Tank Girl

In my last post, I discussed the panel “Bad-Ass Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy” that happened at this year’s virtual CoKoCon. Among the people on the panel with me were five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Linda D. Addison and Jenn Czep, the talented author of such books as Cloud to Cloud and Blackstrap’s Ecstacy: A Corsair Captain’s Log. Both mentioned Tank Girl as one of their favorite bad-ass women in speculative fiction. When authors of this caliber recommend something, I listen. I remember Tank Girl appearing on the shelves of comic shops I visited back in the early 1990s and I remember when the 1995 movie came out, but I hadn’t actually read the comic or seen the movie. Among other things, that was the period of my life when I was just getting started with my astronomy career and my first child was born in 1995. So, I decided to learn more about Tank Girl.

Tank Girl in comics and at the movies

Tank Girl started in 1988 as a comic created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, which appeared in Britain’s Deadline Magazine. Set in the near future, the action takes place in a post-Apocalyptic Australia. The title character not only drives a tank, but lives in it as well. Her boyfriend is a sentient kangaroo named Booga. Her closest friends are women called Jet Girl and Sub Girl. You can, no doubt, figure out their vehicles of choice. The stories are generally ribald adventures. One of my favorites involves Tank Girl being fed up with the bad beer foisted on her by some large corporation and decides to find and steal some good beer. She convinces Jet Girl and Sub Girl to go with her. They succeed only to wind up teetering on the edge of a cliff in the tank, in danger of falling over due to the weight of the beer cans. Of course Tank Girl and her friends decide to dispose of the beer by drinking it! The best way I can describe the Tank Girl comic is Mad Max meets Loony Tunes.

In the 1990s, MGM was scouting for a hip property to develop into a movie and they bought the rights to Tank Girl and gave it a pretty good budget. As the story goes, once they started seeing the movie, they got scared and insisted that it should have a tighter plot and that the crude humor should be scaled back. As such, the movie’s a classic case of a great comic watered down by studio interference. Despite that, the quirky charm of the Tank Girl character still comes through. Lori Petty who plays the title character bears an uncanny resemblance to her cartoon counterpart. Also, the sentient kangaroos were well realized as practical on-screen effects. What’s more, the soundtrack, supervised by Courtney Love, is excellent and features songs by Devo, Joan Jett, and Ice-T, who also played one of the kangaroos.

Tank Girl is a no-holds-barred, irreverent character. She’ll poke fun at almost everything and if she doesn’t like you she’ll straight-up maim you or kill you. I can see why she’s a favorite of authors like Jenn Czep and Linda Addison. When I think of characters like this, I tend to think of characters like Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters or Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. Men tend to get these wise-cracking, streetwise roles, so it was refreshing to see a woman in that kind of a part. There have been rumors that Margot Robbie would like to film a new Tank Girl movie. Hopefully she can make a version that captures even more of the comic’s unflagging spirit.

Ghostbusters

This week, I took my daughters to see the new Ghostbusters, a film I’ve been looking forward to despite several controversies. Of course, reboots and remakes always come with a certain amount of controversy. Will it be as good as the original? Why is this reboot necessary since the original is a classic? The thing is, to me, the 1984 Ghostbusters was itself a kind of reboot. Since 1975, I thought of the Ghostbusters as these guys:

Ghost Busters cast photo via Wikipedia

Ghost Busters cast photo via Wikipedia

The photo comes from the Saturday morning TV show Ghost Busters featuring Forrest Tucker as Kong, Larry Storch as Spencer, and Bob Burns as Tracy the Gorilla. The show typically featured the guys going out to a haunted castle to exterminate the ghost of some famous villain or monster such as Billy the Kid, Dracula, or Dr. Frankenstein and they had a set of gadgets not unlike those in the more famous movie about a decade later. It was cheesy, silly fun.

When the 1984 movie came out and proved to be a big hit, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson became the Ghostbusters everyone knew and they’ve remained that way until this year, though I’d like to point out that at least for a little while in 1987, the Ghostbusters were these guys.

Ghostbusters

This is me and three friends from college who investigated a ghost sighting at the University of Southern California as part of a class taught at New Mexico Tech about the Paranormal and the Scientific Method. Our final project for the class was a research paper about any aspect of the paranormal. A friend at USC told me about a ghost sighting and our professors agreed that an on-sight investigation would be a good project.

In short, students at USC thought they saw a ghost in a basement room. After a few initial sightings, these students gathered together in the basement. That night, the ghost, who had been resting on a pool table, hopped off and pushed one the students in front of several eye witnesses. We interviewed all the people involved and saw a trend that the people who could give us the most detailed descriptions were the ones who believed the most in the paranormal. We visited the room and saw several interesting optical phenomena involving lights under the door. The upshot is that we came up with an explanation for the phenomenon that didn’t involve ghosts.

Really, that was the point of the exercise. Was our explanation correct? In fact, there’s no way to know. James Randi famously said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” We didn’t find extraordinary evidence for a ghost sighting, but we couldn’t actually say a ghost sighting didn’t occur. I rather enjoyed this experience and for a long time, thought about ways I could pursue paranormal investigations more professionally. The problem was, I couldn’t figure out a way to do it and be funded or without ripping off people. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, but that wasn’t enough to make a career.

All of this brings me back around to the new Ghostbusters movie. One of the things I actually liked better about it than either the 1975 incarnation or the 1984 incarnation was that the Ghostbusters weren’t entrepreneurs taking money from people to hunt ghosts. They were civil servants—though admittedly civil servants off the official record books. Their research was publicly funded because it did a public good.

One thing both the 1984 and the 2016 versions did brilliantly was to poke fun at both popular paranormal research and academia. I related well to Dr. Erin Gilbert in the new movie as she came up for tenure review while her almost-forgotten book on ghost hunting was suddenly getting unwelcome attention. After all, I’m an employee at a prestigious astronomical observatory whose boss has expressed some concern about me being the author of a book about a haunted observatory. Fortunately, in the end, my boss has been more supportive than Erin’s were in the movie and I’m not looking for other work. At least not yet!

In the end, I enjoyed the new Ghostbusters. I can’t say it was perfect. I felt parts went over-the-top, but that happens for me with a lot of comedies. Still, it succeeded at telling a similar, yet not identical story. When it comes out on video, I’ll buy a copy and sit it on the shelf next to my copies of the 1975 and 1984 incarnations. Which one I drop in will depend on the particular story I’m in the mood for at the time.