Written by Stephen J. Mitchell
Published by Critical Blast Publishing
Original Hardcover, 206 pages
It’s a book with a lot of potential.
Bulletproof: Origins is pretty much what you would expect in the way of the common elements you find in all of the superhero origin stories: the unexpected hero, the “guy in the chair” with the tech wizardry, the love interest, the older teacher/mentor, and a villain who works for a bigger villain.
Kody Haywood is a typical underachieving teen. Short attention span, likes to joke around when things get uncomfortable, and he’s awkward when he does it. ADHD? Autistic? Not sure, but I recognize this kid. He’s very much like another kid I know, so even though I’m not the target age group for this book, I could identify with Kody in a way. He’s bright, but doesn’t apply himself. He’s unfocused unless it’s something that really matters to him. His friends are outcasts and misfits like him.
OK so far.
Kody’s also the target of the school bully, Brett Walker, who also happens to be the star athlete. It’s a trope that doesn’t feel fresh here, mainly because it’s been done to death. Of course, since it happens a lot in real life, there’s really no getting around it when you write a story set in high school. Besides, the football star isn’t going to be participating in scrimmage during a regular P.E. class. Mitchell tries too hard to set up the animosity between Kody and Brett, and it feels like it’s there because the trope calls for it to be there. And while it plays into a situation later in the book, it also feels contrived for the sake of setting up a larger arc for later books.
The bullying from Brett is what gets everything started, as Kody starts to realize that physical altercations don’t cause him any pain. With his 12-year-old genius best friend Gene (more on him in a bit), Kody figures out that somehow he’s indestructible. When his other best friend Callie gets upset that he fights the bullies instead of walking away, he tries to make peace and ends up getting shot by Callie’s alcoholic father. Only it’s dark, and no one actually sees clearly, and Kody figures out he’s bulletproof.
Naturally, he decides to become a superhero.
With Gene’s help, and using the aikido training from Shihan Toshihro, Kody sets out to start fighting crime, working at street level with the plan to build up to the bigger stuff. Only things go sideways pretty quickly, as Kody finds himself the target of a global terrorist, who has more than a passing interest in the reason Kody’s bulletproof.
Overall, it’s not a bad book. It’s an easy read, but there are places where it could have used another pass from the editor. Some bits just don’t play out as smoothly as they could, and the prologue is completely unnecessary, effectively ruining the mystery of Kody’s power right from the start. Younger readers aren’t really going to notice, maybe? For the most part, these kids seem to be like most kids that I’ve encountered — they focus on things that aren’t necessarily important in the grand scheme of things, but they’re important in the moment.
Perhaps the most unrealistic, and mostly irritating, character is Gene. Boy genius, latchkey kid whose parents are never home, he’s able to hack into satellites, build a hoverboard, etc. etc. This is Wade from Kim Possible, an exaggerated “man in the chair” figure who can do too much with too little too easily. Every time Gene showed up, it almost bounced me out of the story. Made my teeth grind. Mainly, if you have this kind of character, than all of your characters need to be this way — the heightened versions, if you will. James Bond, Kim Possible, Bruce Wayne… they all live in an exaggerated space, and they’re ensemble of characters do as well. But when the rest of your setting feels like Anytown, USA, with a lack of any exaggeration at all, the boy genius sticks out.
It mostly works as an origin story, and it clearly sets up a bigger story with regard to Kody’s parents, the evil Khan and his enforcer, and other characters that could prove to be complications in Kody’s life.
This is the type of book I would toss at my teen, and he would probably enjoy it. It moves quickly enough to be easy to read, it doesn’t get bogged down in its own world-building, and it’s not too complicated a plot that someone with a short attention span couldn’t keep up. If you’ve got a finicky reader who likes genre, this might be a good alternative to having his nose in a mobile device all day.