There are a lot of comics out there, but some just stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, it’s all about our favorite one man flapjack-eating wonder from Image Comics, “Shirtless Bear-Fighter.”
Who Is This By?
“Shirtless Bear-Fighter” is written by Jody LeHeup (formerly of Marvel and Valiant) and Sebastian Girner (“Scales and Scoundrels”). Nil Vendrell provides illustrations with Mike Spicer (“Deadshot,” “Big Trouble in Little China”) on colors. Lettering is done by Dave Lanphear (“Secret Avengers,” “Iron Man”).
What’s It All About? (warning: contains spoilers)
Put your classic superhero comic, Paul Bunyan, and The Jungle Book in a blender. Add visual and literary puns to taste and strain out anything remotely serious before serving with a side of flapjacks. The result? The very tall and naked tale of Shirtless Bear-Fighter. Raised in the forest by bears, Shirtless ultimately finds himself betrayed by his forest family. What’s a man, that’s so much more of a man than humanly possible, to do? Eat some flapjacks and fight bears, of course. When bears with super strength start to wreak havoc on the world, government agent/possible love interest Suzie Silva enlists Shirtless for the #WarOnBearror with a good ol’ fashioned BEAR PUNCH! Or two. Or several. In the midst of all this bear punching and bear kicking, there’s a Vast and Sinister Government/Corporate Conspiracy for the ages: toilet paper CEO Jaxson Logger, along with Agent Silva’s superior Director Burke and the Hillbilly Warlock have plotted from day one to turn Shirtless against his beloved bears, hoping they will BEAR PUNCH! each other to death, leaving them the opportunity to swoop in and claim the forest for the gains of Jaxson’s company, toilet paper manufacturer Fuzzy Wipes. Too bad for them because Shirtless, for all his bear punching and kicking, still has love for them and their forest home in his heart.
What Makes It So Great?
It just doesn’t take itself seriously, and knows it. This is an over-the-top universe that makes irreverence its calling card. Leheup and Girner embrace the weird, wonderful, and frivolous from the first panel on the first page, and don’t look back. They know they’re not here for intellectual discussion or deep narrative analysis, just some good ol’ bear punching and kicking, with all sorts of puns and Easter eggs thrown in for good measure. The rules of comics go out the window with this series, and by the end of the first issue, I wasn’t missing them at all. Narrative elements — a fuzzy bear plane, Shirtless meeting all kinds of “bears” in battle — defy logic, and are there just because they can be. (I imagine many editorial decisions were justified with “Because we can, so we will!”) There’s so much silliness it becomes downright charming, but not too much that the shtick wears out its welcome. You can’t help but at the very least smile (if not laugh) with each issue.
The art team make this a love letter to Adam West’s Batman, with inks and colors a mix of ’60s kitsch with a modern update. Vendrell hits all the lumberjack check boxes with Shirtless. Overly muscular? Check. Facial hair for days? Check. Rugged sexiness? Oh yes. He may be half man/half beast, but he’s all heart for his beloved forest (and maybe Agent Silva too). Don’t worry, parents, when Shirtless goes full monty, the family jewels are appropriately pixelated. Jaxson Logger and his gold toilet sneer at you as they take over the forest, the perfect evil CEO whose facial expressions are reminiscent of Cesar Romero’s Joker. (I have a feeling our artists watched many an afternoon rerun of Batman to get the look of this book just right.) The bears mix from realistic animals that will eat you alive to anthromorphs that can do your taxes. The star of this show is Dave Lanphear’s lettering, pure action in big, bold type that takes over panels at just the right time. Just like those Batman episodes of yore, when Shirtless delivers a bear punch or a bear kick, you’re going to feel it and feel it hard.Continued below
You can feel the joy and fun that this entire creative team had in delivering this series. When you love your work, it shows, and this shows from the very first panel to the final page.
How Can You Read It?
Issues #1-5 are available now in print and digital formats, with the collected trade due out in December 2017.