Once upon a time, well in the late 1980's anyway, when we were all younger and lost in the wilderness, desperate for the type of example only a true leader can set, fortune sent us an anarchistic typhoon to clear all the bullshit from our path. With a can of lager in one hand (well actually anything with an alcohol content that could be used in an internal combustion engine without too much corrosive activity) and the other either on the steering wheel of her favourite vehicle or the controls of its weapon's system, she'd stomp out any perceived injustice and give conventional morality a few swift kicks to the groin.
It was 1988 when Tank Girl first saw the light of day. The world had only just survived eight years of Ronald Ray-guns and conservative Christianity's first kick at the can, and anybody else who was down on the ground hurting. By blaming society's woes on the poor they were able to stop spending money on pesky programs like school lunches and increase military spending in order to ensure American business interests around the world were safe from local government interference. Restoring pride in family values meant they were able to call HIV/AIDS the price of amoral behaviour - fags are only getting what's coming to them - and turning the clock back on any advances society had made on gender equality in the previous decade.
We were in desperate need of someone willing and able to give that world the collective finger followed by a boot up the arse and a grenade enema and Alan C. Martin and Jamie Hewlett's creation was just what the doctor (if he was stoned out his head on weird cacti found only in the remoter parts of the Australian outback) ordered. Tank Girl, her somewhat faithful companion, Boga, the kangaroo, and various hangers on, partied, pillaged, rampaged, and generally behaved in ways that would make the average barbarian hoard green with envy, in adult comics, graphic novels, short stories, and one brief appearance on celluloid for a glorious seven or so years.
Now, just in time for the festive season, the good folks at Titan Books have served up a heaping pile of steaming - uhmm - a celebratory coffee table book, The Cream Of Tank Girl, in honour of her thrusting herself upon the unsuspecting world of comics chest first twenty odd years ago. According to Messrs Hewlett & Martin "Tank Girl" came about by accident. Together with other art school classmates in 1987 they had self-published a twenty-eight page comic featuring the two strips they believed showed most promise as being their entrées into the glamourous world of comic books.
As neither "Atomtan" or "Max Nasty" have become household names, and "Tank Girl" was a one page ad on page twenty for a comic they never planned on writing, it's obvious prescience wasn't one of their strong suits. However when the editor of Deadline magazine approached them for a strip featuring our heroine they showed they could be counted on to deliver the goods when it mattered and a legend was born.
As its a book you're meant to give pride of place to on your coffee table (which when you think about how many Tank Girl readers own coffee table let alone furniture not made out of orange crates you have to wonder about the minds in the marketing department at Titan Books) the primary focus is of course on illustrations. From full colour reproductions of comic book panels and front covers of Deadline that Tank Girl graced, story boards and design ideas for Tank Girl the movie, to black and white pen and ink drawings, The Cream Of Tank Girl doesn't disappoint in that department.
Over the years Tank Girl underwent various modifications in her appearance as Hewlett's illustrations became more sophisticated. Yet no matter what there has always remained that certain je ne sais quois about her that would shrivel the balls of miscreants to the size of an atom. For, although there is no denying her lasciviousness nature, or that she is built along the lines of super heroines designed by men who still live in their parent's basement where gravity and the laws of proportion don't exist, the glint in her eye - and her willingness to level small towns with her tank - are enough to make even the most testosterone laden idiot pause for thought. Of course there are always those who aren't that swift on the uptake and they find out that yes indeed those are rocket launchers attached to the side of her tank.
As a bonus Hewlett & Martin have also included some of the other strips they have worked on, or attempted to put before the public eye. It's nice to see that Hewlett's talents stretch beyond drawing kangaroos with attitude, tanks, explosions, and Tank Girl as we are introduced to various other characters in their arsenals and a variety of strangeness that somehow has yet to have seen the light of day.
One thing that they make clear in the books is that as far as they are concerned the movie version of Tank Girl not only was awful, but ruined her for ever. Instead of being the parody of the over-endowed super heroine (no those aren't intercontinental ballistic missiles under her t-shirt) the movie softened the hard edges and pointy bits about the character we liked so much and diminished her by filling the movie with stupid locker room humour in an attempt to make it appeal to a mass audience. What the studio didn't realize is that most of "Tank Girl's" appeal was the fact that it wasn't for mass consumption and didn't play well in Peoria.
The Cream Of Tank Girl is a trip back in time to those innocent days when a girl and her tank could travel the outback in the company of her kangaroo boy friend content in the knowledge there were stupid people to terrorize and towns to blow up. If you missed out on the action the first time round, it will give you a taste of what you missed. For the seasoned traveller its a fitting memento from your misspent youth and one that just might make you question your judgement in selling out and taking that straight job.
As of May 2007 that time has come as she made her triumphant return in the Gifting and is now appearing on a regular basis in the British magazine Judge Dredd in a twelve part series, Skidmarks. Look for it to be made into a graphic novel next year around this time, as a new generation of illustrators, Rufus Dayglo and Ashley Wood, have set Tank Girl loose on the world again. Just when we need her most, after eight years of George Bush's social conservatism, Tank Girl is back to send the forces of decency back to the rat holes they came from.
(Originally posted November 2008)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.