stick ’em up punks, it’s the fun lovin’ criminals
Alan C Martin, Tank Girl: Armadillo! and a Bushel of Other Stories, Titan Books, 2008
Before he started monkeying around on Gorillaz with Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett was best known for Tank Girl, his dope-smoking, tank-driving, kangaroo-shagging, tea-drinking wayward anti-heroine co-created with Alan Martin for Deadline. Part of the fun of the comic book was the lured punk graphics, the surrealist cut-up collages and the general off-beat visual anarchy, and what worked well in comic form failed to translate to the big screen—Rachel Talalay’s 1995 movie featuring Lori Petty in the lead may well have been “the ultimate Grrrrl Movie”, but it was crap and (literally) tanked at the box office.
While Hewlett went on to consort with Brit-pop royalty—a strip for Pulp’s ‘Common People’—writer Alan Martin beat a retreat to the Scottish Borders via a hippie commune, and Tank Girl’s reigns were handed over first to Peter Milligan, then to Alan Grant. But the C86-ers had moved on: a female “Mad Max designed by Vivienne Westwood” didn’t cut it anymore, Tank Girl was no longer a wet-dream for the “start-rite teenagers / spotty greebos / cardigan clad Smiths fans / psychedilic shoegazers / and tiny bowl-cut angels” [p. 108], instead they were besotted with another gun-totten, big-titted girl.
“I’m wearing an all-in-one brown buckskin jumpsuit. No underwear. My zipper is open down past the bottom of my knockers. Cleavage is good in fights with blokes—good for distraction. I have a cream crash helmet with a dark read visor and black and white check trim. Check trim is good for giving the impression that you are going faster when you are actually moving at the same speed. My name is Tank Girl.” [p. 19]
Twenty years on, Alan Martin’s Armadillo seems like a battle-cry: move over Lara Croft, Tank Girl’s back.
“Where have I been? Well fuck… I had to get out of the way, you know? There was a trainload of shit comin’ and I was standing right in the middle of the track [..] For a start, there was ‘lad culture’, I fuckin’ despised all that shit. Fuckin’ reading Loaded and going to parties dressed as Reservoir Dogs and drinking fuckin’ orange Tango and shit. Then there was ‘girl power’ and fuckin’ ‘riot grrrls’ and all those wankers. Jesus, can you blame me for keeping my head down? There was no way I wanted to be lumped in with all of that crap. And fuckin’ ‘Britpop’. Sniff my hairy crack, the lot of you.” [p. 174]
A book that starts with an apology is always a worrying sign—“This novel was written a few years ago, so I just want to take this opportunity to point out that, because of the time that has passed, some of the jokes may appear a bit flat [..] dear reader, be rest assured, this book was funny when I wrote it.” Still, for nostalgia’s sake, we’re willing to give it a go.
The old team, Tank Girl, her boyfriend Booga and Jet Girl (so named not “because of her skills in the air, but because of her all-consuming obsession with Jet Harris, the original bass player with The Shadows”) are out to get revenge on the town of Chankers. Of the comic, Martin has said in the past: “Never start with a clear idea of storyline. Instead, commence blindly, with a vague notion of trying to include a reference to your favourite band, gift shop, or chocolate bar.” And while Tank Girl: Armadillo is light on plot, it’s heavy on characterisation, dialogue and action except, that is, when Tank Girl goes off on one and, like her internal monologue, you’re left thinking: “Oh for fuck’s sake Tank Girl, drop all of the existential, evangelical, hippie hoo-har and get on with the fuckin- death-wars and horrible splatty stuff.” [p. 93]
Unfortunately the horrible splatty stuff, including reducing an entire town to rubble in less than three hours, is out-weighed by the hippie hoo-har. Add to that a smattering of mushy love poems, time-travel to bring a dead character back, a Scooby Doo reveal-the-villain moment, groansome chapter titles (‘Chicken Shit for the Soul’, ‘Breakfast at Stiffnay’s’), not to mention the short stories, unfinished comic scripts and other “Titty-Bits” that make up ‘The Bushel’—and seem tacked on to rack up the page count—you feel that it’s not so much out-of-date jokes the author should be apologising for, but the whole sorry enterprise. One of the jacket blurbs says, “Alan Martin has rather miraculously stepped right back into his groove with the character”. Maybe, but Tank Girl’s halcyon days were two decades ago, people. The thrill and rush of Hewlett’s chaotic artwork is sorely missed; without the visuals, Tank Girl: Armadillo is 2-D and, like the movie, a bit shit.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, April 20th, 2008.