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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

The Legend of Tank Girl (Hardback)


Writer: Alan Martin
Artist: Brett Parson
Publisher: Titan Comics
RRP: UK £44.99, US $49.99
Age: 17+
ISBN: 978 1 78586 464 3
336 pages
Publication Date: 11 September 2018

Between 2016 and 2017, Tank Girl co-creator Alan Martin and artist extraordinaire Brett Parson produced a trilogy of graphic novels – Two Girls One Tank, Tank Girl Gold and World War Tank Girl. These three books comprise the longest continuous Tank Girl story arc to date, involving copious amounts of spilt blood, the resurrection of long-dead characters, a trainload of gold bullion and gallons of fine tea. Now we are bringing that epic story together into one, single, coffee-table-busting tome! Printed in an over-sized format to better appreciate the beautiful full-colour artwork, and packed with dozens of guest artist covers, unseen artwork, and character and vehicle sketches, this is the trilogy as you’ve never seen it before…!

This bumper book collects three recent graphic novels, each of which in turn started out as a monthly four-issue mini-series. Next, Titan will compile the whole of the last decade of Tank Girl’s adventures, and then the entire thirty-year canon… until the sheer weight of the resulting volume causes the Earth to slip from its orbit and drift into deep space. (OK, I made up that last sentence!)

As writer Alan Martin explains in a new introduction, with Tank Girl’s 30th anniversary looming, it felt like the right time to produce something of substance, something epic. The magical ‘power of three’ was present – three vehicle-obsessed girls reunited, three decades to celebrate, three consecutive books – so the idea of a trilogy seemed to fit… and he was right. The first part of the saga was conceived as a tragedy, with a darker tone than usual. The result is Two Girls One Tank

Sometimes people come back into your life. Sometimes they’re not meant to… Get ready for the first volume in a titanic Tank Girl trilogy! When Tank Girl’s tank mysteriously disappears and then turns up with a bogus Tank Girl in the driver’s seat, all hell breaks loose! But the new Tank Girl has a deep, dark, dirty secret… Expect a healthy dose of delirium and plenty of ball-crunching action in this high-octane cross-country skirmish that begs the question: is the world big enough for two Tank Girls…?

In contrast to many of the character’s previous adventures, there’s more of an emphasis here on coherent plotting than just weird stuff going on – which for this series is weird in itself! Tank Girl’s beloved Panzer has been pilfered, so our heroine, together with her allies Booga and Barney, sets out on a scheme to acquire enough ready cash to buy an identical replacement. Meanwhile, the tank itself has come into the possession of high-class gallery owner Magnolia Jones, who soon finds herself falling under the vehicle’s spell and ends up reinventing herself in Tank Girl’s image… This is how we end up with two girls whose lives revolve around (yes, you guessed it) one tank.

It’s quite a big idea, this notion of the essence of Tank Girl somehow being transferred to another person via contact with the tank – or is the tank creating a new driver for itself in the absence of the old one? The reader may wonder whether Tank Girl is being set up to be replaced by a younger version. Such things can happen to long-running comics characters: think of the multiple iterations of the Flash, Robin or Supergirl over the decades, or the temporary replacements for Judge Dredd, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the 1990s. Or is something else going on here? Questions are also raised by the presence of scars on Magnolia’s back and arms – is she into bondage, or is there a more sinister secret in her past…?

Amid all of this plot (and even some pathos), there are fewer laughs than might be expected from this series, though there’s the usual complement of boobs, booze, swearing and explosions, and I did smirk at a remark about being given a juicy tip! The creative team also lighten the load via the use of comical sound effects, such as “Bugger! Bugger! Bugger!”, “Knocky!”, “Brunch!” and “Lunch!”, a visit to a Westworld-style venue (except that instead of cowboys, this theme park is populated by mechanical 1980s rock stars) and a dialogue reference to Pulp Fiction: “This won’t be over until we’ve destroyed every last mother-scrubbing one of them!”

Thankfully, the artwork chores for the complete trilogy are handled by Brett Parson, who is one of my favourite Tank Girl artists (challenged only by the original Jamie Hewlett and his clone Rufus Dayglo), thanks to his particular blend of wackiness and sexiness. Not looking as good as the girls are their various victims – mostly members of the army and police who are chasing after them (including a pair of Dastardly and Muttley lookalikes) plus some others who just happen to get in the way. The body count is high, as lorries explode and the unfortunate Sheriff Wyngarde gets hideously shot to bits.

The story ends on an unusually downbeat note, following a tough fist-fight between the eponymous two girls (during which the c-word is uttered with intense rage), a grim flashback for one of them, and an incredibly gruesome gunshot to the head. Alan Martin really puts his characters through the wringer, and appears to draw some inspiration from the Doctor Who story The End of Time for a dreadful booth-based dilemma faced by Tank Girl at the climax of this tale. This is followed by a dramatic dialogue-free splash page, which captures a moment of stunned and silent disbelief.

