Alright folks, it’s confession time. I went to high school in the late 90s, and like a lot of boys my age, I had a raging crush on a celebrity. Since this was the late 90s you might think I was crushing on someone like Sarah Michelle Gellar, or one of the ladies from 90210 or Friends, but my crush went a much different way.
My 90’s celebrity crush? Lori Petty in Tank Girl. Pa-Pa-Pa-Pow!
Don’t ask why. The heart wanted what it wanted, and back then this heart was full of love for 90’s counterculture, punk rock, anti-authoritarian music, movies and TV shows. Queen of all of those was Tank Girl. Created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, the series followed one Rebeca Buck (later given the full name of Fonzie Rebecca Buckler) an AWOL tank driver in a semi-futuristic Australia, who spends most of her time drinking, having sex with her mutant Kangaroo boyfriend, and generally causing mayhem and destruction wherever she, and her merry band of misfits, ended up. It was light on plot, heavy on pop culture, and easily one of the most popular indie comics of the later 80s and early 90s.
When I first saw the film, I crushed HARD. This was my first introduction to the character and I was blow away by how different she was from every other female hero I had seen at the time (admittedly at this time my choices were relatively slim, but still). Tank Girl embraced her sexuality, spoke truth to power, made crude jokes with the boys, and generally followed her own heart wherever it took her. She was wild, irreverent, and just damn fun. I was hooked, and so when I learned that this movie was based on a comic, I knew I had to run out and grab those books.
20 years later and I am still looking for them. Being an American fan of Tank Girl has always been a bit problematic because, as I said, TG was first and foremost a British phenomenon, and people who are as big of classic Doctor Who fans as I am know the pain of being an American in love with British pop culture.
For another thing, even though the movie sparked enough interest in the US to start publishing the comic here, the film itself was kind of a flop with critics and moviegoers, and those comics have never really come out with any kind of regularity in the US.
In the UK, the Tank Girl comics were published in Deadline Magazine, a UK magazine that saw limited publication in the US, and certainly never showed up on the newsstand in my small town. Eventually those comics were republished in the early 90’s in the US by Dark Horse Comics in 4 issue miniseries, but those were fairly limited runs, and were next to impossible to find years later when I started seeking them out. (Fortunately I have managed to pick up most of the US run of all her books at this point, but still looking for the UK Deadline #1 if anyone wants to buy me a Christmas gift 😉)
After Dark Horse lost the license, TG comics were published by DC’s Vertigo line, with most of those books coming out after Hewelett left to work on other projects like the animated band Gorillaz). Alan Martin stayed with the title the whole time though, continuing to write stories, comics, and even a novel all expanding on the Tank Girl universe right up until today.
After Vertigo, IDW took up publishing Tank Girl, putting out numerous one shots and mini series all penned by Martin and illustrated by Rufus Dayglo, Jim Mahfood, and finally, after shifting again to Titan Comics, Brett Parson, who continues to work on the comic today. Each artist gave their own unique and interesting take on the characters, none of them trying to recapture Hewlett’s original feel, but instead trying to make it their own. For fans of Hewlett this might have been an issue, but I for one prefer it when artists are not afraid to try throw caution to the wind and just make something their own like that.
So where does this long and winding road lead to now? Well, recently Tank Girl leapt to another publisher, Albatross Funnybooks, a newer line founded by one of the very best in the business: Eric Powell, creator of probably the funniest indie book on the market, The Goon.
And that takes us to today’s review of King Tank Girl, the first in a new series published for AFB. Here’s the blurb:
Tank Girl co-creator, Alan Martin, returns with brilliant artist Brett Parson to bring the all new adventures of the classic character to Albatross Funnybooks! Turning the clock back to the early years, ‘King Tank Girl offers up a veritable banquet of brand new stories: Tank Girl and the gang head to the beach for “Barney Don’t Surf”; they explore the expensive world of Wellbeing; and Tank Girl is crowned King of England. And all that before tea time!
Now, a few things here. First off, if you have not been reading Tank Girl you might be confused as to why there this series takes place in the past. Well, bit of a spoiler here, but in the last series Tank Girl sacrificed herself for her friends, resulting in her death (well, death-ish. We last saw her laid out in a glass coffin like Snow White, so with a series this irreverent there is nothing stopping them from finding a way to revive her down the line).
For another thing, this work is a bit of a collection, with the main story being the King Tank Girl tale, and a back-up story about a new group of characters called the Kook Patrol, a bunch of 60’s surfers and beach bums that wind up crossing over with TG and her crew due to magic time travel. So really, you get 2 stories in one issue, and it looks like we’ll be following both stories for the duration of this 5 part series.
So, is it any good? Well, yes, but let me dive a bit more into it. For one thing, TG from the 90s is not the same character as she is today. Like her British contemporary Judge Dredd, TG has aged in real time, meaning that she’s no longer the rebellious teen she once was. This is a more refined and evolved TG, one who has taken a lot of lumps in life, and while she still has her violent streak and rude mindset, she also is more compassionate towards others, and more motivated to help those in need. In addition to this she has a larger family around her now, made up of various characters she has befriended along the way, including Sub Girl, Jet Girl, Barnie, Booga her Kangaroo Boyfriend, and various other members or her constantly rotating cast. Several of these characters have been around from the start, but interactions between them have become more standard fare, with TG taking on a much stronger leadership roll than she has in the past, and showing more concern for the other’s wellbeing.
This evolution in character is a big part of the reason I still love TG all these years later. Reading the comics from the start, Martin has allowed her to learn and grow from her mistakes. Where she was once wild and reckless, this TG, while still prone to mayhem, has also learned that sometimes there is an advantage to avoiding conflict. She’s just as likely to sit down and talk to her enemies as she is to blow them up with a bomb, and frankly that’s refreshing. In a world of constantly resetting heroes that go through life altering events and never seem to evolve or change because of them (looking at you, Batman), having a character that actually grows as a person and becomes something more than she was originally envisioned as is a sight to behold.
The book itself fits in well with Albatross’s other books, no doubt due in part to the fact that Parson is also is doing the art on The Goon right now. Parson is a fantastic artist, with clean lines and an almost animated style that really fits the goofy stories and zany mayhem of this book. I think each of the TG artists over the years have done an excellent job, but Parson is something special.
So that’s it folk. Tank Girl, my one time crush and lifetime love is back after a long hiatus. If you’ve never read her comics before this is a great jumping on point, and if you’ve been reading them as long as I have you’ll hopefully agree with me that like a fine wine, and my teenage crush on Lori Petty, Tank Girl has only gotten better with age.
Until next time, stay safe!