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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

Tank Girl
Action Alley (Paperback)


Writer: Alan Martin
Artist: Brett Parson
Publisher: Titan Comics
RRP: UK £13.99, US $16.99
Age: Mature readers
ISBN: 978 1 78586 481 0
104 pages
Publication Date: 13 August 2019

“This surely is some singularly oddball activity…” The action-packed opening to Tank Girl’s first ever ongoing comics series, from creator Alan Martin and outstanding artist Brett Parson. When Tank Girl gets some bad news, the gang races across the country to make it to her ailing (adoptive) mother. But their journey, in the newly christened Tankmaster, leads them right through Action Alley – a place full of wild, insane creatures and dark, evil forces. Join Tank Girl, Booga and the rest of the team on another thrilling misadventure…

This collection compiles the opening four issues of Tank Girl’s first ongoing comic-book series – though, if you’ve been following her adventures in graphic novel form, you might not actually notice the increased frequency of her releases, since the schedules have been packed fairly solidly with them over the last couple of years, thanks to Titan.

Aware that he now has a broader canvas to fill, writer Alan Martin (working from a storyline he conceived with his wife Lou) introduces several competing plot strands in the opening chapter of Action Alley. Booga brings home a proper kangaroo (as opposed to a humanoid one like himself – Brett Parson’s always appealing images remind us just how unlike a real roo Tank Girl’s boyfriend is). Meanwhile, Zulu Dobson has constructed a huge, 12-wheeled fighting vehicle called the Tankmaster, which still needs running in, and Tank Girl receives an upsetting text message from the woman who raised her.

The Tankmaster resembles the Landmaster from the 1977 post-apocalypse movie Damnation Alley. The enormous vehicle is even bigger on the inside, which surprises Tank Girl – though really it shouldn’t, because her own tank possesses a similarly spacious interior, as was established in 21st Century Tank Girl. Dobson’s rationalisation of this phenomenon manages to combine Father Ted’s “Small or far away?” explanation with the Fourth Doctor’s “Which box is larger?” demonstration from Doctor Who: The Robots of Death.

This saga isn’t a reboot, so it is best approached with some knowledge of recent developments in Tank Girl’s world. The pages contain cross-references to 21st Century Tank Girl and Tank Girl All Stars.

With Tank Girl temporarily out for the count, her female friends – Sub Girl in particular – come to the fore as the action heroes of the second episode. It is Sub Girl who decides that they should risk a shortcut through the irradiated wasteland that is Action Alley when Barney is all for bottling out, and it is she who fends off some ape-like attackers with a chainsaw when Barney foolishly winds down a window. Barney acquits herself far less favourably, at one point ready to write off Tank Girl as a goner.

Following some flashbacks to an impoverished and monochrome childhood (which go some way towards explaining why she ended up being such a badass), Tank Girl does eventually wake up. She soon wishes she hadn’t bothered, though, as the situation for herself and her team gets considerably worse…

Alan Martin has said of the ongoing series that, “We get to invent a complex and detailed universe for Tank Girl and her friends to occupy, but it has to be done with humour, not in the generic style of a po-faced movie producer.” Nevertheless, things do get decidedly generic during the third chapter as our heroes, after being intimidated by savages, are accepted by them and taken to their leader – how many times has that happened in an adventure story? Along the way, Booga repurposes a famous line from Planet of the Apes, and the mutants’ wise elder directly quotes Slartibartfast from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when he tells Tank Girl that “My name is… not important.” Then things get rather plot-heavy, as we learn what the unethical Marsofu company has been putting in its burgers (no, it isn’t human beings).

“Thirty years since she sprang to life,” continues Martin, “and now we find ourselves at the crack of a new dawn for Tank Girl. Characters and stories will carry more weight! More depth! And more stupidity!” We certainly get more weight and depth in this story, but I would have liked a bit more stupidity. There are some quirky character moments, such as Jet Girl and Sub Girl’s inappropriate excitement at the prospect of a holiday, or Barney putting her own spin on Tank Girl’s battle cries, vowing to “go down farting” and “take no pensioners”, as well as the visual humour of a Smegma branded fridge, but there are precious few big laughs.

The concluding episode starts off very dark, with a desperate and violent showdown, a face being ripped off, a grim abattoir, and not very many jokes. And that’s before we’ve even discovered the fate of Tank Girl’s adoptive mother. Actually, that part of the narrative, towards the end of the graphic novel, proves to be a source of unexpected levity. Brett Parson’s colour palette brightens up along the way, as night gives way to daybreak.

Since the Tank Girl series is now ongoing, don’t expect a nice, neat resolution at the end of Action Alley. Quite apart from the implications of a surprising revelation made to Barney, all of Tank Girl’s team see the light in a cliffhanger that sets things up for the next tale, Tank Girl Forever, which fortunately looks as though it will be more amusing…

The book also includes covers from the individual monthly issues and the artist’s initial concept drawings for the Tankmaster vehicle. We also get to see the development of a single page (from the beginning of Part Three) from pencils to the addition of inks, colours, shading, textures and letters.


Richard McGinlay

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