Though all hope seems lost as the survivors walk away from the scene, heads bowed, there is still a glimmer of it. As Tank Girl’s pal Jet Girl notes, “That water must’ve been near freezing.” (You’ve seen The Abyss, right?) As Tank Girl’s adversary General Fletcher promises, “This isn’t finished…”

Tankie and her trigger-happy chums are going for gold in an anthology of adventures – the Empire Strikes Back of the Tank Girl trilogy! Picking up where Two Girls One Tank left off, Tank Girl has lost one of her dearest friends, but inadvertently gained billions of dollars’ worth of Nazi gold! What is she going to spend all that money on? Before we find that out, her kangaroo boyfriend Booga must pay a penance by going right up the Furry Road. It’s been swell, and the swelling isn’t going down…

After the deeper and more serious moments of Two Girls One Tank, the writer returns to maximum silliness for the more episodic Tank Girl Gold. This centre section disintegrates into “a blizzard of pastiche, pop-culture references and piss-taking – familiar Tank Girl territory,” as Martin puts it.

The opening episode is entitled Furry Road. Tank Girl fans couldn’t help noticing that the character of Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road was a dead rip-off of (sorry, homage to) our beloved heroine, so it’s only fair that the comics guys should get their own back with this parody. Tank Girl decides that Booga and Barney should be punished for what they have done. Booga must go up the Furry Road, where a tribe of horny women are waiting to give him a very sore knob! Barney’s punishment is even worse – she has to write a 2,000-word letter of apology, with sincerity and without repetition (and probably without hesitation or deviation, either).

At the end of Furry Road, the characters return their attention to the important question of what they’re going to do with all that Nazi wealth – a matter that is well on its way to being addressed in a three-page sepia-toned ‘more money than sense’ Booga and Barney strip that shares the title Tank Girl Gold.

There may be no “I” in team, but there’s certainly a “U” in onslaught! Break out your jockstraps and crash helmets, folks – we’re going full contact for the Tank Girl Gold Super Sports Special…!

Over the next 20 pages, Tank Girl and her buddies come up with further wacky ways to spend their newly liberated lucre. First they invent a new sport, Australian Rules Crennis – a combination of cricket, tennis and just about every other sport you can think of. Then they film a retro science-fiction movie, Safe in Your Spiral Arms. In a callback to Two Girls One Tank, Tank Girl is tracked down by her old army nemesis General Fletcher and his subordinate Captain Godber.

In addition to the above tribute to the sitcom Porridge, there are references to the Star Wars franchise and Mad Magazine. The latter is evident in the fact that the sporting and movie spoofs come to us courtesy of ‘departments’, the Ball’s in Your Court Dept. and the Space Idiodyssey Dept. respectively. I’m not really worried that there isn’t much of a plot to speak of. What – me worry?

It’s time to shift the spotlight as our regular heroine takes a little time out for some well-deserved R&R (that’s robbing and ransacking to you). Get ready for our skull-shattering Jet Girl Special…!

The third phase of this smashing anthology bit takes on a more continuous narrative form with a couple of short strips, I Love Lesley Hornby and the black-and-white One of Our Aircraft is Rubbish, both of which focus firmly on Jet Girl. We witness the closeness of her relationship with Sub Girl, get to experience her peculiar home life, and see three more of her planes than we usually do.

Rest assured, Tank Girl and her other chums do still put in appearances here. In particular, we get to see a lot of Barney (well, that’s what happens when you sunbathe topless), and has Sub Girl returned to her crazy old ways…? There’s even a cut-out diorama super theatre featuring Jet Girl and co!

The Tank Girl Primer is the essential lifestyle guide for all boys and girls of a violent disposition. It’s packed with vim, volatility and verbal abuse! Pick up your copy today – before it gets blacklisted…!

One of Our Aircraft is Rubbish ends on a cliffhanger that leads into the final episode of Tank Girl Gold, The Strange Bombs – though this is not really the conclusion of the adventure, just the end of the middle part of the trilogy. Things are left very much up in the air (which is appropriate, given that one of the missing friends whom Tank Girl must track down is Jet Girl) and ‘to be continued’…

Despite the ongoing storyline, the writer manages to incorporate five character profile pages that might under other circumstances have been tucked away at the back of the book or between strips. They are of minimal relevance to the plot, but we learn, for example, that Barney’s star sign is Librarian and that Sub Girl was Winner of the Under Elevens’ Girl Guides’ Sausage Eating Competition! (It’s not specified whether she was a Girl Guide at the time, or just happened to eat some Girl Guides’ sausages.)

The closing pages of Tank Girl Gold revolve around time travel – which is exciting. I love a bit of that. There’s a fleeting homage to Strontium Dog’s time bombs and another to the Terminator franchise. Though the method of temporal transportation differs greatly from the one used in the latter series (well, I never saw Kyle Reese or Sarah Connor taking magic mushrooms, did you?), it is similar in one important respect. Cue wall-to-wall nudity in World War Tank Girl! I like a bit of that, too…

“We’re coming back for you… just hold on, okay?” It’s the grand finale of Tank Girl’s first ever trilogy, in which Tank Girl and the gang travel back to World War Two, in an attempt to save their strangely haunted friend Sub Girl. New allegiances lead them astray, ending up in a battle of epic proportions. Join Tank Girl, Booga, Jet Girl et al, as they jump the shark, nuke the fridge and give the Third Reich a right good bloody nose! Strap yourselves in, folks, because it’s gonna be one helluva ride…!

