What a nice surprise: ‘Tank Girl: The Odyssey’ is a book that I didn’t expect to like, but did.
I had no prejudices going in, I must say. Aside from having been bored to death by the live-action movie featuring Lori Petty many years ago, I knew nothing of Tank Girl and the world she lives in. None. The only reason I picked this up is because of Peter Milligan.
I first read Milligan’s introduction, which was thankfully lacking in spoilers, and found out that it was loosely based on Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ and James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. I immediately worried that I wouldn’t “get” the book, having never read either.
Frankly, between my lack of culture and not knowing anything about Tank Girl, it seemed foolish to delve in what is essentially a late-period book in the series. At best, I would be able to keep up. At worst, I’d be dead between the lines.
But Milligan drew me to the piece anyway (Hewlett did the rest of the drawing). The first dozen pages almost ground my enthusiasm to a halt: I was utterly confused, kind of bored, and simply couldn’t get into the spirit of things.
But I ploughed on, thankfully, and eventually picked up on the book’s nonsensical and stream-of-consciousness deliberations. I soon discovered a comforting and appealing Mad Magazine vibe to this Tank Girl strip (I can’t speak to the other ones, of course – perhaps they’re all like this).
I especially loved the quirky humour and ridiculous puns that Milligan littered the landscape with. For instance, there is a moment when Tank Girl and crew go to a concert by a fictional goth band called The Sirens:
“Penelope, you envelop me
You sit there by the sea.
Penelope, it’s all Greek to me
I’m totally Ulysses without thee.”
Fans of James Joyce might cringe here, but I got a good laugh out of these lyrics; I thought that they were appropriately punny.
The humour isn’t just limited to the texts: there is an abundance of sight gags throughout the book – lots of little details in the pages, like spoofs of popular taglines on clothing, …etc. I don’t know if this is Milligan or Hewlett’s doing, or both, but I relished it. It made the book fun to read because I was always on the lookout for other hidden goodies behind the scenes.
Hewlett’s artwork is as exceptional as Milligan’s writing is. In some ways, his style reminded me of the work of Mad Magazine’s Mort Drucker – not because their penciling is necessarily similar, but because of the way he constructed each panel and told the story. I also dug the clean but detailed look of Hewlett’s work; I’d love to see more of his stuff.
Basically, buoyed by the phenomenal duo of Milligan and Hewlett, I was surprisingly taken with Tank Girl’s madcap adventures. While it started off as a challenge, I got into it after as bit perseverance – and I haven’t even read the source material: the original Tank Girl comics OR ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘Ulysses’. I suspect that readers familiar with both would get a lot out of this particular book.
As for me, my next odyssey will be in Tank Girl comics. My curiosity has now been piqued.