Faith Erin Hicks (of Tor.com fame) and Prudence Shen’s new graphic novel, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, has a bit of everything: nerds, jocks, robots, friendship, drama, and, of course, wanton destruction. It is essentially everything you could want out of a high school story, and perhaps a little bit that you didn’t realize you wanted.
The story begins with a scenario we have, at this point, all encountered in some way or another: a text message break-up. Charlie—the protagonist and gentle, well-meaning basketball star—is in shock. After all, by the natural order of things, he is supposed to be dating the head of the cheerleading squad, but instead, he is being whisked away by his next-door neighbor and childhood best friend, Nate, and harangued for something he has no control over. In fact, Charlie doesn’t have control over much in his life; his parents are divorced and emotionally distant, his closest friend is a lunatic, and now—well, now he’s single.
A fierce rivalry develops between Holly—Charlie’s now-ex-girlfriend and fierce head cheerleader—and Nate—head of their school’s Robotics Club, when funding is put on the line for both clubs. With Student Council deciding who will get the money, the only logical conclusion is to, as Nate says, “be the Student Council.” As cutthroat political campaigns go, this one doesn’t pull any stops. The cheer squad elects Charlie without his consent and uses its popularity and vivaciousness to get him ahead, while Nate launches a smear campaign that can really only end with a punch in the face. It does not, unsurprisingly, go well: both teams are barred from receiving any funding at all. For Charlie, however, things begin to look up.
First, we (and Charlie) get a more thorough introduction to the Robotics Club—a ramshackle group of nerds with a uniting passion for the “baby” they’ve built together. The Twins (who resemble every freaky anime villain ever, times two) offer the team the solution they’ve been waiting for: why not enter their robot in a Robot Rumble and compete for the money they need to go to the robotics competition? Heck, there’s enough money at stake that they could even ask the cheerleaders for an investment and use the remaining winnings for the cheer squad! Surprisingly, Holly agrees on the condition that the cheerleaders go with them to the rumble.
With preparations in full swing, the new group of friends doesn’t waste a single moment in decking out their robot for full-scale war. We’re talking chainsaw teeth, distance attack spikes, and speed, all wrapped up in a cute little buggy-looking container. Joanna, token nerd girl of the comic, loves the robot more intensely than any of the others and can kick ass with it, to boot. Meanwhile, Charlie’s teammates start a party at his house without asking him and he hides out under his bed to read and let it pass over. Nate, in a moment of rare kindness, finds him to tell him that he is “the worst cool kid ever.” Charlie’s problems with his parents have been intensifying and it seems, against all odds, that he has found a sort of family among his bizarre new friends—nerds and cheerleaders alike.
Despite being grounded for “his” wild party, and despite his mother and her new boyfriend’s impending holiday visit, Charlie is up and ready at 3:30am on Thanksgiving morning to drive the crew to the Robot Rumble. Everything is at stake for the two groups and now, with their phones blowing up with angry calls from spurned parents, it seems all the more vital that they win. The first couple of rounds are action-packed and victorious, and though I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that no actual robots were harmed in the making of this graphic novel (as far as I know).
The comic’s end is as sweet and satisfying as the rest of it. Charlie, still as kind and athletic as he was at the start, finally speaks up for himself, and no longer has Nate, Holly, or his parents barreling over him at every moment. He has found friends that care about him, begun to patch things up with his family, and may have even found love in the midst of it all.
I’m not one to miss my teen years much, and I don’t think you’ll find many geeks that do; but, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong reminded me of that great, profound moment when I realized that there were people out there like me, and when the concept of friendship started to morph beyond “people you saw everyday” and into something a whole lot deeper. The story blurs the lines between stupid high school cliques and it gives you a crew of protagonists worth rooting for. It can even drop pop-cultural references without asking to be praised for them.
This comic is as funny, sweet, and crisp as its lineart, and it flat-out feels good to read. If you’ve kept up with Faith’s comics at all on Tor.com, you’ll already know that she has a knack for facial expressions and body language, and NCPGW does not disappoint in this regard. The action scenes are as clean and easy to follow as the rest of them, and the style of it all lends itself perfectly to the simple, but engaging story. She and writer Prudence Shen are a great team, and I can’t help but hope that they collaborate again in the future.
Emily Nordling likes good books, bad TV, and superior tea.