Tank Girl All Stars (Hardback) - Graphic novel review
At last it can be told! In this 30th anniversary anthology of stories, we finally reveal the biggest secret in comics history – how Tank Girl got her tank – the origin story to end all origin stories! This, and a whole tankload of unmissable, unforgettable, unbelievable tales, written by series co-creator Alan Martin, with artwork by a host of Tank Girl stalwarts and super-stars, including Brett Parson, Chris Wahl, Jim Mahfood, Greg Staples, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, Jonathan Edwards, Phil Bond, and more friends from throughout Tank Girl’s chequered 30-year lifetime…!
Collecting all four issues of the monthly miniseries Tank Girl All Stars, this graphic novel comprises a variety of content.
There are pieces of single-page art without words, by Brett Parson, Greg Staples, Chris Wahl, Jonathan Edwards, Ashley Wood, Phil Bond, Jim Mahfood, Mick McMahon, and (from the archives) Tank Girl’s co-creator Jamie Hewlett. There’s a page of script without pictures, featuring Jet Girl and Sub Girl. There are five pages of verse and wisdom, illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell – whose eccentrically proportioned figures lend themselves well to depicting an uncomfortable-looking game of Twister.
There’s a three-page text story, The Girl with the Golden Arse, with pictures by the only slightly less surreal Jim Mahfood – who does draw an exceedingly good arse! We have come to expect a degree of sex and violence from this series, and his opening image takes care of the sex (we’ll get to the violence later). Things aren’t looking good for Tank Girl in this story, however, so unless there’s a continuation at some point (there isn’t one here), this tale reads rather worryingly like an epilogue to her adventures.
The best bits of the book are the comic strips. First up is Salon Tank Girl, a three-page funny illustrated by Chris Wahl, who provides what is arguably the most realistic art in this collection. Like Mahfood, he does a very nice arse, albeit one clad in underwear. Paying light-hearted tribute to the character’s long history, Tank Girl tries on – and rejects – some iconic outfits from earlier adventures, including the infamous rocket bra.
There’s a Cubist feel to the angular art of Jonathan Edwards, who draws Stand by for Tank Girl. Anything can happen in the next four pages, for this is a nostalgic homage to 20th-century telefantasy, as Tank Girl and her chums imagine themselves as the heroes of Gerry Anderson puppet series including Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and Stingray. Among the more amusing spoof character names, Jet Girl is an eminently suitable choice to become Cacophony Angel, while Sub Girl is in her element (water) as Marina, Morris Marina. There’s even room for Torchy the Battery Boy – or rather Scorchy the Battery Acid Boy!
And the nostalgia isn’t over yet, not by a long chalk. The ten-page It’s a Tank, Tank, Tank, Tank Girl is, as you might have guessed, a spoof of the 1963 comedy film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Rumours of buried treasure lead to a high-speed chase across the desert – with added carnage, Tank Girl style. There’s a particularly brutal punch-up, during which a vicar loses several teeth. A more recent source of humorous inspiration is The Paul Hogan Show (1973–84), to which writer Alan Martin tips his hat in the form of a giant statue of one of Hogan’s characters, the hapless and amusingly named stuntman Leo Wanker. Jim Mahfood provides the art in his customary scratchy style. Coloured solely in shades of yellow and orange, it’s far from naturalistic – though, as I mentioned earlier, he does do very nice bottoms. There’s brief nudity at the start of the adventure, as the girls get changed for a wedding they’re supposed to be attending… but even when they’re attired, their tight dresses leave little to the imagination!
The title of the next strip, the five-page A. Robot, might suggest the works of Isaac Asimov, though the tone of the piece has more in common with Wallace and Gromit, as Booga unveils his latest gadget, the Teapotron XZ. Like one of Wallace’s inventions, the device inevitably goes wrong, and only milk and sugar can save the day. The zany art is by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, whose distorted figures are sometimes reminiscent of Picasso, especially when it comes to the placement of Booga’s eyes.
Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is a three-page strip that revives a couple of other stars from Tank Girl’s original home of Deadline magazine. 30-Year-Old Bag features the return of Pippa and Elizabeth from Wired World. Artist / creator Philip Bond (here credited as Phil Bond), shows that they have aged in a way that Tank Girl really hasn’t, probably because their adventures were always firmly fixed to the present day. Ironically, given this focus on age, I was reminded of an episode of The Young Ones as Pips and Liz revisit a launderette (the setting of the very first Wired World strip). Like Vyvyan’s underpants, their bag is so old, it’s only the stubborn understains that are holding it together! In another reminder of the passage of time, the girls discover that the price of a wash has increased considerably since they were last here. Then something strange happens… 30-Year-Old Bag is a surreal affair, but it’s great to see Pippa and Elizabeth again, albeit only briefly.
