Tank Girl: Gold by Alan Martin and Brett Parson (graphic novel review).

Few British comic book characters are as well known as Tank Girl, the eponymous heroine of a series that has been rumbling on now for over 30 years. In her way, she’s become a symbol of a certain strain of counter-culture feminism within British society, representing perhaps women who are sexually liberated and physically forceful.

On the flip side, though, Tank Girl has always risked becoming a parody of herself, her core character undermined by the punkish sexuality of the artwork. One only needs to see the average Halloween party version of Harley Quinn to understand this problem!

In any event, while I’d not read any ‘Tank Girl’ comics for years, I was interested to know how well the series had matured. ‘Tank Girl: Gold’ collects four issues from 2016, alongside some cover artwork and a few fact-file featurettes. As ever, the story itself is pretty unimportant (there’s a whole pile of Nazi gold that needs spending), so it’s the picaresque details of what happens along the way that matters. A friend needs rescuing, a new sport is invented almost by accident and there’s a lovely homage to 1950s teen movies in the middle that somehow throws our characters into a space-age version of ‘Grease’.

At first reading, ‘Tank Girl: Gold’ feels as irreverent as ever and the artwork is gloriously consistent throughout, lush and beautifully drawn. It’s riotously imaginative, with zany ideas thrown out left, right and centre but, at the same time, Tank Girl herself has this morality to her that puts her above mere hedonism. She may be rude, promiscuous and frequently violent, but she’s also loyal to her friends and genuinely free of malice.

Still, whether ‘Tank Girl: Gold’ ever rises above mere anarchic humour is debatable. Any satire is superficial and unlike, say, ‘Judge Dredd’ or ‘V For Vendetta’, there’s nothing in ‘Tank Girl’ that comes even close to social commentary. It’s impish fun in its way, very much retaining its original late-80s/early-90s vibe, any may very well appeal more to more mature readers because of this. Does ‘Tank Girl’ have anything to say to the Instagram and Snapchat generation? Probably not. Instead, what it does do is recapture that moment in time when laddish culture was in the ascendant, among girls as much as boy and punk rock had been domesticated into a relatively safe form of teenage rebellion.

None of this is to say that ‘Tank Girl: Gold’ is bad. On the contrary, it’s well-written and enjoyable. It just lacks the sophistication of the best contemporary graphic novels and its make-love-as-well-as-war message feels a lot less edgy than it might have done in 1988.

Neale Monks

May 2018

(pub: Titan Books, 2017. 128 page graphic novel. Price: £13.99 (UK), $16.99 (US), $22.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78585-525-2)

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