Story: Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner
Art: Mike Spicer, Nil Vendrell
Cover: Andrew Robinson
Variant Cover: Andy Suriano, Tom Fowler
Publisher: Image Comics
Available: June 21, 2017
It is hard to make good smart dumb comedy. That’s a hard sentence to both read and write and it may not make sense at first but some comedy that on face value can look very slapstick and broad can actually be very clever and original. Take something like Airplane! or Naked Gun and compare it to the more modern day Sharknado. On one you had you have films that spoof their respected genres to perfection, on the other hand you have a movie that tries to get laughs by simply being awful. When the title of your project is the peak of your creativity you are bound to create something that is just a waste of time.
That brings us to Shirtless Bear-Fighter! a brand new series by Image comics that comes from the minds of Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner. Right from the start it is evident that they completely get the joke that they are telling. Shirtless Bear-Fighter! is full absolute ridiculousness that reminds you of the insane fun comics can be as a medium. If you are fan of series like I Hate Fairyland! or Grizzlyshark this resembles a very similar tone and humor.
I could imagine the braintrust over in the PETA offices going complete bonkers over the baseline concept of this comic. Part of me does wonder if this is nothing more than anti-bear propaganda propelled by Dunder Mifflin’s own Dwight Shrute. Until proven otherwise it is a factor I am going to keep in the back of my mind. Honestly though, if you read this and actually feel this series is at all promoting animal abuse then you are taking this book much more seriously than anyone attended.
These are not normal bears. They are not completely anthropomorphized as they resemble normal bears for the most part, but due have a few visual cues to show they are not your typical woodland creature. I’ve never seen a bear with a kickass eye patch before, but with comics there is a first time for everything. This portrayal is important for it is key to making the joke work. You do not want it to be like Anthony Hopkins and Alex Baldwin fighting off a vengeful bear in The Edge. These bears are monsters, but they are also kind of jerks so you want to see them punched.
What this series basically does is take the tired action trope you see in movies like Rambo and replace terrorists with evil bears bent on destruction. Shirtless’s (yes that’s his name) former mentor Burke attempts to recruit him back to the game he has long left as a bear has made its way into a city and is wreaking havoc. Previously attempts by the military have been proven useless as the bear has simply woven a path of destruction through all their soldiers an tanks. These are some badass bears.
Much of this issue is spent building up the character of Shirtless into this cross between a modern day superhero and a character from classic American folklore akin to Davy Crockett. From the very beginning we see EVERYTHING he has to offer, perhaps much more than we need to see. Let’s just say he is not just against shirts. This leads to a rather humorous ongoing site gag that almost goes on for too long, but right when it is about to get tiresome a slight little wrinkle is added. Maybe wrinkle is not the best choice of words. We see there is some hint of tragedy as Shirtless was once a man who called bears his kin, but when someone he loved was killed by a bear he began his bear punching mission.
The art by Mike Spice and Nill Vendrell works well keeping the cartoon spirit of this book working. When your book literally includes a number of images of a shirtless man punching bears in the face the art needs to strike just the right tone for that joke to work. I feel very safe in saying this includes the funniest image of a naked man German suplexing a bear that I have ever seen.
One of the biggest question with a series like this is if the joke can sustain itself. With this being a five issue mini I do worry that is an issue too many for this joke to work. I loved the aforementioned Naked Gun and Airplane! but in the sequels the jokes got stale. There is an intriguing world being built here that could allow this book to remain fresh and exciting. For a first issue this works as a great pallet cleanser. With so many major events and darker story lines going on in comics today its nice to sit back and read a book that us pure unfiltered entertainment with no fear. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that is part of what makes it work. You either get the joke or you don’t. If you read the title and found yourself intrigued you will no doubt be satisfied with what has been produced.