The main feature of Tank Girl All Stars is Time For Tank Girl, which is spread throughout the book in a series of four ten- to twelve-page instalments, with art by series regular Brett Parson. In scenes reminiscent of tactical shooter video games, Tank Girl and friends take on an army… before an even deadlier threat emerges from across the desert: a deranged mutant that’s impervious to bullets.
This undead menace is largely forgotten about during the second episode, as Alan Martin instead has fun putting his own spin on The Six Million Dollar Man. “Get your pitch to zero,” says science tech guy Zulu Dobson, quoting dialogue from the opening sequence of the iconic show as Jet Girl’s plane is hit. “Pitch is out,” replies Jet Girl in kind, “I can’t hold altitude.” Later references become more obvious, as Barney finds that Jet Girl is “a woman barely alive” and Dobson declares that “We can rebuild her” as “the world’s first Supertronic Woman… Better, stronger, and really fast at making tea and sandwiches!” We also learn where Tank Girl got her famous vehicle from – though the revelation is over so quickly that it barely registers.
The third instalment incorporates an amusingly bad fake advertisement for an action figure based on the Supertronic version of Jet Girl. With her hard hat and peelable dermal layer, which reveals a metal endoskeleton beneath, the commercial proudly boasts about the figure’s “glistening helmet” and “roll back skin”! Parson lovingly re-creates the look of an ad from a 1970s comic book, even down to the colours occasionally straying over the lines. However, it’s not clear whether the metallic grey used for Jet Girl’s gloved right hand (which should be brown) is a deliberate mistake or not.
We experience nostalgia overload in the twelve-page finale. Reviewing Tank Girl comics sometimes takes me a while, because Martin has a habit of propelling me back to my childhood. References to The Six Million Dollar Man in the second episode had me frantically Googling away, looking up the iconic title sequence on YouTube, and checking the prices of box sets. Now the fourth and final part of Time for Tank Girl blends a couple of Hanna-Barbera classics, The Banana Splits and The Hair Bear Bunch, to form The Hairy Banana Bunch – a programme that, we are told, was loyally followed by the young Booga. (I almost typed “the juvenile Booga” there, but when isn’t he juvenile?) Parson successfully combines the look of the two shows in the characters of Big Banana, Flares Bear and Bouffy.
The book also includes A Brief History of Tank Girl, a 16-page strip that originally appeared in a special issue released for Free Comic Book Day 2018. Here the art duties are divvied up between Brett Parson, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell and Jonathan Edwards, as a rubbish birthday for Tank Girl prompts memories of times past. Parson draws the six-page frame narrative, while Johnson-Cadwell depicts the story of a previous birthday gift gone wrong, and Jonathan Edwards renders a twisted in-universe version of our heroine’s career in comics so far – from her creation by Jammy Hubris and Albert Memorial and her debut in the experimental comics and baking magazine Breadline, to her big break into the American market via Dark Hearse Comics and that movie. Mention of a Tank Girl television series that is clearly based on Space 1999 is a little perplexing, but is possibly an allusion to the strip Space is Ace in 21st Century Tank Girl, which was the point at which the character really started to become a regular fixture at Titan Comics. Curiously, the only creative referenced on Edwards’s pages who isn’t given a spoof name (such as Wooden Ashley for Ashley Wood) is Edwards himself. Johnson-Cadwell’s airborne segment is marred by a mismatch between the script and the art (the words indicate that Booga is seated in the back of a plane, whereas the pictures show him in the front), but aside from that, A Brief History of Tank Girl makes an amusing birthday present.
I don’t know about all stars, but there are certainly plenty of screen stars in this graphic novel, with all its homages to Paul Hogan, Steve Austin, and characters from Gerry Anderson and Hanna-Barbera productions… and I didn’t even have time to mention the unsuccessful Jedi mind trick. In other words, it’s the usual mad, mad, mad, mad world of Tank Girl!
Tank Girl All Stars (Hardback)
Writer: Alan Martin
Artists: Brett Parson and others
Publisher: Titan Comics
RRP: UK £26.99, US $29.99
Age: Mature readers
ISBN: 978 1 78586 480 3
Publication Date: 29 January 2019