Tank Boy Tony gives up the search for sense.
There was a point in Tank Girl #2 when it seemed writer Alan Martin had given up on plotting altogether and intended just to throw cultural references into our eyeballs till the tail end of his story could catch up. There’s a point in the first story of issue #3 when the whole thing gets massively meta, the ‘reality’ of the artwork of the comic-book world flickering between styles as two stories unfold simultaneously – the Tank Girl tale of an attempt to steal God’s Underpants from an uber-museum, perhaps beset by treachery on her normally solid team of acolytes, and the sub-story, written into corners and sub-panels, of a revolt on the artistic staff of the comic-book and the gradual decline into dictatorial bonkersness of Martin himself. Whether this works or not depends on how keen you are on meta-fiction, how demanding you want any comic-book to be, and how interesting you find Martin’s anarchic approach to comic-book storytelling.
The actual story being told in the first tale, Valleri, is pretty good – a new recruit to the Tank Girl team may not be all she seems as they embark on the heist of the Eternal Undercrackers. There are plenty of twists, turns, shootings, danglings over impossibly complex security systems and so on. That being so, you begin to wonder whether the sub-story of artistic revolution, which sees the quality of the artwork go deliberately from the pretty cool, brightly coloured and potentially immersive work of Jim Mahfood to a style which is no less clever in its own way, but far less colourful and engaging. It’s almost as if the world of Tank Girl – always fairly surface-driven – shuns the idea of deeper immersion or connection, and is determined to subvert any such notions any damn way it can, to the extent where it goes on the meta-journey of rebellion at the moment when it thinks there might be some sentimentality creeping in to the reader’s attachment to it. That’s particularly mind-boggling in this story, as it ends with the most gut-wrenching emotional kick the series has seen so far – but it does so exactly at the point where Mahfood’s more engaging style of art kicks back in, allowing the feelings to be rendered in the style that suits them. It’s as though the diversion into meta-storytelling and artistic divergence has all been a warning – Yeah, we’re gonna kick you in the cardio-vasculars, but just remember, nothing matters: not the story, not the people, not the art, nothing. Certainly, in the wake of the heart-kicker, there’s little in the way of consequence. There’s a moment of wailing, but then, boom – on to the next thing. As I say, there’s a way to see this as terribly clever and self-reinforcing – the art reinforcing the story’s purpose. It’s the kind of logic of punk – rage and surface as a way of realizing a broader disconnection.
But is it fun?
Meh. It gets a pass, because there’s a strength in the story, and the purpose of the diversion seems clear enough, but there’s a fine line between punky and wanky, and this story stands astride the line, rips back a gusset and takes at least a piss, if not the piss.
The second story in this issue, The Ghost Smell From The Ground, drawn by Craig Knowles, is much more straightforward rage against the machine fare, with Tank Girl and the crew kicking The Man right where it hurts, bombing the holy stuttering fuck out of a mega-mall that replaces their favourite local eatery and rebuilding the original just in time to give Mr Megabucks-Developer a coronary. It’s also comparatively unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve – think Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with a giant one-finger salute to soulless corporate hackism, and you get the picture.
Lovely stuff, and a simpler, less audience-challenging piece than Valleri. Oddly of course, if all Tank Girl was like this, it’d quickly become the stuff of Saturday morning cartoon series, and that would seem never to do, as explained by a punky poetic manifesto that follows the tale, and then somewhat immediately belied by an uber-short, simply comical story about Booga (the talking kangaroo, naturally) investing the gang’s holiday fund in his own brand of breakfast cereal. It’s mostly filler – the strip, not the cereal – but it serves to leaven all the feels of this issue with a bit of pure mess-about comedy. The final story of this issue continues the comedy theme, with Tank Girl channeling her inner Evil Knievel, attempting to jump a shitload of ice-cream trucks in her tank. Another short, probably the most notable thing about it is the artwork from Brett Parson, who delivers grading and shading that will take readers of a certain age back to the comic-books of youth – not the slickness of Marvel and DC, but the action strips of comics like Hotspur and Victor, with a twist of Beano or Dandy about the colours. It’s an unexpected end to the issue, but what’s becoming clearer by the issue is that the one thing you should never do with a 21st Century Tank Girl comic is go into it with expectations. Expectations are likely to meet the unfriendly end of Tank Girl’s turret. So abandon expectations, all ye who enter here – this is a more coherent issue than #2, with stronger storytelling in the first two strips and more out-and-out comedy in the last two, with a couple of shots of pure punk poetry interspersed along the way and a healthy dose of artistic experiment. It feels just a little like it was put together back-asswards, because the experimentation of the first story screams ‘and fuck you too!’ at the reader, while the second shouts a healthy dose of ‘Fuck the man!’ – but hey, nothing else follows convention here, why should the underlying message of the narrative?
It still managed to be more coherent than issue #2, and convinces that it’s more worth your sackful of pennies. Drive your tank to your comic-book store and ask them – nicely (which means not pointing your turret at them) – for 21st Century Tank Girl when it hits the streets.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk