If you grew up reading comics in Britain in the 80s and 90s there’s a good chance that you’ll have come across the character of Tank Girl. This heavy drinking, sex loving, hyper violent, Australian military punk was well known for her often baffling and weird adventures published in Deadline Magazine, and as part of DC’s Vertigo imprint. The first time I ever encountered the character was browsing the graphic novel display at my local library when barely into my teens, and stumbling across it sitting next to things like Batman and Dracula: Red Rain, and Hellblazer. It jumped out as different, as weird, and it became a series I loved reading in my formative years.
And now we have been given the perfect chance to go back and re-read the very first adventures she ever had thanks to Titan Comics new release, Tank Girl: Colour Classics Trilogy. Spanning the first seven years of the character’s publication history, this newly reprinted set comes in a gorgeous hardcover slipcase that will make it stand out on any shelf.
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Split across three volumes, the first book covers 1988-1990, and features the very first appearance of Tank Girl in a short strip that only lasts five pages but introduces elements that would become key to the character and the franchise forever more. A gang of mutant kangaroos, led by Rocky Dickhead, is heading across the Australian outback to ruin a celebrity barbecue and cause havoc. Spotted by Tank Girl, she crashes the party, by literally crashing her tank in and killing everyone, except Rocky, who she chases across the outback, before having sex with him, then killing him. It’s rough, it’s weird, but it absolutely sets the tone for everything to come after this point and firmly establishes the kind of character TG is.
From here we get stories of varying length as TG gets in even weirder adventures, such as failing to get colostomy bags to the president in time to stop him from shitting himself, accidentally killing assassins out to get her, meeting the second coming of Christ, visiting a witch-doctor to get a new face, obtaining God’s magical dressing gown, and meeting the devil. And that’s just the first half a dozen stories or so. It’s interesting to see these early tales, where the characters that you come to expect to appear in the series, such as Booga, Sub Girl, Jet Girl, and Stevie, only appear briefly as the creators test the waters and see what works and what’s going to stick.
One of the best descriptions I’ve seen for Tank Girl is that she’s like a dirty, punky Loony Tunes for grown-ups, and these first few stories really do show that off as you get these short, punchy adventures that make little to no sense. After these shorter tales, however, the series seems to begin to try out longer stories, with the first of them being a ridiculous take on The Italian Job, filled with references and nods to the film that would have easily gone over my head when I first read it.
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These longer form stories continue across the second and third volumes in the set, witch cover 1990-1993 and 1993-1995 respectively. It’s in these two volumes that the art changes a little too, as the creators try different techniques to tell their stories, with shifts in art style used to help alter the story and how things are depicted. And this is perhaps one of the best things about this set, and having it all collected here together, is that you really get to see how the team behind the book honed their craft, discovered the kind of stories that they wanted to tell, and tried out new things to better their vision.
Tank Girl is very much a book of its time, so how does it stack up reading it now? Surprisingly well for the most part. A lot of the underlying feelings of being unhappy at living through a corrupt and villainously evil government, where the creators are using the book to put across messages of anarchy, of challenging authority and fighting against ‘normalcy’ and the system that they were dealing with at the time, are very relevant now. The book did begin life during the Thatcher government after all, and I’m sure some readers will be able to look at this book, and the kind of government we have now and see how Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin ended up feeling the way they did.
There are things that haven’t quite aged as well though, and there will be times where you might be left scratching your head a little if you don’t have at least a passing knowledge of 80’s and 90’s pop culture, with the characters making references to Paul Hogan, Keith Chegwin, Barbi Benton, and Dame Edna, to name but a few. There are also things that haven’t aged well due to things such as casual racism and homophobia being more accepted when the books were first released. Things like ‘Emperor Ming Mong Mang’, and a voodoo priest chanting gibberish all sit a little uncomfortably.
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Perhaps the most eye-opening part of the book that shows how badly some things can age is when Tank Girl makes a wish to stop the devil from performing his evil deeds by making him act like Jimmy Saville. In the book this meant he became a nice guy doing stuff for charity, but boy did that moment make me put my book down for a moment with today’s context.
Tank Girl is a series that is frankly ludicrous, crass, violent, gross, and just weird. But it’s also a really entertaining series that gives a fascinating insight into a very niche area of comics from almost four decades ago. And this new set is a great way to go back and rediscover, or discover for the first time, a series that feels strangely relevant all over again.
Tank Girl: Colour Classics Trilogy (1988-1995) Box Set is out now from Titan Comics.