Tank Girl: The Gifting
Has Tank Girl grown up-or just boring? The cult comic series, on hiatus since the mid-'90s debacle of a movie adaptation, has been revived. Unfortunately, its namesake has lost her gutter charm.
In The Gifting, a collection of Tank Girl comics that came out in November, original series writer Alan Martin tries unsuccessfully to conjure up the old demented magic with award-winning artist Ashley Wood. At first glance, the union looks promising, as much of Wood's previous work has revolved around young women embroiled in violent scenarios. His art, too, appears a good fit: stylish, versatile, and aching with cool glamour. But Wood is no substitute for original Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett, who is presumably busy with his recent project as co-creator of cartoon superband the Gorillaz.
With the original series, Hewlett proved himself an expert of the madcap, cramming each panel with manic energy, pop-culture references, and satirical self-awareness. As a team, Hewlett and Martin created a set of characters all the more memorable because of their inanity.
Happy prisoner of her own malicious urges, Tank Girl's bloody adventures hung together purely on the absurd. There was little need for overarching narratives as they just got in the way of the outlandish violence and gleeful crudity. With postmodern flair, Hewlett and Martin turned glaring holes and loose ends into jokes: frequently the characters would break scene and quip about how bad the plot was-which is precisely the problem with the new series. Wood has crafted far too suave of a heroine for such silliness.
Perhaps to distance himself from Hewlett's strong presence, Wood has recast Tank Girl into something of a fashion plate-she's got a full head of feathery blond tendrils and a noirish post-Mod wardrobe, complete with vintage scooter. With her tailored minidresses and high-heeled boots, she looks more Bond Girl than the deranged army deserter she truly is. When contrasted with her sleek new look, much of the action falls flat as Wood refuses to revel in the grotesque-such as the toilet humor and blood splatter that are the series' hallmarks.
Gone is the girl who flippantly sewed up her wounds post-battle, cigarette clamped between her teeth. Wood's Tank Girl never gets a scratch, even during an epic shoot-out with sociopathic hillbillies. This invulnerability gives a strange gloss to the brutality, one that ruptures the delicate suspension of disbelief needed to cavort in her world. Hewlett wasn't squeamish about letting bad things happen to his characters, relishing in their wounds and humiliations. The original series was, essentially, one horrific situation after another. And while Tank Girl always triumphed, she rarely emerged unscathed, at least physically. Without these consequences, Wood's Tank Girl, though lovely, is a hollow caricature of her already outsized, cartoonish self.