As in the Terminator series, our heroes arrive in their new time zone in the buff and need to steal or improvise clothing – though I don’t recall Arnie ever saying, “Please, try not to bleed on your trousers.” Though the friends arrive at the same point in time, they are separated in space, with Tank Girl materialising in a Nazi-occupied village, Barney finding herself aboard an American plane alongside a squad of paratroopers without a parachute (or indeed any other fabric), and Booga setting down in the secret kitchen of the Third Reich’s secret headquarters in the (not secret) Bavarian Alps.

Don’t be too disappointed when our heroes get dressed, because a further temporal trip towards the end of the book results in even more nakedness, with eight pages’ worth of public nudity! It’s mainly boobs and bums, nothing full frontal, but we are offered glimpses of Jet Girl’s and Sub Girl’s pubic hair (it seems that Tank Girl has gone for the full Brazilian) and Booga’s ball sac (if that’s what floats your boat). Yes, there’s plenty for old pervs (like me) to enjoy as Tank Girl and her pals return to the bush. I mean the Australian bush, of course – blimey, you lot have got filthy minds!

The historical setting of World War Tank Girl allows for parodies of films such as The Great Escape and A Bridge Too Far. After insulting a bunch of high-ranking Nazi officers at the Eagle’s Nest hideout in Bavaria, Booga is imprisoned in Coldtitz Castle and vows to escape. He notices a British prisoner emptying dirt from his trouser leg – actually he has just crapped himself, but he is impressed by Booga’s way of thinking! However, can Jimmy the Snitch be trusted…? Well, what do you think? Meanwhile, Barney makes contact with a British officer, Colonel Prentice Merton (who looks like a balding Mark Bonnar). You can tell he’s British, because he wears a bowler hat, smokes a pipe and carries an umbrella. He tells Barney that they must prevent the Germans from blowing up the Bridge at Arndale.

However, the funniest bit for me is when Barney has the idea of sneaking up on the Nazis with the aid of a pantomime horse and a gorilla costume. The result looks like an am-dram production of Planet of the Apes, and it made me laugh out loud.

Tank Girl may be out of her usual time and place, but she’s still a tank girl at heart. As luck would have it, World War Two is a pretty good place to find tanks, and it’s not long before our heroine has captured a German King Tiger. Later, she takes control of an even larger Jagdtiger heavy tank destroyer. Titan’s website describes the genre of this publication as “Action/Adventure / Comedy / Girl Power”, and the latter category has never been more accurate than when Tank Girl is disheartened to find that the US Army has a load of shiny new tanks in the field, but no one to crew them. The troops are down to fewer than a dozen men. “But on the bright side,” says one optimistic female engineer, “we’re sorted if anything breaks down or anyone gets hurt – we’ve got eighty Women’s Army Corps mechanics, and a hundred and fifty nurses!” Tank Girl’s modern mentality sees the obvious solution when the 1940s personnel do not – she crews the tanks with women, taking the Germans well and truly by surprise!

Meanwhile, we learn more about Sub Girl’s double life in Hollywood. The climax of the book pays off on this and numerous other plot elements from across the trilogy, including the Furry Road and Tank Girl’s present-day nemesis General Fletcher. The culmination of the saga leads to a surprisingly satisfying tying up of loose ends – which I won’t spoil for you.

What I will say, though, is that Martin and Parson maintain their seemingly inexhaustible supply of comedy sound effects and exclamations, which this time include “Grint!”, “Gnu!”, “Stuff!”, “Titten!”, “Butter! Butter!” and “Ping! Pong! Poo!” So all in all, this is another successful mission from Titten – sorry, Titan – Comics. With plenty of extreme violence (lots of Nazis getting blown up), bad language (“You f*cking Nazi c*nts!”) and puerile humour (“My buttocks!” cries an American soldier as he is shot and drops a couple of live grenades, “Ah… buttocks fingers!”), this graphic adventure is not for kids, but it should appeal to childish adults – like me!

There is an error in my review PDF, with the first page of the second chapter of World War Tank Girl accidentally replaced by a repeat of a later page. Hopefully this has been fixed in the finished product. Also absent from the preview copy are the comic-book covers, character concept sketches and vehicle designs that are promised in the publicity material, but I am assured (by Alan Martin’s introduction) that they are in there.

Before I go, I must mention the excellent lettering, which is produced not by a separate letterer but by the artist, and is worthy of the great artist / letterer John Costanza himself. Brett Parson, ladies and gentlemen – what a legend!

Boasting one world war, no world cups, several girls and countless tanks, The Legend of Tank Girl adds up to the most entertaining Tank Girl tale I’ve read in quite a while.


Richard McGinlay

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