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Graphic Novel Review
Back in the driver’s seat… After a break of 20 years, Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett has returned! His first comic work in decades is crazy, revolutionary, mind-altering and beautiful. In 21st Century Tank Girl, Jamie rejoins writer Alan Martin and six other artists (some Tank Girl stalwarts, some newcomers) to produce a book of epic stupidity. This is Tank Girl for a new age. Get your head down, put your hands over your private parts, and prepare for a relentless onslaught of comic strips, pin-ups, poems, short stories and needless random carnage…!
Don’t get too excited about the inclusion of Jamie Hewlett’s name in the product information, because he contributes just one comic strip and a handful of pin-ups to this graphic novel, which collects the recent three-issue anthology series 21st Century Tank Girl.
The Hewlett strip is Space is Ace, which opens this volume. Tank Girl may be in space rather than on the ground and in her tank, but apart from that it’s situation normal. Her spaceship is shaped like an enormous penis, which ‘docks’ with a crack-shaped cave in a hillside. That should give you some idea of the tone! Sadly, Space is Ace is over in the space of six pages.
Never mind, though, because the 13-page strip Nanango ’71 is brought to us by the decidedly Hewlett-esque style of Brett Parson. His pages are characterised by a sepia-toned look, which gives the impression of a comic that’s been around since the Seventies – though things do get more colourful during a psychedelic dream sequence. There is some confusion as to whether Booga is supposed to be collecting a five grand or a five million dollar fee for the delivery of a vintage car to a bloke called Bill Shakespeare (cue some Shakespearean references), but then narrative logic is hardly the name of the game in this violent chase narrative, which feels not dissimilar to a Jason Statham movie.
Parson also provides The Runny Man, and the short and sweet Super Crunchy Booga Flakes and Viva Tank Girl (more on that story later). The Runny Man is a spoof of the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man, featuring host Donny Ostrich and a cannibalistic Nazi with the sniffles.
Believe it or not, Space is Ace and Nanango ’71 are fairly conventional – by Tank Girl standards – compared to the next story. Tank Girl and Jet Girl (and, I dare say, Alan Martin speaking through them) have a good old rant about getting old and young people’s assumed sense of worth in the single-page You’re Young Now, But You Won’t Be For Long, which features eccentrically misshapen characters drawn by Jim Mahfood. I think Jet Girl speaks for many of us when she says, “Everybody’s young nowadays, everybody. It’s f***ing boring. So don’t wave your youth in my face like it’s something you’ve earned, something you’ve strived for, something you’ve achieved. Because it isn’t. That bullsh*t might’ve worked for all the little sh*ts in the Fifties and Sixties, but it doesn’t wash with me now.” Getting old is the new cool, apparently. Amen to that. (I am wearing slippers as I type this.)
Mahfood also offers the longer strip Valleri. Indeed, at 16 pages this is the longest story in the book, as Tank Girl and chums embark upon an ambitious scheme to steal a valuable historical artefact – God’s underpants, no less. Despite Mahfood’s scratchy and sketchy penmanship, the trimmings are very much in the classic Hewlett mould, with extraneous little characters popping up here and there to salute ye ol’ party gods or admire Tank Girl’s butt.
Next up is Sundrenched Martian Superholiday, which is not so much a comic strip as a series of one-page text stories, memories from Tank Girl about her life and those of her friends, each accompanied by a full-page illustration by Jonathan Edwards. As for the relevance of the title, your guess is as good as mine!
Other such character pieces include the two-page Tank Girl Tactics & Booga Manoeuvres. Illustrated by Philip Bond, this comprises a set of six battle tips, including “Attack From Behind” and “Never Reveal Your Identity” – the latter of which features a nice nod to a famous line from Dad’s Army.
Do you see a Seventies theme emerging? It continues in the ten-page Journey to the Centre of the Tank, which boasts cameo appearances by the likes of Little and Large, pupils from Grange Hill, Frank Spencer, Rod Hull and Emu, and the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker versions of Doctor Who, plus a fleeting reference to Muskie the muskrat from Deputy Dawg. Appropriately enough, Jonathan Edwards’s artwork is highly reminiscent of a kids’ cartoon, with Tank Girl looking not unlike the animated version of Karl Pilkington during moments of confusion. Our heroine ventures further inside her tank than she has ever done before as she searches for armaments, revealing a TARDIS-like realm of unexplored inner space. A couple of years ago, Doctor Who made a Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, and I think that show may have been a source of inspiration for Alan Martin as much as Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, as evidenced by the fact that Tank Girl has to speak her real name as a password (we don’t get to hear it), just as the Doctor had to do in another episode from 2013. Tank Girl’s typical approach to finding stuff is rather like my own within my cluttered flat: “I usually just skim whatever I need off the surface layer, and if it’s not immediately to hand I go and buy a new one. Not a good way to live, admittedly, but it’s so hard to keep up with life sometimes.” This really speaks to me!
With artwork by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, which is rather in the misshapen style of Vic Reeves, Easy is the antithesis of the text-based items in this collection. Here our leading lady sets out to rescue her friends from some bad guys, without a single line of dialogue ever being uttered. Sound effects are all we get: trundle trundle trundle… vrrrr… BOOONFF… RUDDAH RUDDAH RUDDAH…
Tank Girl and co tackle the eradication of local corner shops by all-powerful supermarkets (in the shape of Ball-Mart) in the four-page The Ghost Smell from the Ground. Artist Craig Knowles may give his characters Ren & Stimpy style squinting or sad eyes, and our heroes may use Hanna Barbera-inspired call signs (such as “Boo-Boo to Yogi… the picnic is in the basket”), but this certainly isn’t kids’ stuff – as the vomit-inducing stink bombs prove all too vividly.
The collection goes out on a high, with Viva Tank Girl. This is the funniest strip in the book, being the only one to actually make me laugh out loud – when Tank Girl’s attempt to jump over 37 ice-cream vans in her tank does not go entirely according to plan: “Whoops! Sh*t! B*ll*cks! Oh dear.” Artist Brett Parson has proven to be very much the star illustrator of 21st Century Tank Girl, rendering sizeable chunks of this volume, including some very sexy posters. More from him, please.
In addition to the above, there are several pages of content that is exclusive to this graphic novel. This includes a new introduction by Alan Martin, a page of rather funny jokes (example: Why didn’t the sesame seed leave the casino? Because it was on a roll!), a chance to colour in Tank Girl’s phallic-shaped rocket ship and to join the Church of Booga (complete with official certificate), and some Tank Girl themed bumper stickers (note: not actually sticky). On a similar note to Tank Girl Tactics & Booga Manoeuvres, Obtuse Ideologies comprises a dozen cut-out-and-keep cards, offering inspiration for those moments in life when you can’t decide which way to turn – with philosophical gems such as “Shoot the Smallest Guy”, “Don’t Be Afraid to Display Your Hairy Parts” and “Give Up”. There are also a couple of short stories. In Giraffe, illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, a stoned Booga recalls a gruesome incident with a certain long-necked animal. Accompanied by a Brett Parson illustration, The Name of Tank Girl picks up on a plot thread from Journey to the Centre of the Tank, turning upon the question of the heroine’s original given name.
Fending off all threats, Tank Girl is alive and well hard, well into the 21st century.