Written by Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner
Illustrated by Nil Vendrell and Mike Spicer
Published by Image Comics
Collected Edition available 12/12/17 | $16.99
Many years ago now, when Image Comics debuted and quickly dominated the comic book market in spite of numerous controversies, I was not a fan. I had a respect for the work of most of the original Image creators but I didn’t care much for their Image creations, nor the heinous art style that became ubiquitous for such a long time.
But that was back in the last century. Things change. One that’s definitely changed is that Image Comics has, in recent years, become known for the high-quality series they’ve been putting out including The Wicked and the Divine, Satellite Sam, Saga, Bitch Planet, and many others.
Add to that list Shirtless Bear Fighter.
At first it looked like another violent, no-name (to me, anyway) mini-series but then I actually got into it and had THE most enjoyable time I’ve had with a comic lately. Unlike other recent comics—some of which I’ve reviewed here and elsewhere—the creators seem to have a clear-cut understanding of how to do mindless mayhem and make it genuinely fun and funny.
They also have a good sense of the fact that comics ideally are a marriage between the words and pictures, with both as equal partners. Throughout the various chapters, we see the images expand on the text rather than repeat it but we also see the text—amusing sound effects included—enhance the understanding of the images when needed.
I read online that Jody Lehup is a former editor for Marvel and Valiant and a Harvey Award nominee. His co-creator, Sebastian Girner, is also a former Marvel editor while co-creator/artist Nil Vendrell seems to be from Spain. To me, they are all new and give me hope for an industry I’ve been ready to give up on more than once.
The title character of their creation is Shirtless Bear-Fighter—actually his name. When we first meet him, he’s pantsless as well, with certain areas amusingly digitally obscured. He’s recruited by the government from his home in the woods to fight bears who have been terrorizing large cities in scaled down Godzilla fashion.
Turns out the bears are working for a vain, narcissistic crook whose goal is to corner the market on toilet paper. As you might suspect from that, scatological humor appears regularly throughout—no pun intended.
Somewhat surprising twists and turns pop up amidst consistently amusing dialogue throughout and the gore is wisely kept to a manageable minimum. Characterization takes a back seat to cartoon violence but Vendrell handles it all with gusto and aplomb. Shirtless reminded me of the late, great Italian film star Bud Spencer, with a dash of Popeye thrown in.
Buried underneath all the pounding and wanton destruction, there may be an underlying message about protecting the environment from corporate greed or protecting animals or even a political dig at someone. But I don’t really think any of those involved put that much thought into it. What’s obvious is that they were all on the same page with making a comic book that’s perhaps purposely a little juvenile but a LOT of fun to read!