“Listen, Tank Girl, it’s all part of modern film making – if we don’t take the original idea and totally fuck it sideways, then we’re not doing a proper job. It’s the mark of a professional to make the good stuff end up completely unrecognizable. You must’ve seen Thunderbirds the Movie?” Barney, mocking the Tank Girl movie, in Everybody Loves Tank Girl.
Oh irony, you are a heartless bitch.
Full disclosure before I embark on this review: I was very excited to get my hot little hands on Everybody Loves Tank Girl. I am a diehard Tank Girl fan; the old collection is basically my bible. But the minute I had it, I knew there was going to be a problem. The cover art does not match what I know of the subject matter. Since when has Tank Girl been so dang … pretty? Still, I resolved to try and keep an open mind. Writers change, artists change, and I do not want to turn into one of those crazy geek extremists (you know them, they freaked out when Wonder Woman got pants…you know who you are). So I scrubbed my wee brain and read on.
Oh dear, something was dreadfully amiss.
Let’s be clear. Tank Girl is punk rock, as in Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious (not Nancy). Tank Girl is Lisbeth Salander, Vyvyan from The Young Ones, or Alex in A Clockwork Orange. She is a young Courtney Love; stained, rough looking, blitzed as fuck, and still ready to punch your teeth in. Tank Girl is not trendy. She is not Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, or Rihanna (although to be fair, I bet Rihanna could easily punch my teeth in).
Tank Girl does not baby sit.
I know I am getting pedantic here. Really, Tank Girl is Martin’s baby and he has the god given right to write her dialog in any way he sees fit. That doesn’t necessarily make it awesome. As I said, writers grow and writers change and to be perfectly honest, sometimes they outgrow their own material. Prime example? George Lucas and the abortion that was the last Star Wars trilogy (whereas the Clone Wars cartoon, which was helmed by someone else, is pretty darn awesome). We run into this problem all the time. It happens. Even the best, most beloved writers can occasionally produce a dud (except for Chris Ware and Neil Gaiman who can do no wrong, and probably fart rainbows).
Am I calling Everybody Loves Tank Girl an abortion? No, far from it. It is fine for a modern teenage demographic, which likely listens to Chris Brown and therefore fancies itself to be punk rock without actually knowing the social history of the punk movement. Yes I just typed that, dear Christ I am old. If I had an impressionable teenage daughter, I would let her read this version of Tank Girl because she would walk away with the impression that cursing was the height of badassery.
Everybody Loves Tank Girl is cute and filled with guns and toilet humor, but it lacks sophistication. Jet and Sub Girl are largely absent. Booga has been reduced to a drooling nincompoop. The doting spirit of the previously exploded Kamp Koala is a no show, and worst of all, there is virtually no tank. Yes, you read that right; this is Tank Girl with hardly any tank time. They have stripped out quite a bit of what made the lady iconic in service to making her appealing. She’s cute and curses and runs around with guns but the old ultra violence is pretty much gone. The stories are largely pointless and pay homage to recent cult films (Death Proof); not that Tank Girl has ever had much of a point, it just never seemed so vacant.
It all seemed very bizarre, very unlike Martin. His work often tends toward the existential and it is not unusual for characters to break the fourth wall and address the reader directly, drawing them in, making the narrative resonate on a personal level. Unfortunately in this volume they were largely whiny, sanctimonious missives against being judgmental. Sure, bullying is a hot button issue right now, but I am not quite sure this is the place to lodge the “I’m a unique little snowflake, screw you for judging me based on my looks” speech. The characters were specifically depicted to appear trendy, with Mohawks, hoodies, fedoras, big state trooper sunglasses, etc. How are they being oppressed? What prejudicial treatment are they receiving?
As for critics, I am sure Martin is used to people objecting to toilet humor and a woman acting unfeminine. Oh, the horror! Sort of. These shenanigans were more likely to get a rise in the 80’s and 90’s, a time when church ladies were trying to crap all over Ice-T’s Body Count album. These days, not so much. We live in a post Jersey Shore world. We have been anesthetized to toilet humor and unladylike behavior. Just look at the Kardashian sisters (who recently had a televised vagina smelling contest). Martin’s work is no longer reactionary, and watching Tank Girl pick on Justin Beiber is just depressing. It might be time for Martin to hand the reins over to someone a bit edgier.
I will give him credit where credit is due though; there is one shining moment at the end of the babysitting arc where the story redeemed itself (for two whole pages). But Martin could not or would not commit and caved to convention. Sure it was very meta of him to acknowledge he had caved but that did not save the book.
Now that I have finished beating up Martin, let me take a minute to talk about Jim Mahfood’s illustrations. His art is funky, wonderfully detailed, abstract in all the right places, and has this great graffiti vibe. In my opinion it just was not consistently appropriate for Tank Girl. Of course I am a diehard Jamie Hewlett fan (someone else who toots rainbows), but I am not in the habit of judging one artist against another. Art should stand up on its own merit, and Mahfood’s work definitely does. I just wish he had spent less time making Tank Girl look like a circa-1960s pretty pinup. Or Rihanna-esq trendy. Yes, she looked adorable inside the cover, working on her laptop with no pants on, with a tousled head full of hair (wtf?), but that isn’t Tank Girl. What can I say? Mahfood got the style; he just could not hit the mark when it came to Tank’s spirit.
Well, no, that is not entirely true. I hate to contradict myself, but much like Martin’s meta moment, there was one page in the back of the book which made owning Everybody Loves Tank Girl completely worthwhile to an art geek like myself. When I saw it, I SQUEE’d. I could not help myself, it just came out.
One Mahfood sketch is a direct nod to Pablo Picasso’s Blue Nude. Now THAT is my girl.