*Ok, here's a new comic.

Tank Girl: The Gifting #1 (of 4)

Anyone looking for a neat object lesson in how different artists can fundamentally change a comic book's impact need only compare this all-new, Ashley Wood-powered iteration of the Tank Girl saga to some of the vintage pages of Jamie Hewlett. Don't worry much about writer Alan Martin (or "Martian," as the legal indicia dubs him - ah, so that's where the ideas come from), back on board for this IDW miniseries, since he's sticking very close to the sort of Tank Girl tales he's always written: deliberately inconsequential blips of violent character humor and vulgar gags, bits and pieces of cultural flotsam stirred in with a dollop of satire. All that seems to be missing is the top-speed, stream-of-consciousness nonsense plotting that sent the early stories rumbling forth without concern for any blockade that might present itself.

Ah, but even that might be an aspect of the visuals. I'm not saying there haven't been Ashley Wood comics in which events occur with little apparent regard for arrow-like A to B storytelling -- I do own all these issues of Popbot, after all -- but every detour or ramble in the man's comics tend to come off as deeply considered. Even Wood's sketchiest drawings seem uniquely fussed over, as if every jutting scratch is the product of design most intelligent, its place in the page's world duly pondered prior to positioning. 'Spontaneity' is not easily conjured by Wood, yet it's the very thing Hewlett brought to the table that sparked so nicely against Martin's writing. There's no doubt Hewlett put a lot of work into his art too, but everything from the goony character expressions to the little notes on the bottoms of pages to the general sense of speed and childish play contributed to a uniquely tossed-off vibe that invigorated each episode and built the strip's persona.

It is now, frankly, a different strip, despite it being obviously Tank Girl. She still has a tank, still fires weapons and things, still yells a lot, still fucks the mutant kangaroo fellow, etc. But through Wood's visuals, we are placed in an oddly detached viewpoint, very nearly chilly in its approach to silly gags like Tank Girl slipping on a Sherlock Holmes cap and the fictional character himself bursting in to take back his things - there's a visual weight to it that pushes the whole thing past immediacy. A big splash page of Tank Girl and Booga (the aforementioned kangaroo fellow) firing guns at a children's television mascot is quite gorgeous in its tones and layered sound effects and use of white space, but it draws such attention to itself as a work of design that it jars with Martin's sprightly, thumping sense of humor.

Not that it's really a bad experience, though. Hell, the last panel of that television music story had me laughing out loud. If anything, Tank Girl via Wood seems a bit more confrontational in its gory slapstick - you'll really feel the title heroine wearing a man's skin as a hat and cloak while singing on television, and there'll be a little more kick at work when a strip ends with, say a handbag full of shit being poured on someone's head (dig the textures!). Some of Wood's faces become so deep with shadowed crannies and wrinkles they start to resemble that old MAD strip in which Bernard Krigstein translated the visual humor syntax of Bringing Up Father into 'realistic' art, except I don't think Wood and Martin are quite shooting at formal commentary - their final result is a simple comedy of discomfort among the words and panels.

It is a novel result, I must say. Established Tank Girl fans will likely find it memorable. Ashley Wood die-hards will probably adore it. And I think that about covers the likely readership, so I'll call it a fascinating novelty, and ponder if it might transform any more over the remaining three issues. Martin also has a six-part Tank Girl project with Mick McMahon coming up (I believe it's titled Tank Girl: Carioca), which looks to be maybe a bit more traditional, so perhaps the strip is stretching out in several ways, following its long slumber.