” is not a genre!

It’s a character type. At best it’s it’s a category. Batman stories are not the same type of stories as Green Lantern stories, or Hulk stories, or Legion of Superheroes stories. They are aimed at different readers, different audiences, and different tones.

Sidekick is not a superhero story. It’s a young adult coming of age story where a boy finds his place in the adult world and tries to juggle responsibilities. Bobby’s being a superhero is secondary. That was just how I chose to develop the story. And Brothers in Arms is a young adult story about coping with loss and adjusting to fatherhood. It’s just that this new father wears high-tech longjohns and fights crime.

Dilloway’s A Hero’s Journey is an adult noir thriller with urban fantasy overtones. There is nothing wrong with that. But it’s a completely different type of story from the one I told. The two can’t be compared. Sidekick could not have been written as an adult thriller. The story would not work. And A Hero’s Journey could not have worked as a young adult novel as written. The two books deserve to be judged on separate terms.

One last topic to touch on, and while I’ve saved it for last it’s the first paragraph in Dilloway’s article. “There are a lot of books out there where I read them and say, ‘Jeez, how did this ever get published?’ Followed closely by ‘How did this [expletives deleted] get published and my book can’t?!’ There is a somewhat similar form of professional jealousy when you read a book that involves similar material to yours and while that book might be more popular you can’t help thinking, ‘OMG, this sucks!'”

I often feel the same way. I felt it myself recently. But the basic question of “how did this ever get published?” I’ll tell you in one word. Persistence. Okay, a second word. Synchronicity.

I spent over two years shopping Sidekick. I sent out 112 queries during that time. This was the nicest response I got:

I think you have a fun premise, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite find myself connecting with the narrative as I would have liked, and I’m just not confident enough that I’m the one to make this stand out in such a competitive marketplace.

What happened is that along the way I’d done some networking. I worked with my friends at YALitchat to fine tune the query and pass it past a couple of agents there. When Month9Books was just starting up, one of the founders remembered my discussion of the manuscript and asked for it. That led to the sale and publication.

Publishing is a very competitive business, and a lot of it is timing. Sometimes good manuscripts get squeezed out by the success of something else. If I’d written Mall Bats a year before Stephanie Meyer published Twilight instead of a year after, for example, I might have had a better chance of selling it. Instead, Meyer’s creations saturated the market for vampire novels and a quirky one like mine just didn’t fit in. So Mall Bats will probably sit in the bottom of my virtual desk drawer forever because the timing was wrong.

To be honest, Dilloway’s A Hero’s Journey is not a bad book. He’s a good writer. And if he tries his hand at Young Adult I will happily refer him to my publisher. But the lesson is not to wallow in professional jealousy. Keep writing, keep pitching, keep networking. The cream really does rise to the top, although sometimes it takes longer than we would like.