In this graphic novel, an MIT freshman quickly finds himself immersed in the university’s long-standing tradition of elaborate pranks.
Jim Walden has had aspirations of becoming an astronaut since he was a child. His dream becomes a real possibility once he earns a full-tuition scholarship to MIT. He manages this with a viral video of himself solving a Rubik’s Cube, or at least that’s the effect he hoped to achieve. At MIT, senior Luke Bardolf spots Jim’s video trickery and uses it as blackmail. The university is notorious for student “hacks” (pranks), and each year the best one wins the anonymously bestowed Golden Dome trophy. If Jim doesn’t help fraternity Alpha Zeta Omicron garner its fourth consecutive Golden Dome, Luke will inform MIT of the apparent fraud. Jim accepts the terms though he’s reluctant, especially because, prior to his university admission, he had been kicked out of high school for a prank. He befriends fellow freshman Dexter Garfinkel, a socially awkward nerd who was recruited by AZO so he could do all the “problem sets” (homework) for the pledge class. As the days pass, the pledges pull—and occasionally suffer from—various hacks while Jim acts on his romantic interest in Natalie, a receptionist at a fertility clinic. But devising a trophy-winning hack takes a back seat to Luke’s incessant pranks, some of which blatantly violate MIT’s rules (including the one requiring nondestructive results). He and Jim initiate a prank war that could end up with someone seriously injured—or with Jim once again expelled from school.
This novel from Altes (The Little Book of Bad Business Advice, 1997, etc.) and illustrator Fish (The Misadventures of Adam West, 2015, etc.) is a surprisingly lighthearted tale of college pranks. Altes explains in his introduction that, while the story is set in the smartphone era, some elements coincide with his time at MIT in the 1980s (for example, a lack of women on campus). It gives the book an old-school appeal, reinforced by blond Jim donning a red jacket and resembling James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Fish’s sharp, naturalistic images are gleefully offset by visual jokes, like the AZO trophy case housing a few Eisner Awards (comic-book awards). In the same vein, pranks are generally amusing, especially considering their complexities, and not outright malicious until the hack war begins. That conflict is also indicative of how pranks can go wrong. Altes’ introduction details the potential dangers of hacks as well as fraternity and sorority hazing. As MIT students populate the story, intellectual comedy is in abundance and, thankfully, never highfalutin. For example, when Luke presents the 12-sided Dice of Doom to determine a pledge’s specific punishment, someone wisely notes that, as there’s only one, it should be called the Die of Doom. Subplots give both the narrative and protagonist depth, such as Jim’s attempts to drop off food for the “bridge troll,” a burly, eccentric man who hangs out daily under the Harvard Bridge. Altes’ concluding notes list a wealth of information on Easter eggs and real-life prank inspirations.
An affectionate and entertaining glimpse at a renowned college’s offbeat campus life.