Written by Jody LeHeup, Sebastian Girner
Art by Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer, Dave Lanphear
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: June 21, 2017

I…I am not actually sure what I just read. But I like it. I like it a lot. I’m also not sure I should have expected anything short of insane when picking up a comic called Shirtless Bear-Fighter, but I was wholly unprepared for the level of absurdity and sheer number of bear puns that were smashed inside this book. Let me tell you, Jody LeHeup and Sebastian Girner have written a ferociously strange and entertaining book, with energetic art from Nil Vendrell, colors by Mike Spicer, and letters from Dave Lanphear.

Shirtless Bear-Fighter is exactly what it sounds like. There’s a dude, born of the forest, raised by bears, who used to battle mankind to keep the forest safe. Now, however, he fights against bears, after witnessing a senseless bear slaughtering of a woman in the woods. With a giant bear loose in the city, Shirtless, who is every bit as shirtless as his name would inspire (but also pantsless…), is called upon by a government agency to fight the massive bear and save the city. Oh, and, there’s also a sinister bear complete with a Lion King’s Scar scar there to make massive bear attacks even more nefarious than they are at face value.

So yeah, a lot of bears happening in this book. Tons of big ol’ cuddly looking bears paired right along side some mean looking muthers. I just watched a movie about a couple who was mauled by a bear in the woods, so I’m all primed on the dangers of the clawed creatures. This book is savage, with plenty of teeth and claws of its own to sink into your flesh and hook you.

When I first started reading the comic, I wasn’t sure if I had stumbled into supreme eye-rolling territory or something that was inherently entertaining beyond the bear puns (and hey, I love a good pun). It turns out, it was most certainly the latter. The writing in Shirtless Bear-Fighter is goofy, no debating that. But it’s also smart and witty at times, with a straight-forward plot that leaves nothing behind as it plows full force into the zany. Though the story is simple, it’s fun and provides just the right amount of bizarre escapism I crave in comics. Much like Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts, I enjoyed the kooky characters and ridiculous plot.

Also much like Browne’s writer/artist work, Shirtless Bear-Fighter offers a dazzling display of kinetic art from Nil Vendrell, one of the series co-creators. The art is detailed, well-inked, and action-packed. Every movement is easy to follow, and the characters are well-designed. Even each bear has specific details that helps you follow them throughout the pages, a touch I really enjoyed in this first issue. The government agents are well-acted, their facial expressions working in-time with the beats of the humor. Shirtless himself has an incredibly intriguing face, with his furrowed brows, bright eyes, and bushy, full beard. Every page is filled with fun things to look at, from bear-skin lodges to bear-planes, and it’s all drawn so that even the strange is familiar and recognizable.

Big applause to Mike Spicer, who has quickly climbed up the ranks to be one of my favorite colorists. He has a way of handling nature and action that really adds to the dynamics of the lines and tells the story very authentically. Spicer captures all different rangers of bear fur tones, never making the animals look too cartoony, keeping the art grounded in some realism, while also amping up the energy with some brighter tones. Dave Lanphears’ letters are well-integrated into each panel, the balloons sporting an organic shape. I never had issues following the dialogue, and the sound effects stood out well against the crazy action scenes.

Shirtless Bear-Fighter is a home run for me. It hits all the right silly notes, not taking itself too seriously. I can’t say this a concept I ever would have thought would exist as a comic book, but I sure am glad it does. Count me in for more bear-planes and issue #2.

The Verdict: 9.0/10


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