Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #129: Tank Girl Two by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin

Tank Girl is punk -- I said that writing about the first book a couple of weeks ago, and I stand by it. Punk is that impulse to say what you want to say, to say it loud, to say it right in their faces, and not to worry about how good you are at saying it.

But that impulse cools more than a little if you don't have anything in particular to say.

Tank Girl was an attitude and a burst of enthusiasm and a lark and probably about half a joke. What she wasn't was a coherent character or viewpoint or world or statement, and her creators (primarily Jamie Hewlett, with Alan Martin joining early on to help with writing and lettering) didn't actually have any statement to make with her or coherent stance for her to have.

So she very quickly got into Wild One territory: Tank Girl was rebelling against...well, whatever was there. And the stories in Tank Girl Two show how Hewlett and Martin hit the end of that initial impulse really quickly, and then had to keep writing stories about a character whose generic plot (TG breaks a lot of things, looks cool and says cool things, to no particular purpose) they had clearly cooled on.

The stories in Two are more about Hewlitt and Martin themselves, or about the world of comics/fame/success, than they are about Tank Girl herself. Oh, she's in the stories, even often supposedly at the center of the stories, but one notices a certain non-Tank-Girl-ness when she spends four and a half installments going to visit her grandparents in rural England and then having a cosmic orgasm on the kind of bicycle her creators wanted as boys. (Admittedly, she does find an old WWII tank to drive around in during that time.) Or when there's a two-part day-glo installment featuring Booga as half of a Starsky & Hutch piss-take (and not featuring TG at all). Or when there's another three-parter turning Hewlitt and Martin into Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy, with TG as a hitchhiker. Or another multi-parter in which TG gets officially kicked out of comics.

You could call it two creators looking for the outer reaches of their material. Or two creators doing their damnedest to kill of something they created, by driving away the audience it attracted. Or just having no clue and doing something at deadline each month, to diminishing returns.

Whatever the reason was, these are the stories where Tank Girl falls apart -- in-story, as she gets kicked out of comics, and as a property, because Hewlett and Martin clearly didn't have any specific thing they wanted to do with her. That can be annoying to a reader who wanted more of the same Tank Girl stories, or exhilarating to a reader who really connects with the concerns and enthusiasms they're throwing onto the page.

Hewlett was an excellent artist by this point, both in his ink-drenched black-and-white pages and the more and more common full-color work, and those pages are wonderful to look at even if you think the stories are getting way too self-indulgent. (As one might.)

I gather Tank Girl rediscovered the joys of coherent narrative sometime after this, though I think I wandered away from her stories after this series, or sometime soon thereafter. (There was also the movie, which could have driven me away.) I'm not sure if I'm going to try to track down those stories: this is a pretty definitive collapse of the original conception of Tank Girl, and I'm happy to leave it at that.

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